Derrol Adams

Written by Luc van Haaren

8 december 2020

Een prachtig concert uit 1991 van Derrol Adams


Adams was born Derroll Lewis Thompson in Portland, Oregon. At 16, he served in the Army and later in the Coast Guard. He was a tall, lanky banjo player with a deep voice. He was busking around the West Coast music scene in the 1950s when he met Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles. The two traveled around and recorded albums, among them Cowboys and The Rambling Boys.

According to legend, Adams and Elliott would go in the studio with whatever they had, which may have included whiskey and marijuana, and they recorded whatever they felt like recording on the spur of the moment. This style of recording was probably more prevalent in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s—the result is that the recording is loose around the edges but preserves some of the spontaneity and vigor of a live performance. It is a performative, rather than a compositional, style.

His recording career was somewhat uneven, and like Elliott he was better known for whom he influenced—Donovan, among others—than for his own art. With Elliott, he had gone to England to play live and record. Elliott went back, and Adams stayed. He took Donovan, who had been playing around the UK with Gypsy Dave, under his wing as a sort of protégé; as a result, the influence of American traditional music can be distinctly heard in Donovan’s earlier work, including the song “Epistle To Derroll“. (Also see D. A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back).

Adams died in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2000. His collaboration with Elliott left behind a body of influence that prevails today. Topic Records has made most of his and Elliott’s recordings available on CD.

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