In the 22 years he’s lived in St. Petersburg, Kirk Adams has never had a day job.
There are plenty of guitar playing singer/songwriters in every town, but only a few of them possess the magic trifecta: Talent, a thick skin and an unwavering belief in their ability to make people happy.
As the centerpiece of the Kirk Adams Band – also known, for a while there, as Kirk Adams and the Honey Badgers – the South Florida native is onstage somewhere, rocking and rolling, nearly every night of the week. It’s his “night job.”
If you visualize it, Adams believes, it will happen. “There’s a big point in your life where you have to say ‘well, I hate to use the word, but I’m an artist. This is what I do. I’m a songwriter. Embrace it.’” And after 22 years, “People recognize that; they know my songs, and they request certain ones.
“That’s made a big difference in my life, to be bold enough to say ‘I’m an artist, and I’m a songwriter, and that’s what it is.’”
His performances are eclectic showcases of all kinds of cover songs, from across the spectrum, interspersed with self-penned material from his three CDs and more. He’s a familiar face, and a popular draw, at Gulfside favorites like Ricky T’s, KaTiki and the Saltwater Hippie. “And I’m lucky enough that I get to do two original shows at the Hideaway every month,” he beams.
The youngest of five kids, Adams grew up in Fort Lauderdale surrounded by music – one brother was a talented blues-style electric guitarist, another plucked a bass, and their only sister was a keyboard player.
Young Kirk, however, was partial to magic, and saw himself as, perhaps, the next David Copperfield. Or Amazing Kreskin.
But osmosis is a powerful force inside a family dynamic, and he not only knew his siblings’ record collections by heart – chiefly British invasion, classic rock, Motown and blues – he fooled around on their instruments so much that he virtually taught himself how to play, without even realizing it.
“I learned everything from those guys,” Adams remembers. “They had very discerning tastes, although there were weird holes in my growing up – like we really didn’t listen to a lot of Zeppelin, for no particular reason. And we didn’t have a lot of Neil Young in the house. That kept me sort of segregated into little cliques of things that I liked when I was younger. Of course now I love all that stuff.”
He was 16 and still thinking about how to make things disappear when his bassist brother “recruited” him to fill in for him at a school talent show. Kirk Adams made his stage debut playing bass on – how’s this for cross-genre foreshadowing? – Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” James Taylor’s “Country Road” and “Theme From Rocky (Gonna Fly Now)” by Bill Conti.
“I thought I was done,” Adams recalls. “I had kind of passed his little test, and some guy in school said ‘Hey, wanna join my band?’ When you’re young, you don’t even know how to say no, practically.”
There followed a series of part-time cover bands, with Adams singing and playing bass, and increasingly, guitar and even piano. He found that he liked it. A lot.
Inspired by the more literate of the English post-punk artists (Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Joe Jackson) Adams began to compose material of his own. “It wasn’t until I started writing songs that I decided to really pursue music,” he says.
In 1996, Adams and his girlfriend Gale Trippsmith spent six months in Scotland, her home country (a true Florida boy, he’d never before seen snow until he got into the Scottish mountains). There, they played music together, visited with family and made numerous, lifelong musician friends.
At a place called the Center Bar in Edinburgh, a manager pulled Adams aside and told him he didn’t need to pander to an audience by playing the radio hits of the day. “He encouraged me, basically, ‘Play whatever you want. Be you.’”
It was exactly the advice he needed. “I’ve always had a little bit of that in me,” Adams says. “If I was in a Top 40 band, I’d pick No. 60 on the Billboard charts, some weird XTC song or something, that no other band would do. I was always bringing in something a little bit weird.”
They decided to settle in St. Petersburg, where Trippsmith had lived previously, and Adams fell in love with the sunshine, the pace and the people.
“All the work was at the beach at the time,” he recalls. “There was not much downtown. But we met a lot of great musicians and we made a home here. They were very welcoming, and I started working with other guys.” To this day, he and Trippsmith, with drummer/percussionist Joey Interrante, perform at the Middle Grounds Grill on Friday nights, as the Dog & Pony Trio.
His most recent EP, Nite Owls Boogalo and Bottle Club, appeared in 2018. Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio raved about the record:
In the four-on-the-floor, guitar-driven “Mexican Wrestler,” a guy’s love gets scooped up by someone stronger than he. The rollicking Bakersfield-inspired Los Straitjackets-meets-Nick-Lowe rocker “Every Little Look” recalls the best of Walter Clevenger. The bluesy, Lennon-esque love-song-at-all-costs “Drawn to You” features a great, emotional vocal from Adams.
The lighthearted, genial “Alien Implant,” about a sci-fi-ish personal invasion, recalls the vibe of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” And the EP closer, “Down Below,” is a tremendous blues shuffle with a fuzz guitar (or possibly a bass) that stands in for a trombone.
A can’t miss collection from an indie artist whose grip on ears everywhere should be firmer from here on out.
Adams says he’s “always writing new songs, looking forward to more shows showcasing my own music, and working on finishing up a new CD.”
Twenty-two years into his great St. Petersburg adventure, he swears he’s not looking for fame or fortune (although a bit of the latter would certainly come in handy).
“Really, all I want to do is what I’m doing,” Adams explains. “I’m very happy playing my own songs. People are nice enough to give me the opportunity to invade their ears, they take the time to listen – that’s all that’s important to me. That’s my job.
“It’s not necessarily lucrative, but I’m going to keep doing it.”