Bluegrass Songwriter Brandon Lee Adams

Hey Brandon! Thanks for taking some time to chat with me about your music today. Tell our readers who you are, what you do, and where you’re located.

Hi Jed. My name is Brandon Lee Adams. I am a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. I was born in West Virginia and raised part time in a tiny place called Webbville Kentucky.

JED: Tell us a little bit about your beginnings. Your origin story, so to speak. How did you get into music, and what made you choose this path over others?

Music was just a part of my life from day one. The entire family always sang in church or around the house. I suppose I knew fifty old gospel hymnal tunes before I was ten. I heard my grandmother sing in the garden. I listened to my grandfather sing old Stanley Brothers and Hank Sr. songs while plowing the fields.

JED: So you grew up in close proximity to your grandparents?

I was raised by my grandparents from about the age of ten. My start as far as playing and singing in front of people started with my grandpa. He handed me his old Martin 28 and said “Here is G, C, and D. Learn it by Saturday because you’re singing with me in church.” It took me all week but I found a way to hold those chords, not well, but enough to stand there with paw paw. 

When I was about 8 or 9 my Uncle Rick Hogston let me borrow a Tony Rice album; “Church Street Blues.” I could sing every word after a few weeks. I did everything to find a way to listen to that album all day every day. At night I would just cry and listen. I wanted to make that music more than I had ever wanted anything before or since. I am still trying to this day.

Photo by Mindy Adams.

JED: Tony’s work has always hit me pretty hard too. I haven’t heard another guitarist who had that romantic mystique since I first immersed myself in his work. There is something truly “magic” about the way he plays. I’m not sure you can learn that or that it is a teachable element of his playing.

Tony would say that it’s “mysterious.” The way I have come to look at it is . . . we are all born with a tone. We can use our heroes as a map to find our own. Even if you play “Old Train” or “Manzanita” note for note there is no emulating Tony.

JED: Yeah man, there is an essence of what he does that seems impossible to capture. What are some of your favorite albums, and how do they influence your work?

The list for that is endless. It’s evolving still. I can list some that I find myself always going back to. The ones that had the biggest early impact would be better to use. The first time I heard Tony Rice’s “Church Street Blues” album my world changed. At the age of eight or nine I knew I had to make music. From there I went on to New Grass Revival’s “Live” album and “Friday Night in America.” Those were huge to me. I discovered Tim O’Brien after finding out he wrote the NGR song “Hold to a Dream.” The first album I found of his was “Odd Man Out.” Around that same time I heard about this new girl on the scene named Alison Krauss. Shortly after I found her album “Two Highways.”  Those were the real first albums that really stuck with me. 

Photo by Mindy Adams.

JED: Which part of your music career do you enjoy the most – live performance, recording, writing, etc.?

I used to have a really rehearsed answer for this question. I absolutely love playing my guitar. I am always trying to get better and learn more. I truly love to sing. If I had to really deeply pick one thing I feel I’m “best at” or that comes the most naturally to me I would have to say writing songs is it. I wouldn’t put myself in a top tier as a guitarist or vocalist. Those two skills are absolutely needed for me to feel like I’ve written a good song. My playing and my singing just help me to complete the process in a way that pleases me. I don’t think I could just sit with a piece of paper and write.

When it comes to everything else, I really enjoy playing live. I really enjoy the studio. Playing live is the payoff for me. The feeling that you get when someone really enjoys your work is really fulfilling. I like the studio very much because it shows you how good you really are and how far you still need to go. My first time working in a professional recording setting was one of the most humbling and best learning experiences of my life. 

JED: What are three musicians today that you think are underrated or deserve more notoriety for their art? 

I’ve been blessed and lucky to have worked with just some out-of-this-planet talent. Mead Ricter or as I call him “the mad scientist” or “fiddleman” would be a good one to look up. He did all of the fiddle, twin fiddle, and viola work on my last album “Time That I Was Leaving.”

If you have not heard of Mr. Johnny Staats. You need to for sure look him up. One of the most skilled and insanely talented musicians I have ever shared a stage with.

Photo by Mindy Adams.

Butch Osborne is the banjo player for “The Johnny Staats Project.” He’s truly a killer “under the radar” banjo slayer.

JED: Tell us a little bit about your current rig – what does your “rig” consist of? What instrument(s) do you play, pedals, mics, etc.?

Currently I play a 1971 Martin D-41 with an L.R. Baggs “Lyric” pickup. I have had great luck with beyerdynamic mics. I use an M 201 TG for my instrument mic and a TG V50 and TG V70 for vocals. I’m open to using pedals but have not really had a need to date.

I also use Santa Cruz Guitar Strings. I use the Mid Tension Parabolic strings. I’m a big fan of just how well they stay in tune. Along with the Cruz strings I use Moody Leather guitar straps.

JED: How did you get hooked up with beyerdynamic mics? What do you specifically like about the M 201 TG, TG V50, and TG V70?

On my last studio album I used a mix of Beyerdynamic, Rhodes, and Neumann mics. Every time I listened to the playback in the booth I really liked how the Beyerdynamic sounded on my vocal (when isolated). The TG V50 and TG V70 are really just powerhouse mics. I like when a mic can be really hot so I don’t have to strain the notes. A lot of live performances are ruined when the vocalist has to fight the band. The more you strain the more sharp or flat your notes can go. Tone quality is also just lost. With the Beyerdynamic mics the sound man can crank them with little or no feedback. The M 201 TG works off of phantom power and it’s really the same thing; the mic can be cranked and keep the tone of my guitar sounding like the tone of my guitar.

JED: I can empathize with the frustration of having a guitar not come through in a live mix because of feedback issues. That is an impressive statement that those mics are able to provide your guitar with uncompromised volume and clarity. I’ll have to check those out. If you were given an unlimited budget for an album production to record your dream album, what would it look like?

To be honest I’ve already been blessed to have done that. Working with Tony Rice, Carl Jackson, Scott Vestal, Randy Kohrs, and Sammy Shelor has been my life’s honor.

I would basically find a way to just keep doing that and add Alison Krauss to the mix.

Photo by Mindy Adams.

One big thing for me is that I don’t make music with a worry of “will it get me rich or famous?” Those things are like the lottery or mounds of money invested in marketing ect…

My dream has to just make music with artists I admire and respect. The feeling I get to hear one of my songs come through a Rice or Shelor solo. To hear a Carl Jackson harmony against mine is worth any and every cost to me.

JED: What is your favorite album or recording that you’ve made to date?

Hands down my song “I Long for 17” I recorded live with Tony.

JED: Where was this recorded at?

This was recorded at Abay Studio in Kernersville, NC.

JED: What are you currently working on?

Right now I am working on bookings for 2021 and going through the process of starting my own label. I’m also editing about 80 hours of footage for a tour of Ireland I did with Johnny Staats,  along with footage for the artist series called “Tone Tastings” for “Picker’s Supply.”

JED: Picker’s Supply the music store?

Yup Picker Supply in Fredricksberg VA. One of the coolest shops I’ve been to so far.

JED: Oh yeah I know them! I bought a Collings guitar from them ages ago.

All of this plus keeping the house from falling down keeps me pretty happy and busy.

JED: I bet it does man! Brandon thank you for taking the time to speak with me and tell me about your music. Stay in touch!

You can keep up with Brandon’s musical happenings via his Twitter, Instagram, and website. Or, listen to his music on Spotify. Featured image by David Byrne at the Behive Bar In Ardra, Ireland October 2019.