Kentucky Rockabilly and Rock 'N' Roll Pioneer Billy Adams Rocks in England
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 18:21

Kentucky rockabilly and rock 'n' roll pioneer, Billy Adams, thrilled his European fans with a recent return trip to England where he performed at the 53rd Hemsby Rock 'n' Roll Weekender, held in October at the Seacroft Holiday Village in Hemsby, Norfolk, England.

Adams and longtime drummer/manager, Clif Doyal, along with the Hemsby house band, performed a rousing set of his most-beloved cult classic songs from the 50's to a standing room only crowd at the festival's main stage in the Starlight Ballroom.
Adams was the headliner on a four-night bill that included dozens of performers from America and Europe, including Bobby Hendricks, a renowned American doo-wop solo entertainer and former member of several popular vocal groups from the Fifties, including The Swallows and The Drifters.

Festival promoter, Willie Jeffery, had this to say of Adams' performance: "Billy Adams still has that rockin' voice and proved he can still cut it. The knowledgeable crowd responded warmly. I was pleased to have booked him as our headline act at Hemsby Rock 'n' Roll Weekend."

Respected music writer, Ian Wallis, reviewed the show for Now Dig This magazine, stating; "[Adams'] whole act was most enjoyable, including "You Gotta Have A Duck Tail," "That's My Baby" and "You Heard Me Knocking." He switched to piano for "Darlin' Take My Hand" and during a riotous "Mama Don't Allow" played what he described as "The only electrified lard bucket lid," and finished with an impressive "Rock, Pretty Mama."

Known as "Kentucky's Own Native Rockabilly Son," Adams, now 74, is widely acknowledged as one of the early originators of rockabilly and rock 'n' roll. His 1957 Quincy Records' single, "Rock, Pretty Mama," is among the rarest and most sought-after 45 RPM records from that era, and his music has been released by Dot, MCA Bear Family and Sanctuary Records, among many others. A "Legends" member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Adams left the rock 'n' roll arena in 1964 to pursue a career as a singing evangelist, recording dozens of Gospel albums and traveling around America with his family-based band.

In 2000, Adams re-ignited his popular music career when noted Nashville music impresario Billy Block introduced him to a new generation of fans on his long-running radio show. With this new exposure, Adams' concert schedule grew with shows in Las Vegas, Green Bay, Indianapolis, SXSW in Austin, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and multiple headlining slots at the Americana International Festival in Newark, Nottinghamshire, England. Musicologist Colin Escott summed it up best in the liner notes of the 2003 Rockabilly Riot compilation album, which included Adams alongside Elvis and Gene Vincent: "Adams is now one of the great exponents of rockabilly from the golden era, in demand at clubs and festivals worldwide."

ABOUT BILLY ADAMS (Courtesy All Music)
A rockabilly legend whose scant discography can run you over a thousand dollars to acquire in original pressings, Billy Adams was born in Redbush, KY on March 6, 1940. Billy's father didn't earn enough for his 14 children at his job at the Van Lear coal mine (the same mine mentioned in Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter"). Without a large record collection, Billy first became interested in the hillbilly music he heard on the radio and Saturday night broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry. Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and Merle Travis were early influences and Billy began singing and drumming out a heavy beat on lard bucket lids. When his father developed lung problems from working in the mine, the family moved to Greenup County, KY. Borrowing a guitar from a neighbor, the 12-year-old made his local radio debut in 1952.

Deciding it was time to form a band after hearing Elvis Presley on the radio, Billy formed the Rock & Roll Boys with his brother Charles on lead guitar and Curtis May on upright bass in 1954. Encouraged by a local entertainer named Luke Gordon, Billy traveled to Cincinnati, OH to record "Rock, Pretty Mama." Gordon later released the single on his Quincy Records label in 1957 and the band started touring the Midwest. An enthusiastic cold call to the Sun Records label earned him an invitation to Memphis, but a broken down '49 Ford and no money to repair it kept him away. Back at home, the band caught the attention of Glenn McKinney during their regular gigs in Portsmouth, OH. McKinney released some singles by the band, now called the Rock-A-Teers, licensing some of the recordings to the Dot label. Billboard and Cashbox gave the singles good reviews but discouraged by their lack of nationwide success, the band called it a day in 1959.

Photo credit: © Paul Harris

Receiving his call to the ministry in 1965, Billy Adams spent the next 30 years evangelizing across the country while accompanying himself on piano and writing numerous gospel and country songs. Rockabilly compilations containing Rock-A-Teers recordings showed up in the late '80s on labels such as Ace and Bear Family and when a different artist named Billy Adams who recorded for Sun Records passed away in 1984 many tributes confused the two. Provoked by the swell of attention, Billy returned to the Sun Studios 41 years late to record Legacy, released by Screen Door Records in 2000. The Rockabilly Hall of Fame inducted him the same year. A new Rock-A-Teers was soon formed and started playing at rockabilly revival festivals at home and in England with Billy introducing his boss piano style to the pop world for the first time. In 2002 Sanctuary Records released a career retrospective, Rockin' Thru The Years, while The Official Price Guide to Records: 2002 valued original copies of "Rock, Pretty Mama," at $1,500 to $2000.

Held each May and October in Hemsby, a small village near Great Yarmouth, on the North Sea coast of England, the Hemsby Rock 'N' Roll Weekender is one of Europe's most popular music festivals. Since its beginnings in 1988, the event focuses on American "roots" music from the 1950s, and has presented a "Who's Who" of headline artists from the genres of rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, and r&b music. In addition to the music, the "weekender" is a lifestyle festival, where attendees dress in vintage clothes and many participate in the classic car and motorcycle show. For more information about the Hemsby Rock 'N' Roll Weekender visit their website online at:


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