On October 31, 2015, Tammy Adams performed at the Gaspé Legion for their annual Halloween Party. The hall was packed with costumed revellers whom Tammy kept on the dance floor all night with her voice, guitar, and laptop containing her library of mp3 backing tracks. I was amazed at Tammy’s endless energy on stage and her ability to keep people dancing all night. She began by playing 26 songs straight before judging the costume contest and then going right into her second set where she played at least another 28 songs back-to-back. Although I had been determined to record the whole evening, alas I just couldn’t keep up with Tammy: I had a 20-minute drive home ahead of me and left the Legion somewhere around 3:30 a.m. When I left, Tammy was still going strong. In total, I recorded almost 4 hours of music. I still wonder how much longer she was up there singing with a packed dance-floor after I left.
Today’s post features a small playlist of songs from her Halloween show which both Tammy and I have selected for you; as well, it features an interview I did with Tammy over the phone a week after the show where we discussed her performance on Halloween and her musical career in Gaspé. An edited version of this interview follows the playlist.
Halloween Show Playlist
Tammy’s Picks: Wagon Wheel, Diggy Liggy Lo, It’s a Heartache, Pay Me My Money Down, Darlin’, Little Yellow Blanket, l’Histoire des Daltons.
Glenn’s Picks: Jessico, Let Your Love Flow, Ronnie Milsap Medley, You Never Had It So Good, The Other Side, All About That Bass, Gaspésie, Rolling in the Deep.
Interview (November 7, 2015)
Glenn: We were talking about your show last weekend (Oct 31, 2015 at the Gaspé Legion). How do you feel about it? What stood out to you?
Tammy: The fact that so many people were there. Two hundred and four people came to the door. Not all at the same time, but I think maybe at one point they were all in there. And that’s what’s good for me. Because not being in Gaspé anymore, when I say I go home and I recharge my battery, that’s what it is. I don’t know everyone individually but I do know their faces. And when they come back, that’s better than my pay. That means they liked it last time.
Glenn: How do you manage to stay up on stage for 5 hours and not take a break?
Tammy: I think I just get into it. Well actually, I get into the music so much and I enjoy them having such a good time, that for me to take a break when you’ve succeeded in getting everyone up dancing—and then you are gone for 20 min, and I’m a people person: so I’m talking to everyone and then you need to start back over again and get them to dance. So I figure while I have them there, it’s easier to keep them there. That’s my cowboy logic.
Glenn: Can we go back? Can you tell me where you were born and where you grew up?
Tammy: I was born in Gaspé. 1967.
My dad [Glenn Adams] used to play music just locally. And my dad’s side of the family is quite musical. My uncle plays the fiddle a little bit and the guitar. They had a band as well. I had a band with my father for about 8, 10 years. And we did a little bit of the country festivals around. Very local. My dad was no professional but he enjoyed it so much. I think, like myself, you forget about the professionalism. My dad, every night after supper, would take out my mom’s old song book and we would sing. Pretty much cover to cover. All the old songs. And I’m the oldest of four. My brother next to me was a handicapped child with a very rear disease, Cornelia de Lange syndrome, and he passed away when he was 21 years old. Then I have my two sisters. And we would just sit there at the table. And my brother was very quiet and he’d listen to the music and he’d say “more, more.” And he’d want more songs. And my mom, the dishes just didn’t matter at that point, she’d just push everything over to the side, and she’d sit there and we’d all sing.
And on Friday nights, when it was time to do the groceries, we’d head out to Gaspé. And Dad would say, when we were crossing the Gaspé Bridge, “Oh Tam, you’re entered in a singing contest tonight over at the Carrefour,” where the Sobey’s was at that time. And there was always something going on there on the weekends. They’d have festivals at the mall. And I’d say, “You did what? I’m singing tonight?” And he’d say, “yeah.” “But Dad, I didn’t practice anything.” And he’d say, “Well, we sang all week. We sing the same songs every week. Just pick one of those and you’ll be fine!” And I was so nervous. But my dad would always comfort me and say, “no, no, you’re going to be fine.” And that’s pretty much where it came from, getting out there on the stage and being comfortable, from my father.
Glenn: I assume your dad was a guitar picker/singer?
Tammy: Just a guitar player like myself. Rhythm guitar and singing. It was all the older country. Stuff you don’t even hear anymore.
Glenn: What kind of stuff would that have been?
Tammy: Knoxville Girl. My dad, before he passed away, he really liked the Ricky Skaggs stuff. But he was always into the older Porter Wagoner that you don’t hear anymore. And I’d like to bring that back and that’s kind of what’s happening now. A lot of people have tuned into my Facebook page and that song I put on two years ago. And then they just started asking for all the older stuff. And I thought wow there are still people out there that like the older stuff.
Glenn: I think even on the set you did on Saturday there was stuff from late 60s, 70s, and even 80s. At this point, do you consider that older country?
Tammy: For me it is. Anything from like the 80s is older country. Because right now you’re looking at the Carrie Underwoods and Florida-Georgia Line. And to me that’s not even real country. They consider it country so I guess we’ll go with that. But it’s not the Johnny Cash, the George Strait, the George Jones and Alabama. My country.
Glenn: I noticed many people out here are attracted to the old country songs. And I think even when they were new songs, they still called them “old” country.
Tammy: Indeed. Because it was a style. It was that sound of the older stuff. Simplicity. The older country was 3 chords. That was it. A couple minors if necessary. But other than that it was 3 standard chords and that was it.
Glenn: Who were your first influences when you were getting started with music? Outside of your family.
Tammy: Back then, when I was growing up, there was no Cable TV. We had a satellite dish. A station came on with Austin City Limits. We didn’t have a VCR or anything. But my mom had a video camera, and I would take the video camera and I would aim it at the TV and record that way. So I’d be able to watch it over. My father, he taught me 3 chords, D, G, and A, on the guitar. And the rest I watched and I learned that way. Patti Loveless, Pam Tillis, and the Lorrie Morgan. To me, that was who I listened to growing up. And then my favourite all time to me, there’s nobody better, is Alabama. I saw them twice in concert and it was the best time ever. So Alabama for me is way up there on the charts.
Glenn: When you were first starting out were there a lot of other people out here playing music?
Tammy: Yes. You would see it on Sunday afternoons, at amateur hours and talent shows. And it was always full, wherever it was. Whether at the Douglastown Community Hall, York Hall, Wakeham Hall. The mall in Gaspé, where the Bourlingueur restaurant is, there used to be another brasserie there. And they would have live music every Sunday afternoon. There was music all the time, everywhere.
Glenn: Back when it was full at the mall, I know there were individuals singing, but were they playing in bands as well?
Tammy: There were probably three or four bands. And a lot of those bands would go and backup the individual people. So they’d say, “Ok we’re having the festival at the Carrefour this weekend and the band is: …” Come on down and sing. Then you’d go down, you’d sign up, and the band would back you up. Nobody expected professionalism and everybody was happy. You’d go shopping and you’d have music going on in the mall. I don’t know, everything has changed, sadly.
Glenn: We talked about your beginnings in music and I was thinking about after you got started. What was the general evolution of your music? Were you fronting your own bands? Were you playing with specific musicians?
Tammy: I did. My father and I played with three other guys in a little local band. We used to play at the big hall in Saint-Majorique for different festivals and stuff. Then after my father passed away, one year to the day, I got a band together myself. My dad passed away on the 9th of May ’86. And the 9th of May ‘87 was the first night out for my new band. It was Mother’s Day. And the hall was packed. That’s a hall that normally hold 225 to 230 people. And it was just full. Full, full, full.
And I think they knew because my father had passed away a year earlier. My dad was very well known also. My father was a truck driver and he was well known because he sang, because of the band, and because he was a beautiful person. And I think that’s where it came from. My mother was a very easy going woman as well. And then I had my own band for about 12, 13 years. Very, very busy. Very fun. We were four people: myself, drummer, guitar, bass. They were different people at different times. Marcel Lapointe on bass guitar for a while. Reginald Paquette on the guitar for a while. I had Darren Dimock, Roger Paquette, Alfred Cassidy on drums for a while. I had Gaston Synnott for a while. So different players at different times. They had things going on in their lives, or they moved, and I’d get a replacement. But we played together for about 12, 13 years from Murdochville to Fox River, around home in Gaspé. Just locally.
Glenn: Normally, was it a community hall type venue?
Tammy: Yes. When we played in Saint-Majorique it was at a community hall. When we played in Fox River it was at a bar. A lot of the stuff was like the Wakeham-York Homecoming, the Winter Carnivals. And then I kind of let the band go because I moved to Murdochville for a while.
During that time though, I did get a little exposure down in Saint-Quentin, New Brunswick. I had a very good friend named Johnny LaRivière, he was originally from Paspébiac. He gave me all of his music [his mp3 backing tracks]. He was 33 years old when he passed away on the operation table. And I remember going to his service. He was loved by anyone who ever met him. He was just fantastic. A wonderful musician. A wonderful person.
He was the kind of person that just wanted me to do my own thing, never mind the band thing. Because bands were going out. Bars weren’t paying as much. So people weren’t interested in playing. He was on his own and he said, “I’ll get you started, I’ll give you every single song that I have and see if you can do it on your own. Just try something.” So I remember when he passed away, I went to his service, and I remember I said, “Johnny, I just want half, half of what you had.” And it was amazing. Right after that I was getting calls from everywhere. Bonaventure, New Carlisle, New Richmond. Down in his area. And I thought, “Wow, he was from Paspébiac and this is amazing. I’m getting calls from down there.” And I always say that it was Johnny that helped me.
And then I started to get really at ease with being on stage by myself. Because I left four people and you have that connection with four people. Then you’re down to two—there’s still a connection there. But then I went by myself and I thought, “oh, how am I going to do this?” I never claimed to be a good guitar player. To me, I’m an entertainer-singer. And so now, to make it not look so lifeless on stage, I play my guitar [with the mp3 backing tracks]. But I put it down when I feel like it. People are okay with that. And it’s been busy for me ever since.
Glenn: I noticed you go back and forth between French and English a lot at your shows. Sometimes one sentence to the next. And you’re clearly very comfortable and warm in both languages. But did you grow up in a bilingual environment?
Tammy: Yes. In Gaspé it’s definitely a bilingual environment. But my mother tongue is English. We spoke English in the house. But I don’t ever remember having a hard time learning French. I guess because we heard it a lot. Going back and forth may be confusing to one or the other.
Glenn: So did you grow up out there, on the Forillon side of the bay?
Tammy: Yes, in Saint-Majorique.
Glenn: Was Saint-Majorique mostly a French place or an English place when you were growing up?
Tammy: French. Definitely French. It still is I would say. There’s that little area where we lived, there’s 10 or 15 English families. Then you’ve got the French all the way through. Just a few English families and they kind of got together. It seems like they settled closer together but it’s mostly family actually. My mom is a Fournier. My dad is an Adams. And it’s my dad’s side of the family that is actually more French than my mom’s side. I don’t know how that came to be. I think when my dad was a truck driver, he was just more out in a French environment and picked it up. And I’ve spoken French my whole life. But the only French schooling I did was kindergarten. That was way long ago. It was the only thing we had, living in Saint-Majorique.
Glenn: The sense I get is people are very happy to support you, especially being from this community.
Tammy: Indeed. And I think I can say—and I’m not one to toot my own horn—but I’m the kind of person that when people see my videos on Facebook and they say “What are you doing there? Why didn’t you go to Nashville?” My response is: if I went to Nashville, would I be where I am today?
I like the connection with the people. If I would have gone there and made it big, you’re on a plane one day to the next. That’s not me at all. I like knowing who I’m playing for. I like recognizing the faces. Knowing a song by the face. One of the girls that came down [to the Legion], her favourite song is “Me and Bobby McGee.” And as soon as I see her, I don’t even have to know her name. Her song is “Bobby McGee.” I know she’s there and I know she’s going to come request it. So I may as well just get it done before she asks. And it shows her that I remembered. I take that little step ahead.
Glenn: I could tell that in the set, maybe after the first quarter of the recording I made, you were just doing request after request. At first I think you were doing some of what you wanted and taking the odd request. But then it was just like people were lining up with their requests. And you had about five songs lined up that you knew you were going to do for different people. And there was so much appreciation in that room last Saturday.
Glenn: But experience counts for a lot, and stage presence. And that’s something you have. You kept the party going.
Tammy: Well you know, I am a plus-sized girl and I’ve never let that bother me. I’m in my bubble. This is my stage. This is where I’m comfortable. I’m in my zone there. So it never bothered me that there could be some people down in the audience that are just as good or better but who are just too shy to sing. So I try to let them know that it’s okay that they don’t look like Carrie Underwood. There’s already a Carrie Underwood. There’s already a Shania Twain. Is there another Tammy Adams?
Glenn: You did that song, “All about that Bass” [by Meghan Trainor] which I’d never heard. You totally embraced it. And I think in our society we’re starting to see attitudes towards body image and how we talk about it are starting to change, especially through social media.
Tammy: Absolutely. And another thing: they enjoy that I sing in English, I sing in French. I talk in English and French, often in the same sentence. I don’t only stick to the country either. “All About that Bass,” it’s way out there. I think that’s what they like. I can get people of all ages. People used to think, “the Legion, oh my God, you’re 55, 60 years old going to the Legion.” There’s now people there who are 19 years old. There’s people who are 17 and can’t get in but want to. Because it’s a good place to go. People bring people.
Glenn: I know you’re living in Nova Scotia now, but did you spend all your life in Gaspé before you moved out there?
Tammy: Yep. It’ll be six years that I’m here. But other than that I lived my whole life in Gaspe. I’ll always say that I’m the lucky one. Because I’m going home and when I leave Gaspé to come here, I’m coming home. I have two homes.
Glenn: So it seems to me that even though you moved away, Gaspé still plays a pretty big part in your music these days.
Tammy: Oh for sure. It’ll never stop. You know. Like I’ve said before, that’s my home. Even though I’m making a home here with Michael, and I love it here, Gaspé is my home and it always will be. And I know people and I know what they like there. And it’s just good to go home and see them. I say now that I get paid to go home [laughs]. It’s true, I get paid to go home. How many people can say that? Get paid to go home to do what you like and see your family.
Glenn: And you’ve got another one coming up it seems. Because I noticed at the Halloween show you were saying the next one would be December 29, but it seems like another gig has popped before then.
Tammy: The next time I’m at the Legion is the 19th of December. But I play for Honda Christmas party on the 29th of November; and then I play New Carlisle on the 4th of December; and then the 11th I play for the CSST Christmas Party; and the 12th [for the] Home Hardware Christmas party; and the 18th for the Desjardins Christmas party.
Glenn: Oh my goodness, you’re coming back every single week! What are you going to do?
Tammy: Yep. Every single week [laughs].