Let’s not attempt to figure out JAY BOY ADAMS. Let’s just get down to business and bring you up to date. Getting burned out in this business is an easy thing to do. For the most part of the late sixties until the early eighties the only thing that was dominant in the mind of Jay Boy Adams was music. That’s a fact!
“If I had a dollar for every mile I made
And boy is that true. By the mid seventies JBA was already logging over a hundred thousand miles a year.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Jay Boy Adams does more than just refute F. Scott Fitzgerald’s maxim that there are no second acts in American lives. He not only proves that a musical artist can enjoy a second musical career even more fulfilling than his impressive first time around, but also just how rich an American life can be through the many chapters of his fascinating life story.
The two most public acts of his life are his years as a pioneering roots-rock recording and touring artist from 1977 to 1982, and then returning to music a quarter century later with his acclaimed Top 5 Americana chart album The Shoe Box in 2007. In between he founded one of the top tour bus transportation companies in the music business and helped guide country star Pat Green to fame as his manager. Since his return to musical action, Adams has also joined forces with fellow musical veterans in the Southern rock supergroup Brothers of the Southland. And the best is still yet to come.
A dyed-in-the-wool Texan who began playing music in his early teens, Adams was one of the hardest working acts on the American tour circuit in the late 1970s following the release of his self-titled debut album on Atlantic Records in 1977. Spending some 200 to 250 days a year on the road, Adams shared concert bills with such acts as ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers Band, Joe Cocker, Jackson Browne, Marshall Tucker Band, Bonnie Raitt, The Kinks and many others.
But by 1982, the grind of the road and pursuing his musical ambitions had taken their toll. Adams was also intent on doing his best at another important personal aspiration: being a good father and husband. So he put his guitar down, left the road and quit music.
“When I walked away, I walked away,” says Adams. Or maybe better put, rode away on a tour bus to start Roadhouse Transportation, which today boasts some 25 custom touring coaches it leases to such blue-ribbon musical acts as Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion, Sting, George Strait, Santana, Dave Matthews and many others as well as The Dallas Cowboys and numerous private clients. He only played his guitar occasionally, didn’t write another song for more than 15 years, and performed onstage only twice in that time.
Then in 1997, one of his bus clients, country star Lee Roy Parnell, an Adams fan in his teen years, invited Jay Boy to join him onstage at a show. Suddenly, “all of it was rekindled and rejuvenated,” says Adams. His songwriting muse and love for playing guitar and performing returned with a vengeance, stronger and more inspired than ever. He regrouped the core of his Roadhouse Scholars band and landed on a 1999 George Strait tour. Adams eventually hit the studio again and recorded The Shoe Box, and after its release toured as special guest for Stephen Stills. Now he’s readying material for another album and enjoying music more than ever before.
When you look at his personal history, it’s surprising indeed that Jay Boy Adams was even able to leave music at all much less for such a long stretch. Born in Fort Worth, he grew up in Colorado City in deep West Texas. His father owned the local Chevrolet dealership, sang and played harmonica, and was a devoted and deft storyteller whose love for a good tale had its influence on the songs Jay Boy would later write. His mother was a talented singer who played mandolin, banjo, piano, ukulele and fiddle, and taught music before she married.
Much of Jay Boy’s future was sealed by the time he spent around his father’s business. “In that dealership I learned how to trade, how to balance a checkbook, and how to handle a wrench and change oil. I could take an engine apart and put it back together before I could drive. And I was exposed to John Lee Hooker. It all happened in the same place,” Adams recalls.
His tutelage in the blues and R&B came from the dealership’s African-American porter, Dewitt Bender, who was born in Mississippi and lived in the Chicago area before landing in West Texas. Adams followed him across the tracks to soak up the soulful and emotive music to be heard in the local Black juke joints. “I wasn’t just the only white kid in those clubs. I was the only white person over there,” notes Adams.
At the age of 12 he sold boxes of seeds and Christmas cards door to door to earn enough money to get his first guitar. He promptly learned some of his father’s favorite songs and played them for him, and was rewarded with a Fender Jaguar electric guitar and Deluxe amplifier. Adams was soon playing in such local bands as The Impossibles and The Impalas, eventually joining a popular area act called the Just Us Four alongside seasoned musicians in their twenties while he was still a teen.
On graduation, Adams enrolled at North Texas State University in Denton, where he shared an English class with Don Henley and traded guitar licks with fellow student Gary Nicholson, later to become a hit songwriter, in-demand session player and producer in Nashville. But school soon took a back seat to music after Adams headed into Dallas one night to hear Texas guitar legend Bugs Henderson, who remains one of his prime influences and musical heroes.
Duly impressed with what heard, Adams asked Henderson if he gave guitar lessons. The guitarist offered him one for free: “Go buy B.B. King Live at the Regal, and learn every lick on the album and how to play every note like B.B. King. And when you’ve got that down, get back to me.”
“The next day I go buy Live at the Regal,” Adams recalls. “And ironically, about three or four weeks later B.B. King is playing a show at a club in Dallas called The Losers Club, and I go down and hear him and I’m hooked.”
Leaving college at the end of the year, he landed in Houston, where he played in a band called Hayseed, started writing songs, and first met Billy Gibbons, then playing with the pioneering Texas psychedelic band The Moving Sidewalks. Adams also performed solo acoustic at the Sand Mountain Coffeehouse, where he got to know such Texas singer-songwriter legends as Jerry Jeff Walker, B.W. Stevenson and Willis Alan Ramsey.
On a visit to Midland, Texas, Adams walked into a local club one Sunday afternoon and caught a jam session led by former Bay Area bluesman Johnny Heartsman, a powerful singer and prodigious talent on Hammond B-3 organ, guitar and flute. He joined Heartsman’s band and further sharpened his skills over the next few years playing seven nights a week while continuing to write songs. Adams then moved to the New Mexico mountain town of Ruidoso to further hone his songwriting skills.
In March 1972, a friend secured Adams a slot opening for ZZ Top in Lubbock, where he caught the ear of the band’s visionary manager Bill Ham. That summer, after enrolling back in college at Texas Tech, Adams got a call from Ham asking if he’d open another ZZ Top show at the sold-out Municipal Auditorium in Dallas. “There were about 10,000 people there and I was scared shitless,” Adams recalls. “But I did pretty well.”
Ham invited Adams to open for ZZ Top again the next weekend in Atlanta, and he soon signed on as the band’s regular opening act and a guitar tech for Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill (eventually leaving college again after studying English and music and playing in the school’s lab band). Over the next four years Adams added backing musicians to his act and by 1976 had signed with Atlantic Records.
His 1977 debut album, Jay Boy Adams, was marked by his gift for storytelling in song and its mix of blues, country, rock and folk, and featured contributions from longtime Jackson Browne musical foil David Lindley on violin, lap steel, guitar and banjo. The next year Adams released Fork in the Road, a more sophisticated work that carried echoes of both California country-rock and Dixie-fried Southern rock as well as his Texas roots, and again featured Lindley along with Browne on harmony vocals.
But for all his dedicated roadwork and the efforts of the team around him, Adams didn’t reach big time musical success. “I had a great manager and a great record label. But no matter how great the label was and how powerful and big they were, they truly didn’t know what to do with me,” he observes.
“I’ve never really fit the Texas outlaw/progressive country mold.” Adams explains. “I was kind of a cross between the Flying Burrito Brothers, Jackson Browne, Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers. Somewhere in there is where my thing fell.” He was also outside the norm and ahead of his time by playing acoustic gigs with a cellist as well as a string quartet, which also appeared on shows with his band. Adams was ultimately dropped by Atlantic and was halfway through recording a third album for Capricorn Records with Paul Hornsby producing when that label went bankrupt.
When he decided to stop playing music in 1982, Adams already had another business venture brewing on the side by sheer fortuity. In 1976, he bought a tour bus once owned by Bobby “Blue” Bland to use on the road. When he came off the road for a break, rather than have it sit idle, he rented it to another act managed by Ham, Point Blank. When it came time to hit the road again, his bus was busy, so he bought another. And subsequently bought two more busses as ZZ Top also leased his coaches during his breaks. Soon after quitting music, he purchased his first new bus and converted it, and Roadhouse Transportation was born.
Over the next 15 or so years, Adams largely stayed away from music clubs and concerts, running his business and being a family man. He gathered his band back together once in 1986 to play the Cattle Baron’s Ball in Lubbock, sharing the bill with Reba McEntire, and also played a two-night weekend stand at the Lubbock club Fat Dawg’s with a friend’s group. But that was it.
Adams later moved his family to a ranch in the Texas Hill Country and his bus business to the nearby town of Comfort. And then his wife Mary persuaded him to go one evening see one of her favorite artists, Lee Roy Parnell, play a show in San Antonio. “I never dreamed that he was going to ask me to get up and play with him,” Adams recalls. “Because if I did, I wouldn’t have gone to the show.” But once he hit the stage, the fire to create music returned.
New songs began percolating as Adams was further encouraged to get back into musical action by his longtime friend and associate J.W. Williams of Lone Wolf Productions, Ham’s management company. He then gathered his old band together for a reunion show in Luckenbach, and a few days later he mentioned the gig to promoter Louis Messina, who then invited Jay Boy and his band to join Strait’s national Country Music Festival tour in 1999. He also toured Europe as a special guest in The Texas Tornados.
Around the same time, a young Texas music artist named Pat Green showed up at Roadhouse looking to lease a bus. Impressed by Green and the success he had forged in the Lone Star State, Adams signed on to manage him. “I said to him: I wanna help you avoid the mistakes I made. And I wanted to help him with his songwriting and get to the next level. That kind of stimulated me too.”
Adams also heard something special in a Bakersfield, CA-based country group, Big House, “who were one of those bands that came down the pike that got my attention,” he says. “It was a new, fresh and tight sound.” He became friends with the band’s singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Monty Byrom. Adams eventually played some of his songs for Byrom, who suggested that it was time for him to make another record. “I told him, I’ll do one if you’ll produce it,” says Adams.
The album they made together, The Shoe Box, featured 10 new Adams songs as well as three numbers he wrote in the 1970s and his renditions of Jesse Winchester’s “Showman’s Life” and the traditional gospel chestnut “John the Revelator.” It spent a number of weeks at #3 on the Americana Music chart, where it enjoyed a 30-week run and was ranked #7 of all 2007 releases. The Shoe Box also yielded three Top 10 singles on the Texas Music Chart, where the album charted for nearly two years.
Adams was hailed by Texas Music Times for creating “music [that’s] its own genre, mixing folk, blues, rock, and country into an astonishing 12 tracks.” Sing Out praised its “really engaging performances throughout” while Rambles.net described the album as “a good one, solid, sturdy and assured, the work of a pro who prefers cooking simple but tasty dishes [and] offers up small, perfectly told stories of life's adventures.”
“Adams plays a damn tasty guitar, simple but brilliant, and crafts some catchy-as-hell tunes while doing consummate justice to others’ material… for instance, his unbelievably righteous take on ‘John the Revelator,’” raved Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, noting how his guitar work was “worthy of a Billy Gibbons. Over all else, though, there's a surprising distillation of all eras of the country genre in this guy’s work.”
Also impressed with the album was superstar Stephen Stills. “I’ve been listening to The Shoe Box, and I love it,” he said. “Jay Boy Adams is a great musician and a storyteller in the true Texas tradition.” Stills asked Adams to open his national tour performing solo acoustic and join him onstage every night to play some songs together.
Adams’s new musical horizons opened up further when an old pal from the 1970s road, George McCorkle of The Marshall Tucker Band, asked him to contribute to an album project with fellow veterans of the Southern rock movement to revive the sound and bring back it alive for the 21st Century. Sadly, McCorkle was diagnosed with cancer and passed away before the album was completed. But he designated Adams to replace him in the group, Brothers of the Southland, alongside such notables as Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie, Henry Paul of The Outlaws and Blackhawk, “Dangerous” Dan Toler of the Allman Brothers, Steve Gorman of the Black Crowes, Bo Bice of “American Idol” fame and other top players. “It’s a perfect fit for me,” Adams notes, “and it’s for all the right reasons — to go out and play good music.”
The second act of his musical career “has exceeded all my wildest expectations,” says Adams. “It is more about the music than ever for me now, and I’m doing it for the fun of it.
“I think I’ve been a really lucky individual to be able to do what I’ve done and now return to music,” he concludes. “Musically and creatively, I still have a lot left in me. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think my writing and creativity came back more mature, more open minded, more knowledgeable, more worldly, and with a better playing technique. And I’m really having a great time.”