The New Jersey music world lost an icon this week. Billy Ryan passed away from complications of COVID-19 at the age of 76. What I enjoyed about Billy is that he was very unassuming but when he took the stage and unleashed his talent you knew that you were witnessing a player that was hard to be matched, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better talent.

Other local Asbury Park musicians, especially guitar players, had tremendous respect for Billy and they showed it by enjoying being around him and watching him tear it up. He was so respected that every local band wanted him.

While Billy played lots of Rock n Roll, he was primarily known as a blues guitarist. As a matter of fact, Bruce Springsteen called Ryan a “real blues master” in his book, “Born to Run.” Ryan played in early Asbury bands such as the Jaywalkers alongside Steven Van Zandt and Gary Tallent and with Clarence Clemons in Norman Seldin's Joyful Noise.

Ryan would later reunite with Clemons as part of the Red Bank Rockers in 1981. He was a huge part of the famous Upstage club in Asbury Park where Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Stevie Van Zandt and the rest of the E Street Band learned and polished their craft of playing Rock n Roll.

The Upstage was a club that didn’t sell alcohol and was there specifically for musicians to work out their original material. Billy would be asked to play with a certain group of guys, who would wrap up their set and Billy would remain as to help up the next group. There were some nights he never left the stage. The Upstage and Ryan were featured in the movie Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption and Rock n Roll, available on YouTube.

Billy was also a very accomplished photographer and boat builder. Billy was married with his wife Michelle for 50 years. He had two daughters. The music world got a little smaller with Billy’s passing. May he rest in peace.

REST IN PEACE: Stars We Lost in 2020


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