If Charlie Adams is mentioned these days, it’s usually in passing – as a footnote, likely connected to the fact that he toured with Hank Williams on the latter’s Texas swing in December 1952. However, though he never enjoyed a major hit nor became a household name, Charlie Adams & His Western All-Stars were a popular presence on the Southwestern dance hall and recording scene in the early-to-mid-1950s and left an enduring and engaging legacy of recordings before Adams bowed out of music in favor of family later in the decade.
He was born in Waco, Texas, in 1920. He grew up playing alongside local youngsters : he recalls playing for cream puffs as a child before graduating to small beer joints as a teenager, working for two dollars a night. By the mid-30s, he was playing guitar with the Melody Boys, who managed to land a Saturday night radio spot on WACO. Bob Wills and Milton Brown were the group’s main inspiration. but Adams left the Melody Boys in 1937. He worked with various groups, and joined the WACO staff band : the Rhythm Riders in 1941, but soon was drafted as a medic : he served in Europe.When he returned home in 1946, he did catch on with honky-tonker Hank Thompson, with whom he recorded for Blue Bonnet in 1947, then joined the Lone Star Payboys, the area’s most popular country dance band. That summer he toured California alongside Hank Thompson’s band. « Vince Incardona was the manager and he’s ask everybody to do a song or two, and I think the first song I did was « Lovesick Blues ». This proved more and more popular, so novelties with yodeling (« If you can call it that », Adams laughs) became Adams’ trademark, but he was far better when playing it straight on honky-tonk ballads.
It remains unclear how Adams came to be forth as a featured vocalist. Lew Chudd, of Imperial Records, apparently liked both Adams’ songs and his voice and decided to record him as a solo, with the Playboys merely as backing band. At dances and on radio, Adams remained simply the Playboys’ bassist who sometimes sang. On jukeboxes, he became an increasingly popular singer. He had three sessions on Imperial, alternating novelties and ballads, from these « I’m an Army Man ». Adams says he never had a formal contract with Imperial, and it is also unclear how Paul Cohen of Decca Records became interested in Adams : he had a field trip to Dallas in April 1951 to record local acts like Dub Dickerson and Clay Allen. On June 6, Adams cut his first Decca sides at an isolated session at Jim Beck’s studio. Nothing really scored. Decca, for his second session, insisted that he form his own touring band to promote his records, hence the Western All-Stars. They toured Texas and neighboring states. The band stayed behind, however when Adams cut his third Decca session. Paul Cohen’s interest in Texas-based artists lessened, and he had forged an arrangement with Owen Bradley in Nashville that guaranteed a certain amount of session work for Bradley regulars : guitarists Chet Atkins and Grady Martin, Floyd Cramer on piano, Tommy Jackson on fiddle, Ernie Newton on bass and Farris Coursey on drums, added by a talented 18 years-old steel-guitarist from Shreveport, Jimmy Day. Two sides remained unissued but Decca 28397 coupled the fine « T T Boogie », the melody of which Adams lifted entirely from the jazz standard « The Jazz Me Blues », and the ballad « Before You Say I Do ». It was the best seller Adams ever had.
The December ’52 Hank Williams tour was a memorable one and neither Adams nor his fiddler George Uptmor recall having any inkling that Williams was not long for this world. « He never told us how to play, recalls Uptmor, but I knew what he wanted, so I tried to play as close as Jerry Rivers (Williams’ former fiddler) as I could. » In addition to Williams, the Western All-Stars backed other stars like Marty Robbins, Webb Pierce and even Ernest Tubb, who would come to Texas with only Billy Byrd in tow and augment him with Adams’ group.
Decca may have lost interest, but old friend Jim Beck steered Columbia’s Don Law toward Williams. In the fall of 1953, Adams signed up with Columbia and for the first time used theWestern All-Stars on record. He cut the at the insistence of Don Law the strange novelty « Hey!Liberace » (about the then effeminate TV sex symbol), which proved to be his biggest seller. From his second session (March ’54) came the fine « I’m a Railroad Daddy », the last novelty yodel he did from his Imperial days 4 years ago. Still there were tours, for example backing Frankie Miller. On his next session Adams cut « Cattin’ Around », the closest he went to Western Swing, also the closest to fiddler Harry Choates’ 1950 « Cat’n Around ».By the time of the next session at Jim Beck’s, nine months later, things had changed a lot. Television and Rock’n’Roll. So nothing scored. Adams toured West, Texas, Colorado, Utah during 1955. Early 1956, the final Columbia session for Charlie Adams. The material cut reflected the changing marketplace : « Sugar Diet » and « Blackland Blues » both showed the influence of Rock’n’Roll, although they were still decidedly Country and more R&B than Rockabilly or Rock’n’Roll. Shortly after (in 1958) Adams disillusioned quit touring : he wanted to watch his second son grow as he didn’t the first one, and wished to be father and husband. So he settled in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he built up a successful insurance business. that’s where he still lives today.