Born 6 March 1940, Redbush, Kentucky

There were at least four different artists who recorded under the name of Billy Adams. The subject of this biography should not be confused with the Memphis-based singer-drummer who recorded for Sun (and other labels), nor with with the pop rocker whose releases came out on Capitol, Decca, Amy, Wand and Arc.

One of thirteen children, Billy Adams grew up in poverty in the Kentucky Appalachians. On Saturday nights the Adams family would listen to the Grand Ole Opry. When Billy first heard Elvis Presley on the radio in 1955, he knew what kind of music he wanted to make. He left school after the eighth grade and went on the road with his older brother Charles. Having learned the basic guitar techniques from their dad, the brothers practiced a lot and performed in bars and clubs. After adding a bass player to the line-up (Curtis May), they began to call themselves The Rock ’n’ Roll Boys. Among the songs they featured in their shows was Billy’s own composition “Rock Pretty Mama”.

This would become his debut single. The song had come to the attention of Luke Gordon, a country singer who recorded for Starday and who owned a record label, Quincy Records. “Rock Pretty Mama”, a Sun-styled rockabilly item, was released as the A-side in November 1957, credited to “Billy Adams with the Rock ’n’ Roll Boys”. Luke Gordon was the singer on the other side, “Don’t Cramp My Style”, backed by the same trio. Only 500 copies were pressed, but today “Rock Pretty Mama” has achieved cult status as a rockabilly classic. The record was heard by Glen McKinney in West Portsmouth, Ohio, where he had a studio and a record label, Nau-Voo Records. McKinney first recorded Billy Adams on the gloomy "You Heard Me Knocking”, which came out on Dot in January 1958. Billy’s next three singles were released on Nau-Voo, credited to “Billy Adams and the Rock-A-Teers”. “You Gotta Have A Ducktail” was a fine rocker, but the second Nau-Voo 45 was the one that made some genuine noise. “The Return Of the All-American Boy” was a sequel to the Bobby Bare / Bill Parsons smash hit “The All American Boy” and was picked out by Billboard as a Spotlight winner of the week in March 1959. But it failed to make the charts, probably due to a lack of promotion. The final Nau-Voo release came 16 months later, in July 1960, and coupled “The Fun House”, a novelty piece of rockabilly, with the bluesy “Blue-Eyed Ella”.

The Rock-A-Teers, a five-piece band, had built up a considerable reputation, but they broke up in 1959. Brother Charles was not to record with Billy again until 1963, after which he would stay with Billy until his (Charles’s) demise in the 1980s. Continuing as a solo artist, Adams had four releases in quick succession on the Fern label (1960-61), which was based in Ashland, Kentucky and owned by Bill Burchett. Though certainly not bad, these Fern singles are not of the same quality as the Nau-Voo releases. After a two year hiatus there followed two more releases in 1963, on Spider Records, Billy’s own label. These four tracks were the last rock and roll recordings by Adams for some 35 years. In 1964-65 he cut a few country singles for tiny labels (Jo-Mar, Double Shot and Bur-K), but during live performances Billy still rocked, belting out his own rockabilly songs. In 1966 he received a call to the ministry and would concentrate on gospel music for the next two decades.

It was in 1998 that the rejuvenation of Billy Adams as a rockabilly singer began. He cut an album at the Sun Studio with seventeen quality rockabilly recordings, including remakes of his first two singles, “Rock Pretty Mama” and "You Heard Me Knocking”. Apart from Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’”, all songs were Billy’s own compositions. The album was released in February 2000 under the title “Legacy”. Encouraged by his family of singing daughters, he assembled a new line-up of the Rock-A-Teers and went back on the road. Adams soon discovered that he had acquired a large following of new fans, after prestigious appearances in Las Vegas, Jackson (Tennessee), Green Bay (Wisconsin) and Hemsby (England), his first show overseas (2002). A second successful European tour followed in 2004, amidst many appearances at festivals in the USA. Billy Adams keeps on rocking!

More info :

Discography :

CDs :
- Rockin’ Through the Years, 1955-2002 (Castle Music CMRCD581, UK, 2002). 27 tracks. All the rock & roll recordings, 1957-1963, a few tracks from the “Legacy” CD and two live recordings from 2001. Liner notes by Stuart Colman and Tony Wilkinson.
- Legacy (Screen Door 0200-2). Released 2000. 17 tracks.

Acknowledgements : Stuart Colman, Tony Wilkinson, Bill Millar.

YouTube :
Rock Pretty Mama :
You Heard Me Knocking :
True Love Will Come Your Way :
You Gotta Have A Ducktail :
That’s My Baby :
Return of the All-American Boy :
Rip Van Winkle :
Hot Dog I’m A Real Cool Cat (starts at 2:06) :
Rockabilly Special :

Dik, June 2017

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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