By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Nestled between the bar and the wall at the Cock & Bull on Gaston Avenue, an overstuffed shoulder bag leaning against his barstool, Jeff Whittington looks no different from any of the young professionals hoisting pints at the end of their workdays in other bars in the neighborhood. He stands out now amid the early-evening cluster of old men who've been keeping the barstools warm all afternoon, but when the pub fills up later that night, he could slip into the crowd and you'd never see him again, just dozens of versions of him. You wouldn't peg him as a musician unless he told you, and even then you'd be skeptical. The boy looks more like his day job: special-events coordinator at KERA-TV. Now that's more like it.
Of course, Whittington has never really looked the role of rocker, even during his seven-year stint as the singer-guitarist in Adam's Farm. That, he says, has always been his thing, his shtick--the glasses, the khakis, the dressed-down drag. Adam's Farm--which included Centro-matic's current rhythm section, bassist Mark Hedman and drummer Matt Pence--resembled nothing more than a trio of English majors on open-mike night, nervous young men in plaid shirts and glasses playing their ragged rock and pristine pop much louder than you'd expect. Even without Pence and Hedman around anymore, it's still Whittington's thing, at least on the surface. It wouldn't be hard for him to disappear.
And for a while, at least, he did. To everyone but his friends and the 20 or so people who turned up to his monthly gigs, it seemed as though Whittington gave up on music after he broke up Adam's Farm in December 1996. He became more selective about whom he wanted to share his songs with, and even now, his solo debut, twenty-five pin connector, is available only at his shows and to people who e-mail him (homonculous98hotmail.com) and request a copy. Whittington didn't give up completely, although playing once a month at Club Dada on either Monday or Tuesday nights is the next-best thing. He just gave up on Adam's Farm and everything that went with it--the tours that took them only as far as Oklahoma, playing with the same bands every Friday night to the same people, trying to make ends meet working temp jobs. All of it.
"I just needed a change," Whittington says. "You know, it was a really good thing for me, in that sense. The really bad thing is that the two guys I played with are two of the best musicians on the planet. It was the greatest band to have, because I could show them a song at soundcheck, and we'd play it that night. But I wasn't writing any music, and I was really frustrated. And we weren't really playing any. We did two huge tours with Deep Blue Something, and that was really good for us and really bad for us. We kind of got spoiled."
The tours with Deep Blue Something, which was then coasting on the success of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," opened the band's eyes, and when they came home to Dallas, they didn't want to close them again, especially Whittington. He was working at the band's label, RainMaker Records, and the more he was there, the more he realized that Adam's Farm might not ever move any further in line, since owner Paul Nugent was busy managing the successes of Deep Blue Something and The Nixons. And after three modest-selling records--1994's Rock Music Machine, 1995's Want In EP, and 1996's SuperLectric--he didn't think RainMaker would be willing to invest any more money in the band.
But Whittington didn't just break up the band because he didn't see any future in it. He left Adam's Farm because he did see a future, and it was filled with the same routine he had been going through for seven years. He wanted to write different songs, play with different people. For him, Adam's Farm, as he says now, had hit its plateau. It wouldn't get any better, and Whittington didn't want to be around when it got worse.
"We turned out the records, and we just did so much, but I guess it just kind of got...I really felt stagnant, to be honest," he says. "I kind of needed to reinvigorate the creative thing. Really, I think we could have continued on, except that I decided that I wanted to retire [from music] for a little while. Work for a little while and earn some money and just see what happened."
It didn't take long for him to find out. Within six months, Whittington had a real job at KERA, a wife, and a monthly gig at the Green Room, under the name Johnny Nobody. It was just him and his electric guitar, and he found that he enjoyed the way it sounded, after being in rock bands for a decade. He grew up in Duncanville playing in bands with his friends that never amounted to much, save for a few gigs at parties and one memorable show at the late Prophet Bar. Whittington's band was barred from any further performances there after playing a Lou Reed song; Reed was a known heroin user, and that clashed with the born-again beliefs of the bar's owner, Russell Hobbs.