March 26, 2007

Adams Sings Bo

"Tra-La-La" (D. Johnson)
Johnny Adams, Ric 992, 1962

Back in the late Fifties and early Sixties, Joe Ruffino, owner of the Ric and Ron labels, was putting out some great records in New Orleans by top-notch local artists such as Tommy Ridgley, Eddie Bo and Professor Longhair, plus promising newcomers including Irma Thomas and Johnny Adams, who both scored national R&B chart hits. Thomas' "You Can Have My Husband" rose to #22 in 1960; and Adams's "A Losing Battle" made it to #27 in 1962. With a background in gospel music, Adams was a truly gifted singer just learning the ropes of the music business at this time. He went through his ups and downs with Ruffino, but managed to have 11 singles released on Ric between 1960, when he made his debut as a recording artist, and the demise of the label, due to the death of its owner, in 1963. Though some were good local or regional sellers, nothing else he did for Ric broke nationwide; and he did not have another substantial hit until 1968.

For the most part, what I've collected from this era in Johnny Adams' career has come through the Rounder Records 1991 CD compilation,
I Won't Cry. It contains 14 of Adams’ Ric sides; and, while not complete, aptly shows how accomplished the singer was when he was starting out. Not all of the songs were top rate; but he already seemed comfortable with various styles and had a voice that could make good songs great and lesser ones palatable. A few weeks back, I bought this copy of Ric #992, which came out later in 1962. It has two fine sides that are not on the Rounder CD: “Showdown”, a Mac Rebennack-penned soul/blues ballad (he also wrote and produced "A Losing Battle"), and the uplifting “Tra-La-La”, written by Eddie Bo under the pen name, D. Johnson (for his second wife, Delores). Both Rebennack and Bo were quite active with Ruffino’s labels during this period, assisting with production, writing and arranging. While I have not discovered much of any session information for Ric and Ron, it is likely that either or both Rebennack and Bo were involved in the making of this 45.

Funny thing is, Adams recorded this one twice. He redid it and several of his other Ric tunes when he was with Shelby Singleton’s SSS International label, recording mainly in Nashville between 1968 and 1971; but it remained unreleased until
CD compilations of that material started coming out. On those, it is titled, “Down By the River” (surely confusing a few Neil Young fans). I believe “Tra-La-La”/"Down By the River" to be one of only four Eddie Bo songs Johnny Adams recorded in his 40 year career. He cut "I Want to Do Everything For You" when he was still recording for Ruffino; and it was released on Ron in 1962, after the owner's death. Two others were on a Gone single (5147) Bo produced on the singer in 1964, the incredible "Going To The City" b/w "I'm Grateful".

Having only heard the SSS version of our feature before, I am glad to have found the original, which can't be topped. Johnny’s inspired delivery dovetails perfectly with the song’s gospel leanings. Just the way he lets lose with the first four words, “I’m on my way…”, lets you know you're hearing a formidable vocalist. The track is expertly arranged and played to boot, with righteous piano runs throughout (Bo?), hip, understated horn charts, and a swinging back-beat groove.

Right before this record came out, Adams had gone to Detroit with a group of other New Orleans artists (including Joe Jones, Earl King, Smokey Johnson, and George French) to audition for the fledgling Motown label. It is said that, out of the bunch, Berry Gordy wanted to sign Johnny, but Ruffino threatened to sue them, so it didn't happen. Instead, the singer returned home and went on to have a respectable but sometimes lackluster recording career, until Rounder made a string of impressive, first class CDs with him during the final dozen or so years of his life. Makes you wonder, though, what might have happened decades earlier had he become a part of Motown's impressive stable of artists and gained more exposure to a national and worldwide audience.

You can hear a few more sides from various stages of Johnny's early career at the Soul Club Jukebox, and sample some of his later Rounder material here.
And, as Lyle helpfully pointed out in the comments, a few Rounder cuts are also available as free downloads at amazon. So, you have ample opportunity to hear the man that Cosimo Matassa said was his favorite New Orleans singer.
For some more background, check out this earlier post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Four of his Rounder sides are available here:


8:49 PM, March 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just got back from Irma Thomas's performance here in the Boston area, another fine evening. She keeps getting better and better. She had a friend in the audience come up and sing (Tammi Lynn, could that be right?) -- she did an excellent version of "(You Can Have My Husband But) Don't Mess With My Man". This was Irma's first recording, 1959, on the Ron label owned by Joe Ruffino, so this ties in with your post on Johnny Adams.

Speaking of Johnny Adams, it always disconcerts me that he sounds so much like Englebert Humperdinck or Tom Jones. Also, he strikes me as more of a vocalist than a soul singer (although he is soulful). Maybe it is because I just don't hear a distinct southern accent. I have a hard time grouping him into the New Orleans music scene. But then I consider some of his songs to be the best songs ever recorded: "If I Could See You One More Time", "I Want to Walk Throught This Life With You", and "Reconsider Me". Greatness!

11:49 PM, March 29, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Glad you got to see Irma again, Lyle. I agree that she continues to be an impressive performer and should not be missed. It's great that she brought Tammi Lynn (a/k/a Tamiya Lynn - see my older Shoo-rah post, etc) up to sing; and I'm glad to hear that she is still singing!

You are also correct that Johnny's voice transcended his hometown. You could not really tell hwere he was from by listening to him or even what he sang. He was masterfful (I think blues and jazz were his strong points) in many styles and only got into EH or TJ territory when he was given that kind of material to work with. That was his major problem. Too often he did not have good original material to work with. But, when he did, look out, brother. I particularly love his
Percy Mayfield covers.

7:13 AM, March 30, 2007  
Blogger Kees said...

Great songs.
Good to hear a cover of what I think is one of the best Bobby Charles songs, 'I don't want to know'. Though of course BC's version is superior.

3:51 PM, March 31, 2007  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Hey, Kees,
Your comment made me pull out both Johnny's version on his final CD, 'Man Of My Word', and Bobby's version on his 'Secrets' CD. Johnny does a nice turn on it; but I agree that Bobby's is way cool. Sonny Landreth's slide work on that is so fine. I always enjoy hearing Bobby sing his own songs. Thanks.

4:52 PM, March 31, 2007  
Blogger Carl said...

This is the type of song that I go out of my way to find on "rarities" types of CDs. I wish there were more out there. Great tune. I love it!

10:05 PM, April 03, 2007  
Blogger Jipes Blues said...

Great song and wonderful feature because I love Johnny Adams specially the great cover album of Percy Mayfield songs it's a real gem my favorite song is Walkin on a tightrope and You're in for a big surprise.

7:31 AM, April 04, 2007  
Blogger Zlatko said...

Ok, I'm a year late, but thought I'd point out there is at least one other Eddie Bo song that Johnny Adams recorded: "I Want to Do Everything For You" (credited to 'D. Johnson, J. Ruffino') on Ric's twin label, Ron #995.

A nice soulful side, at that. The flip side is credited only to Ruffino, so who knows who really wrote that one..

I have to dust off my pocket protector now..

- Travis

3:23 PM, May 17, 2008  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Obviously, it's never to late to enter official Geekdom, Travis. Welcome to the hood and thanks for the addition to the Adams/Bo collaboration list. Since, I did this post, I've discovered several more myself - at least one of which (on another label) I ought to post soon, along with updating this one. It goes to show that I am still learning with help such as yours. As involved as Bo was at Ric and Ron, I should have known he would have done more work there with Johnny.

12:21 AM, May 18, 2008  
Blogger KWB said...

I'm about 3 years too late to the party...oh wow but what a party it is! I "discovered" Johnny Adams when watching a movie called "Under Still Waters"...Reconsider Me was featured twice in the film. Wow! I couldn't believe mt ears! And I could not believe that Adams had slipped under my radar (I'm usually pretty good a ferreting out hidden gems), but Adams was a complete surprise; albeit a delicious surprise! I love stumbling on to diamonds lost in the ruff and Adams voice has to be one of the best examples. One of the previous posters alluded to him sounding like Tom Jones. I agree, although it is my guess that it is Tom Jones who sounds like ADAMS! ...and may have even patterned his style after the singer. :-)

1:17 PM, June 10, 2011  
Anonymous Teleblaster said...

...and three years after that... I disagree that JA was a 'vocalist' ( Johnny Rotten was a vocalist), JA was a SINGER!! No I'm not a rabid JA fan, though I've loved his stuff for donkey's years. Yes Tom Jones does have a similar voice, but in his prime he couldn't hold a candle to JA's ability to hit incredibly high notes bang on pitch. And there was no boy band pitch correction equipment in those days!!! I AM amassive southern soul fan, and it's a shame he didn't have that 'thang' going on. Maybe that's why he didn't really make it. But as a singer myself (in a pathetic way) he's right up there with Aretha and W. Pickett in showing what vocal quality was!!!

11:29 AM, August 25, 2014  

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