BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
December 24, 2014
Gordy Adams is a Rural Character. In fact, according to a song his fellow Rural Characters wrote for him, he is “a Rural Character of high degree.” When he walks onto the stage he becomes the visual centerpiece of the group with his shuffling gait, his big cowboy hat and his ready smile, which the stage can barely accommodate.
Nine years ago, Adams underwent his first surgery to have a brain tumor removed. When he came home from that operation on the left side of his brain, he couldn’t speak. It was a difficult time for Adams and his wife, Kitty. His bandmates dropped by to visit and see if they could cheer him up with a song they had composed for him. For Kitty Adams, it turned into one of the most memorable experiences in his 15-year association with the locally renowned island folk ensemble.
“They brought the song they wrote to him,” she said, “and he started singing! I’ll never forget it. It was an act of love.”
Tom Walker, who—along with Randy Hudson—does most of the songwriting for the group, said “We didn’t know what shape he would be in, or what the future would bring. In our first show after that, the three other guys walked onto the stage and we told the audience that Gordy had had brain surgery. There was a chorus of ‘Aw’s.’ And then here came Gordy with his ukele and he sat down and sang a song. The place went wild. It was a great way to start the show.”
Since that first operation, Adams was in a bad car accident and had another tumor removed. It has all hit him hard physically. His eyesight is failing, his memory and speech have been affected and he needs a couple of canes to support him when he walks. Still, Walker said that his bandmate retains his basic onstage persona—just “toned down a bit. He is a very enthusiastic singer. He’s the best singer in the group and loves to sing harmony.”
Hudson smiles when talking about how Adams’ main focus during band practice is to get on with actually playing. As he and Walker and Tom Fisher toss ideas around as they collaborate on a new song, Adams grows impatient to begin playing. “Someone tosses out an idea for a line,” Hudson said, “and Gordy says ‘That’s it! Let’s play.’”
Hudson’s wife, sculptor Georgia Gerber, said Adams’ fellow Rural Characters “have been guiding souls for Gordy. They all share and support each other. They laugh a lot during practice.”
Kitty Adams appreciates what her husband’s participation in the group means for him. Despite all the serious setbacks of the last decade, “he can still sing, still do his main passion. They enable that. They have given up trying to perfect things. It’s more about heart and soul.They find ways to adjust to his needs.”
Jim Freeman, local humorist, writer and self-described Conductor of Fun, is one of the many fans of the Rural Characters. “Nobody does it better,” he said, underscoring the rare blessing the group represents for the community that inspires their songwriting and performances. “You could never get enough. The joy they have when they create! The laughter begins the moment they get together and doesn’t stop. When they get their camaraderie clicking, nobody—pro or amateur—can do it like they do. It’s a genuine circle of good feeling.”
Freeman tried for years to get the Characters to perform at the Loganberry Festival before they finally accepted. “They’re very picky,” he said.
“We say ‘no’ more than we say ‘yes,’” said Walker. “We’re a group that isn’t looking for a gig. Part of it is that we put five months of work into our WICA gig. It takes us all the time we have to be as unpolished as we are.”
That gig at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts is a two-night gala. They strive to create fresh material each year, to make it a new show. As are most of their other performances, it’s a fundraiser that benefits WICA’s Local Artist Series, which provides an opportunity for area musicians and songwriters to play on the Michael Nutt stage—the island’s premier facility for showcasing talent.
The Rural Characters have probably the best draw of any local band on Whidbey. Islanders thoroughly enjoy the humorous parodies the group creates about the idiosyncrasies of island life. The song titles themselves bring a smile: “The Commuter’s Lament,” “Shopping in Clinton,” “The Whidbey Beach Walk Song,” and the “Power Outage Song.” (They are all on YouTube.) “It’s important to be able to laugh at yourself,” said Walker, speaking of life on Whidbey. “We celebrate it and laugh about it at the same time.”
You have to love someone or something a lot to put in the time and effort and talent it takes to create the kind of show the Rural Characters present. “They’re a benevolent bunch,” said Tom Fisher, speaking of his bandmates. “They love the community and they love each other.” And their fans love them in return.
Jim Freeman said, “That love of the Rural Characters—that got translated into a love for Gordy. It’s like crowd-sourcing for Gordy Adams. If a person knows that people care about him, he will fight the fight. It’s life affirming.”
Kitty Adams said this time in her life is one of “huge mixed blessings. It’s very sad and it’s very precious. I don’t take anything for granted. I’ve learned to live in the present and look for the blessings each day.”
She recalled something her husband wrote in a Christmas letter a few years ago in which he said that “music was his source of healing.”
“At this point in time,” she said, “his joy in it is singing to make people happy. He said he felt like he was giving back to the community he loves so much. We all need to feel like we are contributing to the good of others.”
For more information about the Rural Characters visit the following web pages, and be sure to look them up on YouTube!
Image at top: Gordy Adams onstage during a recent performance by the Rural Characters. (photo by Martha McCartney)
Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He also is a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.
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