1958: Ray Rhodes - “Fred Adams”

One of the joys of listening to field recording compilations is the moment when, after sifted through countless atrophied and difficult recordings, you suddenly find an absolute gem. “Fred Adams,” a traditional murder-ballad sung by the 7-year-old Ray Rhodes, is such a gem. It can be found on Art Rosenbaum’s The Art of Field Recording, which won the 2006 Grammy for Best Historical Album. The only accompaniment the boy has is tape hiss, but the clarity of the recording gives Rhode’s voice a commanding presence. There is an immediate intimacy to the song as Rhode’s invites listeners to “come and listen to a story… about a boy we all know well.” From the moment this song (barely over a minute) begins, Rhodes has brought you into his world.

What makes the ballad of Fred Adams so stunning is not necessarily the story. As implied from the opening verse, it is a well known tale. Adams gets drunk, robs and murders, and eventually is caught and sentenced. He says his goodbyes and accepts his execution seemingly unrepentant. The real power of the song comes from Rhodes’ tone. His calm recitation of the song perfectly captures the darkness of the main character. The final two lines: “The trigger sprung at 8 pm/ He took it just like a man.” For a 7-seven year old to repeat those words without a shred of pity or sadness perfectly evokes the unaffected cool of the song’s doomed hero. This field recording is a window into the past and evidence of the pure power of these auditory relics.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

Most Read