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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: North County’s Beloved ‘Mr. Piano Man’

By Tom Morrow

This week’s column is a slight departure from the usual history fare, yet it really isn’t. I’m going to tell you about an amazing man who lived a fascinating and historic 96 years.,

Dick Adams of Fallbrook was known throughout North County, especially in Escondido, for his piano-playing popularity. Most of those who knew him were aware he was an excellent musician, but little else. There was much, much more to Dick’s life than just that of a piano player. Much, much more.dick-adams2006

Dick was born in 1921. He didn’t talk much about his early years, but on one of our playing ‘gigs’ (I played and sang with Dick in an Oceanside-based combo), he told me about his war years back in the early 1940s.

“I took my Army Air Corps training at the base in Santa Ana,” Dick told me. “After basic training, I was assigned to my permanent duty station.” He was grinning. “I spent the entire war in Hollywood at the NBC studios.”

The Army realized he not only was a musician, (trumpet and piano), but he was a musical arranger as well.

“I played the trumpet and arranged all the music for a weekly Army Air Corps musical radio program,” he told me. “We had a lot of big name celebrities as guests on the show – it was quite a production each week.”

After the War, Dick set about trying to play professional baseball. In 1953, after knocking around playing at the minor league level. Dick and his brother landed outfield positions on Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics of the American League baseball club.

Dick said by the time he and his brother joined the team, Mack was more or less a figure head.

“Oh, Mr. Mack would sit in the dugout each game, but he didn’t do any managing,” Dick recalled. “Before the game, Mr. Mack would walk onto the field and point in several directions in the outfield as if to be giving instructions. He really wasn’t — that was just for the fans.”

“One day my brother and I were in the hotel elevator going down to the lobby and on one of the floors Mr. Mack got into the car,” Dick recalled. “After the doors closed, he looked at me and my brother then said: ‘You two boys look like you should be playing baseball for my team.’”

The two brothers looked at each other. Dick said he couldn’t resist.”

“Yes sir. We’re your left and right fielders,” Dick told the old man.

The baseball legend, who was 90 years old at the time, gave a slight smile and walked out of the elevator into the lobby without saying a word.

“I don’t think he ever spoke to us again. In fact, I don’t think he ever remembered who we were.”

(Connie Mack, who began playing in 1886, would go on to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Athletics, later became a club owner and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 1956 at the age of 93).

After one season in the majors, Dick spent the next three decades as a high school physical education instructor. Music was more or less a hobby.

In his retirement years, it was his piano work that most of us who knew him loved about Dick. He was one of those rare musicians who could play anything – I mean “anything.” If he could hear a few of the opening notes, he could pick it up and play the tune like he had written it. It’s called “playing by ear.”

At a Christmas gig one year when Dick and I were playing with the Eddie Kruck combo, we were going to close the evening with the great World War II ballad, “We’ll Meet Again,” the one Vera Lynn made famous. Ironically, Dick hadn’t heard of it, or didn’t remember. So, I hummed a few bars. Dick picked it up and played right along as I sung. He played like he’d played the song for years.

Dick died peacefully in his sleep two weeks ago at the age of 96. Those of us who knew him wouldn’t argue that he didn’t look a day over 65. He gave piano lessons each week and played at least two or three gigs on a regular basis. Over the past few months, however, Dick started having trouble getting around. He told Eddie a few weeks ago, “I’m ready to close the last chapter.”

Dick Adams is one of my “most unforgettable” characters I’ve known.

shadow_of_the_fox02My latest novel, “In The Shadow of The Fox” and all my other books are available in both print and e-book formats at Amazon.com.

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