It’s not as though Haley Beverburg hasn’t heard Jay Byham’s songs before. Married since 2018, the Meadville couple has been playing together regularly as Jay Bird and Haley Bee at venues around the region and beyond for years.
With Beverburg on keyboards and Byham on guitar, the duo has entertained listeners in coffee shops and floral shops, restaurants and wineries, but has also been part of music festivals like the 2018 International Pop Overthrow in Philadelphia.
So Beverburg has heard plenty of Byham’s music — much of it onstage and from just a few feet away. and she has also heard the solo work Byham has developed over the past few years as she has spent more time on her gig as an adjunct music professor at Allegheny College.
But she had never heard it quite like she heard it during a recent performance at Antonio’s restaurant at Conneaut Lake. As the duo played, they were interrupted by one of Jay’s new solo tracks making an early appearance on the Underground Garage station of SiriusXM satellite radio.
“Some of our fans were there and they had it on and held it up to us so we could hear,” Beverburg recalled Thursday. “It was almost surreal — like, ‘I know him, I can’t believe he’s on.’”
For musicians shaped largely by mainstream pop and rock, elements of the surreal have been cropping up more and more over the past few months as Byham’s self-titled five-track debut album begins to gain traction. Two tracks in particular — “I Can’t Take It Anymore” and “Just a Matter of Time” — have been aired dozens of times by several of the hosts featured on the Underground Garage station. Crawford County residents will have a chance to hear the entire EP during a CD release party at 3 p.m. Sunday at Venango General Store.
Leading the way in playing Byham’s songs was Rodney Bingenheimer, the legendary DJ whose influential show on KROQ in Los Angeles ran from 1976 to 2017 and helped introduce acts ranging from Blondie and the Ramones in the 1970s to Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana in later decades.
“Pinch me,” the 28-year-old Byham commented on social media after Bingenheimer played one of his songs in early March. “Is this real life?!”
A month later, the question likely felt even more appropriate: Byham was in Los Angeles to film his first music video. Bingenheimer was still playing the track — “I Can’t Take it Anymore” — occasionally, but now the two were hanging out at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles and Byham was hearing firsthand stories of rock legends like David Bowie and John Lennon.
Having multiple tracks played fairly regularly for a few months is worthy of notice for a musician like Byham, according to Steve Butler, a music industry veteran of 40 years who co-wrote the songs, played lead guitar and produced the album.
“That is rare air, to get the kind of airplay he’s getting — it’s substantial,” Butler said from his home in Philadelphia during a recent phone interview. “When you get played on radio stations like that, they’re not doing it because you’re a nice guy. They’re doing it because they like your music.”
Having helped to create about 20 albums in the past 45 years, Butler knows from experience the challenges faced by any musician, much less an independent performer like Byham who is drawing interest but is not yet signed to a label that can provide support and promotion.
“I am not easily impressed,” Butler said. “What it really comes down to is he’s really good, and he’s doing it on his own.”
While Byham’s efforts to promote the album have been largely single-handed, creating the songs was a collaborative effort. After he and Beverburg were on the roster of performers at the 2018 International Pop Overthrow festival, along with Butler’s band Smash Palace, Byham reached out to Butler to express his admiration and to plumb the possibility of working together. The two hit it off and began composing, with Butler typically sending “hummable tunes” — him humming along as he played guitar — that Byham would tinker with as he wrote actual lyrics.
By late 2019, Byham was in a Philadelphia recording studio with Butler to record their first two tracks. Just as they were ready to build on that momentum, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It wasn’t until last September that they returned to the studio and finished three additional songs.
Rounding out the band for the album were several other members of Smash Palace, including drummer Dave Uosikkinen, best known for his more than 40 years with the Hooters, the Philadelphia band known for classic 1980s hits like “And We Danced” and “Day by Day.”
The band members fed off Byham’s enthusiasm, according to Uosikkinen.
“When you have really good songs and great players, good things are always going to happen,” he said. “Those sessions felt like we weren’t even working.
“When you have good content to work with,” he added, “it makes your job really easy.”
It would have been impossible not to be enthusiastic about the experience, according to Byham.
He’s been playing guitar since he was about 11, when his father taught him a blues riff that is now the first tune Byham teaches in the weekday guitar lessons he offers when he’s not performing. The lessons he took as a teen were followed by classical guitar study at Youngstown State University in Ohio and, now, nearly a decade of combining private guitar lessons with performing professionally.
“It’s sustainable, but it’s tight — like a starving artist,” Byham joked recently as he strummed his guitar on a Diamond Park bench. “We’re making it work.”
After years of paying his dues, when he found himself in the studio with Butler and Uosikkinen, Byham said he was immediately “star-struck.”
By the time the album was complete, he wasn’t the only one. Uosikkinen was impressed with not just Byham’s lyrics, singing and rhythm guitar work, but his upbeat presence.
“He said, ‘Let’s get a picture together,’” recalled Byham as he hunched over his guitar, “‘so I can say I knew you when.’”
Uosikkinen, who leaves for a six-week European tour with the Hooters late next month, was still impressed in a phone interview Thursday.
“You know what you get from Jay is he’s authentic, just a nice dude — one of these guys that makes you feel really good to be around,” Uosikkinen said. “We’re going to be hearing a lot about Jay in the future. He’s a lifer.”