SEPTEMBER 14, 1998 – Blues/jazz singer JOHNNY ADAMS (b. January 5, 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana as Laten John Adams) died at age 66 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana after a long battle with prostate cancer. Known as “The Tan Canary” for the multi-octave range of his singing voice, his swooping vocal mannerisms and falsetto, Adams’ biggest hits were his versions of “Release Me” and “Reconsider Me” in the late 1960s.Adams was born the oldest of 10 childrena and became a professional musician upon leaving school at age 15. He began his career singing gospel with the Soul Revivers and Bessie Griffin’s Consolators, but crossed over to secular music in 1959.
His upstairs neighbor, the songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie (the woman responsible for cleaning up the bawdy lyrics of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” enough for worldwide consumption), supposedly persuaded him to start performing secular music after hearing him sing “Precious Lord” through her floor while he was in the bathtub. He recorded LaBostrie’s ballad “I Won’t Cry” for Joe Ruffino’s Ric label. Produced by the teenaged Mac Rebennack (later known as Dr. John), the record became a local hit. Adams recorded several more singles for the label over the next three years, most of them produced by Rebennack or Eddie Bo. His first national hit came in 1962, when “A Losing Battle,” written by Rebennack, reached #27 on the Billboard R&B chart.
After Ruffino’s death in 1963, Adams left Ric and recorded for a succession of labels, including Eddie Bo’s Gone Records, the Los Angeles–based Modern Records, and Wardell Quezergue’s Watch label. His records had little success until he signed with Shelby Singleton’s Nashville-based SSS International Records in 1968. A reissue of “Release Me” originally released by Watch, reached #34 on the R&B chart and #82 on the pop chart. Its follow-up, “Reconsider Me,” a country song produced by Singleton, became his biggest hit, reaching #8 on the R&B chart and #28 on the pop chart in 1969. Two more singles, “I Can’t Be All Bad” and “I Won’t Cry” (a reissue of the Ric recording), were lesser hits later the same year, and the label released an album called “Heart and Soul.”Despite several worthy SSS follow-ups (“I Can’t Be All Bad” was another sizable seller), Adams never traversed those lofty commercial heights again. He left SSS International in 1971 and recorded unsuccessfully for several labels, including Atlantic and Ariola, over the next few years. At the same time, he began performing regularly at Dorothy’s Medallion Lounge in New Orleans and touring nightclubs in the south.
In 1983, he signed with Rounder Records, for which he recorded nine critically acclaimed albums produced by Scott Billington, beginning with “From the Heart” in 1984. These records encompassed a wide range of jazz, blues and R&B styles and highlighted Adams’s voice. The albums included tributes to the songwriters Percy Mayfield and Doc Pomus. The jazz-influenced Good Morning Heartache included the work of composers like George Gershwin and Harold Arlen. Other albums in this series are “Room with a View of the Blues” (1988), “Walking on a Tightrope” (1989), and “The Real Me” (1991). These recordings earned him a number of awards, including a W.C. Handy Award. He also toured internationally, with frequent trips to Europe, and worked and recorded with such musicians as Aaron Neville, Harry Connick Jr., Lonnie Smith, and Dr. John. With producer Scott Billington, he recorded some nine albums for the Rounder label prior to his death.READ MORE: