Look out, Dallas! Ryan Adams is on his way to town. The troubled troubadour is slated to play Gypsy Tea Room on June 17, and early reports of his current tour say his antics are still up to his Replacements-like standard: disaster one night, sublime wonder the next. Shades of 2002, when a drunken Adams fielded a silly request for Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69" by stopping the show, whipping out his wallet, handing $30 to the fan and then having him removed from the building. (The fan was let back in and got to keep the money.)
More recently, Velvetrope.com reported a train wreck show in Philadelphia when Adams took long breaks between songs, bitched ad nauseam about the sound system and battled hecklers--whom he has started to attract in relatively large numbers--from beginning to end. Days later, another correspondent reported that Adams' D.C. show was excellent and that the singer's stage patter was hilarious. Which Ryan will show up here?
In honor of the impending appearance of one of popular music's great meltdown artists, we've compiled a list of five of the greatest onstage meltdowns in music history. As you can see, Adams has a ways to go to catch these greats.
Freddie Hubbard: 1967, unknown venue
Meltdown: On a bootleg tape that has been traded for decades, jazz trumpeter Hubbard can be heard uncorking the following tirade to a jeering audience: "Fuck you, white motherfuckers! [Voice in crowd: 'Go home!'] Well, OK, I'll go home. If you don't like me, kiss my ass! That's right, 'cause you jive, you jive, you jive! You white motherfuckers! You the ones who started this shit! Lemme show you--you the ones--fuck you! Fuck you, you white motherfuckers! [Hubbard starts to weep.] If you don't like me, kiss my black ass! You motherfuckers! [The drummer starts the next song.] Fuck it, I won't do it!"
Aftermath: Unknown, though this was not the last of Hubbard's meltdowns. In 1977, he stormed off the stage at Cleveland's Front Row, screaming, "Miles Davis, Miles Davis, Miles Davis. I ain't Miles Davis, motherfuckers!"
Charlie Rich: 1975, Country Music Awards, Nashville
Meltdown: On stage to announce his successor as CMA Entertainer of the Year, Rich opened the envelope, announced that his "good friend John Denver" had won and then set fire to the envelope and results card. Earlier in the evening, Rich had been spotted backstage swilling gin-and-tonics and autographing a woman's bare breast.
Aftermath: Rich's spin doctors went into overdrive: His gaffe, they said, was thanks to pain medications he'd taken to overcome a spider bite suffered while mowing his lawn. (Yeah, that's the ticket.) Rich was pretty much finished by this incident, and the CMA continues to hold a grudge long after his death--despite being both a critical fave and the biggest artist in country music for a few years in the early '70s, he is still not a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jim Morrison: 1969, Dinner Key Auditorium, Miami
Meltdown: Drunk beyond even his own impressive norms, Doors front man Jim Morrison staggered onstage and berated the people of his native state for being too dumb to leave Florida and move to California. He encouraged the audience to strip naked. And then he started asking questions. "You didn't come here for music, did you? You didn't come to rock and roll. You came for something else, didn't you? You came for something else--WHAT IS IT?" A long pause followed. "You want to see my cock, don't you? That's what you came for, isn't it? YEAHHH!" And then Morrison unleashed his love scud. Or maybe he didn't. To this day, no one is sure.
Aftermath: Four days later, after attracting the attention of the FBI and Richard Nixon, six warrants were filed for Morrison's arrest. This was to have been the first show on a long U.S. tour, but as word spread of Morrison's conduct, promoters canceled shows and Doors songs were removed from radio playlists. Though Morrison completed L.A. Woman after this incident, and his trial resulted in only two misdemeanor convictions, the Miami incident effectively ended his career. His life would end in a Parisian bathtub in July 1971, unless you believe tabloids.
George Jones: 1979, The Exit-In, Nashville
Meltdown: For much of 1979, George Jones wallowed in severe whiskey and cocaine addiction. Eventually, his personality cracked or, better put, "quacked" into two sides. One was washed-up country singer George Jones, and the other was Donald "Deedoodle" Duck. Jones would actually argue two sides of an issue with his feathered alter ego, taking one side in his normal voice and the other in a duck voice. The duck's debut came before an audience of industry insiders at what was meant to be a comeback show.
As recalled by then-manager Shug Baggott in the Jones bio Ragged But Right, Jones "came onstage and announced that...a new star was born. George proceeded to introduce Donald and asked for a round of applause as Donald started singing a George Jones song. You could see tears in most of the people's eyes."
Aftermath: According to Baggott, Donald continued the quacky-tonkin' (after all, only geese "honky"-tonk) until he was carted off the stage in a straitjacket. This was far from the last meltdown for the Possum, but it goes to show: It may walk like a duck and talk like a duck, but it might just be George Fuckin' Jones.
Grace Slick: 1978, Germany
Meltdown: Jefferson Starship's European tour was not going well. At the Lorelei Festival, their first show in Germany, fans rioted when it was announced that singer Grace Slick was too sick to perform. The next night, in Hamburg, the band probably wished Slick was still ailing. Drunk as a skunk, she took the stage in a Nazi uniform, goose-stepped around the stage and taunted fans about losing World War II, pausing occasionally to insert a finger or two up the nostrils of puzzled German men, whom she called a bunch of Nazis.
Aftermath: Slick quit the band immediately after the show, and the group staggered on without her through the rest of the tour. "I think she created punk rock that night," recalled drummer John Barbata, but sadly, the rest of her career was anything but punk. In 1981, she rejoined the band, dropped the "Jefferson" and unleashed some of the worst and most unaccountably popular rock of all time. "We Built This City," in particular, was voted the worst song ever by Blender last year, and it's safe to say that no other creative decline will ever compare.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.