Billy Adams

Rock Me Baby: The Sun Years, Plus

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Billy Adams was a fixture in Memphis R&B and rock & roll during the early '60s, leading a rollicking band that often featured Bill Yates on keys and vocals. In 2013, Bear Family gave these two obscure figures their due via two compilations of their work for Sun and elsewhere, each receiving a comp under his own name. Yates was a versatile, supple soul singer, often bringing to mind the great Sun singer Charlie Rich, while Adams' work was wilder and more purely R&B, and also had a jazzy undercurrent. Rock Me Baby: The Sun Years, Plus collects 31 sides Adams cut between 1961 and 1969 for the Sun, Home of the Blues, and Pixie labels, including alternate takes and unreleased tracks. Adams had no hits -- nor did his colleague Yates, for that matter -- but the sides he recorded during this transitional time in Memphis rock & roll and R&B evoke the era, a time when the upheavals of the '50s were gelling into a distinct soulful groove, one that surfaced prominently at Stax and Hi but also could be heard in Adams' roadhouse R&B and rock. Adams fronted a working band, the kind of group that played regularly at bars and hotels around Memphis, so he had a good sense of what would please a crowd, a quality that's evident throughout Rock Me Baby. That doesn't mean the music here sounds like a collection of lost hits, however. Adams mined the vein that ran from '50s rock & roll to '60s R&B, and if he was perhaps the closest to Charlie Rich of all the Memphis-based '60s rockers, his singles lacked the groove of Rich, not to mention the easy, soulful touch his colleague Yates brought to his own singles. On the whole, Adams' work was wilder and more rhythm-oriented -- not quite a shock for a drummer -- and that means there aren't a lot of songs with a true crossover hook, but Rock Me Baby swings, often with delirious gusto. This is roadhouse party music -- dance tunes, shuffles, rave-ups -- delivered with raw-throated enthusiasm by Adams. If the individual songs aren't so memorable (the late-'60s novelties "Adam and Eve [In the Garden]" and "Dudley [The Do Right King]" aren't as representative of Adams' work but they do sink hooks into the imagination), the overall sound is rough, rowdy, and fun, a good representation of this vibrant yet underappreciated era in Memphis music.

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