A rockabilly legend whose scant discography can run you over a thousand dollars to acquire in original pressings, Billy Adams was born in Redbush, KY on March 6, 1940. Billy's father didn't earn enough for his 14 children at his job at the Van Lear coal mine (the same mine mentioned in Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter"). Without a large record collection, Billy first became interested in the hillbilly music he heard on the radio and Saturday night broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry. Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and Merle Travis were early influences and Billy began singing and drumming out a heavy beat on lard bucket lids. When his father developed lung problems from working in the mine, the family moved to Greenup County, KY. Borrowing a guitar from a neighbor, the 12-year-old made his local radio debut in 1952.
Deciding it was time to form a band after hearing Elvis Presley on the radio, Billy formed the Rock & Roll Boys with his brother Charles on lead guitar and Curtis May on upright bass in 1954. Encouraged by a local entertainer named Luke Gordon, Billy traveled to Cincinnati, OH to record "Rock, Pretty Mama." Gordon later released the single on his Quincy Records label in 1957 and the band started touring the Midwest. An enthusiastic cold call to the Sun Records label earned him an invitation to Memphis, but a broken down '49 Ford and no money to repair it kept him away. Back at home, the band caught the attention of Glenn McKinney during their regular gigs in Portsmouth, OH. McKinney released some singles by the band, now called the Rock-A-Teers, licensing some of the recordings to the Dot label. Billboard and Cashbox gave the singles good reviews but discouraged by their lack of nationwide success, the band called it a day in 1959.
Receiving his call to the ministry in 1965, Billy Adams spent the next 30 years evangelizing across the country while accompanying himself on piano and writing numerous gospel and country songs. Rockabilly compilations containing Rock-A-Teers recordings showed up in the late '80s on labels such as Ace and Bear Family and when a different artist named Billy Adams who recorded for Sun Records passed away in 1984 many tributes confused the two. Provoked by the swell of attention, Billy returned to the Sun Studios 41 years late to record Legacy, released by Screen Door Records in 2000. The Rockabilly Hall of Fame inducted him the same year. A new Rock-A-Teers was soon formed and started playing at rockabilly revival festivals at home and in England with Billy introducing his boss piano style to the pop world for the first time. In 2002 Sanctuary Records released a career retrospective, Rocking' Thru the Years, while The Official Price Guide to Records: 2002 valued original copies of "Rock, Pretty Mama," at $1,500 to $2000. ~ David Jeffries