|Billy Adams, Gotta Have A Ducktail (Biography)
Billy Adams was born March 6, 1940, in Redbush, a tiny hamlet in Johnson County, Kentucky. Here he began to dream dreams that were far greater than the poverty that shackled his family to the Appalachian hills. It was in those extreme, hard times that Billy's interest in music and writing began to surface. Billy recalls, "I vividly remember looking up over the tall slender pine whose tiny green needles seemed to pierce the blue green sky and dreaming of the day when I would play my very own guitar." This dream would not come true for many years.
After being influenced by hillbilly artists which were constantly piped into the house by way of an old battery operated radio, Billy and his older brother, Charles, could often be heard singing at the top of their voices while accompanying themselves by pounding out a hard, driving rhythm on lard bucket lids. This rhythm that would require both skin and blood, would later prove to be a very prominent force that would help to change the musical world.
Billy's family later moved north to Greenup County, Kentucky. In this small rural area along the banks of the beautiful Ohio River, his father, Charlie McKinley Adams, taught his sons to play the guitar, a Harmony Monterey, loaned to them by Doris Messer, a very talented neighbor who later taught them several hard to reach chords. Some of Billy's earliest musical influences were the blue yodeler Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Merle Travis, and Moon Mulligan.
Billy's lonesome, rebellious voice was first heard on radio in 1952 at WCMI in Ashland, Kentucky. During that performance, it just came natural for him to pound out the same rhythm on the guitar that he had created on the lard bucket lid. In early 1954, after hearing Elvis Presley for the first time, Billy was moved by Elvis' music the same way he was moved during his radio debut two years earlier. Soon after hearing the new boy from Memphis, Billy organized a band and called them The Rock & Roll Boys. This three-piece band consisted of Billy on the pounding acoustic rhythm guitar, his brother, Charles, on the electric lead guitar, and Curtis May on the upright bass. In the fall of 1955, Billy and the band traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio and recorded "Rock Pretty Mama" which was released on Quincy Records, in 1957. While he was touring with the band that year, Billy stopped at a pay phone in Springfield, Missouri, and made a call to Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. After introducing himself as "Billy Adams from Kentucky, a fifteen year old boy with a record", he received an invitation to come to Memphis. Little did he know that the trip to Memphis would not happen for many years to come.
In 1956, at a performance at the 440 Club in Portsmouth, Ohio, Glenn McKinney, the owner and engineer of the Mack Recording Company and Nau-Voo Records, offered Billy Adams a record deal. (Nau-Voo took its'name from the Indian tribe who once settled there). On March 1, 1957, in a studio where the echo chamber was an outside fuel tank, and the studio itself was barely big enough to breathe in, Billy's next record was recorded. In that session, Billy and his band recorded two of his original compositions, "You Heard Me Knocking" and "True Love Will Come Your Way". The 45 rpm record was released in January 1958, on Dot Records in Hollywood, California, as a result of a deal arranged by McKinney and his long time friend Frank Porter. By the end of the decade, Billy and his band, now named, Billy Adams and The Rock-A-Teers, recorded six more originals for that were released on the Nau-Voo label including, "You Gotta Have A Ducktail", "Walking Star", "Return of the All American Boy", "That's My Baby", "Blue Eyed Ella", and "The Fun House". During this time Billy's music received good reviews in Billboard, Cashbox and other publications, and the band toured relentlessly throughout the Midwest. Though many high points marked his colorful life, Billy recalls one of the lowest points in his long musical career. "In 1959, Billy Adams and The Rock-A-Teers performed their last show together. When the last song was finished, and the final curtain fell, it was closing time. The band was gone." Billy's heart ached for the part of him that was left behind…his brother,his buddies and a sound, but the rigors of the road, and family duties, called him home. (In addition to original band mates Charles Adams and Curtis May, other musicians that recorded and performed with Billy Adams in the '50s and '60s include; Dave Thornhill, John Thornhill, Randy McKinney, Sticks Livingston, Bobby Lawson, Bob Schwab, Denver Moore, Jim Hill, Cliff Young, Denny Crisp, Fred Evans, Luke Gordon, Red Nance, Dale Throckmorton, Tony Edwards, and Bob Morris). Although Billy eventually went on to record over 43 secular and 100 gospel songs, the Nau-Voo sessions brought to a close his early rockabilly career. All of the records released on Quincy, Dot and Nau-Voo are now listed in rare records books and are hunted by collectors around the world. ("Rock, Pretty Mama" is valued between $1,500-$2,000 in The Official Price Guide to Records: 2001)
For the next four decades, Billy Adams continued to write, record and perform gospel, rock and country music. In 1965, Billy received his call into the ministry. From 1966 through 1993, Billy ministered to audiences across the U.S. and abroad, using the music that he helped create as part of his ministry.
It was not until 1998 that he entered Sun Studio and announced "I am Billy Adams from Kentucky and although it took me 42 years to get here, here I am!" Intent on making his best rockabilly record to date, Billy arrived with enough original rockabilly tunes to cut a double CD. What resulted from this session is one of the toughest rockabilly sounds since the rockin' '50s. The new CD entitled Legacy released on Nashville indie, Screen Door Records, includes remakes of "Rock, Pretty Mama", "You Heard Me Knocking", "You've Gotta Have a Ducktail" and "That's My Baby". Billy also included his own rockin' version of the Fats Domino classic "I'm Walkin'" and 12 new originals, all of which are certain to become favorites of rockabilly fans and collectors everywhere. Billy Adams' fresh, new CD captures the authentic sound of the uniquely American music genre called rockabilly. Only a live performance by the man himself could take you any closer.
Billy Adams classic songs are now seeing re-release on MCA, Ace and Bear Family Records, among others, and he was recently inducted into the internet Rockabilly Hall of Fame. With his career revitalized, he is enjoying performing again, and is receiving rave reviews from a new generation of fans for his unique brand of rockabilly music.
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