My senior year of high school, like most other people, consisted of many expectations, responsibilities and experiences. It was 1999 and my ambitions, though strong, were varied and unfocused. I was really starting to get good at creating web pages and had even used my new skills professionally by creating a web site for our high school color guard. I was also deeply interested in music, clinging to a dream that had been planted inside of me long before by my father.
The band I played in throughout most of high school, Caje, had all but disbanded that year and gradually morphed into something very different. The four members of Caje had shrunk to two, the music we played was nothing like the heavy metal we’d been writing, and we were experiencing a reaction to our music we hadn’t seen before. Following in the band-member name game we’d played for Caje (Chris, Adam, John and Evan, as much as I hate to admit it), John Adams and I decided to call ourselves Adams & Agee. Our first public performance was in front of our high school band at our band camp skit night where John and I performed the first song we had written together.
The true beginning of Adams & Agee was years before, shortly after I met John at Test Middle School. We formed an unlikely relationship that was based almost solely on our mutual love of music. At the time I was still fairly new to the guitar and primarily played drums. John had been playing guitar for several years already and as I would find out soon (but not completely appreciate at the time) had a skill far beyond his years.
In the early stages of our friendship we would get together in John’s attic bedroom and play our favorite songs of the day together, myself on drums and John on guitar. When we weren’t playing together John would help me to learn some new things on the guitar. Eventually I was comfortable enough that we could start playing songs on the guitar together. The first song we wrote was drastically different than the grunge tunes we’d been playing together up until that point, and so we gave it the tongue-in-cheek name Serenade #1. The soft nature of this new song also garnered a much more positive reaction from our parents, which excited us all the more. So we wrote more and more songs like that, each one getting a little more musically interesting.
Now in our senior year at Centerville High School we had been playing together for around six years. We had written a handful of songs of which we were very proud. We had attempted several homemade recordings of our music, but never achieved anything that lived up to our expectations on John’s 4-track cassette recorder. We either needed to buy better equipment, or we needed to try and get a contract so we could record any album in a proper studio.
Through a string of events that elude me to this day we ended up with an appointment to see someone we’ll call Tad, who was previously one of America’s top radio personalities and at this time was the head of a small record label. He also founded a famous recording studio which attracted artists such as Aerosmith and Bootsy Collins back in the day. We didn’t know much about him at the time but we knew that he had the knowledge and we needed his help. As I understood it, the purpose of the meeting was for him to listen to our crudely recorded CD and, if all went well, would sign us to his label and we would finally be able to re-record the album properly and have the financial help we needed to get the CD into the hands of the world.
John and I had a lot of confidence in our music. We had both become moderately skilled as musicians and what our technical ability couldn’t accomplish for us, we thought, the fact that we were 16 and 17 would. We didn’t fancy ourselves a novelty act because of our young age, but we did believe it added interest to our case. John, myself and our fathers sat in Tad’s office listening to the album. Tad, as I recall, didn’t show much response to the music other than to nod and smile once in a while. After we were done listening he said â€œI think it sounds good, you guys are very talented.â€ He skipped the part about how he wanted to sign us and give us a few thousand dollars to record our album and instead started to give us some advice on how we could promote ourselves and start climbing the ladder to success. There was a lot of talk about radio personalities that he had connections with, and big-wigs that he knew and then the meeting’s true purpose became clear. He began to tell us about these books he’d written about the music business, all of which were aimed at helping unsigned acts protect their music and keep it from falling into the hands of the â€œsong sharksâ€. He wanted to sell us books.
The result of the meeting was confusing. We were offered a spot on his label in the end but the deal gave us basically nothing. We wouldn’t be offered any money to re-record our album in a better studio, OR get it pressed and we would still be responsible for getting our act on the road ourselves once we did have the CDs ready. Aside from the fact that we would have the label’s antiquated logo stamped on the CDs we’d paid for it didn’t appear we would be getting much out of the deal. We were excited by Tad’s acceptance of our music but the gloomy sense that nothing had changed curbed the excitement fairly quickly. Hanging in the back of my mind was the other unavoidable truth that John had been accepted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and would be moving in less than a year.
Not too long after our meeting with Tad we were excited to learn that a friend from high school had started teaching as an instructor at a school for recording engineers. He offered to bring us into the studio and allow us to work on recording our album. Our sessions were going to be used as test cases for the students at the school and we wouldn’t have to pay for any of the studio time. John and I made a couple of weekend trips to The Recording Workshop in Chillicothe Ohio where we spent many late nights polishing our creation. It was exciting to say the least. We had never been able to work with such state-of-the-art equipment and now, doing most of our recording in the wee hours of the morning, had free reign over all of it. Finally, halfway through one of the worst winters I’ve ever witnessed, Minor Thoughts was finished. Armed with a single CD master we made came back to Richmond.
The response to the CD was great and we could hardly wait to get it pressed and packaged so we could begin selling them. We started playing more performances and while none of them were anything to brag about I remember for the first time feeling like music could be more than a hobby in my life. We started taking pre-orders for the CDs so we could save up the money needed to have the discs duplicated and the packaging (which we’d designed) printed. It was clear from the low number of pre-orders that most people weren’t quite as interested in our music as we were and for whatever reason, it didn’t bother me. The CD project was once again on hold.
After graduation, I was working in a paint factory in Indianapolis in the shipping/receiving area. On top of struggling to adjust to life after high school I was also struggling to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Every day spent working in the fume-filled factory was full of struggle, like I was signing away my future. I was only planning to work there over the summer so I could save money for my first semester of college, which was getting horrifyingly close. However, after some prompting from John’s parents I decided to use some of the money that I was making to have the Minor Thoughts CD pressed and the artwork printed, which would require about $700 for my half. It seemed like a great idea, I would have the CDs to sell and people, remembering the formal glory of Adams & Agee, would quickly part with $12 to procure a new best friend for their cd player. Time, however, has rendered a rather different result as symbolized by the box of CDs sitting outside in my garage.
We did get another opportunity to write and perform together in 2001. We had been asked to open up for local guitar guru Eric Loy and we had lot of practicing to do before we would be ready for such a task. John was back in Indiana for a while and we spent some time together writing and re-learning all of our old songs.
Music is and always will be a huge part of my life… but the inconsistent quality of my song writing assures me that I’ve made the right decision to choose a career outside of music. I’ve been working as a website developer and designer since 2000, and truly love the work that I do. I’ve learned things I never thought myself capable of and have been able to use those skills to improve the quality of the music I do create. John is working as a recording engineer in a large studio in Los Angeles where he seems to be enjoying himself. He’s making plans to get into the union so he can begin to do audio production for film. He’s also been doing some playing in his spare time, lending his guitar skills to the occasional recording artist.
Adams & Agee Links
- Adams & Agee