One cool cat
Story by Chris Graham
It’s hard to imagine Richard Adams stifled. Or without a gig.
But Adams, who you can see several nights a week in Staunton and Waynesboro playing Shenandoah Pizza or the “River City Radio Hour” or doing local community theater, felt stifled by what was shaping up to be a solid career in education and left his counseling job without another gig lined up.
“I just determined that I was going to do the things that I really liked to do. I just went on that,” said Adams, one of the more adaptive and creative people you will meet, who turned being an unemployed band teacher and guidance counselor into a thriving career providing motivational programs for school systems up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and in the process unleashed a free spirit on a world that would have had no idea what it was getting.
“A former teacher was at one of my I CAN MAN shows, and he said, I’m just amazed. You hardly said a word the entire year you were in my class,” said Adams, who is I CAN MAN by day and by night and weekend is the front man for The Boogie Kings and The Washboard Wonders and a member of the popular local band Wanda and the White Boys.
The leap of faith for Adams came when he was attending a seminar led by a motivational speaker who started her talk with a simple question. “She said, How many of you are doing exactly what you want to do? And maybe a tenth of the room raised their hands. She’s this persnickety old woman. She says, Well, why the hell not? You heard some murmuring. She said, Well, that’s not a good enough reason,” Adams said.
“I finally just said, I’m going to do what I want to do and see what happens,” Adams said.
Which isn’t to say that Adams’ leap of faith was anything close to being immediately rewarded. Running low on funds, he went ahead with a scheduled visit to the dentist, “and I’m sitting in the chair, and my health insurance had run out, and I’m wondering how I’m going to be able to pay for this,” Adams said.
“Can I barter with a dentist? That went through my head. So I started thinking. A time-toothbrush tape. My mother was a public-health nurse. She used to have this big teeth that she’d carry around to talk about the importance of brushing your teeth. It all came back to me,” Adams said, detailing the thinking that went into the creation of a character named Dr. Toothbrush that he thought could help parents teach their young children how to brush their teeth.
“This was 1993. I thought, I could make a tape and sell them for two dollars, and make them for a dollar, and I could sell 120 of them a year, and that would pay for my dental bills,” said Adams, who still sells close to a thousand of the Dr. Toothbrush recordings on CD a year.
Dr. Toothbrush led to I CAN MAN, Adams’ motivational education program that includes character education, bully and drug prevention and standardized-test-prep components. I CAN MAN pays the bills, allowing Adams to play and write music and develop his talents as a writer of scores for several locally-produced musicals, including Woody, a musical drama about Woodrow Wilson that Adams wrote and scored himself, Spirit of Augusta, a collaboration on the history of Augusta County with well-regarded local storyteller and historian Mac Swift, and Shenandoah Moon and Tuesday Mourning, two historical-fiction screenplays written by local playwright Duane Hahn.
“I never knew Richard until Shenandoah Moon,” said Hahn, who met Adams after a mutual friend suggested that they get together to talk about the play set around the development of the Shenandoah National Park in the 1930s.
I was showing him what I wanted in terms of songs, and I remember thinking, I don’t think he understands what I’m really after. It seems like his mind is other places. He’s already thinking what he wants to write,” Hahn said.
“He’s creative, imaginative, adaptive. He’s all three,” Hahn said.
Nancy Sorrells worked with Adams on Spirit of Augusta. “I’m not sure I’ve seen anybody with so much creativity and talent. He can take things in whatever direction pops into his mind. It’s just fun to work with Richard,” said Sorrells, a local history writer.
“He has the traditional education background. He has a degree in teaching and music, a master’s in guidance counseling. He’s done the traditional route. And now he’s left the traditional route and finds creative ways to educate,” Sorrells said.
“He can do so many things. You don’t find people with the diversity of talents that Richard Adams has,” Sorrells said.
Nor do you find people as preternaturally calm, cool and collected as Adams. “I tell people this often. You really think of yourself as a plumber. Because if you really thought about what you were doing, it would scare you to death. That’s why musicians as a general rule appear laid-back. They worry about details, but they know that things tend to work out,” Adams said.
Things tend to work out. There’s a nice mantra to live your life by.