Johnny Adams has long considered by many the best vocalist to ever come out of the Crescent City. Dubbed “The Tan Canary,” he possessed a voice that could span several octaves when called upon. Adams was a product of the golden age of New Orleans R&B who later managed to survive pop, funk, disco and smooth jazz. Eventually, Adams helped spark a worldwide revival in New Orleans R&B in the mid-1980s that pretty much lasted until his passing in 1998. These are his earliest, and depending on whom you consult, some of his best recordings.
Adams was gospel trained and didn’t enter the field of secular music until succumbing to the goading of tunesmith Dorothy LaBostrie. She steered Adams towards Joe Ruffino, who was in the process of setting up the Ric and Ron labels. LaBostrie pitched Adams and a ballad she wrote entitled “Oh Why.” Ruffino liked the song and the singer. If the number of demos and alternate takes that survived is an indication, the final product—eventually titled “I Won’t Cry”—was a painstaking effort. But the hard work paid dividends. “I Won’t Cry” became a local classic and it made noise from Dallas to Charlotte. Although it stalled at the Mason-Dixon Line, Ruffino was certain he would eventually break Adams nationally.
Ruffino slotted Adams as a balladeer, and several mid-tempo singles soon appeared, including “Nowhere To Go.” “Teach Me To Forget,” and “Let The Winds Blow,” were issued but they didn’t draw the national attention Ruffino so desperately sought. Outside of that format, the Chris Kenner penned “Life Is Just A Struggle” and the coy “Oh So Nice” pointed in a new direction, but those styles were never pursued.
Eventually, the Mac Rebennack composition “A Losing Battle” broke nationally and reached the middle of the R&B charts in 1962. The solid release “Lonely Drifter” with “I Want To Do Everything For You” followed, but the public didn’t respond. With Ray Charles having success translating country songs, Ruffino experimented with Adams, punching out a handful of country ditties including “Comin’ Round the Mountain!” Adams’ career would later take a most definite country direction when he signed on with Nashville’s SSS label in the late 1960s.
While this is an important release, it should be noted Adams recorded in an era when singles dominated the marketplace. Therefore, while his forte was ballads, 10 or 15 of them back-to-back can be a challenge for listeners. Also, unlike most Ace packages, the notes here have some obvious gaffes. Still, it’s great to have these recordings back in print again and this is a fine addition to any classic New Orleans R&B collection.