Adams, 67, Vocalist;
of the Legends in Blues
Johnny Adams, one of the last of the great blues and
ballad singers, died on Monday in Baton
Rouge, La., where he lived. He was 67.
The cause was cancer, said a spokesman for his publicists, Myers Media, in New York.
Adams was in many ways an anachronism, a singer who
could sing virtually all the prewar styles
of American music. And he was an entertainer, with much of his presentation coming
out of a tradition that included vaudeville; he pretended to play the trombone,
or he would whistle and tell jokes. But his singing was flaw- less; he could use
the gospel tradition with extraordinary ease and was also adept at jazz singing.
Adams began his singing career in his hometown of New Orleans, working
in a gospel group, the
Soul Revivers. In the mid-1950's, he sang with Beside Griffin and her Soul Consolators,
and made the change into secular music while singing in a bathtub. His upstairs
neighbor, Dorothy Labostrie, a songwriter, heard his version of "Precious Lord,"
persuaded him to sing a song of hers, "Oh Why," and had him signed with the local
Ric label. The first session was produced by Mac Rebennack, 18, later known as Dr.
John; "Oh Why" was released as "I Won't Cry" and was a hit record in New Orleans.
From then on, until Adams signed with Rounder Records in 1983, he worked
in unfair obscurity.
His singing had a cool sense of relaxation and a ceaseless caressing of notes. He attacked
and ornamented melodies in endless ways, either leaving them plain, so the luxury
of his voice did the work, or charging them with falsettos and other gospel filigrees.
But by the time Adams's abilities had come together, jazz and sophisticated
blues singing weren't much
in demand. He had small local hits, and one national success with "Losing Battle"; it
was widely reported that Berry Gordy Jr. at Motown wanted to sign him, but his record company
threatened to sue.
In 1983 Adams started recording what became a nine-album series for Rounder, and on these
records he moved from a tribute to the songwriting of Doc Pomus to tunes that have become jazz
standards, like "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Teach Me Tonight." He recorded "One Foot
in the Blues," an album featuring Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ. The connection with Rounder,
along with an increasing public appreciation, made him an international concert
star, and during the last decade, he worked regularly. His most recent recording,
"Man of My Word" (Rounder), was released in August.
He is survived by his wife, Judy.
NOTED SINGER JOHNNY ADAMS PASSES AWAY
New Orleans singer Johnny Adams died yesterday morning,
September 14th, after a long battle with cancer at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital
in Baton Rouge. He was 66 years old. Johnny was regarded by fans, critics and
musicians throughout the world as one of the finest singers associated with New
Orleans R&B and jazz.
Born Laten John Adams in New Orleans on January 5, 1932,
Johnny was first drawn to gospel music, and was featured with Bessie Griffin and
the Consolators while in his early twenties. He crossed the line to secular
music with his 1959 hit, “I Won’t Cry,” and subsequently enjoyed a string of
regional best-sellers, including “Reconsider Me,” “Release Me” and “Hell
Yes I Cheated,” which lasted through the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, he
worked the circuit of black nightclubs throughout the South, where audiences
marveled at both the range and beauty of his infinitely expressive voice.
In 1983, Johnny teamed up with producer Scott Billington
and Rounder Records, and the nine albums they created brought Johnny to the
world at large. On such recordings as Room With a View of the Blues, The Real
Me: The Songs of Doc Pomus, and One Foot In the Blues, Johnny explored the full
range of his talent, singing jazz, R&B and blues, winning praise from criitcs
around the world. Among his many awards are a W. C. Handy Award, a NAIRD Indie
Award, six Big Easy (New Orleans) Awards and several OffBeat (New Orleans) Best
of the Beat Awards.
Among the musicians who worked and recorded with Johnny in
recent years are Aaron Neville, Harry Connick, Jr., David Torkanowsky, Dr. John,
Duke Robillard and jazz greats such as organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and saxophonist
During the last decade, Johnny became a regular attraction
on stages around the world, perfroming frequently in Europe. His most recent
album, Man of My Word, was released in August, and finds him returning to the
classic soul music sound.
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