Shred Master Smooth: A Conversation with Guitarist Great Jimmy Adcock
By Boris Lee
Twenty – eighteen saw me test the waters of my journalistic adventures when I launched my blog, Symptom of the Metalverse, for my previous website. I had the itch to write about music again thanks to a local Los Angeles band releasing an amazing “Demo,” and by Texas based band, Nytrate, releasing their self-titled debut in March of that year. Nytrate released an “All Killer, No Filler” old-school metal magnificence that deserved a spotlight showdown upon it. I looked back on that Nytrate album review and saw how I was still finding my writing comfort zone and observed where my current writing style took form.
I was already a fan of Nytrate prior to their album release, and outside of Alli’s vocals putting a smile on my face, the guitarist with the ‘Doobie Brothers’ poof of hair caught my attention. His stage presence was simply… smooth. His work on the Nytrate album carried a classic metal music tone with modern vibe, helping to bring Nytrate’s music into a true revitalization of what metal music once was and creatively deserves to be today.
Since my first listening of Nytrate’s debut release, I have thought of interviewing guitarist virtuoso Jimmy Adcock, but never got around to it. I spent most of twenty-nineteen giving the column on Metal Babe Mayhem a heartbeat with the help of Alison and working on my horror fiction elsewhere. It wouldn’t be until November of twenty-nineteen that Symptom of the Metalverse would officially be reborn, this time proudly for Metal Babe Mayhem, opening up the idea for me to interview more artists and deepen the album review pool.
I saw this as the right opportunity for reaching out to Jimmy for an interview to discuss his work with Nytrate, The Texas Surfers, his Ted Nugent tribute project, The Snakeskin Cowboys, the Arlington School of Music, which Jimmy is the founder of, and a comparative conversation of where the music industry was over twenty-years ago in relation to what a musician’s process for capturing creativity today is. Without further delay, let’s shoot a conversation with the Rifleman, Jimmy ‘Smooth’ Adcock.
Boris Lee: Welcome Jimmy, to Symptom of the Metalverse on Metal Babe Mayhem. You are known as ‘Smooth’ throughout the Texas music community. How were you given this moniker?
Jimmy Adcock: My friend and fellow Guitarist Jim Crye was the first to call me that. I think it was just something he put on a FaceBook post from a video of me playing that he filmed. Jimmy “Smooth” Adcock. A few of other musician friends and Alli of Nytrate started referring to me with that nickname and it just kind of stuck!
BL: My nickname was knighted upon me by a friend as well. Never shook it free since and never want to.
When I was fifteen-years old, a friend at the time named Steve handed me a cassette tape. Black Sabbath’s Greatest Hits. I took that tape home and played it so much the song titles wore off the plastic in less than a month. When I heard the opening riff to the song “Black Sabbath,” I was hooked and wanted to create the same fashion of music. The end verse riff to that song turned me onto picking up a guitar.
Soon after, I wore out that Sabbath tape and purchased my first guitar. A one-hundred-dollar acoustic from The Queensborough Music Institute. As cheap as it was and hard to play, the guitar resonated. Soon after I upgraded to a brand-less “Homemade” Strat copy. The neck on the guitar was so bad I was in Sam Ash having it adjusted every two-weeks it seemed. The great part about the guitar was the pickup. It was some DiMarzio knockoff that made the guitar scream. I learned to play my first two riffs on that guitar. “Iron Man” and “Paranoid.” I learned both songs on the same day, and if I recall correctly, “Iron Man” was first.
BL: When did you first pick up the guitar? Who were your earliest influences musically?
JA: I got kind of late start in my opinion. I was sixteen when I got my first guitar. I wish I had started when I was younger but didn’t have the influence till then. I didn’t have a relative or know anyone else that played. We didn’t have MTV in my High School years until my senior year, but there was a Music Video show that would come on regular TV each afternoon at four-thirty, called Hit Video USA. This was the summer of nineteen-eighty-seven.
One of the top songs each day was a remake of the seventies disco song “Funky Town” by an Australian band Pseudo Echo. This was a rocked up version with a cool guitar solo. Something just struck me as I watched it and I thought; “Wow! I’d like to learn how to do that!”
Around the same time, I had also watched the movie Crossroads with Ralph Macchio, which featured the legendary showdown and head cutting duel between him and Steve Vai for the finale of the film. That was another “Whoa” moment of my wanting to learn how to do that. There weren’t any major music chain stores around like today, and I didn’t know where to even go to get an instrument, but back then there were still catalogs.
I was flipping thru a Service Merchandise catalog and saw a guitar that looked just like the cream colored one that the singer/guitarist of Pseudo Echo played for one-hundred-dollars, except his was a Fender Strat and this one was a Harmony. I didn’t know what any of that meant at the time, but it looked close enough. I had just gotten my first job stocking beer at a beverage store that summer and saved up my money for a month, got that guitar, followed by a trip to a pawnshop to buy a small Gorilla Amp (I think everyone my age had one of those back then. Haha). Then I ordered some lessons from Metal Method, which was always advertised in the Rock and Metal Magazines back then and that got me started. A few months later, I went to a local music store a friend had told me about and I signed up for guitar lessons. Upon leaving my first lesson, I know that was what I wanted to do from then on and I started practicing several hours a day and before long, that led to four to six hours a day or more, and then looking to join my first band about six months later. I do still have that first Harmony guitar!
BL: It’s a great feeling when you discover what you want to do with life, creatively or other avenues. I know that feeling from when I realized I wanted to be a writer. I wrote a story and the feeling I had throughout the writing process married to the result. I knew that writing was my life’s passion. I may have discovered this late in life, but hey, I never said I was winning the race, just making sure I finish it.
I can recall the first fiction story I wrote. It was a fun process of mental diarrhea coating a creative heart seeking admiration from his peers. It was a learning experience. Similar to the first song I wrote on the guitar. One day I was sitting in my room practicing Sabbath tunes when I realized I wanted to write my own song. So, I started picking some open strings and chords and a few minutes later, the song was done. It was a take on Sabbath’s “Fluff” and Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity.” (Although at the time I had no idea “Silent Lucidity” played a part in the creation process, but a friend pointed it out to me, and I agreed.)
Do you recall the first song you wrote on guitar? How has your songwriting process changed and progressed since that first composing?
JA: I think the first song I wrote was in that first band after playing about six months. The band was called Ocefic Potion (I know; I know haha). It was a reworking of the brand Ocean Pacific. I thought it sounded cool. A buddy in metal shop class drew me a killer, evil looking skull logo to go with the name. Honestly, my first song was just a reworking of the main riff/chord progression of Mötley Crüe’s “Toast of the Town.” I think I changed it up a little by adding a little single note run at the end and maybe switching places of a few chords, but it was definitely “Borrowed” from that. But at the time, few people knew of that song since it was only on their first demo.
Since then, Hmmmmm… I’d still say with writing, lyrics have never been my forte. Probably because I’ve always just gravitated to listening to the guitar parts and solos in songs. I do occasionally come up with some lyrics, but I feel often they seem elementary to me. I was always good at creative writing and composition in school, but trying to condense it into a three-minute story that rhymes was never easy. I’ve always been lucky enough in all the bands I’ve been in to work with a gifted singer who has always been great at lyrics. I can easily add music to lyrics or come up with a riff or chord progression and let the vocalist do with it what they want. I like that approach best anyway, since they are the ones singing it and trying to convey the emotion of what is behind the words. As far as other ways I think I have grown, it would just be in absorbing and studying so many styles of music. From rock to country to metal and blues. I’m a fan of all of those genres and have tried to incorporate elements from each into my playing and composing.
BL: You started teaching guitar about six months after you started playing. What was the experience like when conducting that first lesson versus teaching guitar today and running your own music school, the Arlington School of Music? What’s the story behind your opening the school?
JA: So yeah, the place I started taking lessons at was Grand Prairie School of Music. My instructor was Terry Humphries, who is still a great friend and for sure my musical mentor. I had been taking lessons from him for about six months and he had to go on the road for a few weeks with his band and, asked if I would be interested in covering for him and, teaching his lessons for those few weeks. I thought he was crazy at first because obviously, I had only been playing and really learning stuff for six months. But he assured me I was as good as anyone else taking lessons and kind of prepped me on what each student had been working on. He said one was working on a Bon Jovi song, the other a Pink Floyd song and another a Hendrix song, etc.
So I figured it would be fun to try it. I went to a used music store (Forever Young Records) and bought some cassettes of the artists and songs he told me about and spent the weekend working my way thru them. I don’t remember exactly how many students it was during those two weeks, maybe five or six, but I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching, and learned some things I definitely wouldn’t have otherwise.
Soon after, I started teaching a few people from school that were a few years younger than me and then about a year later, my teacher, who I was still studying under got transferred to another music store and wanted to focus just on retail, and asked if I wanted to take over the teaching position which I accepted!
I was learning a lot from teaching others, since I never knew what they were into and what songs they would want to learn from week to week. Often, I was maybe thirty minutes better than the student. LOL! They would ask for a certain song or technique and luckily, the store I was at had a massive sheet music department. Many times I would go in there and grab a book on a certain style or technique, flip thru and find something cool, work on it about thirty minutes and then write out a lesson for the next student. I’d know the material enough to explain it and get them going on it. This still happens to this day to be honest! Being a teacher doesn’t always mean that you have to be a master at everything; just have the ability to absorb something quickly, break it down and explain it in a way the student can understand it and go forward with it.
I think if I had a fault early on, it was that I would try to give too much information at one time. I wanted people to know that I could teach and I would give a new student, not only the beginner open chords, but pile on bar chords, songwriting theory and scales all in the first lesson. It was ridiculous. But you have to learn how to teach. Each person learns differently and at a different pace, and not everyone wants to be the next Eddie Van Halen or Jimi Hendrix. Some (if not most) just want to learn some fun songs and for the younger kids, that’s what makes the parents happy.
I taught lessons at that music store from around nineteen-ninety until ninety-three. Once the Grunge/Alternative movement kicked in full force around nineteen-ninety-four, my student base dwindled substantially. You no longer needed to play guitar for years to play Nirvana songs. You could get all you needed within a month of lessons, and interest in the virtuoso players I was inspired by was at an all-time low. Eventually, I had to find other sources of income.
I never lost the desire to teach, but I knew I needed a different approach or plan. For the next several years between nineteen-ninety-four and nineteen-ninety-nine, I focused on the band I was in during that time, Seventh Veil. I was writing and recording two albums, doing regional touring, still looking to live the dream and “Make It!”
Around nineteen-ninety-nine, I was ready to regroup and make a go of teaching again but this time I knew if I wanted to make a career of it, I needed to have more than just me giving guitar lessons. I had contacted a local church that had a two story school building connected to it and spoke with the music director and pitched him my idea of a music school. He seemed somewhat interested and called me back…. two years later! LOL! He asked if I was still interested in the school idea, which I was and he pitched the idea to the church board. They approved me to start in the fall of that year (two-thousand-one). I started the Arlington School of Music with myself and two piano teachers I found from running an add in a local papers Sunday classifieds.
It started just a few days a week teaching there and growing to five days of lessons and six teachers. My school was housed within that Church until two-thousand-seven, when I got my first commercial space. I started there with four rooms and have since moved to a bigger suite in the same location with eight rooms. Piano is still by far the most popular instrument. I currently have five piano teachers and seven others that cover guitar, voice, drums, violin, viola, cello, bass, and saxophone.
BL: What would you consider the highlights and achievements of the Arlington School of Music?
JA: About the Arlington School of Music, I love to teach, and I love to see children and adults grow into musicians they want to become. The sky is the limit. We offer lessons in most of the main instruments. Everyone’s goals are different. Some want to just be able to play a few songs for a hobby or relaxation; others aspire to be lifelong musicians, songwriters and performers. We want to help everyone reach their musical goals, whatever they may be.
Our most famous former student is Maren Morris. She is a hugely successful country artist now and just received the twenty-nineteen CMA for Album of the Year. She started voice and guitar lessons with us when she was twelve or thirteen. She was already loaded with talent and writing her own songs then. She won the CMA New Artist of the year in twenty-sixteen, a Grammy in twenty-seventeen for her song “My Church,” the Billboard award for Top Country Female Artist in twenty-eighteen and now the Artist of the Year. It’s been amazing to watch her from such a young age to keep striving for her dreams and goals, never lose sight of them and to achieve them! I am so proud and happy for her and her family!
BL: That’s a great success story and testament to good teaching enhancing natural talent to reach its full potential.
How do you feel about our modern era on-line music lesson options? Are they helping reach and teach students, or are they going to fall short of granting a student the one-on-one learning experience? Does taking on-line classes leave too much faith in a student practicing material and preparing for their next lesson, or does the student have more flexibility in being able to learn at their own pace, also causing the student to rely on their own discipline to follow through with the instrument?
JA: I’m honestly so busy with my normal lessons that I have explored little with online lessons. Obviously YouTube is a huge player nowadays in everything but I definitely feel that it’s hard to replace the one-on-one experience where you can ask questions and have the face-to-face interaction and ability to cater to each student’s interests and learning curve.
I think once you are an established player and have all of your basics down and know a specific direction you want to go in and what you need to work on, the online lessons are a great addition. Sort of like a À la cart scenario. When you are first starting out though, you are basically at the mercy of the teacher being able to get you started and helping you discover what you want to do along with learning the basics. I know a lot of well-known and famous artists, specifically guitarists, offer online Skype lessons, which is awesome. But for a beginner, I don’t think taking lessons from say Eddie Van Halen online (I’m just using his name as an example.) will ensure that you become any better of a guitarist than just a solid, well-rounded instructor at a local music school could offer you.
Most of the time, you rarely scratch the surface of what you really know at least within the first year of lessons with anyone. Especially considering the cost difference between the two approaches. I also think weekly lessons defiantly help hold the student more accountable and ensure they maintain a regular practice regime and, give a better gauge on their improvement over the first few years. Eventually if all goes well, you end up teaching the student how to teach themselves when they are ready to “Leave the nest” and they are able to find and learn things on their own.
BL: I had three guitar teachers in my life. Each teacher showed me something new. The total duration I took lessons for was maybe three months. I preferred teaching myself and was too broke to pay fifty-dollars per week for lessons. What I could listen to songs and figure out the guitar parts on my own. If I could go back to those days when I started learning the guitar, I would kick my ass into a classroom to learn theory and discipline myself into taking the instrument more seriously.
I agree that it is important to have a one-on-one experience with a music teacher or any other teacher for that matter. There are plenty of “Free” lessons on the Internet these days, but so many of them are rushed, missing information, and instructors do not take into consideration who their students are. Beginners and experts are all treated as equal via on-line video lessons. To me, that is generic and lacks planting roots for the student to blossom from. That said, there are some good Internet lessons offered, including on YouTube, but even those instructors explain the benefits of one-on-one instruction that goes beyond Skype.
What are your thoughts on learning an instrument, be it guitar, bass, etc? Should a student learn theory immediately or start off with learning to play songs by their favorite artist to find a feel for the instrument, then learn theory?
JA: For sure learning songs first. My approach has always been to have the student bring in a list of songs and artists they like. I always start each student with learning the basic open position chords. I try to show them a song or part of one they are familiar with during the first lesson. I can almost always find something on their list that covers the first seven or eight chords you need to learn. I do the same on all other areas of what I consider the basics. Open chords, strumming, power chords, bar chords, single string melodies and scales.
Every student is different. If something they want to learn is too difficult at the moment, I will be honest with them and tell them we will come back to it as soon as we can and I’ll find a path through other songs on their list that will help connect the dots from where they are now, to where they need to be to play a more difficult piece. But always within songs they want to learn and will have fun practicing.
Along the way, I will then incorporate and introduce theory. Such as key signatures, scales, etc. Once we have accumulated ten to twelve songs that they have been working on, I can then go back and start explain the theoretical aspects of those songs such as how they were written, what chords go together, what scales go with those chords, what scales are being used if there is a solo. This usually works really well. I have discovered after all these years, nothing makes a student more happy or fulfilled than learning a song they love. The cool thing about the guitar is that you don’t have to play it for six months to a year before you can play a full song. You can jump in immediately and be learning six to eight songs within your first month of lessons!
BL: Part of the reason I was self taught was the instructors I came across insisted on teaching scales, chords and theory. I wanted to learn songs, so I taught myself. Actually, listening to Tony Iommi taught me how to play guitar. Creating a unique style grounded in a specific genre that is balanced by diverse incorporation of other genres is a formula I strived for but could not achieve. Thus, I appreciate those who are creatively disciplined to follow that theory. In the case of Jimmy Adcock, your musicianship travels through a few genre avenues, all meeting at the same junction… your talent on the guitar.
The Texas Surfers are a country and blues based band. To me, I hear Rod Evans era Deep Purple on the song “Blue Night.” What was the musical concept behind your creation of The Texas Surfers? Did this stem from your most influential taste in music?
JA: I first started the Texas Surfers in nineteen-ninety-three with a local bassist friend, David McKnight. It was actually David who came up with the name. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a huge influence, and I had gotten really into blues music and players thanks to my guitar teacher Terry that I mentioned earlier.
David thought we needed a name similar to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble so he thought up Jimmy Adcock and The Texas Surfers. I dug it and have kept it going pretty much since then. Back then, the local blues scene was thriving. We would go to a different blues jam and a different venue five nights of the week. I learned a ton during those days. I was still a fan of rock and metal but had definitely grown to appreciate and want to learn other styles of music. We kicked around for a few years doing that but could never find a steady drummer. Although the blues scene was big during that time, it was also super “Clique-ish” and hard to find someone to play with you without guaranteed pay (even for rehearsals). You were still looked down upon if you tried to throw in anything outside the traditional blues sound. Meaning no “Hendrix’y” distortion, no “Pointy Headstock” guitars, etc.
I eventually resurrected the band and name in two-thousand-four, two-thousand-five, to do a string of shows playing instrumental songs I had written on an independently released album called, Sizzle To Your Soul. Those songs spanned from blues, to rock, to country, to some fusion jazz.
After doing those shows, we kept the band going and we have since evolved into what we are now which is what I just call “Texas Rock, Blues and Country.” It’s basically my outlet for all the styles I love outside of metal. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. In the early nineties, I got into guys like Marty Stuart and Dwight Yoakam. Marty is probably my second biggest musical influence. He is the reason I picked up and started playing the Mandolin, too. I absolutely love the country style of guitar playing, but it’s something you have to stay on top of in your practice regime to maintain it. In my years playing rock only (between ninety-four and two-thousand-three) it was hard to keep up with it since I didn’t have the band outlet for it. Over the past six or seven years, I have incorporated more and more country style songs into our writing and stage repertoire, many times building a song around a specific solo or technique I’m wanting to work on.
My other biggest influence is guitarist Chris Duarte. I first saw Chris perform in nineteen-ninety-four, and have since seen him live probably close to one-hundred times, and have gotten to open for him a few times and jam with him. I always tell people he masquerades as a blues artist, but he throws in everything from psychedelic rock, to full on free jazz improv in his shows. “Blue Night” was actually a tribute to him and his songs “Shiloh” and “Something Wicked” (he is a Master of building tension in this style of a blues song). There is a little nod to Stevie Ray as well with the slow blues element of songs like “Tin Pan Alley” and “Dirty Pool.”
The Deep Purple influence definitely was sprinkled in by my keyboardist on that album, Mike Schadegg. He had spent time prior to joining me in a Deep Purple tribute and definitely felt most at home with the Hammond B3—John Lord style of playing.
BL: That concludes part one of “Shred Master Smooth- A Conversation with Guitarist Great Jimmy Adcock.” Return to Symptom of the Metalverse on Metal Babe Mayhem next month for the horn-raising conclusion.
Until then, to learn more about Jimmy Adcock, his musical projects, and the Arlington School of Music, checkout links below.
Read Boris Lee’s Nytrate Album Review “The Siren is Wailing” HERE.
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