Bryan Adams, underappreciated rock star, comes to Clearwater
By Jay Cridlin, Tampa Bay Times Pop Music/Culture Critic
Bryan Adams had five minutes to photograph the queen.
With so little time, you can't worry about which of you is one of Canada's most celebrated rock singers and which of you has occupied the throne of the Commonwealth since 1952.
You're the photographer. She's the subject. You have five minutes.
"I directed the whole thing," Adams recalled by phone from a tour stop in Portugal.
Did Queen Elizabeth know who Adams was? Did she, like the rest of the world, know the year Adams bought his first real six-string? Did she know that after becoming a Canadian music icon, he'd built a pretty respected career as a celebrity fashion photographer, too?
"I didn't really get into it at all," he said. "But I've met her a couple of times since then, and she's always been really gracious."
Here, you might be scratching your head, wondering: Bryan Adams? The Summer of '69 guy? The dude from the Robin Hood video? The guy who's playing Clearwater's Coachman Park on Friday? That guy?
Yep: that Bryan Adams. One of the most underappreciated rock stars of our time. There's a lot more to him than you might remember.
• • •
It seems impossible that Adams has been at this 40 years. He's only 56, his face still as rugged and appealing as his fraying, stonewashed howl.
He started out a teenage glam rocker in suburban Vancouver — his first concert was David Bowie, the Diamond Dogs tour — which didn't exactly presage all the FM-friendly hits that would make him famous, songs that perfectly melded heartland passion and perfect power balladry.
His third album, 1982's Cuts Like a Knife, made him famous. His fourth, Reckless — Summer of '69, Run to You, Somebody, Heaven — made him a superstar.
"There's so many places that we were about to go back then that were sort of uncharted," he said. "And things just got bigger and bigger through the whole '90s. People refer to the songs as being '80s songs, but I had more hits in the '90s than I did in the '80s."
It's true: Adams' one Grammy win (amid 15 nominations) came in the '90s, for the omnipresent Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ballad (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. So did his three Oscar nominations for Best Original Song. At one point, he was in such high demand that Luciano Pavarotti called asking to duet. Adams hung up the phone.
"I thought it was a joke," he said. "Your home phone number rings, and suddenly there's this guy talking to you in Italian, and you think, 'F--- off,' you know?"
Somehow, though, for all his instantly recognizable hits — the man has sold 65 million albums — Adams doesn't feel overexposed in 2016. He's aged more gracefully than many musicians his age, building a respected second career as a photographer — smile, Your Majesty! — and for the past 25 years, he's lived in Europe, not Canada. He said he tours about 10 days a month now, but those 10 dates are spread all over the world.
It's been 13 years since he's played a full-band show in Tampa Bay, but it's not for lack of interest. Ruth Eckerd Hall, which booked the Coachman Park show, has been trying to book Adams for a postgame concert for the Tampa Bay Rays for years, to no avail.
Adams has done more solo tours in recent years, just him and that five-and-dime six-string. Something he noticed, especially in America, was that he'd often walk out on stage and find the audience still in their seats, unmoved or unwilling to stand and cheer from the jump.
Why? Did they think Adams was shifting into old-man folk mode?
"I think they just didn't know what to expect," he said. "The music that I've always presented has always been fully orchestrated with a band. So suddenly to tear it all down into the smallest denomination, it wasn't expected."
But by the end, they'd be on their feet, cheering.
"I never pushed anyone to get them up," he said. "It would just happen. And that was cool."
In October, Adams released his 13th studio album, featuring driving, plugged-in songs with names like That's Rock and Roll and Go Down Rockin'.
The album's title: Get Up.
• • •
Adams isn't as far removed from the top of today's pops as one might think. He was close friends with Amy Winehouse; a photo he took graces the cover of her posthumous album Lioness: Hidden Treasures. And he's one of the few artists who knows what it's like to have a song as huge as Adele's Hello. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, which turns 25 this year, set chart records that exist to this day.
"I can relate, totally," he said, pointing to the grueling tours that accompany such massive success. "You basically won't have much of a life for a few years. That's what it comes down to. Unless you stay out of it. Unless you just become a hermit. Unless you stay out of the press."
While he believes a song like Everything I Do could still be a hit today, his advice for up-and-coming rock singers isn't so rosy.
"Get into software design," he said.
"Because you can't make a living on it."
Well, you can if you're Bryan Adams. Right?
"If you're established, it's still okay. You can still putter around the globe and do gigs. But if you're starting out, it's really, really hard. You've got to be really clever because the way things are now in the record business, it's not really set up for artists. It's set up for the companies to make money."
Still, Adams is nowhere close to retiring to his photography and family. After 40 years, he can't stop this thing he started. There are too many nights when even the old hits feel like new.
"With songs that are really well known, they sort of take a life of their own when you play them live," he said. "Every night, it's a different thing."
• • •
Adams' five minutes with Queen Elizabeth yielded a photo so lovely it ended up on a Canadian stamp. Maybe that resonated with Her Majesty, because after that, she didn't forget Adams' face.
"Once, in fact, she got to drop the puck at a hockey game in Vancouver, and then afterward, there was a reception," he said. "She walked into the room and everyone was just standing there and no one said anything. And then she saw me and came over and talked to me."
Adams cracks up at the memory.
"She recognized me! She came over and had a chat with me, and left everybody else in the room!"
Well, yeah. He's Bryan Adams. A guy like that, you just don't forget.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.
"c.Tampa Bay Times 2016"
IF YOU GO
The singer performs with a full band at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Coachman Park in Clearwater. General admission is $20; reserved seats are $60 and up. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.