Of New Orleans’ many musical greats, few embodied the city’s spirited style of rhythm and blues as well as the late Johnny Adams (1932-1998). Though he charted just six R&B hits in a career spanning 40 years, New Orleans native Adams had one of the city’s most distinctive and dramatic voices. Ace has recently released the first-ever complete anthology of Adams’ singles for Ric and Ron Records with I Won’t Cry: The Complete Ric and Ron Singles 1959-1964.
Ric and its sister label Ron were founded in 1958 by the Crescent City’s Joe Ruffino, and named for his sons. The labels were only active for a short period, but their influence resonated through the city’s corridors and indeed, some of New Orleans’ greatest talents received early exposure on Ric and Ron. Ruffino founded Ric armed with masters from New Orleans’ Ace label (namesake for the current Ace Records) and went on to sign guitarist Al Blanchard in an A&R capacity. Blanchard and Ruffino were taken with the singer born Laten (or Lathan) John Adams in 1932, but Adams wasn’t too certain that he wished to move from gospel to secular music. At the urging of songwriter Dorothy La Bostrie, Adams did just that. After recording a demo, Adams entered Cosimo Matassa’s famed studio under Blanchard’s supervision to sing La Bostrie and Ruffino’s “I Won’t Cry.” It and B-side “Who You Are” were released on Ric, kicking off the career of the man called “The Tan Canary” – and also kicking off this compilation.
The Complete Ric and Ron Singles is the first Adams anthology to present his 22 Ric and Ron single sides with all As and Bs; it also adds two bonus tracks making their CD debuts. Adams’ second single, “Come On,” was his first to bear the name of Malcolm Rebennack (a.k.a. the future Dr. John) as a songwriter. Following Blanchard’s departure from the label, Rebennack and Harold Battiste would succeed him in A&R; both would be heavily involved in Adams’ singles. (Rebennack is responsible for writing or co-writing seven of the sides here.)
As Adams’ multi-octave range (including a powerful falsetto) was so adaptable, Rebennack and co. tried on a variety of styles on the singer, from straight-ahead R&B burners to balladry and pop. Despite their quality, however, most of Adams’ singles failed to gain popularity outside the south. 1962’s “A Losing Battle” finally earned the singer a national berth on the charts when it reached No. 27 R&B. Tragedy struck, however, when Joe Ruffino died a few weeks after “A Losing Battle” departed the Billboard countdown. Adams’ follow-up “Showdown” b/w “Tra La La” was one of just three 45s released on Ric after Ruffino’s untimely death, and despite a good notice from Cash Box, it didn’t register nationally. Ruffino’s brother-in-law Joe Assunto tried to keep the family business going. He signed Adams to his Watch label in late 1963, but then resurrected Ron Records on which he released two more 45s by Adams – with material drawn from the Watch sessions recorded at Matassa’s studio and arranged by Wardell Quezergue. Though the Watch tracks aren’t here, the Ron singles – continued from Ric’s numbering system - indeed are. (Tony Rounce’s excellent liner notes point out that the Ron releases were, oddly, credited to the late Ruffino as producer and co-writer despite the fact that he likely had no involvement with them.)
Johnny Adams’ career continued at a variety of labels including Joe Assunto’s Watch and Dynamics and “Crazy Cajun” Huey Meaux’s Pacemaker Records. It was for Watch, however, that Adams recorded the old country standard “Release Me.” When Shelby Singleton picked up the Watch recording for his SSS International label in 1968, he returned Adams to the charts; it went Top 40 R&B and made the Hot 100 at No. 82. He remained at SSS until 1971, after which time he signed with major label Atlantic and reunited with Quezergue at Malaco Studios and also recorded at Atlantic’s Florida home base of Criteria Studios. Future Adams releases appeared on a variety of labels including Ariola and Wes Farrell’s Chelsea Records, and in 1982 signed to Rounder Records. The label had acquired the Ric and Ron catalogues and signed him for new recordings. He remained at Rounder until his death, cutting tributes to Doc Pomus and Percy Mayfield, and establishing himself to younger fans of the N’awlins sound.
Ace completes its collection with two bonus tracks (“No Way Out for Me” and “Walking the Floor Over You”) originally released on the vinyl box set From the Vaults of Ric and Ron Records. The twelve-page booklet here contains compiler Rounce’s essay as well as numerous images of the original 45s. Duncan Cowell has handled remastering. Johnny Adams’ I Won’t Cry: The Ric and Ron Singles 1959-1964 is available now at the links below - and makes a fine companion to Ace's recent second volume of The Ric and Ron Story featuring 24 tracks from Adams, Barbara Lynn, Eddie Bo and others!
- I Won’t Cry (Ric 961, 1959)
- Who You Are (Ric 961, 1959)
- Come On (Ric 963, 1959)
- Nowhere to Go (Ric 963, 1959)
- The Bells are Ringing (Ric 966, 1960)
- Teach Me to Forget (Ric 966, 1960)
- Someone for Me (Ric 971, 1960)
- Let the Wind Blow (Ric 971, 1960)
- You Can Make It If You Try (Ric 976, 1960)
- Closer to You (Ric 976, 1960)
- Wedding Day (Ric 980, 1961)
- Ooh So Nice (Ric 980, 1961)
- Life is Just a Struggle (Ric 983, 1961)
- I Solemnly Promise (Ric 983, 1961)
- A Losing Battle (Ric 986, 1962)
- Who’s Gonna Love You (Ric 986, 1962)
- Showdown (Ric 992, 1962)
- Tra-La-La (Ric 992, 1962)
- Lonely Drifter (Ron 995, 1964)
- I Want to Do Everything for You (Ron 995, 1964)
- Comin’ Around the Mountain (Ron 996, 1964)
- Cold Cold Heart (Ron 996, 1964)
- No Way Out for Me (Ric/Rounder RICBOX 16, 2012)
- Walking the Floor Over You (Ric/Rounder RICBOX 16, 2012)