Disco’s Secret Master: Patrick Adams

NOTWITHSTANDING the splendid Hercules & Love Affair, Disco has precious few cult heroes. That once-reviled dilution of funk boasts its share of cult DJs and labels but not many recognized geniuses. It was always deemed too trivial, hedonistic, and mechanical to support the concept of musical greatness.

Patrick Adams is an exception to the general rule – an obscure New York producer/engineer whose career spans black American music from soft soul to hip hop. No one would pretend productions such as Musique’s priapic ‘In the Bush’ or Bumblebee Unlimited’s daft ‘Lady Bug’ constitute deathless art, but they’re sexy, witty, distinctive records in a genre dominated by anonymous efficiency. Not for nothing was the 2006 compilation of Adams tracks released by Gossip Records entitled The Master of the Masterpiece.

In the late ’70s I became enamored of disco in a way that perplexed my punk-loving pals. I loved its slick textures and glossy emotions, its celebration of urban glamour, its interracial euphoria. In 1979, on my third visit to New York – disco’s true mecca – I paid a visit to writer Davitt Sigerson, then sending erudite dispatches on soul and disco to Melody Maker, Black Music and the Village Voice. (He later became a producer and artist on Michael Zilkha’s ill-fated cult label Ze, then rose to giddy corporate heights at Island and EMI America. Later still he wrote an exceptionally fine novel, Faithful.)

Sigerson sat me down and played a succession of wonderfully seductive records, including an advance copy of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. He said Michael was about to become the biggest star on earth. Then, like a dealer revealing a secret stash of uncut blow, he pulled out his piece de resistance.

The cheap-looking 12-inch in question was Cloud One’s ‘Atmosphere Strut’, which had been recorded three years earlier in a primitive studio in suburban White Plains. I’ll never forget the almost hypnotic effect the record had on me. “We’re gonna fly, fly away,” the female chorus sang. “We’re gonna fly…” That was all the lyric to ‘Atmosphere Strut’ consisted of, and all it needed. An eight-minute escapist classic, with Adams playing almost all the instruments himself, the hustle-based jam took the metaphor of dance-as-transcendence to a blissed-out peak via a knotty mix of floor tom beats, handclaps, vibes, and dreamy Mini Moog squiggles.

I was sold, and from then on I kept an eye out for Adams’ productions on P&P, the label he’d formed in 1975 with Crown Heights DJ Peter Brown. By 1980 I was the proud owner of 12-inches by Marta Acuna (‘Dance, Dance, Dance’) and Phreek (‘Weekend’), and even albums such as Sine’s Happy Is The Only Way and Musique’s Keep On Jumpin’.

Adams had started out in the late ’60s as the guitarist with Harlem band the Sparks but he was a studio geek at heart. As a producer/arranger/engineer, his early work with vocal trio Black Ivory (‘Surrender’, ‘I Keep Asking You Questions’) betrayed the clear influences of Philly deity Thom Bell and Temptations guru Norman Whitfield. By 1976/7 Adams was juggling bread-and-butter work as an arranger – for such mainstream soul clients as Bloodstone and the Main Ingredient – with his own obscure disco productions (‘Atmosphere Strut’, ‘Lady Bug’, the Universal Robot Band’s ‘Dance and Shake Your Tambourine’). Paradise Garage maestro Larry Levan was a fan but the records rarely scraped the R&B Top 100. “Some called me the prince of soft soul music,” he said in a recent interview. “Like they say, I couldn’t get arrested when it came to disco.”

All that changed with ‘In the Bush’, a song that’s exactly what you think it’s about. A Prelude studio project utilizing the diva trio of Christine Wilshire, Gina Tharps, and Jocelyn (‘Somebody Else’s Guy’) Brown, ‘Bush’ was banned on 600 radio stations and remains one of the horniest records ever made. “‘In the Bush’ and ‘Keep On Jumpin” were unabashedly ‘disco,'” Peter Shapiro writes in Turn the Beat Around, his excellent “secret history” of disco, “but they also pointed a way out of the lamé morass of clod-hopping bass lines, unctuous orchestration, and cocaine decadence that characterized mainstream disco.” Out of Musique’s success came even bigger hits with Inner Life and Narada Michael Walden.

Come the waning of disco in the early ’80s, Adams returned to his core trade, becoming an in-demand engineer on key early hip hop recordings by Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Eric B and Rakim at Power Play Studios in Long Island City. There was a welcome windfall when Cathy Dennis topped the charts with her 1991 cover of Wish (featuring Fonda Rae)’s 1984 Adams-penned-and-produced hit ‘Touch Me (All Night Long)’.

By his own admission Adams sometimes forgets his place, hankering no doubt for the days when he was in total control in the studio. “I’ll never forget the night Teddy Riley let me know who was running the session,” he told discostyle.com. “Right in the middle of a mix he looked over at me and said, ‘You know, Patrick, sometimes you talk too fuckin’ much…’ I wasn’t offended. I was actually happy to see him take charge. I’m the one who has always said, ‘In the studio the producer is God.'”

Thus spake the master.

© Barney HoskynseMusic.com, December 2007

Leave a Comment