The Real Me: Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus

Johnny Adams

album cover

A Perfect Combination of Singer and Song

Doc Pomus brought knowing maturity and a strong sense of the blues to the often blithe Brill Building pop of the early '60s. First along with his writing partner Mort Shuman, and later with any number of musicians (including, on this album, pianist Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John; see p. 237), the polio-plagued lyricist wrote about being swept up in—or strung out on—romance. His songbook includes "Lonely Avenue," the monster Ray Charles hit; "Teenager in Love," made famous by Dion and the Belmonts; and the Drifters classics "This Magic Moment" and "Save the Last Dance for Me."

Not everyone has the chops to sing Pomus persuasively, and the songs he wrote when he returned to music in the late 1970s, after spending a decade as a professional gambler, are a particular challenge. These address universal emotions without glossing over life's complexities; they're simple odes that require a singer to provide some vulnerability, some trace of humanity, to complete them.

The largely unknown singer Johnny Adams (1932–1998) understood this. A dynamo from New Orleans whose forte was blues and R&B, Adams attacked Pomus's songs like a boxer, mixing direct blows with evasive maneuvers. He'd been interpreting Pomus for years when, in 1990, he asked the legend to write some new songs for an album he was planning. Pomus put together several songs and then fell ill, dying of lung cancer early the next year. Adams continued the project, combining the newly penned Pomus pieces (including the positively stunning "Blinded by Love" and "She's Everything to Me") with songs written earlier. The result is music of unexpected subtlety: Singing of heartbreak like he's been there too many times, Adams spins Pomus's simple themes into potent, disarmingly casual blues confessions. His vocals are spectacular throughout, partly because he never looks for pity, and partly because he's so completely at home in front of this hard-swinging New Orleans band, which features Dr. John and guitarist Duke Robillard. A dream pairing of singer and songwriter, this probably should have happened a decade or two sooner.

Genre: Blues
Released: 1991, Rounder
Catalog Choice: Room with a View of the Blues
Next Stop: Irma Thomas: True Believer
After That: Little Milton: If Walls Could Talk
Book Page: 8

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