The late Johnny Adams was possibly the greatest singer of soul, blues and jazz ever to emerge from New Orleans. But, according to his widow Judy Adams in her biography of her husband The Johnny Adams Story, he was cheated out of money due to him by Joe Ruffino, owner of Ric Records where he made his first records, and later by other record labels such as SSS International and Ariola. Even Rounder Records, for whom Johnny recorded nine albums in the 1980s and 1990s, "didn't allow Johnny to have an attorney present at the signing of his contracts, and they paid him almost nothing."
Johnny was undoubtedly a great singer with a voice that spanned several octaves and which could turn almost any song into gold. Known as the Tan Canary (possibly because of his whistling ability rather than his voice, according to a WWOZ DJ quoted in the book) Johnny was born in Hollygrove, near New Orleans, in 1932 and was discovered by Dorothy LeBostrie, writer of Tutti Frutti, who heard him singing in his bath tub. After a brief spell singing gospel he signed for Ric and recorded a local hit I Won't Cry in 1959 (produced by an 18 year old Mac Rebennack) and had even more success a couple of years later with A Losing Battle. One of his Ric tracks - Come On - was even released in the UK on Top Rank (see previous blog).
Apparently Ric's owner Joe Ruffino prevented Johnny from joining Motown and after his death in 1963 Johnny recorded for a number of local New Orleans labels including Hep Me and Watch. After signing for Nashville-based SSS International he had major country-flavoured successes with Release Me and Reconsider Me, both of which were issued in the UK on Polydor, and more success with Ariola with the soulful After All The Good Is Gone along with an excellent LP of the same name. Despite these successes Johnny continued to be little known outside New Orleans and it was only when he was signed to Rounder that his international reputation grew, with a string of first rate albums including From The Heart, After Dark, Room With A View Of The Blues, Walking On A Tightrope and Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus. He died of cancer in 1998.
I was lucky enough to see Johnny a number of times in New Orleans - at Jazzfest, the Rock 'n' Bowl and Irma Thomas's Lion's Den club - and on at least two occasions in London - at a New Orleans Gala Night at the Royal Festival Hall in 1992 and at the 100 Club the following year. In 1998, the year of his death, he was too unwell to appear at Jazzfest but I recall that he attended the W C Handy Awards in Memphis, where he was nominated as Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year.
Judy Adams' book is an angry one, as well as being a tribute to her much-loved husband. It is. sadly, littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors and could have done with some proof reading, but it is clearly written from the heart. She has set up The Johnny Adams Blues Organisation in Alexandria, Virginia, and apparently a blues festival is planned is Johnny's memory. You can get the book at http://www.johnnyadamsblues.org/
, price $39.95 including international shipping.
Here are a few of the photos that I took of Johnny during the 90s. First, here he is at the Rock 'N' Bowl in 1991. As ever, he is smartly dressed and wearning dark glasses, which apparently he wore to hide the fact that he had lost an eye as a child.
Here's another one, also at the Rock 'N' Bowl I think, in 1992.
Johnny guested memorably at Irma's Lion's Den Club, also in 1992.
This is Johnny at the 100 Club in London in 1993.
Finally, here are two photos of Johnny, also at the Rock 'N' Bowl, in 1997. I notice that the first picture is included on Judy's website, which is somewhat ironic given that she is very upset about Johnny's image being used without her consent.
Does anyone know who the sax man is in this photo?