When longtime local banker and early rock 'n' roll bandsman Bob Adams passed away on January 3, 2023, a piece of Knoxville’s music history went with him.
Born in Bearden, Tennessee, on May 31, 1940, Robert M. "Bob" Adams was the son of Arthur Levi Adams (who died before Bob turned 1 year old) and Maude Elleen Majors Adams, who supported her family by cooking in the cafeterias of Bearden and Pond Gap elementary schools and laboring in local textile mills and button factories. The Adams’ daughter, Marcella, looked out for her younger brothers, Charlie, Don, and Bob.
Growing up, Bob and several neighborhood friends–Wayne Cronan, Clifford Curry, Dewey Guy, Lewey Guy, and Jerry Johnson–did everything together, including playing baseball and golf and caddying at Cherokee Country Club. They also developed a keen interest in rock 'n' roll, listening to Elvis Presley and watching as their favorite singers, the Everly Brothers, gained fame nationally, dreaming of one day emulating their success.
The boys grew up in a segregated system, wherein white students attended nearby Bearden High School while the neighborhood's Black students were bussed to the opposite side of Knoxville to attend Austin High School. Black students were allowed to attend Bearden High School sporting events as spectators, but they were expected to stand along the fence rather than to sit in the stands. However, the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) meant that school integration was on the horizon.
In the world of entertainment, Black singers were not allowed to front white bands at "white venues;" a group with such an arrangement could only play informally or when invited to "Black venues." However, with the rise in the popularity of rock 'n' roll, a racially blended genre of music, the opportunity for Black and white performers to share any stage seemed possible.
Sometime during the fall of 1956 or 1957, Bob Adams and his friends attended a Bearden High School home football game. One of them proposed that the six aspiring musicians should play at a post-game gathering with Clifford fronting the group.The suggestion was bold, because while Adams, Cronan, the Guy twins, and Johnson were white, Curry was Black. Bearden, though, was a small school, and the five white musicians were popular among their classmates, participating in many school activities, clubs, organizations, and athletics. The Guy twins in particular played on multiple sports teams for Bearden, including football, where they were voted among the most valuable players. Lewey Guy and Wayne Cronan were also officers of their classes. The boys held some sway at their school and among their peers.
Clifford, a student at Austin High School, felt the most cautious. He suggested they should wait and ask their mothers first. The deciding factor turned out to be Clifford’s grandmother, Katie Griffin Curry, who strongly insisted that, if Clifford really wanted to perform, then the boys should be allowed to try. The other parents eventually agreed, and a public performance soon took place. It was successful enough that increasingly larger public performances in traditionally white venues followed. The group called themselves The Fabulous Six.
By the end of 1958, the very same season that a bomb blast rocked the newly integrated Clinton High School, The Fabulous Six had booked performances at homecoming events at the University of Tennessee and negotiated a record deal for the release of three 45 rpm singles. “Rock A While” (backed with “Can’t Stand To Be Alone”), released in 1959, continues to be included on compilations and draw thousands of listens on YouTube.
As The Fabulous Six’s success and ambitions rose so did the hostility that they received for being an interracial group traveling and performing together. One night at a club in Florida, they encountered violence so profoundly disturbing that, after escaping, they refused to return to that town.The club sued them; The Fabulous Six countersued the club. While in litigation, they continued performing under different names and even cut an additional record as The Continders [sic]. After the lawsuits concluded, The Fabulous Six returned to their original name and still enjoyed strong local popularity, but their hopes that they would be able to travel and achieve widespread success faded. They continued to perform through at least 1963, but the band's frequency tapered off as day jobs, other bands, college, families, and the draft pulled them into different places and different lives.
Of the six, only Clifford Curry was able to maintain a professional music career for most of his life, he finding his greatest success in the genre of beach music, which inducted him into its hall of fame in 1995. Wayne Cronan briefly performed as part of The Catalinas, which released two singles in 1961 and 1962. Bob Adams spent a 44-year career in Knoxville banking, most notably as vice president, financial center manager at First Tennessee.
None of the members, though, seemed to forget that they had once been united as The Fabulous Six, a rock 'n' roll band from Knoxville, Tennessee. Clifford Curry reminisced about the band on stage at one of his last concerts. Dewey Guy’s Find-A-Grave image is a photo of the band. A band photograph is prominent in Bob Adams’ memorial video on the Highland Memorial Cemetery website. With Adams’ death, a full half of The Fabulous Six—Clifford Curry, Dewey Guy, and Bob Adams—have come to rest at Highland Memorial Cemetery, back in their home neighborhood of Bearden.
*Research and article by Danette Welch, assistant reference librarian, Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection.