James Byrd was playing guitar before then, but he became serious about his music the day that Jimi Hendrix died. Byrd began working hard at his craft, first mastering the art of blues, then moving into more metallic guitar styles. In 1980, he assembled his first non-cover band. By the next year, Byrd had relocated from his native Seattle to Los Angeles and began playing that circuit. He did not stay there long, though, moving back home in 1982. There he met up with Ken Mary and Ted Pilot and the beginnings of Fifth Angel were in place. By 1983, that group had assembled a demo and begun shopping it to the labels. The demo approach paid off by landing them a contract with Shrapnel Records and an album. By 1987 they hooked up with Epic Records. That year saw a reissue of the first album. However, Byrd parted company with the group shortly after that.
1988 saw Byrd back in the Shrapnel camp, this time under his own name. He released Atlantis Rising. In 1993, he followed that disc up with Octoglomerate. The disc wound up in the hands of Yngwie Malmsteen and the two met. When Byrd released his next CD in 1995, Malmsteen did an unprecedented act by endorsing the album on an attachment to the cover. This album was Son of Man. The following year, Byrd released The Apocalypse Chime under the banner of the James Byrd Group. The first album in the last three to feature vocals (by Robert Mason of Lynch Mob), this was his final record on Shrapnel. By 1997, Byrd had hooked up with JVC Japan. This release was under the name of James Byrd's Atlantis Rising and was entitled Crimes of Virtuosity. 2001 saw the release of Byrd-Flying Beyond the 9.