Greg Adams is a pioneer. As one of the founding members of Tower of Power, the trumpeter helped to create its signature sound. He has, since the age of eighteen, been the luminary behind an astonishing number of hits for countless artists, himself included along with the likes of Rod Steward and Elton John. Few horn sections have not played one of his riffs. He is credited on over a thousand recordings which have led to both Grammy and Emmy award nominations. He has performed with everyone from Carlos Santana to The Eurythymics and has loved every minute of it.
Katrina-Kasey Wheeler caught up with the pacesetter to discuss his multifaceted career.
All About Jazz: You have had great success with your career and that doesn't happen overnight. That starts with a solid foundation. How did you become interested in the trumpet, is there someone who inspired you to play?
Greg Adams: Both of my parents were musicians, they were missionaries for the Salvation Army. My mother was a pianist and my father played the clarinet. When I was about five years old I sort of picked it up and dragged it around for five years. The Salvation Army always had summer camps so I would go to the music camp and I would learn about music theory and I would play at a young age it just kind of came naturally to me. When I got into junior high I played in a band. When I got to high school I had a great musical experience with a great teacher and started to learn to write and arrange music. I am a real product of public education. I wanted to go to college but I decided to join Tower of Power instead. So for the past forty years music has been my life.
AAJ: Was that a tough decision to join Tower of Power instead of going to college?
GA: Not at all. I knew when I was sixteen that this is what I wanted to do, that I wanted to be a musician. I always tell people when I do music clinics, "Don't pass up the opportunity to go to college. Sometimes I wish that I would have done that, but then again, I was offered jobs to go into the studio and record on an album. One of the things about going to college is that you can't get a teaching credential if you don't go to college, and that is something that you can always fall back on. A lot of musicians do not make it; it is a tough gig to be a musician. I have been fortunate to have had some really great opportunities to work with a lot of different people in this business over the years. I have literally played gigs with everyone and recorded with everyone. It has been a great experience.
AAJ: On your release, Cool to the Touch (Ripa Records, 2006) although the tracks themselves are contemporary the titles are evocative of the 1960s jazz lifestyle. What was the impetus behind that?
GA: If you look at the CD cover it kind of has that minimalist approach, it is reminiscent of, say, an old Blue Note cover. They didn't want to spend any money on the cover; the labels just weren't going for it in those days. Cool to the Touch was almost Smooth to the Touch, we thought it was a little hipper. It is kind of evocative of the '60s but once you open it up and listen to the CD it is contemporary. With titles like "Hi-Fi, "Life in the Key of Blue and "Bongo Baby it's just fun. It is doing well, its selling well and it is getting a lot of radio play which is fortunate because it is on my own label.
AAJ: You have complete artistic control which allows a lot of freedom over what you put out for the audience.
GA: It is one of those things where you want to make sure that you can fit into a format that radio plays. Radio these days is so fickle; it is a mess out there. Thank god for all of the internet radio sources, because FM radio is just crazy. I try to strive for a better product every time that I do a record. With each new project I always want it to be better than the previous. Hopefully I am getting better; I think that Cool to the Touch is my best work to date. The songs are strong; it has a nice pattern and a common thread. You have to go with a concept and, like a flower, let it bloom and open up to see how good it smells.
AAJ: Going back to what you said about the minimalist approach of your CD cover, I think it was a great idea to do that because the music speaks for itself. You see a lot of image overpowering musicianship in the music business today. Image has always played a role and is an integral part of the process but now, more and more you see image taking over the actual artistry.
GA: Yes, we all have an image. I like the minimalist approach in this because as you grow older and have more life experience in everything that you do, you tend to see that you can say more with less. When you are a young guitarist for example, and have a million licks like Edward Van Halen, as he has gotten older, he plays fewer notes and he makes the notes that he does play more meaningful. If you can make people understand what you say with fewer words or notes in this case, then you will be able to get through to more people. The minimalist approach is kind of ironic if you think about it; trying to get your point across with the least amount of words.