Skip to Content Skip to Navigation
Join the email list!

McCrea Adams: Bio

McCrea Adams

Welcome to the McCrea Adams bio page!
1. About the CD Damned if I Know 2. About McCrea Adams
3. The McCrea Adams Band
4. McCrea talks about some of the songs


ABOUT DAMNED IF I KNOW At its heart, Damned if I Know is an eclectic singer-songwriter album ... folk-based rock with touches of country ... in which Adams explores real-life emotions and situations.

But Adams also ventures into territory that a card-carrying sensitive singer-songwriter would not so blithely rush into. The rocking, uptempo "Slate" and "Damned if I Know," and the tongue-in-cheek country number "Somebody's Life" ("Saw a tornado on the news/ a fella was sitting there singing the blues/ looking at the pieces of his mobile home/ even his dog had up and gone") take the CD in directions that lend it refreshing variety.

Uniting the album is Adams' expressive singing, one moment bitterly excoriating a former lover, "After what you done, I want you out of my dream/ I want the slate to be clean," the next, simply asking the universal question, "What the hell is raspberry beer?"

Coproduced and engineered by Liza Carbe and J.P. Durand (of the instrumental band Incendio), Damned if I Know has a roster of musicians that includes Novi Novog on viola (Doobie Bros.' "Black Water," Prince's "Raspberry Beret"); Julie Adams, harmonies (a regular solo performer on PRI's Mountain Stage program, she's also McCrea's sister); and guitarists Dan (Cadillac Desert) Flowers and Dan (the Emotions) Diaz. Liza played bass, J.P. played a hell of a lot of guitar (and mandolin), and they recruited Incendio's drummer, Joe Shotwell, to hold everything together and keep it moving. McCrea sang and played keyboards and occasional guitar.


ABOUT McCREA ADAMS Born in New Jersey, Adams grew up in a musical family. One of the first phrases he spoke was "pay wowock," which his parents cleverly understood meant "play record." Early favorites included "Tommy Had a Little Wagon" and a Mozart french horn concerto.

Adams' childhood was spent in small towns in upstate New York. The family then moved to the Appalachian country of western Maryland, where he went to high school in the mountain town of Cumberland. Shy and alienated, he hunkered down with the piano and realized he could pick out rock and roll songs by ear. Life improved immensely, and he soon began to foray into writing.

There was a year in Boston, then a stint of roadwork that involved some strange midwestern gigs (Salina, Kansas?) and vans breaking down in winter in the middle of nowhere. Eventually he arrived in L.A.' San Fernando Valley.

L.A. -- songwriting, keyboards in lots of bands, UCLA, day jobs. Solo gigs at clubs and coffeehouses that somehow seemed to close down shortly after he played there (friends implored, "No, McCrea, don't play there . . . I like that place," but to no avail).

The road to Damned if I Know led through work with Bobby Hayden, Fracture, Josie Cotton, the Sunset Hounds, L.A. Matsuri Taiko, and, as half of the Wise Men, the recording of the parody Doors Christmas medley "Mr Mojo's Christmas."


THE McCREA ADAMS BAND On the heels of completing the Damned if I Know CD, Adams assembled a band of like-minded musicians to perform the tunes live. The McCrea Adams Band has been rocking audiences in the L.A. area at The Mint, Club Lingerie, The Gig, 14 Below, the Ronnie Mack Barn Dance at El Cid.

The initial five-piece lineup included Michael Gam on guitar, Bucky Batters on guitar and keys, Joe Caccavo on bass, and Axel Clarke on drums. Since then, the personnel changed periodically in 2004 and 2005. Vince Cummings, then Darryl Battaglia, took over Bucky's slot, and Dave Strayer assumed drumming duties. Holly Jebb joined in, helping out with some beautiful harmonies.

In 2006, the whole thing changed, with a nearly all-new band forming in the spring. Suddenly it was the McCrea Band 2.0, or, in Spinal Tap lingo, the "New Originals." In addition to Mac and Holly, the band is Donnie Sachs on guitar, Benj Clarke on bass, and Lionel Barton on drums.


McCREA ON THE SONGS A lot of songwriters have stories about how they sat down with a guitar, or at the piano, and a song magically flowed out, and they wrote the whole thing in, like, 4 or 5 minutes. Well, ain't never happened to me. But the first line of "If It Ain't Me" did come mystically out of nowhere: I played three piano chords, started singing, and "bridesmaids and a wedding gown" came out of my mouth. I thought, "Huh?" "Gown" soon became "veil," and the rest of the song followed in, at least, a reasonable amount of time. Though I've never been literally in the situation of the song, I've felt that sort of pain. Most of us have somewhere along the line.

"One Candle Away" is about the precariousness of our lives and how we "need each other/ To keep us safe from harm." The song is kind of dark -- I guess both literally and metaphorically -- but the last line, in the final moment, "Don't lose the light" brings it up a little, saying not to lose hope. The second verse took a while to finish; I wrote the beginning, about the angels and pin and armor made of tin (with a debt to Joni Mitchell's "Tin Angel", but then got stuck. I was driving at night, and randomly heard on the radio someone talking about St. Paul cautioning early Christians that if an angel appeared and said things different than what he was preaching, then the angel wasn't a real angel but a devil. I thought, Yes! Voila! The second verse is done!

The Shaky of "Shaky Says" actually lived next door to a friend of mine, not to me. He liked goofy sayings, like that "mind over matter" thing, and he worked on cars. Unlike the song's narrator, my friend does smoke, and once when I was over there, Shaky wordlessly came into his house, looked around for cigarettes, examined an empty pack, then silently left. I like playing this song live, because I can often hear people laugh at the "murky and bitter" line in the third verse. It's always good when people laugh at things that are supposed to be funny.

A few of the songs refer to places I've lived, the most obvious being "What Were We Thinking," a.k.a. "The Cumberland Song." It's about being young, 17 or 18, living at home, getting out and riding around with your friends. I rearranged the geography a little. Actually, it was the Cliffs, in the song's bridge, not Keyser's Ridge, from which we watched the slow trains roll. The Cliffs is this great place through the woods behind Bishop Walsh High School. From way high up, you look out over the Narrows, a long, deep gorge where Wills Creek cuts through the mountains-- below you is a highway, paralleling train tracks that stretch off into the distance between the mountains. "I was dreaming of flying/ Out over the Cliffs and the Narrows"; It was my friend Harry -- we were in a local band together -- who said he had great flying dreams, swooping over houses and hills. If you could fly, the Cliffs would be a perfect place to take off from.

Baltimore is about three hours from Cumberland, and some people from Cumberland move there for jobs. "Through the Winter" is my contribution to the already substantial repertoire of songs that mention Baltimore. It's a long-distance love song from someone in California to someone in Baltimore. The second line, about the snow burying "all the rows" was originally "buried all the roads," but my poet friend Jeff heard it as rows, as in row houses, and I thought, oh, yeah, that's much better! I flew into Baltimore once years ago during some terrible winter weather -- rain started freezing on the ground, and they closed BWI when the plane after mine skidded past the end of the runway.