Poster House: I feel like I've seen your work my entire life. When and why did you first start designing posters?
David Byrd: Well, I was a painting major at Carnegie Tech (Carnegie Mellon as it's called now), and I wanted to be the next Francis Bacon. But things didn't quite work out that way because I came to New York and found it very difficult to get a job in any sort of way. After I got my Master's, I went to Boston - I had lived there before, and I thought it would be a good place as I was a little iffy about New York. So, I went to Boston and stayed with my friend Candice, and the only job I could get was washing underwear in an Armenian laundry - but I also got to eat at the Armenian restaurant next door. So there I was with a Master's washing poopy underwear, when I got a call from Peter Nevard, my roommate from Carnegie, saying that he was starting a light show company and that he was driving up to get me because I was going to be the art director.
So I was rescued from the Armenian laundry and we went to New York City where I stayed with Peter and his girlfriend Nina. We rented this house in upstate New York where we would build all our equipment for the light show. Peter had a lot of connections in the commercial world, doing promotions and such for larger companies; so, basically we did promotions for Clairol's "Innocence of Blonde" and the "Yardley London Look." They would be in the Plaza Ballroom, complete with runways, models, dancers, bubbles, strobe lights, and liquid projections, which was all the rage at the time. We were very successful doing it, and I was the art director. One of the things I did was a giant ten foot face of Jean Shrimpton, which she would crash through - and there she would be in the "Yardley London Look." It was the typical stuff of the day.
Meanwhile, we had a lot of friends from Carnegie Tech who were working with this guy Bill Graham to open a rock performance venue in New York in the old Yiddish theater on 2nd Avenue and 6th Street. Bill asked the general manager and the light show guy if they knew someone who could do a poster, and they said "well, call David Byrd." So I got a call in the country where I was building the light show sets, and Josh White of the Joshua Light Show said "we need a poster for our next show." I had no idea how to do a poster, but I thought to myself, I'm an artist, I'll figure it out. So, I said "oh fine. I'm great with that." I looked around and I found some people who had a couple of posters from the Fillmore West, which was the first venue out in California (the Fillmore East was the New York version). Now, New York City is very different from San Francisco - San Francisco had like five hippie ballrooms where light shows and dancing and music was occurring, but in New York City it was bada-bing-bada-boom, the Fillmore East. That's it. So, I did my first poster for Traffic, Blue Cheer, and Iron Butterfly, and they said all right, our next show is .... and that's it!