The people who frequented the Decade and other clubs in the '70s and '80s knew there was a lot more to Ron "Byrd" Foster than a backbeat.
With a voice like that, he could have been a frontman.
Amazingly enough, the drummer/singer for the Silencers, Iron City Houserockers and Red Hot & Blue never released an album under his own name.
Now, timed with the first anniversary of his death (June 30) comes the release of his debut solo album, "Vision of Heaven," recorded at HippyHouse Recording Studios in Orlovista, Fla., where he lived since the early '90s.
"We all know he played and sang on many [songs]," says his widow Carrie Smooke Foster, "but he always wanted to do his own [album], so Ron started recording with his friend Tim Kelliher who is the guitar player. When Ron started feeling ill, he stopped going to the studio. Then he ended up diagnosed with cancer. When Ron was in the hospital, Tim came in one day and said, 'Byrd, we are going to make sure this gets finished.' "
Mr. Kelliher -- a guitar burner who's played with the likes of Carey Bell, Earl King, Bo Diddley, Nappy Brown and Lester Chambers -- has followed through by completing the eight-song, 41-minute album, which finds Foster belting out a range of blues, from the New Orleans boogie of "Gimme, Gimme," to the Chicago style of "Stop Draggin that Chain," to the Memphis soul of "Twisting the Knife."
If they sent "Vision of Heaven" around to blues festivals, they'd be scrambling to book Foster. That's how strong and confident the vocals are throughout.
"All the musicians donated their time and money from their gigs to finish it," Ms. Foster says. "It's like a dream come true, I just wish he was here to enjoy it."
There was a listening party and memorial jam in Florida last weekend. Pittsburghers can find the disc on CDbaby.com.
Big Slices of Punk
• Slices may not be headlining Stage AE or playing the WDVE Morning Coffeehouse -- they're a little brutal for that -- but outside the city, the Pittsburgh punk band is on the radar.
Slices recently dropped "Still Cruising," the follow-up to its 2010 debut "Cruising" on the Seattle-based Iron Lung, run by the powerviolence band of the same name (its labelmates are local punks Kim Phuc).
The band started in 2004 as an electronic noise duo made up of brothers John and Mike Kasunic, then underwent a hardcore punk makeover as a quartet now fronted by underground punk legend Greg Mantooth and backed by drummer Mike Ovens, veterans of a slew of bands including Warzone Womyn and Brain Handle.
Drawing comparisons to Black Flag, Brainbombs and Pissed Jeans, Slices premiered the whiplash 20-minute record on the influential Brooklyn Vegan blog, which called it "a mix of razor-sharp hardcore and noise-punk." The infamous comments section predictably went nuts, with one anonymous poster chiming, "I believe a substantial part of the problem with groups like this is the mistaken idea that everyone needs to be in a band." (That, after all, is the punk/hardcore punk ethic.)
Along with snagging the cover of City Paper, the band was featured in a Spin magazine feature headlined "Hardcore Punks Threaten Indie Rock's Hold on the Cutting Edge," in which Mantooth explained of the early Slices, "I was struck by the way they would start playing and completely clear a room. Here were these people who were totally weirding out all these punks and hardcore kids. What drew me to hardcore punk in the first place was that it was alienating to a lot of people, to people's more sensitive tastes. We all understood we were into the same music, but at the same time, we did like to push it a bit further."
Slices not only pushes, on "Still Cruising," it shoves you to the ground and runs you over.
Look for Slices tonight joining Austin band The Young (think Crazy Horse) and Kim Phuc at Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill (412-681-1658), and then on July 13 at The Shop, 4312 Main St., in Bloomfield with The Men and Expensive [S---].
• Pittsburgh band Lovebettie, which already performed this year at SXSW and the NHL Draft, performed at the 45th Annual Summerfest Music Festival in Milwaukee on July 4, having been selected as one of the Emerging Artists. Aerosmith headlined joined by ZZ Top, Iron Maiden, 311, Chicago, O.A.R., The Avett Brothers, Ben Folds and more.
• Pittsburgh musicians will mark the 40th anniversary of "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" with a tribute to David Bowie July 14 at the Rex. Chris Theoret, of the Sponges, will take on the Bowie role, with backup from Steve Morrison, Rod Schwartz, Kip Ruefle, Ronda Zegarelli and more.