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Rock, Pretty Mama
by Billy Adams & the Rock & Roll Boys
Billy Adams (1940 to 2019) was an American 'rockabilly' singer/songwriter. Willie Murray Adams was born on March 6th 1940 in Redbush, Kentucky, USA, and grew up there. His early musical influences were artistes such as Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, the 'Carter Family', Merle Travis and Moon Mullican, who he all heard on the radio during his younger years. One of 13 children born to a poor mineworker, it was not until the family moved to Greenup County in Kentucky that his father could afford to get him a guitar. His first radio appearance came in 1952 (at the age of only twelve) on station 'WCMI' in Ashland, and it was just two years later when Adams first heard the young Elvis Presley, who was touring the southern United States with his rocking new music at the time. Fascinated by the strong rhythm and guitar stylings, he and his brother founded their own 'rockabilly' group, with himself on vocals and guitar, his brother also on guitar and Curtis May on bass. Calling themselves the 'Rock & Roll Boys', they went on to play large numbers of 'live' shows in their local area. After he had written his own song "Rock, Pretty Mama", he took it to established musician Luke Gordon. Gordon promoted the band heavily and, in late 1955 he and the group travelled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to record the song (featured here). It was a full two years before it came out on Gordon's small 'Quincy' label (with a Gordon-penned song, "Don't Cramp My Style", as the B-side). Their fame spread wide after airplay of the single, and they followed it up by touring throughout the Midwest. Although they then agreed an audition with the famous 'Sun Records' in Memphis, it did not happen (all because Adams' car needed repairs and he could not afford it). However, he and his band were freshly "discovered" again in 1957 by Glenn McKinney (owner of 'Nau-Voo Records'), and he organised a recording session in a small garage studio. A well-rehearsed single called "You Heard Me Knocking" was issued in January 1958 through 'Dot Records', but did not hit the charts. Between 1958 and 1959, he and his band (now renamed the 'Rock-a-Teers') recorded three more singles for 'Nau-Voo', including the song "You Gotta Have a Duck Tail". Sadly, despite regular appearances, tours and good reviews in the Billboard and Cashbox magazines, great success did not eventually come their way, and the 'Rock-a-Teers' dissolved in 1959. Although Adams then had early Sixties solo recording contracts with 'Fern Records' and 'Spider Records', all his attempts on the music charts failed. One day he suddenly quit mainstream music to devote himself to being a pastor of religion, and became a purveyor of 'gospel' music after learning to play the piano. However, some of his old songs began to surface again on compilations put out by 'Bear Family Records' and 'Ace Records' in the 1980s, bringing him a whole new audience (although many mistook him for another musician of the same name who then died in 1984). In 1998, he finally recorded his first album at 'Sun Studios' in Memphis, and it was released by 'Screen Door Records' in 2000 to very favourable reviews. Shortly after this, Adams was inducted into the "Rockabilly Hall of Fame" and began an almost non-stop round of appearing at international festivals, such as the New Rock-a-Teers Festival, the Hemsby Rock'n'Roll Weekend, the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival and the Americana International Festival. He kept this up even until shortly before his death. Billy Adams died in Westmoreland, Tennessee, on March 30th 2019, aged 79.
Posted: 3rd May 2019
Hundreds of very talented musicians pass away each year, some without much recognition at all. On "Rest In Peace ✚", I aim to give them a fitting 'send-off', with a decent Tribute. I hope you will join me in marking their passing.....
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