Full name, Bryan Guy Adams; born November 5, 1959, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada; son of Conrad (a diplomat) and Jane Adams. Addresses: Office-- c/o 406-68 Water St., #406, Vancouver, British Columbia, R2H 2M2, Canada.
Bryan Adams "is arguably Canada's brightest male star," declared Nicholas Jennings in Maclean's. His 1985 album Reckless has sold more than ten million copies--impressive by any standard--but, as Jennings pointed out, Adams has enjoyed wider distribution "than any Canadian in history." He owes this distinction primarily to straightforward rock anthems like "Kids Wanna Rock" and ballads like "Heaven." Though some critics have dismissed Adams as a lesser version of rocker Bruce Springsteen, lacking the substance that the latter infuses into his songs, others have praised Adams's simplicity. "His music is about guys and girls. They're melodies that stick in your head," explained Pat Steward, Adams's drummer, to Jane O'Hara in another Maclean's article.
Adams was born on November 5, 1959, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His parents were former British citizens, and his father, Conrad Adams, came from a military family. This background, coupled with the fact that Conrad Adams served in the Canadian diplomatic corps, meant a childhood of moving from place to place for Bryan. He attended strict military schools in several countries, including England, Austria, Portugal, and Israel. Adams recalled for Steve Pond in Rolling Stone that "the discipline that they taught me in school was good, because I was able to focus on things--but I didn't realize that at the time. So I got sent to the headmaster a lot." When he turned sixteen, however, his parents separated, and he lived with his mother, Jane, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Adams's early musical development is echoed, if not narrated, in the lyrics of his 1985 hit "Summer of '69": "I got my first real six-string / Bought it at the five-and-dime / Played it till my fingers bled / It was the summer of '69," as Pond quoted it. Though Adams was only ten at the time the song mentions, a year or two later, according to Pond, he did buy his first guitar and start learning to play it. As an adolescent, he pursued his rock goals with single-minded fervor. He explained to Pond: "In high school, I was too far into my music to even pay attention to girls."
At the age of sixteen Adams quit school and used the money his parents had saved for his higher education to buy a grand piano. He joined bands and played in nightclubs, supplementing his income by washing dishes, selling pet food, and working in record stores. "One summer night in 1976," Jennings related, "after hearing a local rock band perform in Surrey, B[ritish] C[olumbia], ... Adams ... strode boldly up to the group's producer and announced that he could sing better than its vocalist. He got an audition--and the job." Not long after that, Adams met up with Jim Vallance, who had formerly written songs for the Canadian rock group Prism. As O'Hara phrased it, "Vallance was looking for a singer, Adams was looking for a route to musical respectability, and the two hit it off immediately." The pair began writing songs together and recording demonstration tapes. Adams had a mild hit in 1979 with one of their products, the disco-styled "Let Me Take You Dancing," and they managed to sell some of their other creations to recording artists such as Joe Cocker, Juice Newton, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Adams and Vallance also won first a publishing contract and then a recording contract with A & M Records.
But Adams's first solo album, Bryan Adams, was unsuccessful. O'Hara explained: "On it his voice is high-pitched and the songs predictable." He wanted, according to O'Hara, to call his next effort "Bryan Adams Hasn't Heard of You Either," but settled for You Want It, You Got It. The album was a moderate success, selling five hundred thousand copies and earning Adams the privilege of opening concerts for rock bands like the Kinks, Loverboy, and Foreigner. However, it was Adams's third, Cuts Like a Knife, which pushed him to the level of rock stardom. The title song was a huge hit; the accompanying music video, involving a scantily clad woman and a gleaming knife, was considered controversial and attracted even more attention to Adams and his record. His 1985 release, Reckless, was even more popular, including the hits "Heaven" and "The Summer of '69."
Though he was selling records at a phenomenal rate and was a huge concert draw, Adams's songwriting had not gained the favor of most rock-music critics. O'Hara quoted a Rolling Stone reviewer: "Adams has typically produced the closest thing yet to generic rock 'n' roll, long on formal excellence but short on originality." Perhaps conceding a lack of depth in his many songs about painful love relationships, Adams told Pond that during one concert performance he thought, "'Man, I gotta sink my teeth into something else.' 'Cause I ... had this desire to write something more interesting for myself." One of the results of this thought was the song Adams recorded to earn money for famine relief in Ethiopia, "Tears Are Not Enough." Another was his 1987 album Into the Fire. The disc includes a protest song about Native American land rights called "Native Son" and a contemplative number about a veteran of World War I titled "Remembrance Day." Still, despite refusing to allow the use of another song from Into the Fire, "Only the Strong Survive," in the film Top Gun because he felt the movie glorified war, Adams handles his newfound political principles gingerly. "I don't like politics being rammed down people's throats," he confessed to Jennings. "But there's a sensitive way of bringing up issues and making people think."
by Elizabeth Thomas
Bryan Adams's Career
Songwriter, with Jim Vallance, 1977--; recording artist, 1979--. Has performed in various charity concerts for organizations including Live Aid, Amnesty International, and the Prince's Trust.
- Bryan Adams A & M, 1980.
- You Want It, You Got It A & M, 1981.
- Cuts Like a Knife (includes "Cuts Like a Knife"), A & M, 1983.
- Reckless (includes "Heaven" and "The Summer of '69"), A & M, 1985.
- Into the Fire (includes "Into the Fire," "Rebel," "Native Son," "Remembrance Day," and "Only the Strong Survive"), A & M, 1987.
- Also released the 1979 single, "Let Me Take You Dancing."
January 29, 2006: Adams performed a benefit concert in Karachi, Pakistan, to aid students affected by that country's October 8, 2005, earthquake. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, January 30, 2006.
February 8, 2006: It was announced that Adams will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in April of 2006. Source: Globe and Mail, February 8, 2006.
- Maclean's, August 5, 1985; July 6, 1987.
- Rolling Stone, March 28, 1985; September 10, 1987.