Merle Haggard Drummer Biff Adam Has Died

Another one of The Strangers has reunited with Merle Haggard in the big honky tonk in the sky. Biff Adam—the long-time drummer for Merle Haggard’s backing band passed away in his sleep Saturday evening, March 7th, due to congestive heart failure. He was 83-years-old.

Joining The Strangers in 1970 as the replacement for Eddie Burris, Biff would go on to help mint the signature sound of The Strangers in the 70’s and beyond with his double shuffle beat that went on to influence many other country drummers, and gave Merle Haggard the drive and groove that led his music into multiple decades.

“A tough old boy and he’s got some legs that are incredible, and he can stay in tempo and keep the beat longer than any drummer in America,”
Merle once said about his drummer of some 42 years.

Born Clair Adam on April 19th, 1936 in Reading, Pennsylvania, he was sent to an orphanage in Hershey, Pennsylvania after both of his parents died. He took up playing drums in the 5th grade, and got the nickname “Beef” while playing football in high school due to his large size. It was changed to “Biff” later when he joined the Navy, and started hanging around honky tonk bars in Long Beach, California where he would eventually meet Bobby Bare and Roger Miller, sitting in with them upon occasion, and getting swept up in the music business.

Biff Adam’s first gigs were as a session drummer, playing with The Ventures, and he played on the soundtrack for The Jungle Book released in 1967. As one of the regulars in a house band at Hollywood’s Palomino Club called Red Rhodes and the Detours, Biff ran into Merle Haggard. “You looking for a job?” Merle Haggard asked Biff, with the drummer answering, “No.” Merle responded, “Well, I got one for you if you want it,” and the rest is history.

Along with playing drums, Biff Adam did a stint as Merle Haggard’s bus driver and publicist. He also played on all of The Strangers’ solo records of the era, including the track “Biff Bam Boom” on Introducing My Friends, The Strangers. Biff played with other important figures in country as well, most notably backing up Bob Wills in the last show the Western Swing legend ever played in Fort Worth, TX.

Biff Adam is also credited as a co-writer on the song “Champagne” off of Merle’s 1973 album, I Love Dixie Blues, and as many Merle Haggard fans can attest, Biff received numerous shout outs from his boss on multiple recordings.

Daughters Connie Ishman and Debi Stalder announced his death on Saturday evening, and are planning a celebration of life for the drummer later in the year.