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Adams, Johnny

Johnny Adams

Singer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

After Johnny Adams had his first local hit in 1959, he remained a fixture of music in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the rest of his life. With an expressive voice and a range that included the beautiful falsetto that led a local disc jockey to call him the Tan Canary, Adams sang several styles with ease. Starting as a gospel singer, he later expanded his range to include blues, soul, county, and jazz. He often seemed on the verge of breaking out as a national star, but problems with record companies held him back. Still, Adams became a legend in New Orleans, and his vocal style influenced singers working in a wide range of music, from the soulful Aaron Neville to rocker Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish. Upon his death in 1998, the outpouring of tributes from the music industry and the press revealed the stature that Adams had achieved among his peers.

Born on January 5, 1932, in New Orleans, Adams was the oldest in a family of ten children. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 and began singing in gospel groups. His talent soon made him the lead singer in these groups, although he told Scott Aiges of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, [M]y voice was so loud that it couldnt even blend with the others. They said, You have to sing lead. But singing in the bathtub, not on stage, gave Adams his first opportunity to record as a solo act. He lived downstairs from songwriter Dorothy Labostrie, who decided she wanted him to sing one of her songs after hearing Adams rendition of Precious Lord through her floor. The 1959 single, I Wont Cry, produced by a young Mac Rebennack, who would later claim his singing fame as Dr. John, became a local hit.

This promising start, though, did not launch Adams to stardom. Years later, Adams would remember that Joe Ruffino, the owner of Ric Records for which Adams recorded, held up national distribution of the singles. According to Tony Russell of the Guardian, Adams said, I believe we could have gone places with I Wont Cry if Ruffino would have helped and cooperated with major companies. Still, Adams continued to record with Ric, gaining national attention with A Losing Battle, written by Rebenack, which made the rhythm and blues charts in 1962.

Still, the stories persisted that Ruffino kept holding Adams back. Reports circulated that Barry Gordy, Jr. wanted to sign Adams to his Motown label after the success of A Losing Battle, but that no deal occurred because Ruffino threatened to sue. Thus, Adams continued to record for Ric until 1968, when he changed labels and produced his largest commercial success. Working with producer Shelby Singleton for SSS Records, Adams turned his vocal skills to a blend of country and soul. His 1968 cover of the country standard Release Me became a hit, and 1969s Reconsider Me also made the top ten on the rhythm and blues charts. Bill Dahl of All Music Guide remarked on the passion in Adams performance on Reconsider

For the Record

Born Lathen John Adams on January 5, 1932, in New Orleans, LA; died on September 14, 1998, in Baton Rouge, LA; wife, Judy Adams.

Left school and began singing career at age 15; debut single, I Wont Cry, 1959; had first national hit with Release Me, 1968; continued performing in and around New Orleans, 1970s; signed with Rounder Records, 1984; recorded last album, Man of My Word, 1998.

Awards: Pioneer Award, Rhythm-and-Blues Foundation, 1999.

Me: [H]e swoops effortlessly up to a death-defying falsetto range to drive his anguished message home with fervor.

Once again, though, this glimpse of a larger audience did not lead Adams to stardom. While he remained a New Orleans fixture throughout the 1970s, the rest of the world remained largely unaware of him. Even though he signed for a brief stint with a major national record label, Atlantic Records, the collaboration did not lead to much success. Adams himself believed part of the problem lay with the record companies trying to limit his range of music. In an interview recounted in the Guardian, Adams said, In the past, record companies tried to pigeonhole me as a country singer or a ballad singer. But I consider myself able to do it all. Hell, I think I could sing bluegrass if I had to.

Finally in 1984, Adams found a record company and a producer with whom he could have a fruitful relationship. He began working with Scott Billington of Rounder Records, a collaboration that would last for the rest of Adams career. Billington recognized that Adams talent extended to a wide range of musical styles. As Tom Surowicz pointed out in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Adams could sing sophisticated jazz. He could sing sentimental pop, or stirring gospel. He had precious few peers when tackling Southern deep-soul classics. And on the right night, with the right band, he all but owned the blues.

From the Heart, released in 1984, started the upswing for Adams career. A few subsequent albums would be devoted to the works of a single songwriter, such as Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me in 1991. Others showcased his talents at exploring specific genres, such as the jazz-oriented Good Morning Heartache in 1993 and One Foot in the Blues in 1996, which Kenny Mathieson of the Scotsman claimed, summed up his philosophy as well as anythe blues were always present in his work, but that second foot could be planted in any of several different styles. Along with gaining more control over the material he recorded, Adams also became more well-known outside New Orleans after beginning his work with Billington. He began to tour nationally and even internationally as more people realized the power of his voice and range of styles.

Although he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Adams went into the studio to record his final album, Man of My Word, released in 1998. The sessions were difficult for Adams. Billington told Keith Spera of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Its a miracle it was finished. Im still moved to tears when I listen to his vocal performances on that record. Although he was suffering, Adams put together a strong album. Surowicz wrote, [l]t lives up to Adams mighty legacy, and easily rates as one of the best roots R&B outings of the year.

Adams succumbed to the cancer and died on September 14, 1998, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He continued to receive more recognition for his work after death. In 1999 he received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm-and-Blues Foundation. Then in 2000, Rounder issued an album sampling the best of his work. Called There Is Always One More Time, it featured not only tracks from Adams previous albums, but also some collaborations with other performers. Reviewer Britt Robson of the Washington Post summed up Adams career by saying that the album documents an artist consistently in his prime. For almost 40 years, Adams moved audiences with a stunning voice that could grace any genre he chose.

Selected discography

Singles

I Wont Cry, Ric, 1959.

A Losing Battle, Ric, 1962.

Release Me, SSS, 1968.

Reconsider Me, SSS, 1969.

I Cant Be All Bad, SSS, 1969.

Albums

Heart and Soul, SSS, 1969.

Christmas in New Orleans, Ace, 1975.

Stand by Me, Chelsea, 1976.

After All the Good Is Gone, Ariola, 1978.

From the Heart, Rounder, 1984.

After Dark, Rounder, 1986.

Room with a View of the Blues, Rounder, 1987.

Walking on a Tightrope: The Songs of Percy Mayfield, Rounder, 1989.

Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me, Rounder, 1991.

I Wont Cry: From the Vaults of Ric & Ron Records, Rounder, 1991.

Good Morning Heartache, Rounder, 1993.

The Verdict, Rounder, 1995.

One Foot in the Blues, Rounder, 1996.

Man of My Word, Rounder, 1998.

There Is Always One More Time, Rounder, 2000.

Sources

Books

Graff, Gary, Josh Freedom Du Lac, and Jim McFarlin, MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.

Periodicals

Guardian (London), October 6, 1998, p. 22.

New York Times, September 16, 1998, p. B11; February 27, 1999, p. B9.

Scotsman, October 14, 1998.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), September 20, 1998, p. 4FF.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), January 1, 1993, p. 16; April 25, 1999, p. E1.

Washington Post, December 13, 2000, p. C5.

Online

Johnny Adams, All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 9, 2001).

Rounder Records, http://www.rounder.com (June 11, 2001).

Lloyd Hemingway

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Adams, Johnny 1932–1998

Johnny Adams 19321998

Vocalist

At a Glance

Selected discography

Sources

Dubbed the Tan Canary by a New Orleans disc jockey, vocalist Johnny Adams was a long-time regular on the New Orleans music scene, beginning with his 1959 rhythm and blues hit I Wont Cry. Adams, whose velvety voice could stretch into a high falsetto with ease, mastered a handful of musical styles, including gospel, blues, soul, jazz, and country. Over his nearly 40-year career, he recorded in these varied genres on a number of labels, yet he never reached the national stardom of some of his contemporaries. He performed largely in New Orleans, where he became a local legend. According to New Orleans Magazine music reviewer Errol Laborde, Adams was perhaps the greatest rhythm-and-blues talent to come from New Orleans. He never made it as big as some others with less talent, but no one could do as much with his voice as Adams could. He didnt need much more than a piano as accompaniment because his voice, with a full C-range capable of an astounding falsetto, could be an orchestra in itself.

The eldest in a family of ten children, Adams was born on January 5, 1932, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was raised in a religious family and sang in the church choir, so it is not surprising that he was first drawn to gospel music. At age 15, Adams left school, got a day job, and began performing at night with the Soul Revivers, a gospel quartet. With this quartet, he honed what was to become his signature style of vocal acrobatics, ranging deftly from low to high notes. From that group he signed on with Spirit of New Orleans, and with Bessie Griffin and the Consolators. Yet Adamss virtuoso voice stood out from the ensemble.

In the late 1950s, as popular legend has it, aspiring composer-songwriter Dorothy La Bostrie discovered her neighbor in the apartment building because she could hear his singing through her apartment walls. Although Adams originally declined LaBostries offer when she approached him about singing her secular songs, he later changed his mind. In 1959 he jumped onto the rhythm-and-blues charts with a single, I Wont Cry, produced by Mac Rebennack on the Ric record label. The ballad became one of Adamss most memorable songs. Although it might have been the first step on his road to stardom, the song did not catapult Adams into the national spotlight. Adams later cited an incident in which Ric label owner Joe Ruffino threatened to sue a Motown producer who was reportedly trying to sign Adams to a contract.

At a Glance

Born Lathen John Adams on January 5, 1932, in New Orleans, LA; died on September 14, 1998, in Baton Rouge, LA; married Judy Adams.

Career: Began singing career at age 15; debut single, I Wont Cry, 1959; had first national hit with Release Me, 1968; continued performing in and around New Orleans, 1970s; signed with Rounder Records, 1984; recorded last album, Man of My Word, 1998.

Awards: W. C. Handy Award, NAIRD India Award; six Big Easy (New Orleans) Awards; several OffBeat (New Orleans) Best of the Beat Awards; Pioneer Award, Rhythm-and-Blues Foundation, 1999.

Adams claimed that Ruffino held him back. I really believe I could have gone somewhere if Ruffino would have just co-operated with the major record companies, Adams was quoted as saying in the London Times.

After Ruffinos death in 1963, Adams was free to forge his own path. He toured the sugarcane circuit of local bars and clubs, where he earned a solid reputation and a loyal fan base. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Adams recorded a handful of albums for several independent labels. Among the most commercially successful were his singles Release Me, which made a brief appearance on the Hot 100 charts, Reconsider Me, a soul-country hybrid that rose to number 28, and the album Heat and Soul. In 1978 his remake of Conway Twittys After All the Good Is Gone landed on the national rhythm-and-blues chart. Despite these modest successes, it was not until 1983 that Adams developed a good working relationship with a record producer, Scott Billington of Rounder Records.

In the 1980s, at a time when the blues became subsumed under the heavy beat of the most popular music, Adams kept true to his roots, showcasing what he did best. Backed by musicians such as guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington and pianist Dr. John (a.k.a. Mac Rebennack), Adams recorded a series of nine albums in which he explored his favorite music: jazz, blues, gospel, standards, and contemporary songs, written by Doc Pomus, Percy Mayfield, Dan Penn, and John Hiatt, among others. In the album From the Heart, Adams reveled in his new-found freedom to express himself. This is the first time Ive had the freedom to choose what to sing, and how to sing it, he was quoted as saying in the London Guardian. In the past, record companies have tried to pigeonhole me as a country singer or a ballad singer. But I consider myself able to do it all.

Adamss recordings with Rounder demonstrated his versatility. In Walking on a Tightrope, a collection of songs by Percy Mayfield, he showed his thoughtful jazz side, while in Good Morning Heartache he sung classic American jazz songs. The 1991 recording Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus also showed off Adamss love of jazz, while albums such as One Foot in the Blues and Room With a View of the Blues explored the artists blue-sy side.

During the last decade of his life, Adams toured widely with singer-guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington. They often appeared on European stages, where Adams displayed a stage presence as potent as his recordings, according to the London Guardians Tony Russell. In 1997, while already seriously ill with cancer, Adams recorded Man of My Word, an album on which he defies all expectations by digging into hard Southern soul, declared Boston Herald critic Larry Katz. On the last track, Adams and Aaron Neville sung an a cappella version of the gospel song Never Alone. About this memorable event, Neville recalled to the New Orleans, Louisiana, Times-Picayune, Id get choked up when I was singing with him. It was special for everybody involved.

Adams died on September 14, 1998, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At his wake, Aaron Neville, Allen Toussaint, Ernie K-Doe, and gospel singers Marva Wright and Raymond Myles sang eulogies. There is no doubt about Adamss legacy to the music world. In 2000, as part of its Heritage series, Rounder Records released There Is Always One More Time, an album that showcased the highlights of Adamss career, demonstrating his arresting presence and command of diverse styles. As quoted in the Bergen County, New Jersey, Record, Rounder producer Scott Billington called Adams one of the greatest vocalists of the twentieth century.

Selected discography

Singles

I Wont Cry, Ric, 1959.

A Losing Battle, Ric, 1962.

Release Me, SSS, 1968.

Reconsider Me, SSS, 1969.

I Cant Be All Bad, SSS, 1969.

Albums

Heart and Soul, SSS, 1969.

Christmas in New Orleans, Ace, 1975.

Stand by Me, Chelsea, 1976.

After All the Good Is Gone, Ariola, 1978.

From the Heart, Rounder, 1984.

After Dark, Rounder, 1986.

Room with a View of the Blues, Rounder, 1987.

Walking on a Tightrope: The Songs of Percy Mayfield, Rounder, 1989.

Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me, Rounder, 1991.

I Wont Cry: From the Vaults of Ric & Ron Records, Rounder, 1991.

Good Morning Heartache, Rounder, 1993.

The Verdict, Rounder, 1995.

One Foot in the Blues, Rounder, 1996.

Man of My Word, Rounder, 1998.

There Is Always One More Time, Rounder, 2000.

Sources

Books

Graff, Gary, Josh Freedom Du Lac, and Jim McFarlin, MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.

Periodicals

Guardian (London, England), October 6, 1998, p. 22.

New Orleans Magazine, December 1998, p. 120.

New York Times, September 16, 1998, p. B11; February 27, 1999, p. B9.

Record (Bergen County, NJ), March 9, 2000, p. 33.

Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), October 14, 1998.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), September 20, 1998, p. 4FF.

Times (London, England), October 9, 1998, p. 27.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), January 1, 1993, p. 16; April 25, 1999, p. E1.

Washington Post, December 13, 2000, p. C5.

On-line

Johnny Adams, All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com (May 19, 2003).

Rounder Records, www.rounder.com (May 19, 2003).

Jeanne M. Lesinski

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"Adams, Johnny 1932–1998." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/adams-johnny-1932-1998