Ryan Adams Biography

David Ryan Adams, 5 November 1974, Jacksonville, North Carolina, USA. Adams’ first foray into music was with high school punk band, Patty Duke Syndrome, fuelled by influences such as the Dead Kennedys and Sonic Youth. However, first experiences of love-turned-sour converted Adams to country and folk as he searched for a musical genre which could embody his feelings. In this spirit, Whiskeytown was the band Adams formed in 1994 with Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric ‘Skillet’ Gilmore and Steve Grothman. After only two albums, Faithless Street and Strangers Almanac, and beset by personnel changes, the band began to disintegrate, partly because of artistic and personal differences, partly because of an inability to meet the fans’ expectations as result of alcohol and drug excesses. (‘Well, we were called Whiskeytown!’ was Adams’ riposte.) Nevertheless, Adams’ image as a latter-day hell-raiser served him well and his popularity helped him survive the demise of the band.

After a period of introspection, Adams began working on his own songs and honing his musicianship by jamming in after-hours bars with friends Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. He teamed up with Emmylou Harris for a tribute album to his hero Gram Parsons, which featured their duet of ‘Return Of The Grievous Angel’. However, it was the emotional impetus of the split with a girlfriend that led to his first solo album in autumn 2000, the Dylanesque Heartbreaker, recorded in collaboration with Ethan Johns (who Adams had already worked with on the final Whiskeytown album). Adams credits Johns with organising Harris’ appearance on ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’, a particularly melodic and soulful track. There were also contributions from Rawlings, Welch and Kim Richey. The melancholy tone, complete with harmonica, could not totally crush the infectious energy underlying the whole album, in large part owing to the gutsy guitar licks. The light-hearted banter (‘Argument With David Rawlings Concerning Morrissey’) which prefaces the songs also offered a clue to Adams’ more cheerful side. All the same, Heartbreaker certainly helped confirm Adams’ assertion that, ‘Sad music at its best can be found in country and folk.’

Adams’ second release, Gold, was a highly ambitious and remarkably consistent work which helped confirm Adams as the alt country artist with the most potential to break into the mainstream. The album was released on Mercury Records’ new alt country offshoot, Lost Highway, and included the minor US hit ‘New York, New York’ (promoted by a video with the twin towers of the World Trader Center prominent in the background, four days before they were destroyed by terrorists). The prolific Adams released his third long-player Demolition (compiled from several different album sessions) in September 2002, and collaborated with singer-songwriter Jesse Malin in hardcore tribute band the Finger. Three further releases followed in late 2003, the long-playing Rock N Roll and the EPs Love Is Hell Pt. 1 and Love Is Hell Pt. 2. The latter pair were compiled from material rejected by Adams’ record company as being too bleak to appear on an official follow-up to Gold. The artist’s response was to record the hard rocking but largely inconsequential Rock N Roll.

Adams’ recording career has continued to inspire and infuriate in equal measure, with quality control often hampered by his prolific work-rate. In 2005, he teamed up with his backing band the Cardinals to record two relatively straightforward country rock albums, the double-disc Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. As if this was not enough he ended the year with the maudlin solo set 29. In 2006, Adams produced the Willie Nelson album Songbird and toured with the veteran country singer alongside the Cardinals. He also recorded a number of experimental albums for download from his website, featuring unlikely forays into hip-hop and electronica. The more conventional Easy Tiger was released via Lost Highway in summer 2007.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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