- Terry Adams (musician)
Terry Adams is an American pianist/composer and a founding member ofthe highly eclectic musical group
NRBQ(New Rhythm and BluesQuintet/Quartet), known for its prolific and highly-energized liveappearances, its charming sense of humor, and an ability to cover vaststylistic territories including rock, blues, country, pop, and jazz.Adams was born (August 14, 1948) in Louisville, Kentuckywhere he metfellow resident Steve Ferguson, a singer and virtuoso guitarist whowould also become a charter member of NRBQ. His older brother DonnAdams has served in various support roles with the band, includingplaying the trombone (as part of the "Whole Wheat Horn" section) andwriting liner notes.
Brief Musical History
While Adams would spend his early musical years playing in variousrock and R&B groups, it took relatively little time for him andFerguson to end up in Florida, meet up with three other talentedmusicians (singer/bassist
Joey Spampinato, drummer Tom Staley, andsinger Frank Gadler) and launch NRBQin 1967. The group relocated tothe northeast, and a recording contract with Columbia Records followedsoon thereafter. However, most of NRBQ's subsequent recorded workshave been released on smaller, independent labels. The group hastaken some short hiatuses and made some significant personnel changesover the years, but it remains a working band, with Adams andSpampinato continuing as long-standing members.
Adams has focused much of his career on playing, writing, and singingwith NRBQ, but he has found time to devote to other projects,including the discovery and production of the musically untrainedsisters comprising "
The Shaggs," live and recorded work with jazzcomposer Carla Bley's band in the 70's, collaborations with spokenword artist David Greenberger, solo recordings and performances, aduet recording with alto saxophonist Marshall Allen(known for hislong career with the Sun RaArkestra), and recent performances andrecordings with original bandmate Steve Ferguson.
Adams' live performances with
NRBQare brimming with energy,technique, wild humor, and showmanship that ultimately veer towards akind of highly entertaining self-parody. Any given NRBQperformancehas been propelled in great part by Adams' exhilarating technique, hisartful musicality and his magnetic stage presence. He is known toappear onstage in colorful shirts and with various elastic bands tiedin his long blond hair.
Musical Technique and Approach
Adams is an idiosyncratic pianist/keyboardist, composer, and singer.His early years were spent absorbing American vernacular piano styles,and in particular he drew influences from a number of country, bluesand rock artists, both famous and obscure. Comparisons to
Jerry Lee Lewis's aggressive approach have been common, but the range of Adams'vocabulary and skills reaches far beyond such a narrow categorization.For example, another distinct influence on Adams' playing andcomposing is Thelonious Monk.
Adams' technique on the piano can be extremely powerful and percussiveat times, and elliptical and introspective at other times. He hasstated that during the 1970s he invested time in the furtherdevelopment of his understanding of jazz harmony, forms andtechniques. His live and recorded work clearly reflect his ability toincorporate the latter studies with the variety of other styles he hadearlier assimilated.
In addition to being a virtuoso on the piano, Adams is a master of andpioneer on the
Clavinet, an instrument manufactured by Hohnercompany(from 1968 to 1982). The sound of this instrument -- essentially anelectronic version of the clavichord-- is most commonly associatedwith Stevie Wonder's music and other well-known pop artists, butAdams' typically unique approach has pushed the instrument into newterritory. He expertly utilizes the instrument's various built-insettings, effects pedals such as chorus or phase shifters,and the natural overdrive of a tube amplifier to derive a huge varietyof tone and color. Adams creates melodic lines and solos, chordalstructures, and low-range bass lines on the Clavinet. He hasexploited its guitar-like timbre to create a thick mesh with NRBQ'sguitar players (notably effective in duet with the now departed AlAnderson). Adams is certainly one of, if not the most, significantchampions of the instrument.
Although Adams is capable of approaching any keyboard instrument,whether a toy piano or an organ, with his unique artistry, in recentyears he has spent most of his live and studio performances eitherbehind the piano or the
Clavinet. Occasionally he utilizes basicsynthesizer patches to add additional color, or to veer into Sun Ra-inspired "space-outs." He is also a proficient harmonica player,and a passable trumpeter. His vocal capabilities are not strong inthe traditional sense, but he uses his voice and its often croakishtonality to great effect, whether in harmony with his bandmates or ina lead capacity. His lead vocals range in emotion from looney andexcited to a kind of world-weariness.
Composing and Songwriting
Adams writes songs and instrumental compositions in a variety ofstyles, including skewed blues forms and clever pop and country songs.He skillfully embeds odd chord changes and unexpected turns intoaccessible pop forms. His lyrics can be extremely humorous (or downrightsilly at times), and he is also capable of being oddly poetic. Hehas collaborated on a number of songs with bandmate Spampinato, whois known for his ability to craft beautiful, sometimes Beatlesquetunes. A number of Adams' songs have been covered by other popartists, including
Dave Edmundsand Bonnie Raitt.
Adams, like his bandmates, has a fondness for a variety of musicalstyles and for unusual or historically notable artists. Theseinterests have led to an interesting set of other artists' materialbeing covered by NRBQ, including
Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra, Tin Pan Alleysongs, and various theme songs from television and cartoons ("Batman,""The Chipmunks," etc.).
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