Gary Adams passes

Michigan-area bluegrass musician Gary Adams passed away on Monday, January 23. He had very recently been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. 

Gary Lee Adams was born Harts Creek (Logan County), West Virginia, on January 1, 1952. He began playing at the age of five. 

When he was 17 his family migrated north to Detroit, Michigan, for work in the auto industry. Gary worked for the Chrysler Corporation for 27 years and decided to retire and build his dream home in Dandridge, Tennessee, in 2004. 

He worked with Wendy Smith & the Windy Mountain Boys starting about 1970. Then, briefly, with Jimmy Martin, before returning to play with Smith, whose band became known as Blue Velvet. Adams played bass, guitar and/or mandolin on their three LPs. 

The Blue Velvet – That Mighty Horse Of Steel 

In October 1981 he joined the Bluegrass Cardinals, staying with them until May 1982 when he returned to his job at Chrysler Corporation, as he had gone to work with them during a layoff and didn’t want to lose his tenure.

Shortly afterwards he started his own signature group, Gary Adams and the Bluegrass Gentlemen, playing the mandolin, with his younger brothers Michael Adams (guitar) and Keith Adams (bass); and their friend Steve Daniels (banjo). He bought himself a 4104 bus and hit the road, but always maintained his day job with Chrysler.

This band was mainly active during the 1980s and 1990s.  

Gary Adams – Goin’ Home 

…from the LP New Freedom Bell 

Reviewer Jon Hartley Fox described Adams as becoming a “forceful, distinctive lead singer,” with his “high and intense” vocals owing “a debt to Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe” (Bluegrass Unlimited, January 1984). Others who influenced his career were Sonny Osborne and Doyle Lawson. 

Occasionally he filled in, playing bass, for Monroe during the first half of the 1990s.

Gary Adams and the Bluegrass Gentlemen – Going Back To Georgia [1989]

LuAnn Smith met Adams in November 1981 when she was in Dayton, Ohio, and heard Gary belt out the high tenor on The Wicked Path of Sin with the Bluegrass Cardinals….. 

“He literally brought the house down. I guarantee if anyone was lucky enough to hear them do that, they never forgot it. (David and Don Parmley, Norman Wright, Tim Smith). Gary played electric bass with them. 

Gary was the first to record the Wendy Smith song, Carolyn the Teenaged Queen, from where the likes of Dwight McCall and Don Rigsby and the Lonesome River Band learned it, and later performed the song and made it even more famous. 

Gary and his friend Wendy Smith were like the ‘Doyle Lawsons’ of Southeast MIchigan. Every musician around played in their bands at some point. Even the late James Price (former Clinch Mountain Boy) found his way to Michigan to play fiddle for Gary, as well as the late Jimmy Campbell. A very young Brad Campbell played banjo with Gary before going on to work for Quicksilver. Andrea Mullins Roberts of Petticoat Junction and the Andrea Roberts Agency got her start as a Bluegrass Gentlemen when she was a young girl from Indiana. He was a mentor to many.”

Gary Adams and the Bluegrass Gentlemen at the Charlotte Bluegrass Festival in Charlotte, Michigan, June 1990 – Carolyn the Teenage Queen 

Gary Adams (mandolin), Dana Cupp Jr (banjo), Greg Farmer (bass) and John Coffey (guitar)

Brad Campbell joined the Bluegrass Gentlemen in 1986 …. 

“Very sad news today hearing of the passing of a dear friend and music mentor, Gary Adams. I never will forget the excitement and sheer joy of when he called me (16 years old at the time) and asked me to join his awesome band. My parents were reluctant, to be honest. I remember Gary promised my Mom that he would take care of me, and he made good on his promise. 

I’m grateful for this time that we got to spend together traveling and playing music. To a teenage kid, it was an adventure every time we headed out on the bus for a road trip. The bonus was getting to hear some of the best sibling harmony on the daily…. I’m sure you and Michael are wowing the masses as I type this. 

So many people I never would have met, so many experiences and places I never would have had or seen. Some of the most fun and best times playing music that I’ve ever had.

Thank you for being a mentor, teacher, encourager and dear friend to me.  One of a kind.  Until we meet again, rest easy Groovy.”

Campbell added … 

“I remember one time; The Osborne Brothers’ bus broke down (at a festival here in Michigan). Gary loaned them his bus because they had to get back to Nashville (immediately) to play The Opry.”

Gary Adams and the Bluegrass Gentlemen – Heaven On My Mind [1990] 

Andrea (Andi) Mullins Roberts was a member of the Bluegrass Gentlemen from 1984 through to 1985 …… 

Gary Lee Adams, affectionately known as Groovy to his friends, had his Home-going on January 23rd after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Gary was an excellent musician and singer and was passionate about bluegrass music. Gary’s roots were deep in the mountains of West Virginia, but he is well-known for his musical contributions in the Detroit, Michigan, area where he was a constant until moving to Dandridge, Tennessee, after retiring from Chrysler. In addition to performing with Blue Velvet (alongside MI bluegrass stalwart, Wendy Smith) and with his own band Gary Adams & The Bluegrass Gentlemen, Gary did stints with Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys, the

Bluegrass Cardinals, and even filled in playing bass with Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys. Gary was inducted into the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Honor in 2020.

Gary was an extremely important person to me, and I hope that he knew the profound effect that he had on my life. I sang with Gary for the first time in a jam session at the Milan Bluegrass Festival in 1984 (I had just graduated high school and turned 18 years old), and I remember it like it was yesterday. We were singing Windy City and when we finished, he introduced me to Pete Goble (co-writer with Bobby Osborne) – that was such a WOW moment for me!

Not long after that, Gary’s brother Michael (an incredible vocalist and guitar player) left the band, and I was invited to do a live audition at the Flat Rock Eagles Club, and was subsequently hired to play guitar and sing tenor with Gary Adams & The Bluegrass Gentlemen. Y’all have no idea what a HUGE deal that was to me!! That was my first professional band and set the course for where I am right this very moment.

Gary made me learn every Jimmy Martin song ever recorded, and instilled in me my intense love for Del McCoury. I rode on a tour bus the first-time being part of the Bluegrass Gentlemen, and he was patient with me while I got through a season of extreme stage fright (throwing up until time to walk on stage). He was a little tough on me at times, but I always knew he was helping me learn.

I eventually went on to play bass and sing tenor with Wendy Smith & Blue Velvet, and then move to Nashville, Tennessee…all directly related to me being a Bluegrass Gentlemen. Gary was a life-long friend and a mentor, and he made awesome biscuits and gravy and loved his family and friends fiercely.

Please keep all of the Adams Family in prayer and especially Gary’s children – Gary Adams Jr., Charlene Roth, and Ricky Adams, as well as all of the friends that loved Gary so much. I feel certain Gary and brother Michael are reunited and their voices can be heard all over Heaven.”

In retirement his hobbies included mandolin repairs and collection with Danny Roberts of The Grascals. 

R.I.P. Gary Adams 

Visitation will take place on Friday, January 27, from 1:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Allen Park Chapel of The Martenson Family of Funeral Homes in Allen Park, MI.

The funeral service will be held the following day on Saturday, January 28, 2023, at 10:00 am at the funeral home. Interment will follow at Michigan Memorial Park Cemetery in Flat Rock, MI. 

A Discography 

Gary Adams and the Bluegrass Gentlemen

  • New Freedom Bell ‎(Old Homestead OHS-80055, 1983) (re-issued on Old Homestead CD OHCD 80055, 1983) 
  • Going Back To Georgia ‎(Great Lakes Records GLR-001, 1986) (re-issued on Old Homestead OHS 90190, 1989)
  • Heaven On My Mind ‎(Old Homestead OHS-70084, 1990)

Blue Velvet

  • 1st Edition (Old Homestead OHCS 90070, 1977)
  • That Mighty Horse Of Steel (Old Homestead OHS 90078, 1977)
  • That Great Bluegrass Show (Old Homestead OHS 70035, April 1981)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.