Patrick Adams, master of New York’s underground disco scene, dies at 72


Patrick Adams, a producer, arranger and engineer who brought experimentation, sophistication and infectious grooves to countless soul and disco singles – fellow producer Nile Rodgers called him “a master at keeping butts off the dance floor” – died Wednesday at his Manhattan home. He was 72 years old.

His daughter, Joi Sanchez, said the cause was cancer.

If you’ve danced the night away at a nightclub or circled an ice rink in the past 50 years, chances are you’ve done so to music Mr. Adams helped create, even if its name means nothing to you. . Despite his low profile, he left his fingerprints everywhere, often as an engineer or arranger, sitting behind the mixing desk for acts like Gladys Knight, Rick James and Salt-N-Pepa.

His greatest legacy, however, was the dozens of tracks he produced in the 1970s for New York’s underground disco scene, the energetic, transgressive, and wildly creative corner of a genre often seen as corny and uncreative. . If Cleveland and Topeka radio stations didn’t play the music he produced, you could be sure New York clubs like Gallery and Paradise Garage did.

“He was very underground,” Vince Aletti, who covered disco for Record World magazine, said in a phone interview. “He was really popular at club level. He rarely got past that, but it made him feel even more like he was ours.

Mr. Adams’ style varied from album to album, but each release was expertly crafted and irresistibly catchy, both lofty and searing – like Music’s “In the Bush,” a summer club hit. 1978 which, according to one critic, was among “the most exciting records ever made.

As with many of Mr. Adams’ studio acts, Music was something of a front for his own musical prowess. After a record executive hired him to create a disco hit, he wrote the music and lyrics, arranged the instruments (most of which he played himself), and hired the singers.

He did much the same with bands like Inner Life, Phreek, Cloud One, Bumblebee Unlimited and Universal Robot Band – a stable of bands, often drawing from the same group of staff, which allowed him to spread his wings. creative in different directions.

But while Mr. Adams was in charge, he was never bossy; his studio has always been a collaborative space.

“He gave you room to grow, as long as he thought it was creative,” Christine Wiltshire, who sang for Music, said in a phone interview. “He was never, ‘This is how it should be.'”

Unlike many disco producers at the time and many dance producers since, Mr. Adams had little regard for beats and loops. Those came later. He emphasized the melody, the lyrics and especially the story that his songs were trying to tell.

“If you start with a good song that has an appealing melody, lyrics that tell a story people can relate to, you’ve got a head start.” he told the New York Observer in 2017. “If you start with a beat, which really isn’t much different from anything anyone else could invent with Fruity Loops or other computer software, you’re just one person in a million to make noise.”

Mr. Adams was best known for his disco work, but he got his start with soul bands in the early 1970s, and in the 80s, after disco died out, he was an engineer for some of the major bands in the world. emerging New York hip-hop. hop scene, like Salt-N-Pepa and Eric B. & Rakim.

“I always look at music as music, without necessarily having a genre”, he told the Guardian in 2017. “I wasn’t trying to make a disco record. I was just trying to make a great record.

Mr. Adams was born March 17, 1950, in Harlem, where he grew up four blocks from the Apollo Theater. Her father, Fince, was a merchant seaman and her mother, Rose, was a homemaker.

Patrick had a musical inclination from an early age: his father bought him a trumpet when he was 10 and gave him an acoustic guitar when he was 12. He sang in a choir and played guitar in a band, the Sparks, at age 16.

But his real interest was production. He experimented with his father’s reel-to-reel tape recorder to master skills such as overdubbing. He hung around the studios, learning mixing desks. He would dissect songs he heard on the radio, trying to understand their arrangements and structure.

“I have always bought records from producers, arrangers and songwriters,” he said in a portrait of journalist Jason King for the Red Bull Music Academy website. “The way DJs buy records now, that’s how I used to buy records when I was a kid.”

Later, he hung around the back door of the Apollo so often that Reuben L. Phillips, who conducted the in-house orchestra, let him hand out sheet music.

In the late 1960s, he began working for Perception Records as an entry-level jingle writer; in 1970 he was executive vice president. A year later, he discovered his first big group, the group Black Ivory, which sang slow soul hits like “Don’t Turn Around” and “time is love.”

Mr. Adams became known in New York for his lush and energetic string arrangements, and in 1974 he left Perception to start his own arranging and engineering company. A year later, he and music promoter Peter Brown founded a label, P&P Records, to release his underground music.

Mr Adams never married, but he had a long-standing relationship with Ms Wiltshire, Ms Sanchez’s mother. They later separated, but the two remained close. Along with his daughter, he is survived by one brother, Gus; another daughter, Tira Adams; one son, Malcolm Holmes; and six grandchildren. Her brother Terry died in 2020.

Although Mr. Adams never won the kind of public acclaim given to other producers like Mr. Rodgers or Quincy Jones, he enjoyed a renaissance in the 1990s among DJs who fell in love with his innovative productions. . He found a similar following among hip-hop artists like Mac Miller, Raekwon and Kanye West, all of whom sampled his music.

Still, he seemed comfortable with his relative anonymity.

“You can tell a Nile Rodgers record from a million miles away because it has an imprint that emanates from his guitar,” Mr Adams said in a 2017 interview for the Red Bull Music Academy. “In my case, I tried to avoid that. I didn’t want my records to sound the same.

“Whether it’s a positive thing or a negative thing, I don’t know. But at the same time, there’s a signature to my music – sometimes it’s harmonic, and sometimes it’s just in the weirdness of things. And sometimes you just don’t hear it until someone points it out to you and says, “Oh, he made that record too?”


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