Who was/is Johnny Adams ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
They called Johnny Adams the Tan Canary around his New Orleans homebase, so mellifluous were his rich, burnished tones. In a city with a musical legacy built around the funky second-line parade beat, Adams was a classy balladeer with a multi-octave range whose melismatic pipes were capable of swooping down into a deep baritone and then up to a falsetto with the greatest of ease.
Born January 5, 1932 in the Big Easy, the rail-thin Adams got a late start in the music biz because he was busy singing in service of the Lord. His secular jump in 1959 came at the behest of his neighbor, composer Dorothy LaBostrie (she'd cleaned up the lyrics to Little Richard's Tutti-Frutti). "She always knew I could sing, so she just decided to ask," said the late Adams. She wrote him the tasty ballad I Won't Cry, produced by a young Mac 'Dr. John' Rebennack for Joe Ruffino's Ric label. Johnny had a local hit his first time out, and more fine Ric 45s followed. "I was more or less just a singer then," he said. "I wasn't an artist. I was just a singer." Rebennack co-wrote the Ray Charles-tinged A Losing Battle, which did dent the R&B charts on Ric in 1962.
Adams was part of a Crescent City contingent that journeyed up to Detroit in '63 to audition for Berry Gordy (others included Earl King and Chris Kenner). But Ruffino reportedly threatened a lawsuit, knocking a Motown deal off the table. After Ruffino's death, Johnny's contract went to Joe Assunto at Watch Records. There he revived Release Me, a country classic that first hit for Jimmy Heap in 1954. "We just heard that playing, between Esther Phillips and Engelbert Humperdinck," said Adams. "We just decided to do it." Shelby Singleton's Nashville-based SSS International logo picked it up in '68, and Adams joined a long list of singers to hit with the weeper.
The gut-wrenching soul ballad Reconsider Me, penned by Singleton staffers Mira Smith and Margaret Lewis and cut in Nashville, proved Johnny's biggest SSS hit, sailing to #8 R&B and #28 pop. "These ladies were doing a lot of writing for Jo Jo Benson and Peggy Scott at the time," said Adams. "You know, changing country songs into blues." Lewis and Smith also supplied his next hit, I Can't Be All Bad.
Beginning in 1983, Johnny reached a new demographic at Rounder Records. He gave the songbooks of Percy Mayfield and Doc Pomus album-length examinations, exquisitely delving into contrasting blues and jazz material without ever faltering. "They got a whole lot of New Orleans music," Adams reasoned. "I try to make mine different when I can." Prostate cancer killed him on September 14, 1998.
- Bill Dahl -
Various - Sweet Soul Music
Various - Sweet Soul Music 30 Scorching Classics From 1965
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