Local Piano Man Flirted With Fame 50 Years Ago
Dean Adair, a longtime Park City resident, was just 17 years old when he wrote a song called "Just Like Me" for his fledgling band, the "Wilde Knights." It was 1965 and the British Invasion was breaking across America like a tsunami. The Wilde Knights were making quite a splash themselves at the time in the netherlands of Longview, Washington, Adair’s hometown about halfway between Seattle and Portland. So much so that they loaded up and headed for Los Angeles, then Mecca for rising west coast rock bands, with stops in San Francisco and other coastal towns along the way.
It was a trip Adair seemed destined to make. From the moment he began plinking at age five on the keys of the piano in his living room, abandoned by his older brother after he accidentally shot himself in the hand, the die was cast. "It just came naturally to me," he explains. "I never learned to read music and never had to memorize anything, I just knew things. It’s like it was in the air. I don’t know how else to explain it."
Later, in high school, word got around about what a prodigy he was on the piano. Though Adair was a shy kid, painfully so, he was reluctantly recruited by a raucous garage band called the "Furys," which later became the Wilde Knights. Fast-forward 18 months and the still shy Adair and company were on the road.
They hit the club circuit with a vengeance, playing and singing "Just Like Me," and other original songs three nights a week and logging thousands of miles in their aged van. It seemed Adair, the youngest member of the band, had to go home every week during the school year to attend classes and finish his last year of high school. "That was tough," he remembers. "I was making so much money I thought finishing high school was a waste of time, but I went ahead and did it to keep my parents happy."
When the band recorded their first album at a backwater studio in Watts, "Just Like Me," was the feature cut. Somehow an upstart Boise Idaho group called "Paul Revere and the Raiders" heard the song and liked it. "I never really liked the song, I thought it sucked. But those guys recorded it and it was a big hit," Adair recalls. That launched a three-year spree when it looked like the Wilde Knight were bound for glory. They were regulars on Dick Clark’s west coast TV show and opened at the venerable Whiskey-A-Go-Go for the Doors, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Paul Revere and the Raiders and other big names. Adair recalls meeting the Doors. "Jim Morrison was a jerk, but the other guys in the band were really nice. I got to know Ray Manzarek, their keyboard player, pretty well and he was a big influence on me and my playing style."
"Those were wild times. We really thought we were going to take off," Adair laments. They came so close.
But when the older band members started getting picked off by the military draft, the dream went up in smoke. 1968, Adair was the last man standing. "I didn’t want to get drafted and I didn’t want to move to Canada. We’d already toured up there. So I joined the Air Force, thinking at least I’d be able to stay in the U.S. And keep playing." He spent the next four years working in an Air Force hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and playing weekend gigs with a trio he put together.
After his tour of duty, Adair embarked on a 25-year odyssey as a traveling music man, a journey that took him all over the United States, with stints in Canada and Japan. He formed and disbanded several groups along the way, mostly trios and quartets with such names as "The Electric Keyboard Band" and "Patchwork." Adair confesses he can’t remember the names of most of them "I only know that I fired about nine drummers. Drummers are the worst," he laughs. He notes that he was never the front man for any of his bands. "I was always too shy. I stayed in the background, played my keyboard and took care of the bookings and the sound equipment.
The early 1990s found him settled in Pocatello, Idaho, where he and his band- du-jour held court five nights a week in the 350-seat lounge at the Holiday Inn. "It was a great gig," says Adair, who had personally equipped the spacious lounge with a "killer" sound system.
He met Robyn there. "We were opening one night for Johnny Paycheck and she came in with her girlfriends to see the show. I noticed her right away," says Adair. Overcoming his congenital shyness, he finally asked her out. "She was very pretty and nice and really easy to get to know." One thing led to another. The couple will celebrate 19 years of marriage later this year.
Adair explains the move to Park City. "The lounge scene was dying across the country in the 1990s and most bars were changing into karaoke or sports bars to save money," he says. "When the Holiday Inn in Pocatello finally fired me, I started looking around. I had played Main Street Park City a lot over the years and had a long gig at the old Olympia Hotel in Prospector. An old friend in town offered me a kind of dual job as a night manager and the entertainment director in the restaurant at the old Radisson. I was 50 years old and it was my first real job."
Fifteen years later, and Adair and his wife are living comfortable in their Pinebrook condo. For the last few years he’s been a employee for the elegant "Residences at the Chateaux" at Deer Valley. He was recently named "employee of the quarter" quite an accomplishment for an aging piano man.
Adair says he enjoys living in Park City, but confesses he’d jump at a chance to work at a property in Hawaii for his company. "I don’t mind the winters as long as the sun shines, but I sure do love the Big Island. I could see myself playing at a little tiki bar a couple of nights a week," he grins.
For Adair, music has been his life and his passion. "I still love to play and sing. It’s definitely gotten me through some really hard times. I went through a two-year battle with cancer and had some surgeries a while back. I couldn’t play for a while because I didn’t feel really good. I really missed it. I’m a year-and-a half clear now and hopeful.
"When my friend Bruce, owner of O’Shucks, offered me a gig Tuesday nights at the O’Shucks in Quarry Village, I jumped at the chance. I’m having so much fun there; I sure hope it lasts. They pay me a little to do it, but I’d probably pay them. Don’t tell them that."
It’s a fitting stage and a perfect denouement for the shy kid from Longview. Almost fifty years ago he came so close, but Adair sees the upside now. "Those were crazy times, a lot of drugs and other stuff. They took their toll. If I hadn’t been so shy, I’d probably have made it big and I’d probably have been dead by now."
Lucky for us he’s still here. Play on.
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