George Jones & Johnny Paycheck Guitarist Gary Adams Dies

photo: Kevin Smith

Editor’s Note: This article is written by Saving Country Music contributor Kevin Smith.

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Country Music guitarist great Gary H. Adams died on January 7, 2022. He was 78 years old and had lived a full life as a musician, husband and father. Best known as a founding member of The Jones Boys, (George Jones’s touring band), and also as a member of Johnny Paycheck’s touring band The Lovemakers, Adams and his two musician brothers, Don and Arnie, would carve out a big piece of Country Music history in the early 60s and 70s.

Born in 1943, in Ross County, Ohio, Gary Adams along with his brothers would grow up around Greenfield, Ohio, the birthplace of one Donald Eugene Lytle, aka Johnny Paycheck. The Adams Boys met young Lytle when he was 4, and a friendship was formed. As the boys grew into their teens, they played music, and took to playing in numerous venues, including a honky-tonk in Greenfield called The Club 28, owned by local music fan Paul Angel.

This connection to Paul Angel and his club would set both Paycheck and The Adams Brothers on a course for musical stardom. Angel also owned a recording studio in the basement of his home, and in fact Lytle/Paycheck would make his first recordings there with The Adams Boys sometimes present and backing him. Just this past year, Nashville label Lightning Rod Records released a vinyl-only edition of some of those songs including “Millers Cave” and “Family Bible” under the title Uncovered: The First Recordings-Johnny Paycheck.

In due time, Adams and his brothers became Johnny Paycheck’s touring band. At the time, Paycheck was an unknown songwriter, and was desperately trying to make a living any way he could. A chance meeting with a rising country star on the Starday label would prove to be a turning point for both The Adams Brothers and for Paycheck.

George Jones had some hit records at the time, but what he did not have was a touring band. Paycheck proposed to Jones the idea of hiring them, and Jones surprisingly agreed. And thus, The Adams Boys became The Jones Boys, with Gary on lead guitar, Arnie on Drums, Don playing bass and rhythm guitar, and Paycheck alternating between pedal steel and bass. This was a spectacular opportunity for all involved, and some have noted George Jones singing was continuing to evolve as a result of the close association and creativity of Paycheck.

Commenting on this period of time, Gary Adams admitted he was awed by the almost unbelievable talents of Jones and Paycheck, and considered that time to be the thrill of his life. Backing Jones led to numerous career highlights for Adams, including appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, as well as playing on The Jimmy Dean Show backing Jones, Jimmy Dean, and even a young Gene Pitney.

During the mid-60s, Gary and his brothers would also record with Jones, notably backing him on The Race is On album. This was most unusual at the time, as most albums were made with studio musicians, not touring musicians. But it was a testament to the talent of Gary Adams. The great Pappy Dailey also recorded a live album featuring George Jones, The Adams Boys, and a young Buddy Emmons. The album, entitled George Jones Live in Texas 1965 remains in print today, and is perhaps the best record of The Jones Boys in the early 60s live.

Gary and his brother Don would go on to back Tammy Wynette live, with and without George Jones. Paycheck would also enlist them from time to time as need arose. Later on, towards the end of his career, Marty Robbins would hire Gary Adams as a lead guitarist and collaborator. Gary recalled a conversation where a very impressed Robbins told him, “You should have worked for me years ago. I’d have kept you out of trouble,” Gary recalled laughing, and told Robbins, “Your probably right, but I had a lot of fun with Paycheck and Jones.”

Adams settled down in his native Greenfield, Ohio, and started a family with wife Barbara, who passed away in 2008. He had three sons, Gary Jr., Buddy, and Tony. Later in life, Adams performed many live gigs with various artists, and played regularly in The Southern Memories band, an Ohio group known for playing traditional country music.

Gary Adams and his brothers are what you might call legends around Ohio, and he often played gigs with Don as well as other former members of the Jones and Paycheck bands including pedal steel player Doug Jernigan, who was a life-long friend.

Notably, Mike Judge made The Adams Boys stars, putting them on two episodes of HBO’s Tales From The Tour Bus where Gary, Don and Arnie in cartoon form got to narrate and tell stories from their lives on the road backing Jones and Paycheck. The episodes are must watch if you are a fan of country music.

The Gary Adams legacy should be remembered. He was a pioneer of live honky-tonk guitar. He was one of a handful of influential musicians who helped numerous country music icons craft their sound. When the subject of influential and formative country guitarists comes up, we often mention Chet Atkins, Don Rich, James Burton, Grady Martin and others. But perhaps the name Gary Adams should be among them, as he helped define country music in the live setting, and set a template for the sound which will no doubt continue to resonate for years to come.

Gary H. Adams is survived by his brothers Roland, Don, Darrell, Farrell and Wayne. He is also survived by his three sons. At the time of his death, he was living with longtime romantic partner Judy McCarty. He died on January 7th at Adena Greenfield Medical Center.

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