For Arthur Adams, getting Back On Track was a circuitous route. It took him from playing gospel and blues in his early years to a temporary late 1970s detour into slick, funky soul and all the way back around to his blues roots in the mid-1980s. Since then, he's firmly staked his claim as one of the top blues artists on the Los Angeles circuit.
Arthur's freight train guitar and soul-steeped vocals, combined with his prolific predilection for writing great material (often in conjunction with award-winning composer Will Jennings), are all brilliantly showcased on his Blind Pig debut Back On Track, his first album in two decades. The set features two sparkling duets ("Got You Next To Me" and "The Long Haul") pairing Adams with his principal stylistic influence, the great B.B. King, and his regal presence is quite an honor for his longtime friend Arthur.
Live, Arthur radiates daunting energy, his fret attack as searing as anyone's on the contemporary blues front. The fierce, determined expression plastered across his face as he charges from one end of the venue to the other, delivering his rapid-fire picking directly to the tables of his adoring fans, is downright intimidating. Even non-blues believers are quickly convinced of his extraordinary talent and intensity.
Born on Christmas Day in Medon, Tennessee (not far from Jackson), Arthur got his musical start in church, singing in service of the Lord when he was six and picking up a guitar as he entered his teens. Back then, Dixie Hummingbirds guitarist Howard Carroll was his main man, though he'd sneak an earful of B.B., Elmore James, or Muddy Waters over WLAC radio out of Nashville, WDIA from Memphis, or WJAK in Jackson whenever he could. Along with his cousins, Arthur formed a group called the Gospel Travelers, but they disbanded when he moved to Nashville to attend Tennessee State University. That's where Arthur began playing the blues professionally--for fellow students at a local joint, the Club Baron. Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Beck, known for his instrumental "Pipe Dream" (on the Champion label) hired Arthur in 1959. They traveled as backup for Nashville singer Gene Allison, still riding his '57 Vee-Jay Records smash "You Can Make It If You Try" for all it was worth. At the end of an ill-fated tour, Allison left the troupe stranded high and dry in Dallas. Instead of complaining, Arthur made the best of a bad situation. From February of '59 to April of '64, he made Dallas his homebase, working local nightspots like the Clubhouse and the Empire Room and playing behind luminaries such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Chuck Berry, Elmore James, and Lowell Fulson. When Arthur backed Buddy Guy one night, he took notice of Guy's habit of strolling through the audience in mid-solo. It was a lesson in showmanship Arthur never forgot.
Adams waxed several singles during the early 1960s--"If It Ain't One Thing It's Another"../"Willin' To Die" for Philadelphia-based Jamie Records (the 45 was produced in Dallas by Al Klein, later a Motown rep), two or three more for Duchess, and "The Same Thing"../"Tend To Your Business" for Valdot, a logo owned by prolific Nashville songwriter Ted Jarrett. He was then billed as Arthur K. Adams--a ruse cooked up by promotion man and sometime singer Scotty McKay. That 'K' stood for absolutely nothing in particular, but endured on Adams' singles into the late '60s. A Fort Worth deejay recommended Arthur to Vee-Jay Records in 1964, so the guitarist saved his dough and moved to Los Angeles. He cut a session for the fading firm there, but it never hit the street. By 1967, he was establishing himself in the City of Angels, doing a musical cameo in the made-for-TV flick The Outsider (starring Darren McGavin) and cutting a fine blues number for the Bihari brothers' Modern imprint, "She Drives Me Out Of My Mind."
Vacillating between blues and soul at Modern, he also waxed a smooth duet, "Let's Get Together," with future Honey Cone lead singer Edna Wright under the billing of Arthur & Mary. Bobby Womack tipped Arthur to a regular house band gig for a TV program hosted by NFL defensive tackle Roosevelt Grier, who moonlighted as a singer. That led to his entry into the lucrative L.A. studio scene, where he played on hundreds of sessions by the Jackson 5, Henry Mancini, Lou Rawls, Willie Hutch, Sonny Bono, Nancy Wilson, Kim Weston, the Ballads (their '68 hit "God Bless Our Love"), the Phil Spector-produced 1969 smash "Black Pearl" by Sonny Charles & the Checkmates Ltd., and others. He contributed to TV and movie soundtracks (Cactus Flower, Buck and the Preacher, The Bill Cosby Show, Ironside), and his song "Love And Peace" was covered by Quincy Jones, who put it on his Grammy-winning 1969 A&M album Walking In Space.
Arthur's own recording career soared too. His 1969 single "It's Private Tonight" for Motown-distributed Chisa Records did strong regional business. Bob Krasnow's Blue Thumb Records signed Arthur and released his 1972 debut album, It's Private Tonight. The cream of L.A. sessioneers, including Crusaders keyboardist Joe Sample and saxist Wilton Felder, backed Arthur on the LP, and he returned the favor by playing on many of the Crusaders' jazz and funk-steeped '70s LPs, notably The Crusaders, Second Coming, Unsung Heroes, Those Southern Knights, and Free As the Wind.
There were three more Adams albums as the decade progressed, each progressively more funk-oriented: 1975's Home Brew, its followup Midnight Serenade (both for Fantasy), and the disco-tinged 1979 A&M set I Love Love Love My Lady. Not everything from this period was slick--Arthur co-wrote "Truckload Of Lovin'" with Jimmy Lewis for Albert King's 1976 Utopia album of the same name.
The 1980s were tough for Arthur. Burned out on studio work, he wrote a few tunes and generally cooled out before signing on as Nina Simone's bassist for a 1985 European tour. Fortunately, a session for a Church's Fried Chicken commercial the next year hooked Arthur up with harpist Chris Smith. As he played the blues with Smith at a nearby mountain resort, Arthur happily discovered exactly what had been missing from his musical diet. By 1987, a reenergized Adams was fronting his own blues outfit, steadily rebuilding his reputation as a dynamic live performer. Prior to their duets for Back On Track, Arthur had crossed paths with B.B. when he played rhythm guitar and wrote two songs for King's 1991 MCA album There Is Always One More Time. In '94, King inaugurated his classy nightspot in Universal City; Arthur has reigned as one of its primary attractions ever since. He also appears at a slew of other discerning L.A. blues clubs. Hollywood has been receptive to Arthur lately too; he recently filmed a reprise of the moody Ann Peebles soul classic "I Can't Stand The Rain" for the new movie Town And Country, starring Goldie Hawn. Prestigious blues festivals have been calling: Arthur wowed the St. Louis Blues Heritage Festival in August of '97 and three months later journeyed to Holland for Utrecht Blues Estafette.
With his Blind Pig album triumphantly announcing the emergence of Arthur Adams as one of today's most exciting blues artists, there can be no doubt that this veteran guitar master is Back On Track. The destination is clearly international stardom.