The Flashback Interview: Byron Thames
I was first introduced to Byron Thames, my newest interview subject, through the movie Johnny Dangerously, where he played the young version of Michael Keaton’s title character. I would later see his work in movies like Seven Minutes In Heaven and 84 Charlie MoPic, and from there, I would become familiar with his musical output with his wife Tricia Leigh Fisher, seeing them cover a diverse array of 70s songs.
Tricia and Byron both struck me as very interesting people I would be interested in interviewing, and I eventually did so. Tricia’s interview will be published soon, but today, I invite you all to get to know about Byron’s work as an actor, a musician and more.
Say hello to Byron Thames!
Johnny: How are you?
Byron: Good. How are you?
Johnny: I’m doing well. First of all, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Byron: Sure. Yeah, no problem.
Johnny: Alright. I have my questions ready to go.
Byron: Alright, let’s do it.
Johnny: Okay. Had you always wanted to be in the entertainment industry, or did you initially have a different career goal in mind growing up?
Byron: Well, I wanted to be a doctor, and then, when I was 11 years old, I stumbled into an acting class. I just sort of went along with my neighbor one day because I had nothing to do, and immediately fell in love with acting. Once that happened, I went home and told my mom, “Mom, I’m going to be an actor, and that’s it”.
Johnny: Alright. One of your earliest credits was playing Matt Simms on the drama Father Murphy, so what made that show so special for you to work on?
Byron: Well, it was my first theatrical job, and what was great about it was that Michael Landon was such a great leader and role model for everyone, not just the kids. He was very respectful to his crew and his cast. Everyone loved him, and he did his job well. He did it with integrity, and you can’t say that about a lot of other people in show business. Having that as my first job really set the tone for me in terms of a quality situation.
Johnny: Alright. When I interviewed Sherri Stoner a few years ago, she worked with him on Little House On The Prairie, and she spoke highly of Landon as well.
Johnny: Staying with you, though, in 1984, you played Job Dalton in the movie Blame It On The Night. As I’m sure you listened to some of The Rolling Stones’ music growing up, what was it like to be acting in a movie based on a story by Mick Jagger?
Byron: Well, it was really cool. It was kind of a foreshadowing of what my life would turn out to be because, obviously, it was very music-oriented. The guy who wrote and sang the songs was Teddy Neeley from Jesus Christ Superstar, and he was a super-talented guy, obviously. I got to sit in and listen to them record a lot of the songs and, being a very musical movie, I later got more into music, and I ended up doing a lot of music myself.
Johnny: Also in 1984, you played Young Johnny in Johnny Dangerously, which I find to be a very underrated comedy. Was it as much fun to make as it was to watch?
Byron: Oh, yeah. I think Johnny Dangerously is still loved by many people, and everyone in the movie was so funny. It was just some of the greatest comedic actors of the time with Michael Keaton and Peter Boyle and Dom DeLuise and Marilu Henner, all these great comedic actors. For me, it was like heaven. I got to learn so much. I was 14 years old at the time, and there was nothing to replace that experience of working with such great, funny people.
Johnny: How wonderful.
Johnny: In 1985, you played Jeff Moran in Seven Minutes In Heaven, which I again find to be very underrated, so what are your favorite memories of working on that movie?
Byron: Well, we filmed it in New York and so, for me, being a teenager and being able to go to New York City to film a movie was amazing. Jennifer Connelly and Maddie Corman were both great to work with. I loved both of them, so it was just a good time all around. We all got along great and, like I said, to be a teenager out in the New Jersey and New York areas, and to run around and see the city, was really a highlight for me.
Johnny: It must have been.
Johnny: In your opinion, what made Seven Minutes In Heaven so different from most 80s teen movies?
Byron: I mean, Seven Minutes In Heaven was really such a genuine movie. It was very candid and honest. I think it was trying to be a real portrait of the awkwardness of those years, and I think it did a good job of that. A lot of times in these movies, you see people who are 16 and 17 years old, but they’re actually 18, 19 or 20 years old. We were all actually that age, and so that awakwardness and that candidness really came through. I mean, Jennifer Connelly was 13 when she did it, and I think Maddie and I were 15, so it was just very honest and very candid.
Johnny: It’s a great movie, and it deserves a lot of credit, and I think you did a good job in it.
Byron: Thank you.
Johnny; Oh, no problem. Switching gears, you appeared in two different Vietnam War-themed projects in the 80s, an episode of Vietnam War Story and a starring role in the 1989 independent drama 84 Charlie MoPic. As that war was still a major topic of discussion in the 1980s, what do you think made those two projects stand out?
Byron: i think the one main thing that stood out about those two projects is that Vietnam War Story was written by Patrick Duncan, who was an actual Vietnam veteran, and 84 Charlie MoPic was written and directed by the same guy, Patrick Duncan, so he was bringing his real-life experience to the screen, and as a result, he was sharing that experience with the actors, so we really got to hear and feel what it was like to be there. I think that’s what really sets those two projects apart.
Johnny: Alright. Switching gears again to a lighter project, you played Laird Gibbons on the late 80s/early 90s Disney show A Brand New Life, so how did you enjoy working on that show?
Byron: That was a lot of fun. I got to play a spoiled rich kid, and those kind of roles are always fun. I got to work with some great people once again, like Barbara Eden and Shawnee Smith and Jennie Garth. Everybody was great. It was really a lot of fun to make, and what else can I say about it? That’s pretty much it. It was a lot of fun.
Johnny: Alright. To go to a different topic, but staying in the entertainment industry, in addition to your onscreen acting, you’ve also spent some time acting in the field of ADR, so how did you get involved in ADR and looping?
Byron: I got a call to go in and dub a foreign film, I think a Czechoslovakian film, into English, and that was pretty challenging as a kid to make the English words fit into the Czechoslovakian language so, after that, people started calling me to do different things, and it just sort of snowballed from there. It’s always been word of mouth. I’ve never really had a voiceover agent for that. It’s just been relationships that I’ve built over the years, and it’s turned out to be a lot of fun, and really creative.
Johnny: Cool. Of the movies you’ve worked on in ADR, what was your absolute favorite in terms of the voice acting you did?
Byron: Oh, man. Favorite ADR? I think Rio was really fun because I got to play a lot of different characters. I think the animated movies are fun because you get to play lots of little incidental characters, whereas with live-action, you’re trying to do real people. I think the animated films are more fun for that.
Johnny: Alright. In the past, I’ve interviewed two ADR coordinators, the late Mickie McGowan in 2017 and Leigh French in 2020. Have you ever worked with either of them in your ADR work?
Byron: Leigh French is actually the person who hired me for my first dubbing job, I believe. I had never worked with the other person you mentioned, but I did work with Leigh French, yes.
Johnny: I really enjoyed interviewing her back in 2020. She’s definitely amazing at her work, and I’m glad you’ve had good experiences in working with her.
Johnny: Besides your acting, you’ve also worked as an editor on several projects, so what has editing provided you that acting has not?
Byron: Well, editing is great for storytelling, you know, and I hope to eventually produce films. My wife and I wrote a pilot together, and we shot that. I’m trying to get better at storytelling, and editing is great for that. On top of that, it’s a great skill to have, and something to be able to do in-between music jobs and acting jobs that brings in some income.
Johnny: Alright. You know, the first Oscar winner that I ever interviewed won their Oscar for editing. In 2015, I interviewed Alan Heim, who took home the Best Film Editing Oscar for All That Jazz.
Byron: Oh, wow!
Johnny: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve ever crossed paths with him or not.
Byron: I haven’t, but that’s pretty impressive.
Johnny: Oh, thank you very much. Staying with you, though, you’re an accomplished musician, so when you were growing up, were you more drawn to acting or music, or were you drawn to both equally?
Byron: I was drawn to both equally, but I really was not drawn to music as a profession. I was just always passionate about it, and then in my 20s, I started playing live more, and I started getting more work as a musician, so it became pretty equal for a long time where I was working as a musician. My band got a record deal, and we went on tour. I started recording for other artists, all while I was doing acting jobs, and I’m equally passionate about both of them.
Johnny: Alright. So who have been your biggest influences as a musician?
Byron: Well, I’m from Mississippi, so most of my influences are blues players, but it’s funny. My wife and I have been doing a live show together lately, and I tell this story when we play live. All my favorite piano players are named Billy, and when I was born, my name was William, so I’m actually a Billy as well. Billy Joel, Billy Preston, Billy Powell and Billy Payne are all some of my favorite piano players and biggest influences.
Billy Preston had his own career, but played with The Beatles and The Stones. Billy Joel, I’m sure you know. Billy Powell played with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Billy Payne played with Little Feat. All those guys are amajor influences on my playing.
Johnny: Cool. A musician is often able to perform in multiple genres as a result of their training and practice, so what genre did you start out with, and where did that genre lead you as you got more practice?
Byron: I started off playing blues and rock, and then, as necessity is the mother of invention, people would call me and say, “Hey, can you play this?”. “Hey, can you play that?”, and I would learn how to play it. It could be a jazz gig.
Someone called me to play a wedding once, and at the time, I thought, “You know, I don’t really play weddings”, but he was like, “Come on, man! We just need someone to play them in and play them out. It’s really easy”, so I learned The Wedding March, and played a wedding! (Laughing)
Whatever the gig would require, I would sort of figure it out, but I’ve mainly always stuck with rock-and-roll and blues, but then I made an entire instrumental album with a friend of mine who does TV music. We made a bunch of instrumental tracks, and we got some music in TV shows. It just depends on what opportunities present themselves.
Johnny: Okay. Similarly, you play several instruments, so are you currently practicing any new instruments to add to your skill set?
Byron: No, unfortunately. I play piano, guitar, and drums, and that’s kind of it for now (laughing). I’m not really working on anything else.
Johnny: Okay. You and your wife Tricia, whom I had the great pleasure of interviewing yesterday, are well-known for performing covers of 70s songs, so as I asked her, what made the 70s such a special decade for the both of you?
Byron: Well, it’s funny because we’re both musicians, and we hadn’t really played a lot together. She’s more of a legit, straight-ahead singer, and I’m more of a rock and blues guy, so one day I was sitting at the piano playing The Commodores’ Easy, and she sat down and started singing with me. We realized that that style, that genre, is a great place where both of our styles meet up. We started doing a lot more of it, and just have been having so much fun with it ever since. The music of the 70s is such positive music that it’s almost become like a ritual for us. It puts us in a great mood, and it’s really fun, and it was a great place for our styles to meet.
Johnny: How lovely.
Johnny: As I also asked Tricia, what 70s songs that you perform get the best reactions from the audience?
Byron: Come Sail Away by Styx, Heartache Tonight by The Eagles…
Johnny: She mentioned that the disco medley you do always gets a rousing reaction.
Byron; Oh, yeah, disco. Definitely.
Johnny: I’m glad to see that disco has been reevaluated in recent decades, and it’s finally gotten the respect it deserves.
Byron: Oh, yeah. I love disco. It’s so fun.
Johnny: Yep. So with your diverse musical output, what musicians would I be most surprised to find on your iPod?
Byron: Well, lately I’m pretty much listening to a lot of 70s music (laughing). All the classic rock music is on there, but newer stuff would be Ray Lamontange, Bruno Mars and The Black Pumas. It runs the gamut because I love everything from Sinatra to classical to Oscar Peterson playing jazz.
Johnny: Okay. Similarly, are there any 70s songs you’ve covered where your audiences express surprise that you could perform the songs so well?
Byron: Any covers they’re surprised we could perform so well?
Johnny: I hope I didn’t offend with that wording.
Byron: No, no (laughing). I’m just trying to think. The thing that surprises our audience, I think, is that we turn most 70s songs into duets. All the songs we do, except for a couple, are duets which didn’t start out being duets. That’s kind of our spin on it, and so I think the audience really responds to that because they respond to our energy together. They respond to the sound of two people singing the song instead of one.
Johnny: Alright. I have seen examples of your work. I subscribe to the 70s On Sunday Facebook page, and there’s depth and diversity to your covers, and you do an amazing job.
Byron: (Laughing) Thanks.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. To go to a bigger picture question, coronavirus is now endemic as opposed to pandemic, so how has that impacted your work as a performer?
Byron: People are finally going out to see live music again. We’re pretty much back to normal. We had kind of a surge here in California recently, and people started wearing masks again, but it didn’t seem to stop people from going out, so that’s been great for us.
Johnny: Alright, and now I come to my final question: What’s next for you?
Byron: What’s next is that Tricia and I are writing a script that we want to get done and produce ourselves. We’re writing a movie about a family that goes on the road together. Our son Hudson is also a singer and musician, so it’s kind of based on us. We also want to play more music, and just get out there and do more live stuff with the 70s show, and really just continue to create and produce projects together.
Johnny: Sounds fantastic, and I know that the both of you will do an amazing job with whatever comes next.
Byron: Well, thank you. I appreciate that.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. That does it for my questions. I know I’ve said this before, but I would like to thank you and Tricia both for taking the time to speak to me. You’re both incredibly diverse and talented people, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to talk to you.
Byron: Well, thank you, Johnny. I appreciate the kind words, and I’m looking forward to seeing the story. Good luck with it.
Johnny: Oh, thank you very much, and I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.
Byron: Likewise, Johnny. Take care, man.
Johnny: Thank you very much. Be well.
Byron: You, too. Okay, bye.
I would again like to thank Byron Thames for setting aside some time to talk to me, and also for helping to arrange the soon-to-be-published interview with Tricia Leigh Fisher. Coming soon to the Flashback Interview are conversations with Oscar-winning makeup artist Kevin Haney, dancer and singer Deborah Jenssen, two-time Oscar-winning sound designer Russell Williams II, Oscar-winning hairstylist Anne Morgan, and singer/dancer/actress Stacey Q, one of my very earliest interview subjects whom I recently chatted with again for a more mature and better-researched interview.
Thank you as always for your time and support.
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