Johnny Adams’ recording career lasted exactly forty years. His career began in early 1958, when Johnny released his first single I Won’t Cry on Ric. It was a hit single in New Orleans, and the Southern states. For twenty-six year old Johnny Adams, this was the beginning of a forty year recording career. 

After the success of I Won’t Cry, Johnny enjoyed five further hit singles on Ric. Right through to 1964, Johnny Adams was one of Ric’s success stories. However, after the death of Ric’s owner, and guiding light Joe Ruffino in 1962, Ric became a rudderless ship. That was the end of Johnny’s time at Ric. However, it wasn’t the end of his career.

Right through to Johnny Adams’ death, on 14th September, 1998, he was still working. He had just completed his ninth album for Rounder Records, Man Of My Word. Johnny Adams was a much loved artist, whose career had lasted five decades. However, it was at Ric and Ron where Johnny’s career began. His time at Ric and Ron is documented on I Won’t Cry-The Complete Ric and Ron Singles 1959-1964, which was recently was released by Ace Records. This was where Johnny Adams’ five decade career began.

By the time Johnny Adams signed to Ric, he was nearly twenty-six. Johnny was born New Orleans, on 5th January 1932. He was the eldest of ten children. Just like many future R&B and soul singers, Johnny’s introduction to music was through the church. That’s where he discovered his powerful baritone voice, that had a wide vocal range. However, music was nothing more than a hobby to Johnny. He certainly didn’t want to sing what he thought of as the devil’s music.

That’s how R&B and rock ’n’ roll music was viewed, when Johnny was growing up. R&B and rock ’n’ roll singers were doing satan’s work. So, Johnny, a deeply religious young man, stuck to singing gospel music. 

Initially, Johnny was a member of The Soul Consolators. They were mentored by Bessie Griffin, who would later, become one of the biggest names in gospel music. After leaving The Soul Consolators, Johnny joined The Soul Revivers, who featured the Reverend Clay Evans, another future gospel star. However, Johnny had no ambition to take music any further. It was just a hobby. That was until one night, someone knocked on his door.

As was Johnny’s habit, he often sung when he was at home. He loved music, so it seemed natural. What he never imagined was that one of New Orleans’ songwriter, Dorothy La Bostrie would be passing his door. She had often heard Johnny singing. However, the pair had never met. That day however, Dorothy decided to speak to Johnny, as she had just written some new songs. So, she knocked on Johnny’s door and asked if he would like to sing her songs.

Previously, Johnny had only sung gospel music. Johnny hadn’t  sung secular music before. This was going against everything he believed in. However, after a while, Johnny had a change of heart. Johnny Adams was about to crossover.

Dorothy decided that she would record Johnny singing her two new songs, I Won’t Cry and Who You Are. Johnny was accompanied by just a lone acoustic guitar. Once Dorothy had coaxed an emotive performance out of Johnny, she took the tape to Joe Ruffino, who owned the Ric label.

When Joe Ruffino heard the two songs, he was won over. However, it wasn’t just the songs that impressed him. No. It was the singer. Joe wanted Johnny to sign to Ric. His first single would be I Won’t Cry.

Given the version of I Won’t Cry Dorothy had recorded was just a demo, Joe decided that a new recording be made. Joe brought onboard his A&R man and guitarist Edgar Blanchard. He took a band to Cosimo Matassa’s studio, where new versions of I Won’t Cry and Who You Are were recorded. They were released in early 1958.

With the two songs recorded, Joe decided that I Won’t Cry would be Johnny Adams’ debut single. The flip side was Who You Are. Both sides had been penned by Dorthothy La Bostrie. However, by the time of the release, Joe Ruffino had gained a co-writers credit. Whether he played any part in rewriting the song is unknown? What is know, is that when I Won’t Cry was released in early 1958,  Johnny Adams’ career got of to a dream start.

Before long, New Orleans’ premier R&B radio station picked up on the Dorothy La Bostrie’s tale of hurt and betrayal, I Won’t Cry. It seemed to strike a chord with people. Soon, I Won’t Cry was a hit in New Orleans. Then the song became popular across the Southern states. Despite not becoming a hit nationally, Joe Ruffino realised that Johnny Adams had potential, potential as a hit maker. So, he signed him to Ric, and a few months later, would release his sophomore single.

For Johnny’s sophomore single, Dorothy La Bostrie was nowhere to be seen. The woman who brought Johnny Adams to Joe Ruffino had been replaced by  Seth David and Mac Rebennack, who later, reinvented himself as Dr. John. Along with Joe Ruffino, they penned Come On. On the flip side was Nowhere To Go, which was penned by the New York songwriting team of Fred Wise, Ben Weisman and Brad Fredericks. These two tracks were recorded by Joe Ruffino’s musical lieutenant Edgar Blanchard. Once the songs were recorded, they became Johnny’s sophomore single.

Come On, an uptempo dance track, with a poppy sheen, was chosen as Johnny Adams’ sophomore single. It was quite different from I Won’t Cry. With its poppy sound, it seems Joe Ruffino was trying to sell Johnny Adams to the youth market. This worked. Johnny enjoyed another local hit. Things got even better, when in September 1959, British label Top Rank licensed Come On. However, Come On failed to chart in Britain. Never again would any of Johnny’s songs be released in Britain. Instead, he was left to try and break the lucrative American market.

At the end of 1959,  Joe Ruffino’s trusted lieutenant Edgar Blanchard left Ric.  Joe had a ready made replacement in Mac Rebennack He became Joe’s new A&R man. Mac also cowrote Johnny’s third single The Bells Are Ringing with William Allen and Joe Ruffino. The B-Side was Teach Me To Forget, penned by Seth David, Larry McKinley and Mac Rebennack, who produced the two tracks with a new studio band. 

The A.F.O. Combo, short for All For One, had been put together by Harold Battiste, the head of A&R for both the Ric and Ron labels. His new band, which epitomised the then New Orleans sound,  had been honing their sound. On The Bells Are Ringing, everything seemed to come together for The A.F.O. Combo. Would The Bells Are Ringing see them play on Johnny’s first nationwide hit single?

It was a case of the same old same old. Just like Johnny’s first two singles, The Bells Are Ringing, which was released in 1960, sold well locally. However, still Johnny couldn’t make a breakthrough nationwide. This would be the case with Johnny’s next four singles.

Between 1960 and 1961, Johnny released a quartet of singles that failed to chart. The first of this quartet was Someone For Me, which was written by William Allen, John Marris and Mac Rebennack. The B-Side was the Delores Johnson penned Let The Wind Blow. Although it was a success in the New Orleans’ area, that was as good as it got. That was also the case with Ted Jarrett’s You Can Make It If You Try. 

It had previously given Gene Allison a hit single in the mid-fifties. With The A.F.O. Combo accompanying him, Johnny reinvented You Can Make It If You Try. His tender, heartfelt reading brings new meaning to the song. Despite this when You Can Make It If You Try was released as a single in 1960, with Closer To You on the flip side history repeated itself. You Can Make It If You Try was successful in New Orleans, but still that nationwide hit eluded Johnny Adams.

Things didn’t improve for Johnny when Johnny released Wedding Day as a single in 1961. This string drenched ballad had been penned by Joe Ruffino and Morris Sweetwyne.  On the B-Side was Ooh So Nice, a Frank Katz and Carl Morgan composition. Just like its predecessors, Wedding Day was popular in the South, but failed to make an impact nationally. For Johnny Adams in 1961, Life Was A Struggle.

Ironically, that was the title of Johnny’s seven single. Written by Frank Douglas and Chris Kenner, that must have been like rubbing salt into the wound. Despite this, Johnny recorded  Life Was A Struggle and the B-Side I Solemnly Promise, a Mae Vince penned track. Released in 1961, Life Was A Struggle continued the familiar pattern, of selling well in the South, but nowhere else. Just like Johnny, Mac Rebennack was left shaking his head.

Mac knew that Johnny Adams had what many referred to as “star quality.” His singles sold well locally, and he was a popular and charismatic live performer. All Johnny needed was a record company willing to back him. That meant money to promote his singles. So far, Joe Ruffino had been reluctant to do so. Maybe, Joe was in his comfort zone?

While Johnny’s singles were only selling well in the South, maybe, Joe Ruffino was making money? To break Johnny nationally would take a lot of money. For Joe, this would be risky. It would be like betting the bank. However, when he found the right song, he was willing to do this.

A Losing Battle was an unlikely song for Johnny. The former gospel singer was being asked to sing a song that more than hints at adultery. Surely, Johnny would baulk at recording this track?

That proved not to be the case. Johnny went ahead and recorded the John Dauenhauer and Mac Rebennack composition. Johnny sounding as if he’s been inspired by Ray Charles, brings the lyrics to life. It’s as if he’s lived them. On the flip side was Johnny’s accusing take on John Dauenhauer and Mac Rebennack’s Who’s Gonna Love You. When Joe Ruffino heard A Losing Battle, he decided this was the track that would break Johnny Adams nationally.

That proved to be the case.  A Losing Battle entered the US R&B charts on 30th June 1962, and reached number twenty-seven. Somewhat belatedly, Johnny Adams was heard nationwide. For Ric, Johnny gave the label its first hit  since October 1960. This must have been a satisfying day for Joe Ruffino. Having backed Johnny Adams, Ric been rewarded by a hit. However, for everyone at Ric, the happiness turned to sadness in August 1962.

Ever since Joe founded Ric, he had worked tirelessly. Eventually, all the years of long days and hard work caught up with Joe Ruffino in August 1962. He died suddenly of a heart attack. His family and the wider New Orleans’ music community were shocked.

With Joe gone, his two sons were left to run the Ric and Ron labels. They tried to follow in their father’s footsteps. That, however, proved impossible. Eventually, Joe’s brother-in-law Joe Assunto took over the running of Ric and Ron. By then, the Ron label was on its last legs. It released its final single in August 1962. Ric however, continued, for the time being.

Showdown was the last single Johnny released on the Ric label. Written by Mac Rebennack, Johnny gave the song a bluesy hue. The flip side was Tra-La-La, a Dolores Johnson and Joe Ruffino song. It was well received by Cashbox magazine. Billboard however, never bothered to review Showdown, despite Johnny’s recent chart success. So, it’s no surprise that Showdown failed to chart. Apart from in Louisiana and Texas, Showdown passed record buyers by. For Johnny it was a disappointing Ric swan-song. He would rather have ended his time on Ric with a hit.

After leaving Ric, Johnny signed to Joe Assunto’s new label, Watch Records. That was home for Johnny for the next couple of years. During that period, Johnny released three singles, I Believe I’ll Find Happiness, Some Day and Got To Get Back To You. These singles didn’t result in an upturn in Johnny’s fortunes. So, in 1964, Johnny returned to Ron, which had reopened its doors.

Lonely Drifter was Johnny’s first single for the newly resurrected Ron label. It was a Joe Ruffino song. So was the B-Side I Want To Do Everything For You, which was penned by Joe and Eddie Bo, using his Dolores Johnson alias. Both songs were credited as Joe Ruffino productions. However, Joe Ruffino’s part in these tracks has been disputed. Since then, mystery has surrounded who penned and produced these tracks? 

Despite the mystery surrounding Lonely Drifter and I Want To Do Everything For You, both tracks find Johnny Adams in fine voice. He had matured as a singer since he left Ric, two years previously. Sadly, when Lonely Drifter was released as a single, it failed to chart. Johnny’s next single for Ron was his swan-song. There would be no comeback this time.

Coming Around The Mountain was a surprising choice for Johnny Adams’ next single. The arrangement to this traditional song was again credited to Joe Ruffino. Producing Coming Around The Mountain was Wardell Quezergue. On the B-side was a cover of Hank Williams’ Cold Cold Heart. It was arranged by Wardell Quezergue and produced by Joe Ruffino. However, the jazz-tinged take of Coming Around The Mountain wasn’t a commercial success. That marked the end of Johnny Adams’ time at Ron. 

Over two spells, lasting five years, Johnny Adams had enjoyed highs and lows at Joe Ruffino’s Ric and Ron labels. The former gospel singer had released eleven singles. While most of them had proved popular in New Orleans and the South, Johnny only enjoyed one hit single nationwide.

Somewhat ironically, given Johnny was a Christian, his only single was  A Losing Battle, a tale of adultery. It reached just number twenty-seven in the US R&B charts. That was as good as it got for Johnny Adams at Ric and Ron. However, it wasn’t the end of Johnny Adams’ career.

It was just beginning. After leaving Ron in 1964, Johnny’s career lasted another thirty-four years. Right through until his death in 1998, Johnny Adams was still making music. He  spent the final fifteen years of his career at Rounder Records, where he released nine albums. This was somewhat fitting, given for a while, they owned the rights to the Ric and Ron back-catalogues. Now, however, Ace Records are reissuing the Ric and Ron back-catalogues.

Ace Records latest reissue from the Ric and Ron back-catalogues is I Won’t Cry-The Complete Ric and Ron Singles 1959-1964, which features the eleven singles Johnny Adams released on Ric and Ron. That’s not all. There’s the B-Sides, plus two previously unreleased demos, No Way Out For Me and Walking The Floor Over You. These twenty-four tracks showcase the early years of Johnny Adams’ career. Even then, it was obvious that the former gospel turned R&B singer was destined for greater things. 

Sadly, Johnny Adams never reached the heights of his contemporaries, like Sam Cooke and Bobby Womack. However, Johnny Adams enjoyed a career that spanned forty years and five decades. During that period, Johnny Adams proved a versatile and talent performer, who was loved and respected in equal measures. While Johnny Adams never enjoyed fame and fortune, he enjoyed an enviable longevity, where he continued to reinvent himself. However, during the period that I Won’t Cry-The Complete Ric and Ron Singles 1959-1964 covers, Johnny Adams was one of the rising stars of the New Orleans R&B and soul scene. No wonder, given the quality of music on I Won’t Cry-The Complete Ric and Ron Singles 1959-1964.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: