All country. All soul. All the gospel of Rock & Roll. There's equal danger in taking art that's too gritty and attempting to spit-shine it into palatability, and taking something factory-produced and endeavoring to weather it artificially. But when you get those moments of both art and artist that simply feels real from the very first note, you find yourself wanting more, fast.
Millions of people experienced that moment when Adam Wakefield opened his mouth to sing a rescued country music classic on national television… and now they want more. And he's ready to give it to them. You have to look past the hat. The boots. The beard. The hair. And even, to a degree, Adam Wakefield's voice. You have to give yourself that extra few moments, and when you do, you discover an artist completely sold out to musical excellence, a path he started on at a very young age.
"The first instrument that piqued my interest was piano," the small town New Hampshire native says. "Growing up, we had a piano and a record player, and that was pretty much it, musically. So piano was always going to be in the cards for me." Wakefield's piano lessons began before age five, with a steady diet of classical music filling up his fingers and his brain. But Adam's aptitude and adventurousness emerged early, and the record player got equal billing in opening up his musical world. "I can remember the one song I played air guitar to every day for probably a year was 'I'm Going Home' from Ten Years After off the original Woodstock record," he says, further establishing his "old soul" credibility.
Simultaneous exposure to classical and rock & roll (plus a change in piano teachers) brought about an interest in jazz, something Wakefield would pursue educationally at The New School Jazz and Contemporary Arts Program in New York City. "I really just wanted to get the best at piano as I could, and jazz is probably the hardest musical art form," Adam says. "I took piano lessons from age 4 to age 18, then pursued it in college." "When you have so many years of piano, you're either going to start doing Rachmaninoff or you're going to start learning Herbie Hancock. I went the jazz route." But jazz wasn't the only music avenue Wakefield set about traveling. He also started playing guitar as a teenager, with his father helping him power through those painful early days of toughening up his fingers while playing. "I'm sitting there trying to play the chords, and it just sounds 'plink-plink-plink-plunk' so my dad walks in and says, 'You're not pushing hard enough!'" Adam remembers. "He comes over and presses my fingers down harder on the frets and I say, 'Ow!' but he said, 'This is the best way to do it; you'll get over it quick.'" It was the musical immersion of living in New York City, studying and practicing by day, and watching some of his instructors play in the clubs at night, that set Wakefield down the path of working on his own music, specifically songwriting. "The first songs I ever wrote were jazz songs, instrumental stuff," Adam says. "But the first song I wrote with lyrics I wrote with my brother, a song called 'Return," about coming back to your roots and respecting where you came from. "When I wrote the song, I was already living in New York City. I'd moved from the middle of nowhere New Hampshire across the street from a farm to living in an apartment building in Greenwich Village. That kind of hit home for me." However, self-doubt about keeping up with the demanding NYC jazz scene led Wakefield to leave school early and resettle in Baltimore, where he toiled in various bands and combos for a decade, finding a home in that area's much-smaller musical landscape, but still feeling like something was missing. It took a relocation to Nashville in 2013 for Wakefield to rekindle his search for excellence. "Moving to Nashville, it was just magical for someone like me. I thought maybe that feeling would go away after a time, but by no means has that gone away," he says.
"It's the kind of place where you can go down to Broadway and hear great musicians, and honestly, I'd much rather hear a great musician play a crappy song than a crappy musician play a great song." Wakefield filled his time with songwriting and playing sidemen gigs for touring country artists, but still wanted to find his elusive path to a wider audience. Enter: a chance to audition for season 10 of the NBC musical artist discovery show "The Voice." "I remember watching the show before I tried out and thinking, 'I wonder what would happen if somebody who was a working musician went on the show?'' he remembers. "I felt like it was a lot of kids who were good singers, singing in their choruses at school or a cappella in college." It was in the "blind audition" phase of the season's second episode that set the stage for Wakefield's rise. Eight seconds into his version of the Chris Stapleton-via-George Jones scorcher "Tennessee Whiskey," longtime Voice coach/Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine hit the big red button that spun his chair around, indicating he wanted Wakefield on his team that season.
Country superstar Blake Shelton followed soon after, and after letting the two veteran coaches verbally spar over him, Wakefield chose the five-time CMA Male Vocalist of the Year to be his mentor. It was Wakefield's experience, talent, skill under pressure and versatility that propelled him to turn in one great performance after another during his run on Blake Shelton's team, ultimately finishing second overall. "Lonesome Broken and Blue" hit No. 1 on the iTunes Top 100 songs chart and boasted the season's top debut on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, entering at No. 73. The single, which Adam wrote, also arrived as his highest-charting (No. 14) of nine entries on Billboard's Hot Country Songs.
"Being on a show like 'The Voice' gives you a broader perspective about the business, especially television, and appealing to a big fan-base," Wakefield says. "It opened my eyes to the fact that I could do songs nobody had heard of, a Bonnie Raitt song or a John Prine song, do it my own way, and it was about the way the music translated. "I had this kind of bitter, cynical view of mainstream music and that everybody wants to just hear 'beer and trucks' songs, and that's not true at all," Adam continues." To have people have such great reactions to songs they'd never heard of was so refreshing." This inevitable question comes at every artist who performs well on a televised talent search: "What's next?" For Adam Wakefield, it's the same thing he's being doing for close to 20 years…more hard work, but this time with a renewed sense of enthusiasm over what's possible.
He's assembled a talented band of Nashville-based musicians he knows to be excellent, has combed through his own catalog of songs and other influences, and is spending this latest season honing both band and setlist into laser-sharp focus. Aside from The Voice, Adam has shared the stage as a musician with artists such as Chris Cagle, Lee Brice, Keith Anderson, Michelle Wright, and more. During CMA Fest this year, he was invited to perform alongside the Oak Ridge Boys, Maren Morris, Steven Tyler and more as part of Marty Stuart's Annual Late Night Jam. "After putting this band together, putting these songs together and playing guitar out front, there's a lot of rock & roll in it," Wakefield admits. "I didn't realize it was going to be like that, and while there's a lot of straight-up old-school country influence, I think it's going to be a great combination of rock & roll and country. "I think all the things I've learned since age four, learning to play piano through going to college and being in bands and all that stuff, I think right now is the perfect time for me to be doing this," Adam says. "The country music industry, the trajectory of what's going on on the radio, it's ready for a change. And we are going to run with that idea."