Doug Adamz #1
Katie: I’m Katie Mitchell sitting here with Doug Adamz on the phone who I met at Far West. It’s a real pleasure to have on the phone today, Doug.
Doug: Well it’s really great to be here with you.
Katie: So I met Doug at Far West as I said before and we had a great conversation. He was actually a fan of Art of the Song from before and we got to talking a little bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see him play which is a shame because I listened to your CDs and they were just fantastic.
Doug: Well, thanks!
Katie: Just a whole lot of fun. To start off here, you are a fabulous guitarist and just really a wicked good harmonica player. You are, also at the heart of it, a storyteller. I’m curious, what came first for you? Did you start off with the instruments or did you start off with the storytelling? How did you start in music?
Doug: Well how I started was, when I was about eight or nine years old, I think my mom needed a break so she dropped me off at the Trinity Methodist Church there in El Paso, Texas on a Wednesday afternoon and I walked down into the basement choir practice. Boys choir. So that’s how I started in music was singing in the boy’s choir which was a lot of fun and I learned a lot of stuff. Then went on to be in the school band where I played trombone. I started that in fifth grade. Then, somewhere in junior high, I met a friend, or made a friend named Ron Evans who played guitar and he was really good at it even though we were only about thirteen years old. When he found out I could sing harmonies with him, he thought, “Well I better teach him how to play so he can back me up.”
Katie: Oh that’s funny.
Doug: We started a band, a Rock ‘n’ Roll band when we were thirteen years old. That was a time, I’m old enough that I remember when the Beatles actually came out, so what was on the radio at that time was very exciting. Probably the only time in my life when I really loved everything that was on the radio. Or lots of what was on the radio. That’s what I grew up learning. Those songs. So I would say the storytelling aspect of things kind of evolved later. Yeah, learning to talk to people and learning to tell the stories. I think that came as I got more comfortable in front of real listening audiences.
Katie: That’s interesting. What I really love about your songwriting too is you incorporate so much humor in it. Did that start from the beginning? Have you always kind of had a little bit of humorous element to your art or was it something that evolved later on?
Doug: It was probably there a little bit, but it’s really flowered in more recent years. I think because when I was younger, I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted to express my angst and all the romance and passion and drama. And now, I really want to laugh. Not that life isn’t still dramatic and passionate, but to bring in the humor is, I think, a really really wonderful thing.
Katie: Well you do have some really beautiful, emotionally connected serious ballads on there too. I just like that you have both that combination of depth and levity in your writing that I just think is really extraordinary.
Doug: Well thank you so much for hearing it that way. That’s exactly the best kind of appraise, or comment, that I would ever like to hear.
Katie: Well good. I’m sure you know, folks who are listening to this, you definitely need to listen through his albums as well because it really is just such a great journey to go on. I’m curious too, you have played with some just really extraordinary people just looking through your bio here, and I’m curious, what are some of your influences? And did you come across playing with these people because they were your influences? Did you aspire to work with them? Did it just kind of happen happenstance? How did that all come about?
Doug: I would say all of the above. For instance, currently, I think, and this relates a lot to the storytelling aspect of things, one of my neighbors, where I live now, where I’ve been living for about the last six years, is Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and he’s nothing if not a storyteller.
Katie: No kidding.
Doug: We were just together last night at a party. A few musicians and a few friends gathered around. He didn’t bring his guitar, not surprising, but I knew he probably wouldn’t so brought a Martin along that I knew he liked and handed it to him. And he holds the guitar in his lap and starts talking. We traveled around the world a few times in the process of him introducing a song. It was great. So I would say Ramblin’ Jack these days, not in my formative years at all. Wasn’t that aware of him. But since I’ve gotten to know him and really appreciate his art, I would say Ramblin’ Jack has been a big influence and maybe that’s where a lot of the storytelling is coming from. But there’s been a lot of influences and a lot of the influences I’ve had are people that you may not have heard of. Another guy at that party last night was Greg Schindel. He’s known as the “Train Singer” and he sings on the Skunk Train which is a train that goes from Willits, California over to the coast and back. And he knows every train song I think ever written. But what people don’t know about him, that’s what he’s known as, what people don’t know about him is that he’s a fantastic songwriter and really influenced my approach to songwriting. The other one worth mentioning that’s unknown, or little known, but should be known, is a guy named Gene Keller from El Paso, Texas. I’ve just grown up with him, I met him my first year out of high school and we’ve both been working on writing songs and we traveled parallel. So you can’t discount those people in your influences too. The close ones.
Katie: Yeah, I love that you have people that are your peers that you’ve grown up with, that you live next to, literally, that you consider your influences. I think that that’s just really beautiful. It’s a very nice little human approach to it all. I think that’s great.
Doug: Yeah it lives and breathes, it’s organic.
Doug Adamz Talks About The Songwriting Process
Katie: It also seems to me, it sounds like you have gone through quite an evolution in your songwriting process as well through the years. Can you talk about the sort of evolution in your songwriting process and your creative process through the years and how that’s changed?
Doug: Sure, it’s a big question and, in a way, you’re kind of asking me my life story.
Katie: Yeah, pretty much.
Doug: You got a minute? Let me tell you my life story. One thing is I’ve stayed in music. I started singing, like I said, when I was about nine years old. By the time I was sixteen, I pretty much had made up my mind that that was what I was going to do. So you live, you grow, you keep practicing. You keep playing. You keep writing and, as you go through changes, as everybody does, it’s all reflected in your music and in your work.
Doug: Anything more specific?
Katie: Yeah, it is a really big thing to tackle. Let’s talk about, specifically, your creative writing process. So, when you sit down to write now, is it something where you find the melody and the guitar comes first? Or does the story come first? Where does that song come from for you?
Doug: You never know where it’s going to come from next. I do like to sit down and play my guitar. And I like to practice. When I can wrangle time, that’s the main key for anybody who wants to do something creative in the way of writing is making time for it. When I have been able to work my life around to it, I like to get up in the morning, and go as quickly as possible after coffee, to playing. I like to play my guitar. Oftentimes, musical ideas will come through from there. Lyrical ideas, that’s anybody’s guess. I always keep a little notepad with me and I’ll write stuff down. This is something I’ve learned to do more regularly, more focused in the years, even if it’s just two words that sound good together and they’re not related to anything else. I’ll write them down in my book and that’s all a way of courting your muse. If they send you something, you want to appreciate it. You want to write it down to let them know that you appreciate it. Then they’ll send you something else. Then, say I get a musical idea that’s working, I’ve got all this source material to draw from. Words that have come. Maybe it’s pages of poetry or something that doesn’t even rhyme or maybe it’s just a couple of words that fit in rhythmically. You just work it.
Katie: I want to touch on that idea you mentioned just a moment ago about the muses sending you inspiration. Is that where you think creativity comes from for you? Is this external muse inspiration source and how do you think that is? Do you think it’s specific to you? Do you think we all tap into that sort of muse? What are your ideas on that?
Doug: That’s kind of a thing that’s kind of hard to talk about but I don’t know. That’s the answer. I don’t really know and I think it’s available for everybody. I think that to honor it is the key. I think it is available and it can come to everybody but you might have to work really hard before you recognize one of those gifts that comes along. And it might seem really small and insignificant but you just got to grab it when it comes and make note of it.
Katie: Just grab it and go.
Doug: Yeah, that’s right.
Doug Adamz On Hispanic Culture, El Paso and Serenades
Katie: That’s great. I want to talk a little bit about your CDs too. By the way, they both each have such a different feel to them and I really appreciate that. Starting with “Bernardo’s Serenade”, though, which I love, which I really feel like has some of those influences, would I be correct in saying that it has some of those influences from growing up in El Paso?
Doug: Absolutely, it is steeped in that. Hispanic culture, and I was witness to actual serenades happening. It was really a living art.
Katie: Where did the inspiration for the title track come from on that one?
Doug: Well that, it’s called “Bernardo’s Serenade” and the setup is it’s a serenade being sung to the typical woman on the balcony, this serenader in the courtyard or on the street singing to her a love song. But, he didn’t write the song and the writer of the song is expressing himself through the singer. So that’s the setup. How did I think of that? Well, it turned into kind of a long story, but I listened to Spanish language music, Mexican music, or Spanish music a lot on the radio and I was hearing this song that, over and over again, a long time ago, maybe in the eighties, and it turns out it was even a much older song that that. And it’s called “Triste Recuerdo” or “Sad Memories”. The only line I could really get at that time that made sense to me was, “Espero que tu, eschuchas esta cancion” which means “I hope that you hear (or listen) to this song.” So, from hearing that, and just the tonality of this whole song, in my mind, I could see the scene of the mariachis or the group down there in the courtyard singing to the girl, but the writer is hoping that she hears it. So, seeing that scene in my head, that’s where the whole story came from.
Katie: I love that. It’s such a great story. One of my other favorites on the CD is, of course, “The Authentic Skulls of Pancho Villa” which, by the way, is probably going to get added to one of my favorite all-time songs. It’s a great story. Talk to me a little about this and where your inspiration for this story came from.
Doug: Well, I don’t want to give it away because you really need to hear the song. This is the song that would have a spoiler effect if I told how it came to be that we had the authentic skulls of Pancho Villa. Growing up where I grew up, at the time that I grew up there, you would understand how it came about easily. Everybody of my age group, it was almost like a reunion of people who went to high school when I did, or school when I did, in El Paso, Texas. They all got it. The line, “Come in, take a look.” We’ve all heard it a million times, the shop keeper trying to get you to come into the shop. In those days, this is in the sixities, El Paso and Juarez, Mexico are absolutely side by side. The original sinners of town were next to each other right on the border of Texas and Mexico and the rest of the town grew up around them, so they’re linked. They’re like sister cities and in those days you could go over there, it was dangerous but it was not dangerous in the way it got in the 2000’s with the drug cartels. We’d go over there with our families and you’d walk down the streets and it was just such an interesting and great place to be. This whole interaction between the salesman trying to sell you stuff and us as tourists, even though we were locals, that was the foundation and theme where that whole song is set.
Katie: I don’t know if it’ll give it away but is it a true story? That’s all I want to know.
Doug: That’s what we all want to know. Yes, it’s true in some universe.
Katie: In some universe, I love it. Let’s talk about your most recent release, “National Steel”, where did the inspiration for that one come from?
Doug: Let me just give a little background. My last three albums have all been solo albums. I mean, really solo in that it’s the sound of the first of this trilogy, I called them the “Kitchen Trilogy” because I could sit down and play the last three albums that I’ve done in your kitchen with no amplification, with no other instruments. The first of the group, which you don’t have, but I can send you a copy, it’s called “Guitar Solos”.
Katie: Oh yeah, I would love that. I saw that on your bio there too. You just have such a beautiful way with the guitar. I would love to listen to it.
Doug: Well, it’s all instrumental. That’s why I gave you the ones that have actual songs on them. These are songs but they’ve got no words. But it’s all instrumental, solo, singer-style guitar. That was the first of them. I named it, cleverly, “Guitar Solos”. And the next one is, “Bernardo’s Serenade” which we’ve been talking about, and that’s solo guitar plus voice, and a little harmonica, which I play around my neck. And toe-tapping. That’s all that’s on that album. And then the next one, the third of the group, is the most recent and it’s called “National Steel”, you were asking about it, and it’s also solo. I’ve got two duets on there though. That’s where I’ve expanded a little bit. I’ve got two duets with Peter Rowan. He’s another one of my neighbors here, and he liked those songs a lot, so I asked him to record them with me, and that was a great honor. How that whole song and approach came is my girlfriend, Nancy, had this National Steel body guitar. I started playing it and it’s got a real distinctive style sound. It’s got a distinctive sound that kind of leads you usually to a blues-ier style. It’s often associated with the blues so the songs are really, I think, real Americana because of that steel-bodied guitar.
Katie: Absolutely. “The House of Curiosities”, which is on National Steel, is actually posted on the Standing “O” Project as well so people can listen to that song as well which is, by the way, another great story and another great sound. And I can see where the Americana influence comes in on that one. Do you want to talk a little bit about the story behind “The House of Curiosities”?
Doug: Sure. Well, that, just as a synopsis for those who haven’t heard it–you should listen to it though because you need to hear it–it’s driving across country, you stop at a rest stop, or the character named “I” stopped at the rest stop and a diesel comes in that’s all hand-painted and it says “House of Curiosities” on the side and the driver of the truck gets out and starts explaining what’s inside the truck. That’s what most of the song is, is what’s inside of the truck. Where that came from, really, is from, I grew up in El Paso and when I was a young man, I moved out to California, Northern California, San Francisco area, and I’ve driven back and forth a lot of times so driving across the desert and taking different routes–sometimes I-10 and sometimes on the little two-lane roads and you’re out in the desert. Also driving recently, in recent years, across Southern Florida, and you really do run into some very colorful characters. So this Cecil, who is the owner of the House of Curiosities, is maybe a composite of a bunch of those outlandish characters that I’ve met in my life.
Katie: Oh that’s great. Well, Doug, I think we’re running out of time here. Thank you so much. Do you have any parting words for our Standing “O” listeners or Art of the Song listeners on the Art of the Song Coffeehouse Podcast?
Doug: Well, I imagine most of the listeners are participants and also songwriters and I can’t wait to hear your stuff too and let’s just keep on going. And thank you, Katie, so much for putting all this energy, both you and the Art of the Song folks. When I first heard Art of the Song on the radio on our little local community radio station, I live just on the far reaches of it, I was amazed that a radio show was dedicated to songwriting. It was just so surprising. Most people consume songs every single day but they don’t even begin to think about the actual creative process of making one. So I think it’s just an incredible development that you’re doing this. And thank you.
Katie: Well thank you, and we’re so glad to have folks like you who continue to write amazing songs and share them and share your stories. We’re so grateful to have the opportunity to talk with you here and learn a little bit about your story.
Doug: Oh, well thanks, we can’t help ourselves.
Katie: Well said. Well, thank you Doug Adamz. And, for you folks out there who want to check out a little more about Doug Adamz, you can check him out at standingoproject.com/artist/dougadamz. Adamz spelled A-D-A-M-Z. Thank you!