If you’ve never given your body up to Patrick Adams’ transcendent music on a packed dancefloor and lost your mind in the process, I’m not sure we can be friends. A conceptual dance music producer, songwriter and arranger par excellence, Harlem-born trailblazer Adams recorded for labels like Atlantic, Salsoul and Prelude while working with artists as wide-ranging as Fonda Rae, Black Ivory, Sister Sledge, Loleatta Holloway, Main Ingredient, Shannon, Cares, Thomas & Taylor, Gladys Knight, Eddie Kendricks, Rick James and Bruni Pagan.
An embarrassment of riches, Patrick Adams’ back-catalog is part of the essential fabric of underground 1970s and 1980s New York soul, funk, disco and post-disco club music: his classics include Cloud One’s “Atmosphere Strut” and “Disco Juice;” Bumblebee Unlimited’s “Lady Bug;” Universal Robot Band’s “Dance And Shake Your Tambourine;” Inner Life’s “Moment Of My Life” and “I’m Caught Up (In A One Night Love Affair);” Musique’s “Keep On Jumpin’” and “In The Bush;” Phreek’s “Weekend;” Candi Staton’s “When You Wake Up Tomorrow;” and Herbie Mann’s “Superman.”
However, though he’s excelled as both a visionary synth pioneer and a retro-classicist arranger-producer, Adams has yet to be recognized for his monumental contribution to dance music – as least not in the way that peers like Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers are routinely celebrated. Instead, Patrick Adams remains an unsung black musical genius whose scientific-soulful-funky approach to dance music has gifted us with an eccentric body of work that surges with carefree joyfulness and whimsical abandon.
Patrick Adams is not only one of my favorite composers/producers, he’s also one of my greatest influences.
Serious purists have always understood disco to be merely an extension of earlier soul and funk traditions in black music. Disco at its complex best – stretching from the string-laden soul of Philadelphia International and Barry White to the lo-fi, alternative disco of Arthur Russell and West Records – offered a second-to-none platform for outsize creative freedom and innovation. By the late 1970s, however, mainstream disco at its worst – I’m thinking Rick Dees’ 1976 “Disco Duck,” but I’ll entertain additional submissions – foreclosed soulful improvisation and groove, instead emphasizing subpar musicianship and cringeworthy, cornball musical cheese.
In contrast to this co-opted, fad-chasing dance music, soulful disco places a much higher priority on in-the-pocket Afrocentric grooves, emotionally rich vocals, percussive church-inspired frenzy and the palpable transmission of spirit and emotion. Patrick Adams’ music fits squarely in this tradition. He is the pre-eminent ’70s figure that most clearly brings together two different strands: the futuristic, long-format, experimental disco of artists ranging from Moroder and Tom Moulton to Loose Joints, and the retro arrangements and dynamic songcraft of golden era Motown, Stax and Philly International. Though he tends to gets classified as a solitary producing genius in the mold of Brian Wilson or Phil Spector, Adams is predominantly collaborative, surrounding himself throughout his career with outstanding talents like vocalist Leroy Burgess and co-writer and co-producer Greg Carmichael.
Born in the spring of 1950, Adams came of age as a teenager in Harlem at a moment ripe with musical possibility. “The ’60s was a golden period for a lot of things: Motown, Stax and Philly, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears,” he told me in a recent phone interview. “But I also listened to Burt Bacharach and what the 5th Dimension did with Jimmy Webb. I listened to everything. Any disposable cash went to buying records when I wasn’t listening to the radio or when I wasn’t playing myself.”
Adams was also a voracious researcher of recording personnel: “I would tear everything apart trying to understand the who / what / when / where and why of musical creation – the engineers, the producers, the musicians.” He also devoured music trade magazines like Cashbox, Record World and Billboard each week. “When I was 17,” Adams reflects, “I would walk into a record store and I would ask if there was anything new written by Thom Bell or Jimmy Webb. I always shopped for records by producer, arranger and songwriter. The way DJs shop for records now is how I used to shop for records when I was a kid.”
Adams lived with his family in a brownstone on 142nd street until he was nine years old, when they moved into the St. Nicholas Houses ten blocks away. Adams attended St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church on 132nd Street and 7th Avenue, where he did duties as an altar boy. When Adams turned ten, his seaman father purchased him a trumpet, but when he turned twelve Adams switched to acoustic guitar. On his first day of school at the Bronx’s Cardinal Hayes High, Adams’ joined the glee club, where he learned the intricacies of vocal harmonies.
By age 15, in 1964, he’d been transformed by the Beatles’ legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and his father bought him an electric guitar soon after – Adams claims to have mastered it and written nearly 400 songs in record time. The middle child in the family, Adams and his younger brother further experimented with multi-tracking and overdubbing by making creative use of their father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder. Around 17, Adams began hanging out at the Apollo Theater, where Big Band producer Pete Long and conductor Reuben Phillips graciously let him sit in with orchestra so that he could study music and musicians like Smokey Robinson and Sam & Dave firsthand.
Adams’ early musical education continued once he joined R&B quartet The Sparks (not to be confused with fraternal glam duo Sparks; both groups signed to MGM in different eras). Before delving into original music, Adams’ unit made waves as a formidable cover band, learning to perfect groove and even appearing briefly in the high school dance sequence of the 1967 Sandy Dennis film vehicle Up the Down Staircase. “Playing all of the hits of the day was a very educational thing,” Adams mentions, “when you’ve only got four pieces – guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. It requires you to be very tight in your arrangements.” The Sparks toured for four years with acts like The Commodores and Jerry Butler, but few of their singles made much of a splash on the charts.
In 1968, Adams acted as the manager for back-to-doo-wop R&B trio Black Ivory, fronted by singer Leroy Burgess (two years Adams’ junior). In hopes of shopping the band, Adams took a job writing jingles for Perception Records, a small soul and genre-busting label, and Black Ivory eventually landed a deal on Perception’s subsidiary Today Records. At Perception, Adams quickly rose ranks to vice president of A&R, guiding eclectic projects by label artists ranging from R&B stalwart J.J. Barnes to Brazilian samba and bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto. Adams eventually would partner up with Greg Carmichael, who’d go on to found the Red Greg label as well as become Adams’ most important songwriting and production collaborator – their early joint work includes 1974’s obscure, key-dropping-in-the-chorus “I Think I’m In Love” by The Mayberry Movement and the Fantastic Puzzles’ richly heartfelt “Come Back.”
Inspired by Motown and CEO Berry Gordy’s example of black music entrepreneurship, Adams left Perception/Today Records in 1974 hoping to strike out on his own. “A lot of young black entrepreneurs looked at Motown as something they admired and something they wanted to try to emulate and duplicate,” Adams says ruefully. “But then you run into the politics of the industry and then they let you know that’s not going to happen.”
On P&P Records, Adams was free to produce the experimental flotsam and jetsam he couldn’t get major labels to sign off on.
Running hoops around industry racism, Adams started his own production company called Patrick Adams Productions Music, or PAPMUS for short. Out of work for nearly a year and financially challenged, Adams accompanied a girlfriend to a gay disco one night in 1975 and heard Donna Summer’s orgasmic “Love to Love You Baby,” triggering the realization that he had something meaningful to contribute to the burgeoning field of sensuous, emotional disco. The result was “Atmosphere Strut,” which Adams produced under the moniker Cloud One. “Atmosphere Strut” is lo-fi space disco – daffy, drifting and wrapped around a hypnotic groove provided by Sparks’ drummer John Cooksey. At the center of the track’s eccentric soundscape are female backup singers repeating the lyric “we’re gonna fly / fly away” and Adams’ jazzy, stream-of-consciousness doodling on a Minimoog. The nine-minute result, buoyed by handclaps, is something akin to a psychedelic trip, and not entirely musically out of step with the shuffling tropical disco of peer groups like Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and El Coco. “Atmosphere Strut” quickly became a cult classic at disco havens like The Loft and Paradise Garage, as well as an early blueprint for future Balearic house, chill-out and other forms of spacey club music.
Record label executive Peter Brown had plans to launch an eclectic label called P&P (supposedly coined after his first name and that of his wife Patricia), to be distributed by Morris Levy’s Roulette Records. Wowed by “Atmosphere Strut,” Brown pursued Adams and made arrangements to release the tune as one of the label’s first singles, and iconic NYC radio DJ Frankie Crocker then broke the record on radio. While tradition has it that a band first forms, plays live and then decides to make a recording in the studio, Patrick Adams created Cloud One in the reverse direction. The “band” started purely as a studio-driven concept, with Adams himself playing most of the music, and the band name was essentially a front for his own creative fulfillment. Adams was basically bringing a late ’60s tradition of fictional studio bands, like The Monkees and The Archies, fully into the disco era. Adams capitalized on the runaway success of “Atmosphere Strut” with a hastily assembled Cloud One album, featuring drummer Richie Taninbaum (he’d remain a long-term Adams collaborator) plus Venus Dodson on background vocals (she’d later record the Patrick Adams co-produced Night Rider album for RFC Records). 1976’s breezy follow-up “Disco Juice” is just as delirious as “Atmosphere Strut,” featuring an insistent soprano string line and blissed-out, forlorn singing.
On P&P Records, Adams was free to produce the experimental flotsam and jetsam he couldn’t get major labels to sign off on, but Cloud One was never going to be his only studio band. In 1976, he worked with The Universal Robot Band: The full lineup over the years included Greg Carmichael, Leroy Burgess and keyboardist Gregory Tolbert, plus a reformed Kleeer, including guitarist Richard Lee, vocalist and drummer Woody Cunningham and bassist Norman Dunham. The group’s “Dance And Shake Your Tambourine,” released on Carmichael’s Red Greg imprint, features a lilting shuffle, ambient handclaps and cheerful unison chanting from singers Cathy Mull, Donna McGhee and Marissa DeJan. But it’s the verse and that uninhibited, squealing synth – sounding like a warbling robot descended from another galaxy – that really turns the track into a hallucinatory affair. After two albums full of musical kitsch like 1977’s “Flintstone Disco” and 1978’s Star Trek-themed “Disco Trek,” a reformed Universal Robot Band would reunite in 1982 to release “Barely Breaking Even,” a Larry Levan favorite produced by Greg Carmichael for Moonglow Records.
In 1976, Adams and Carmichael followed The Universal Robot Band with studio act Bumblebee Unlimited, featuring Alvin and the Chipmunks-style vocals performed by the likes of Burgess and Carmichael. Yes, the vocals were meant to sound like buzzing bees, and Adams would go take the idea even further: After the breakout success of Bumblebee Unlimited’s debut 1976 single “Love Bug” (“I’ll sting you with my love”) came Sine’s “Mosquito Walk” in 1977, produced by Adams and deploying the synthesizer to imitate a buzzing mosquito, followed by Bumblebee Unlimited’s “Lady Bug” in 1978 and 1979’s studio album Sting Like A Bee. Other studio bands followed in “Love Bug’s” footsteps, like Rainbow Brown and the aforementioned Sine. There were also curious one-offs like 1976’s “Get Down Boy” by Paper Doll, and the torrential “Making Love” by Sammy Gordon & The Hip Huggers, which was written and arranged by Adams – though he’s not credited as a producer – and features a shrieking ARP 2600.
In a three-year period from 1979-1982, Adams says that he was responsible for releasing 22 studio albums.
Just as the Beatles were driven by competition from the Beach Boys, Adams was driven by friendly competition from producers Thom Bell and Nile Rodgers during the ’70s. Toward the end of the decade, the competition not only drove him to form ever-newer studio band units to test out his creative ideas, but also to experiment with innovative, far-out treatments. By 1978 Adams was still mostly known as an arranger more than a producer, recognized within the industry for his prodigious work ethic and his ability to multitask before that became a thing. In terms of sheer output, Adams says that he could devise arrangements for strings and horns for tens of dozens of musicians in a single overnight session, and that as the go-to orchestrator for producer Tony Silvester (of The Main Ingredient), he was raking in $10,000 a week to craft arrangements on demand. To realize the titanic creative visions swimming around in his polymath brain, Adams claims to have had 34 musical collaborators working with him at one point in the late 1970s; he called his staff called the “PA System.” In a three-year period from 1979-1982, Adams says that he was responsible for releasing 22 studio albums.
Though Adams did have modestly successful records prior to 1976, disco was the magic vehicle that provided a proper forum for his full set of talents as a producer. Musique, yet another studio concept band, quickly convinced the industry that Adams could be relevant as a full-fledged disco wizard, not just as a soft soul producer or quirky underground experimentalist. In the summer of 1978, Prelude Records honcho Marvin Schlachter paid Adams a then-outrageous sum of $16,000 to make a hit album. The catch? There was no group yet, and even the album art was completed before any band members signed on. With financial carte blanche, Adams produced 1978’s Keep on Jumpin’ – a breathless, erotic approach to disco fronted by singers Christine Wiltshire, Angela Howell, Gina Taylor-Pickens and Jocelyn Brown. (A different lineup – Mary Seymour, Denise Edwards and Gina Taylor – fronted the group’s 1979 Musique II sophomore set.)
Adams’ grandiose arrangements are rooted in his lifelong desire to make non-disposable dance music.
Adams’ great gift to soulful dance music has always been his ability to deliver arrangements – sophisticated, sleek, epic and tasteful – that build on the jazz and classically-inflected musical past, shaped by producers like Holland-Dozier-Holland, Burt Bacharach and Thom Bell. Just listen to the soaring string orchestrations on Musique’s 1978 “Summer Love:” they’re incredibly elegant and manicured. Released in the same year, “Weekend” by Patrick Adams Presents Phreek (co-produced by Adams and Burgess) delivers counterpoint string parts and sideways chord progressions during the hook. Marta Acuna’s 1977 “Dance Dance Dance” (not to be confused with the Chic joint of the same name, released in the same year) is disaffected, Latin-inspired dance; the guitar ostinato and squelching synth bleed all over the track while the delayed, echo-laden vocals make the mix feel like it’s floating.
Though the job of a standalone musical arranger has become increasingly passé in an age when electronic music producers craft beats in recording studios, legendary pre-rock arrangers like Mitch Miller and Nelson Riddle were valued in their time because they brought dramatic, narrative storytelling to songs simply through the power of their orchestrations. Patrick Adams’ avant club classics like “Atmosphere Strut” may be decidedly minimal, but some of his most compelling disco and post-disco records are densely layered, architecturally constructed designs that deserve to be teased apart and studied by serious listeners as musical puzzle pieces. Adams’ epic 1978 Inner Life disco remake of the Diana Ross / Ashford & Simpson Motown classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is less a remake than a miraculous technicolor reconstruction: he reharmonizes the original chords and the outro vamp builds to a hyperdramatic, multi-part climax, showcasing battleship-voiced Jocelyn Brown’s explosive gospel.
Adams’ grandiose arrangements are rooted in his lifelong desire to make non-disposable dance music (in contradistinction to disco-era pop, which was far too often as disposable and ephemeral as cotton candy). “If you go back to a Top 40 radio station playlist from the time I was a teenager,” Adams says, “every record on that playlist is a record of substance. Nowadays, when I look at a playlist, maybe five times a year at most I will hear something that I consider really interesting. It wasn’t like that when I was a kid. Every week there were five or six really great pieces of music.” Adams found plenty of inspiration in arrangements by Motown’s David Van De Pitte and Paul Riser, as well as maverick Don Sebesky of Creed Taylor’s CTI label. Along the way, he was driven to find out how arrangers managed to “create tension, how did they create excitement, the counterpoint, the harmonies... I was on a lifelong mission to do stuff that hopefully would be appreciated and be considered great.”
Adams’ ecstatic disco is more than just bombastic at the level of arrangement – it’s also goofy and carefree, full of quirky touches like bizarrely dissonant harmonies, the Rimsky-Korsakov strings on “Lady Bug” or the dropped bars on “Weekend.” “In The Bush” boasts an off-kilter 5/4 bar that makes you feel like the rhythm is occasionally slipping, and 1979’s “Glide” oscillates between 4/4 and 3/4. The break on “Keep on Jumpin’” is perhaps the most audacious of all, at one point slipping into an ambitious 10/4 time signature that’s almost unheard of in the context of funk. Adams confesses: “I would blame Thom Bell and Burt Bacharach for my use of ‘slipped time,’ where I’m inserting 2/4 bars or 3/4 bars. But sometimes that’s how your mind works: When you’re composing sometimes you come up with a phrase and you don’t even realize it’s a 2/4 bar until you have to write it on paper.” Though he can be scientifically and mathematically precise in his approach, Adams’ occasionally off-time synth keyboards on the early Cloud One records demonstrate that he’s also totally comfortable leaving minor imperfections on some of his best records. Aiming for infectious fun above all else, he doesn’t always take things so seriously.
While other producers moved away from the cities where they were raised or produced their formative music, Adams always remained in New York; his music profoundly reflects his city roots.
Adams’ dance tunes partly emerged as club classics on account of the sheer propulsion and torque of his post-1978 grooves. The 132-and-higher BPMs on his four-on-the-floor disco tracks, like “Keep on Jumpin’” and “Jump Jump Jump,” are meant to deliciously raise your blood pressure on the dancefloor. Even when the tempos settle at a relatively normal 120 BPM, the grooves are Bohannon-hard, cooking with gas. Candi Staton’s 1979 barnstormer “When You Wake Up Tomorrow,” for instance, rockets out of speakers with its polyrhythmic, syncopated groove, while Black Ivory’s 1979 cult classic “Mainline” soars into disco-funk heaven on a smoking rhythm track and an extended drums ’n’ vocals outro. If these tunes don’t fire up your nervous system and give you an adrenaline rush, you might not have a pulse to begin with.
“Great dance records are irrepressible,” Adams informs me. “If you’re at a wedding and the DJ puts on a record and you see everybody jump on the floor, including stragglers, there’s just something about the energy of the record, the pulse of the record that makes your body move.” Even his mid-tempo BPM tunes, like Mary Clark’s country-gospel cruiser “Take Me I’m Yours” (co-produced with Billy Nichols), ride along on a driving, deeply funky rhythm. In the late 1970s, Adams claims that a publication reportedly called his songs “disco music so good you could listen to it.” That statement is both an indictment of the crushing sameness of mainstream disco in the late ’70s, and a thumbs up for the way Adams’ creative contributions transcended the genre itself.
Despite his forays into extended grooves and kitsch curiosities, Adams describes himself first and foremost as a pursuer of exceptional songcraft. “For me, the song always came first,” he says. “I know nowadays some people approach record-making by going for a loop or one repetitive figure that they find attractive. But I always grew up trying to write great songs, with a great bassline or chord progressions and melodies that were attractive. And it was always my goal to find something new and exciting. That was always the challenge.” An essential example of his success is 1979’s “I’m Caught Up (In A One Night Love Affair),” co-written with Terri Gonzales for studio band Inner Life and majestically sung by Jocelyn Brown. The lyric conjures wistful longing, replete with windswept strings, and in his RBMA lecture, Adams accurately summed up the cinematic tune as “Holland-Dozier-Holland meets disco.”
Adams also happens to be an unsung innovator in terms of sonics and distribution formats. In an effort to amp up bass frequencies and levels, Adams and Greg Carmichael were amongst the earliest to pioneer the strategy of releasing disco grooves on 12" singles rather than 7". Blindingly creative remixers like John Morales and Larry Levan remixed and remastered those singles, turning them into extended versions and making them into immersive dancefloor experiences. While other producers moved away from the cities where they were raised or produced their formative music, Adams always remained in New York; his music profoundly reflects his city roots. The promotional music video for “In The Bush” was recorded in NYC’s Studio 54, the famous nightclub where DJs made great use of his phenomenal records. The Paradise Garage, helmed by DJ/remixer extraordinaire Levan, also played Patrick Adams songs on the regular. In the end, though, Adams was arguably eclipsed as a producer by audiences’ increasing interest in remixers and DJs. Tim Lawrence, UK-based chronicler of New York downtown dance music in his tomes Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979 and Life and Death on the New York Dancefloor, 1980-1983, says that “Maybe [Adams] was also a little unlucky in terms of his profile. Some would say his best production was Phreek’s “Weekend,” and in my book [Love Saves the Day] I talk about Larry Levan hammering that record at the Garage, but it never received a formal release, so the story was more about the way Larry turned it into a Garage anthem than the particulars of the studio production.”
Adams was likewise not afraid to push disco to its carnal limits. Musique’s unsubtle, aggressive 1978 blockbuster “In The Bush” rankled radio DJs and elicited censorship; the title of “I’m a Freak” by Phreek says it all (as if the band’s name wasn’t already enough); and Adams admits that Herbie Mann’s “Etagui” was little more than his own middle finger to the FCC, given that the lyric features a phonetic spelling of “eat a guy” performed by a female choir: “Eat a guy, eat a guy, a guy today / Eat a guy, eat a guy, a guy today / Eat a guy today, eat the gloom away.” Adams notes that he’s always found a way to translate his sexual frustrations into his creativity while remaining respectful to women, evident in the mutuality and respect in lyrics from songs like “In The Bush:” “I want to do the things you want to do, too / So baby let’s get to it / Do it.” In Adams’ world, songs are vehicles for a kind of unbridled, libidinous expression, even as they present the possibility for gender unification.
Adams emerges from a venerable tradition of black men who know how to produce and arrange for black female voices, and who also know how to craft lyrics that illuminate the dreams and desires of women.
Adams always excelled as an astounding curator of black women’s singing voices. Besides Jocelyn Brown, Candi Staton, Fonda Rae and Christine Wiltshire, there’s Adams-Carmichael stable singer Donna McGhee, whose smooth 1978 solo album Make It Last Forever features the percolating title track and The Spinners-styled “It Ain’t No Big Thing.” Adams emerges from a venerable tradition of black men who know how to produce and arrange for black female voices, and who also know how to craft lyrics that illuminate the dreams and desires of women – that short list includes the likes of Smokey Robinson, Kashif and Babyface. “I’m Caught Up (In A One Night Love Affair)” is case in point, with its potent lyric: “I’m a fairy-tale princess in search of a knight / And I never believe dreams come true / I’m just like you.”
Since the 1970s, black and brown gay men (not to mention trans, genderqueer and non-conforming folks, too) have largely been the cultivators and unofficial archivists of the underground, soulful dance music tradition, keeping alive independent disco, house and other styles. Adams, while straight, managed to make classic club standards that brought together LGBTQ communities in celebration: queer communities saw their deepest fantasies explored in his female-centered mini-epics, and they also found dancefloor bliss in his libertine, sensual grooves. “I am eternally grateful to the gay community for embracing my work,” Adams says. “For me it was just a universal thing. I never looked at being gay as being different. I didn’t see it as a substantial difference. For me, it was a person who loves someone who happens to be the same sex and wanted to be loved in kind.”
However, by the summer of 1979, the anti-gay, anti-black “Disco Sucks” movement was in full swing, and black arrangers and producers would soon be somewhat out of demand. While Nile Rodgers developed a larger profile in the rock and pop arena working with acts like Diana Ross, David Bowie, Duran Duran and Madonna, Adams continued to produce and create post-disco boogie tracks like 1982’s “Seconds” by The Salsoul Orchestra, featuring Loleatta Holloway; the exuberant “Party People” by The Main Ingredient and Skipworth & Turner’s funky 1985 cut “Thinking About Your Love.”
Adams put his formidable engineering skills to bank when he stepped into the role of chief engineer at Tony Arfi’s Power Play Studios, located in Long Island City. It was at Power Play that he recorded a slew of rap classics, including Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid In Full and Follow The Leader, using innovative techniques like deploying a bass drum microphone to lend preacher realness to Rakim’s booming baritone. He drew on his experiential know-how to put loops and samples in the appropriate musical key, and he was one of the first engineers to make use of digital processors like the Publison IM-90 Infernal Machine. Adams also found time to contribute to album projects by the likes of Teddy Riley, Keith Sweat and Narada Michael Walden. When I told him I was writing a piece about his friend Patrick Adams, Nile Rodgers wrote me a text: “Patrick Adams is not only one of my favorite composers/producers, he’s also one of my greatest influences. Though composers like to think we’re being original, I don’t mind admitting that I sometime copy bits of Patrick’s chord progressions. They were some of the cleverest and vibey back in the day when started CHIC. It’s easy to give props for the big tunes like ‘In The Bush,’ ‘Caught Up In One Night Love Affairs,’ but I have massive love for songs like ‘I’m A Love Bug,’ and ‘Dance & Shake Your Tambourine.’ Patrick is a master at keeping butts on the dancefloor. A true music machine!”
Maybe part of the reason Adams isn’t more widely known is that he moved through so many different studio concepts and bands, potentially denying himself a core branded identity that audiences could latch onto. He admittedly had far fewer chart-topping, multi-million selling records than some of his contemporaries – his music tended to simmer under the radar rather than explode into mass-market visibility. Like Phil Spector before him, Adams was also a singles producer more than a classic album producer: He never released an album under his own name, except for the slightly self-effacing Patrick Adams Presents Phreek. What’s more, Adams himself admits that he didn’t have a definitive sonic signature. “You can tell a Nile Rodgers record a million miles away because it has an imprint that emanates from his guitar,” Adams says. “In my case I tried to avoid that. I didn’t want my records to sound the same. Whether that was a positive thing or a negative thing, I don’t know. But at the same time there is a signature in my music – sometimes it’s harmonic, and sometimes it’s just in the quirkiness of things. And sometimes you just don’t hear it until somebody points it out to you and asks, ‘Oh, he did that record too?’”
But the arc of sonic creativity bends towards justice and retribution. By the late 1980s, studio bands like C&C Music Factory and Soul II Soul came about, carving a path for later 21st century studio bands like Hercules & Love Affair, Escort and Midnight Magic. In 1992, Adams collected royalties alongside co-writer Greg Carmichael for Cathy Dennis’s bouncy 1991 cover of Fonda Rae’s 1984 “Touch Me (All Night Long).” Adams also served as co-producer of 1982’s “Keep In Touch (Body To Body)" by The Shades of Love and the remixed version, called “Body To Body (Keep In Touch)” which soared up the Billboard dance charts in 1995. New York underground house DJs like Masters At Work, centered around labels like Strictly Rhythm, built their sounds by drawing inspiration from classic funk and disco, making ample use of Adams’ music in the process. Todd Terry united megavoices Jocelyn Brown and Martha Walsh to re-record “Keep on Jumpin’” in 1996; it too rocketed up the dance charts. On the other side of the Atlantic, the French Touch movement, buoyed by artists like Daft Punk, Bob Sinclar and Dimitri from Paris, mixed contemporary electronica with the kind of soulful disco that Patrick Adams helped inaugurate decades earlier, and some years later British deep house revivalists like Duke Dumont, Disclosure, Gorgon City and Clean Bandit followed suit. Underground disco, spurred on by the success of Dionysian global gay dance parties like Horse Meat Disco, appears to be more popular than ever, though the audience engagement politics are often whitewashed and columbused in ways that are culturally troubling.
If you’re unfamiliar with Adams’ discography or just need a refresher, both volumes of Counterpoint Records’ Disco Juice: The Funky Disco Sound of Harlem’s P&P Records are great places to start. But given that Adam’s career precedes mid-’70s disco and extends far beyond, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to end there: Purchase some rare records, surf streaming services and take a deep dive into the magic that is the music of Patrick Adams. You won’t be sorry – at the very least, you’ll end up having danced your posterior off, and maybe even covered in, uh, disco juice – and that’s a promise.
Header image © Doubleday & Cartwright