60s Music

Musical Legend – Johnny Adams

Johnny Adams
Johnny Adams at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 1997. (Source: Wikipedia)

Who is Johnny Adams?

Known as the “Tan Canary” for his multi-octave voice, Johnny Adams is also considered as one of the rare pioneers of country soul music. In a career that spanned fifty years, he had recorded several labels. Adams was equally talented in singing in a variety of genres that include R&B, jazz and gospel aside from soul and country. During the last years of his life he recorded prolifically for Rounder label, where his albums received exceptional critical praise. His vocal idiosycrasies also set him apart from other singers of his time.

The singer’s early life and career

Johnny Adams was born on January 5, 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the oldest of ten children. Early in his life Adams had already been weaned with music, and he first got to sing at a local church choir in his family’s Hollygroove neighborhood.

Because he had embraced so much with music, Adams decided to quit school when he was fifteen years old to take up a professional singing career.

Moving from gospel to secular music

At first he seemed to consign himself into singing all-gospel music until 1959. That’s where songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie, who happened to be Adams’ neighbor, approached him with a new song she’d just written called “I Won’t Cry.” LaBostrie was also responsible for having written Little Richard’s ribald tune “Tutti Frutti,” among others. She succeeded in persuading Adams into recording secular music.

Around the same time, Adams signed his first recording contract with Ric Records label, owned by Joe Ruffino who also managed Ric’s sister imprint Ron Reocrds.

Finally, Adams chalked up his first charting single with “A Losing Battle,” which was written and produced by some ridiculously teenaged boy named Mac Rebennack. “A Losing Battle” peaked at #27 on the Billboard’s R&B singles chart in 1962.

Johnny Adams -“Reconsider Me”

Adams reaching the peak of popularity

After his first hit with “A Losing Battle” in 1962 (a Top 40 R&B single, by the way), a prolonged chart drought had begun for Adams. In 1963 Ruffino passed away, and Adams left the label. He then recorded for several various labels, but none of those stints brought him any success.

Finally, in 1968 Adams saw chart action anew when his single “Release Me” (a cover of a country standard) made it both to the Billboard Hot 100 (albeit a minor hit) and Top 40 R&B singles rankings. The following year witnessed Adams’ biggest and most successful single to hit the charts with “Reconsider Me.” The single was written by Myra Smith and Margaret Lewis, and reached its highest peak on the Hot 100 at #28. “Reconsider Me” also went to #8 on the R&B singles chart, Adams’ only top ten hit on any singles rankings.

A critically-acclaimed artist and a music legend

After his biggest hit “Reconsider Me,” Adams was never able to surpass or even just duplicate its success. However, in the early 1980s Adams found a new home with Rounder Records, which was to be his last label during his lifetime. He recorded prolifically on Rounder compared to the other labels he had been with.

He teamed up with producer Scott Billington and together they waxed nine albums on Rounder. These were From the Heart (1984), After Dark (1985), Room With A View of the Blues (1988), Walking on a Tightrope (1989), The Real Me: Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus (1991), Good Morning Heartache (1993), The Verdict(1995), One Foot in the Blues (1996), and Man of My Word (1998). All of these albums received critical praises.

Adams died on September 14, 1998 after battling with prostate cancer.

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