Rockabilly Hall Of Fame Member Billy Adams Passes

Kentucky Roots Rock pioneer and Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Billy Adams died on March 30, 2019 at Westmoreland Care and Nursing Home in Westmoreland, Tennessee. He was 79.

Willie Murray Adams, professionally known as Billy Adams, was born in Redbush, KY on March 6, 1940. Adams’ music was birthed in the hardscrabble existence of Appalachia. His father worked as a coal miner in the Van Lear coal mine and his mother was a housekeeper and cared for their 13 children. Adams was influenced by artists such as Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Merle Travis and Moon Mullican. He first performed on radio in 1952 at WCMI in Ashland, KY. In early 1954, after hearing Elvis Presley on the airwaves, Adams organized his first band, The Rock & Roll Boys and soon changed their name to The Rock-A-Teers. 

During his musical career, Adams wrote and recorded the seminal Rockabilly classic, “Rock, Pretty Mama,” released on independent label Quincy Records in 1957. The original 45 RPM single is a highly sought-after and valuable collector’s item. The master recording has been released on numerous major label “Best Of” compilations, including the 2003 Sanctuary/BMG album, Rockabilly Riot, which included songs from superstar artists such as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others.

Adams recorded several other Rockabilly and Rock ‘n’ Roll songs in the late ’50s that have gone on to become cult classics, including “You Heard Me Knocking” and “True Love Will Come Your Way,” released on Dot Records, and “You Gotta Have A Duck Tail,” “Walking Star,” “Return of the All American Boy,” “That’s My Baby,” “Blue Eyed Ella” and “The Fun House” for indie label, Nau-Voo Records.

By the late 1980s, Adams’ songs from the ’50s began to resurface on MCA, Bear Family, Ace Records and others, spurring a renewed interest in his music. Unfortunately, another recording artist named Billy Adams died in 1984 and many people confused the two. Surprised by the revival of his music and undaunted by the news of his “early demise,” he was motivated to realize a long-held dream when he recorded at the legendary Sun Studios and released his critically acclaimed Rockabilly comeback album, Legacy, in 2000. In 2002, Sanctuary Records of London released the 27 track career-spanning compilation, Billy Adams – Rockin’ Thru The Years. These releases garnered critical acclaim and opened doors for him to perform at SXSW and other prestigious music festivals across America and the U.K. in the final years of his life.

On July 9, 1961, Adams married Freda Louise Riffe and had three daughters, Tina Maria, Teresa Louise, and Janetta Darlene. In 1965, he received his calling into the ministry. This was a watershed time of creativity for him as a writer of gospel and country music and for the next 20+ years he wrote and recorded a massive body of work, including the Top 10 gospel hit “I Saw The Man” for the Happy Goodman Family. For several decades he toured the country by bus with his family band, spreading the gospel as an Evangelist and aiding in humanitarian efforts for people in need. Billy also became a Kentucky Colonel during this time and later an ordained Bishop.

Adams lost his wife, Freda, to cancer in 2007, and he married Sue Justice in 2010. Adams was preceded in death by his parents Charlie and Sarah Adams, daughter Teresa Williams, brother Charles and Wayne Adams and sisters Darcus Massie, Dixie Cooper, Opal Stanford, Dorothy Holbrook, Lillian Harris, Susie Traylor, and Carolyn Jones. He is survived by his wife Sue Adams of Portland, TN, daughter Tina Adams of Spring Hill, TN, daughter Janetta and son-in-law, Kelly Blevins of Argillite, KY, granddaughter, Hannah Kellene Grace Blevins, sisters Stella Jones and Sue Jenkins of Greenup, KY and Diana Clark of Flatwoods, KY.

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About the Author

Hollabaugh, a staff writer at MusicRow magazine, has over 20 years of music business experience and has written for publications including American Profile, CMA Close Up, Nashville Arts And Entertainment, The Boot and Country Weekly. She has a Broadcast Journalism and Speech Communication degree from Texas Christian University, (go Horned Frogs), and welcomes your feedback or story ideas at lhollabaugh@musicrow.com.

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