Wendel Adkins, Free Spirit, Dec 1982
Woodville Halls, Gravesend
When the word 'superstar' is bandied about for an almost 'unknown' performer, it renders the word meaningless. There are only a handful of superstars in country music, and Wendel Adkins is not one of them. He is a good third division singer and performer whose basic fault stems from his too obvious adulation of Waylon Jennings. But if you're out to emulate a hero, Waylon is one of the best to choose.
Wendel plundered the outlaw's repertoire as if there was no tomorrow, and for most people I guess it was the closest they'll ever get to seeing Waylon himself. Having criticised Wendel for copying Waylon, I must stress that he turned out to be a most impressive and exciting performer. His act was totally contemporary, and when not going to town on Waylon tunes like Shine, Good Hearted Woman and Bob Wills Is Still King, he also turned his attention to the songs of Ed Bruce, Willie Nelson and Rodney Crowell. He turned in a superb performance of Rodney's Song For The Life, but he was at his best on his own material, and Well Kept Woman, a powerful ballad, was the highlight of his act.
Free Spirit, now a four-piece country-rock group with music that lives up to its name, ran through two excellent sets as well as providing Wendel with just the right backing. Unfortunately their music covered the same ground as the star, so it was a complete evening of outlaw country. They did a magnificent job on Tony Joe White's Billy, and though the band's own material is uneven, if they move beyond their sources there's little doubt that Free Spirit could begin to cover some interesting ground. They still have a way to go as showmen, but as musicians Free Spirit have few peers on the British scene.
What this show did prove is that there is an audience out there for contemporary outlaw country music, and though I would have considered much of the material present as being 'little known' to the average British country fan, it was welcomed with cheers and hollers that conjured up visions of a Texas honky-tonk. But in the end, when considering the music that was presented, it turned out to be the difference between Stork and butter, and I'd take the real thing any time: so when are you coming over, Waylon!
First published in Country Music People, December 1982