Drummer Biff Adam, who was an integral member of Merle Haggard’s legendary backing band for four decades, and also served as the singer’s publicist and bus driver for several years, died Saturday, March 7th, after battling congestive heart failure. Adam’s daughters, Debi Stalder and Connie Ishman, shared the news on the drummer’s Facebook page over the weekend. He was 83.
In addition to backing Haggard on his albums throughout the Seventies and beyond, Adam and his fellow Strangers recorded a string of albums under their band name, with the drummer the namesake of an instrumental track, “Biff Bam Boom.” That song was featured on the 1970 LP Introducing My Friends, the Strangers and spotlighted Adam’s vigorous and innovate playing style.
Born Clair Adam in Reading, Pennsylvania, in April 1936, Adam was sent to the Milton Hershey School, a boy’s orphanage in Hershey, Pennsylvania, after both his parents died. Adam, who played football in high school, got the nickname “Beef” because of his size. After graduating high school in 1954, he joined the Navy, and during that time met future country legends Roger Miller and Bobby Bare at a nightclub in Long Beach, California, sitting in at the club with both singers. While working as a drummer in Long Beach, his fellow musicians urged him to change his nickname and suggested an alternative: “Biff.”
Prior to his work with the Strangers, Adam was the session drummer on the soundtrack for the 1967 animated Disney film The Jungle Book and worked with surf-music band the Ventures, while playing six nights a week with a band called Red Rhodes and the Detours at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood. After meeting Haggard there, he would replace Eddie Burris as the Strangers’ drummer in 1970.
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An innovator of the “double shuffle beat” style of drumming, Adam told Fish Creek Radio’s Scott Wikle in 2016, “All the country drummers, they played the shuffle beat with their right hand and played … backbeat with their left hand. I always thought, ‘I wonder how it would sound if I shuffled with both hands?’ So, I did that it and it just sort of fell into a real good groove. A lot of the players from Nashville, when they come by the Palomino, they say, ‘Will you show me that double shuffle?’ ” Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer, Paul English, who died last month, acknowledged his use of Adam’s double-shuffle-beat technique, telling Classic Drummer magazine, “I stole it from him.”
As with his fellow Strangers, Adam would receive a number of “call-outs” from Haggard on record, just as Western swing pioneer Bob Wills had begun doing decades earlier. After recording the 1973 Haggard album, I Love Dixie Blues, Adam received a congratulatory phone call from one of his drumming idols, big band superstar Gene Krupa. The same weekend Adams played in Fort Worth, Texas, drumming for Bob Wills on the Western swing legend’s last-ever show. He also played with Haggard and the Strangers for President Richard Nixon at the White House. In 1980, Adam, along with Haggard and the Strangers, was featured in the Clint Eastwood film Bronco Billy.
In addition to being longtime bandmates, Adam and Haggard earned their pilot’s licenses at the same time, and Adam also went on to earn a commercial license. He served as president of the Haggard-owned Silverthorn Resort on California’s Lake Shasta.
In October 1980, Adam was playing with Haggard and the Strangers at California’s Anaheim Stadium when Haggard invited both Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck to join them onstage for an extended segment of hits “Sing Me Back Home,” “Okie From Muskogee,” and Haggard’s most recent hit at the time, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”
Adam’s daughters have announced that later in the year they plan to celebrate the drummer with a gathering featuring “lots of country music, which was his passion.”