Who is Adam Wolf? One Year Ago Today, Professor Wolf Taught the Bands to Play
One man never makes all the difference. Many people with congruent passions, interests, and goals working together is the way in which ecosystems change. Like tribes banding for the sake of gathering firewood, for the hunt, for a round of storytelling or for rhythm. It is those with whom we surround ourselves that define us. In the span of 2 short years, Mr. Adam Wolf — known to many only by his stage name ‘Rain’ — assembled countless duets and bands, played in every venue that would have him, participated in and organized charity events, and made it possible for people from all over the globe to enjoy and participate in live music on a regular basis in the burgeoning Pearl River Delta oasis of Zhuhai.
“My full name is Adam Wolf.
I am from New Florence, Pennsylvania. A very small town of about 14,000 people. I have 5 brothers and a sister, an older sister and 5 younger brothers.”
It was a tempestuous night in 2014 when I first met Rain. He wore his tan cooling cap, as he often did in those early Zhuhai days, bermuda shorts and a t-shirt whose design has now faded from memory. He rode with his djembe between his legs, sitting prone with his back to the door. As the taxi sped thru the mist along the seaside of Middle Lover’s Road, and the lights whizzed past in a blur, he spoke excitedly about his role in the growing Zhuhai live music scene. He also spoke of some difficulties.
Adam “Rain” Wolf began his music career early. In his parents living room in Florida there was a piano. And by the age of 3, he was ready to make his first attempts at musicianship.
“I heard some people play bass guitar before and I just was fascinated with that sound; and the low end of the piano was the only place I had access to it, in my home.”
Mr. Wolf grew up the Son of a Preacher Man, as Dusty Springfield might put it. His father played the guitar and his mother played the piano.
“That’s when I started learning how to play the piano. I started teaching myself. You know, it was interesting, when I first started playing the piano I heard the piano as a bass instrument. So if people were singing or something, I’d go up to the piano and play a bass line. Playing on the low end of the piano, that’s how I first started playing music, was playing bass lines on the low end of the piano.”
And he has not stopped. He slowly migrated from the soft pop and gospel of his parents and at the age of 16, he and his good friend, Matt Yonkey, started a heavy metal cover band, which eventually wrote original songs, with Rain on piano and Matt on saxophone.
“We were good friends because we were both competing for the first chair alto saxophone in the school band. He’s actually a band director in Virginia now and I really respect his musicianship a lot. He was an inspiration to me when I was younger and still is, as a teacher.”
On August 8, 2013, Rain moved to Zhuhai to teach music history, theory and composition, and to lead the school band at the Zhuhai International School on QiAo Dao. However, on top of his professional duties as a music instructor, he had separate aspirations, those of a performer.
“It’s one big room,” said Janice Lee, longtime teacher at ZIS, speaking of the school’s music department, “probably the size of this main Creation space: an area for teaching theory and history, some space where he had small group singing for the primary students as well as the secondary, a setup for the band in the other section with a bunch of guitars and all kinds of instruments, and a couple of practice rooms off the music room where the kids were always welcome to go in and practice. You just had to say ‘Hey Mr. Wolf, I’m gonna go practice.’”
Yet this wasn’t the first time Mr. Wolf had made such a transition. In 2011, he moved to Balikpapan, Indonesia.
“When I moved to Indonesia it was the first time I was in a situation where there weren’t a lot of my peers that I could find to play music with. So I basically met the parents of some of my students who were like, ‘Oh, I used to play guitar, but 15 years ago and I haven’t touched it since,’ or ‘I used to play the keyboard’ or ‘I used to play the sax’ and I talked them into starting a band. Our first gig we only did 6 songs, but the whole town came out to see it because there was nothing going on in that city, expat wise. We had a huge following and we called ourselves the Balikpapan Oil Pigs, because all of us were there in some capacity for the oil industry. I was teaching for Chevron Oil Company’s private school. And that was when I first had to try to pull something out of a situation where there wasn’t a lot going on and we made it work and every time
we played, we got better and better, added more and more songs, and it got more and more fun.”
“Then I moved to (South) Korea and again there was no expat scene or venue that was having live music from expats. I could always play guitar a little bit so I was like, ‘If I’m gonna play, I’ll buy a cheap guitar and that way I can just go out and strum some chords and sing.’ That was when I first started doing a lot of solo singing. I never really sang a lot before that. Then I was always asking, ‘Where are the musicians? Does anybody know musicians?’ And I gradually started to make a little bit of a network from people who knew people who knew people, and got a band started there. I played drums for the first full rock band made of expats in Cheongwon (South Korea). Music became something that was happening there and that was when I realized that I really enjoyed seeing that scene grow and that it kinda started in Indonesia, when I tried to make something happen when there wasn’t an expat band there.”
By February of 2013, Rain knew he no longer needed to wait until he got on the ground to begin a campaign of musical evangelism. He found zhuhainights.com, a popular expat site at the time. The owner/operator of that site, Mark Clulow, was one of Zhuhai’s connectors. Mr. Clulow introduced him to Martyn Henderson, a local musician and operator of the then soon-toopen London Lounge. From there Rain made several other connections and began making plans to “gig”, as he so affectionately calls it. And by the time he landed in Zhuhai, he and his djembe were ready to beat up the scene with some fresh rhythms.
It was late on a Wednesday in May of 2015 when I met Mr. Wolf for this interview. It was a low pressure night, rain was definitely in the forecast. For him, it was a rare evening off from music; but like the ever-eager, hard worker he was and is, he had agreed to travel all the way from Tangjia to Wanzai to talk with me at my home. I was running late, as a meeting at the Delta Bridges office in HaiWan HuaYuan had run longer than expected, but when I arrived at Huafa Century City’s Starbucks, he was still there, chatting away with Dimitri Kotsilimpas of Phosgraphy, who had agreed to take some photos of the occasion. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and hopped in a cab.
The three of us talked casually on the balcony of my apartment. As often as I saw Mr. Wolf, we rarely spoke in depth. If he was out on the town, he was busy playing music. And when he finished at one venue, he would move to the next. A light drizzle started to fall from the sky. We moved inside for the impending conversation.
TG: So, to begin with, I was wondering if you could give us a short summary of your background: full name, hometown, education, simple stuff like that.
AW: My full name is Adam Wolf, W-O-L-F. I am from New Florence, Pennsylvania, a very small town of about 14,000 people. I have 5 brothers and a sister, an older sister and five younger brothers. I got my undergraduate degree in Music Education with a focus in classical percussion. I was a high school and middle school music teacher for 2 years. And then I left that job after two years to pursue a Master’s Degree. I was a graduate teaching assistant at West Virginia University and got my Master’s Degree in Music Education with a focus in world music.
TG: So in your time having left the States, have there been any big musical discoveries in your life? Have there been any moments where you heard new sounds and said, ‘Wow, this is something that I’ve never heard before. This is the reason why I decided to ….’
AW: Absolutely. Before I got my first job in Indonesia, for both of the summers when I was in grad school, I went to Ghana with my professor, Dr. Mike Vercelli. He’s one of the most renowned American researchers of the Ghanaian instrument, the gyil.
TG: And whats the gyil?
AW: It’s a xylophone. And it’s all handmade, you know. It’s tied together with string made out of goatskin, the resonators are made out of gourds, and it’s all wooden bars and a wooden frame. It’s an all natural instrument, you know. And Dr. Vercelli took me to Ghana with him and I got to study with some of the most renowned drummers in Africa. I studied with a couple different ethnic groups in Ghana like the ewe, the ashanti, the dagara, the berrifor, the dagomba and the ga. We were studying in these small communities or small villages where these guys were some of the most renowned people in their ethnic groups. A lot of these guys had performed for the Queen of England or George Bush or President Obama or the Chancellor of Germany. They go all over the world touring as representatives of African Music.
TG: What musical lessons did you draw from your two summers in Ghana?
AW: I learned there that music isn’t considered playing an instrument. Music is considered singing, dancing and playing an instrument. You know what I mean. It’s not an audience and a performer; everybody’s part of a performance.
AW: That was a really cool cultural difference from the way music’s done in the west, you know. Another thing that really blew my mind when I was there with the dagomba people: they have what they refer to as, I just drew a blank… but there’s this drum… we call it a talking drum; and the drum literally speaks their language. For instance, when we were taking dance lessons and drumming lessons at the dagomba school, which was basically just a deserted courthouse somewhere, we would take a break and all the foreigners would go sit down and be talking and, all the dagomba people, they’d be sitting in a corner listening to the drummer play and then all of the sudden they’d all start laughing because he’d tell them a joke on the drum. Like…it literally speaks their language.
AW: And they said like in history class in school, history is taught by somebody playing a drum. That’s how they learn their history is by listening to the drummer. Because it speaks their language. They said it’s actually more expressive than the spoken language.
TG: Whenever you heard the people speaking their native language could you hear similarities between the way that they talked and the way that they…?
AW: No.They say you have to actually grow up and listen to it your whole life to be able to understand that the drum’s speaking the language; to understand that inflection and how it works; but they all can do it, you know. And like the drums were actually banned for a period of time, during a civil war between the dagomba people, so they couldn’t send messages to each other with drums. And that’s also why drums were banned for slaves in the United States when the slaves were brought over from Ghana. They weren’t allowed to use drums so they started using things like boxes or hoe handles or whatever to make their percussion sounds.
TG: Have you had any of those profound musical discoveries in Asia?
AW: I really like the gamelan music in Indonesia, and the guzheng here in China; and I’ve actually bought a guzheng and taken lessons on it. And can play a couple traditional songs on it.
TG: Will that be going with you to Russia?
AW: Yes, I”ll take it with me.
TG: Who’s teaching you guzheng?
AW: A girl from a local music store in Tangjia.
TG: Have you ever thought about playing the guzheng in public or in any way trying to incorporate it into one of the different bands that you’re in?
AW: I’ve thought about trying to do it at an open mic, it’s kind of cumbersome to carry around. And it’d be hard to mic it to make it sound really good. It’s something I’ve done more for personal enjoyment.
TG: Have you ever heard anybody play the guzheng with a more western setup?
AW: One time in the United States in Pittsburgh I heard the Conservatory of Beijing Traditional Instrument Ensemble touring the United States using traditional instruments playing jazz standards. They were improvising, and everything, on the instruments, completely out of style with what they would do if it was a Chinese traditional song. And it was just mind-blowing and that’s what really made me fall in love with the instrument. It’s traditionally an instrument played by women. So I got some strange looks when I said I wanted to study it, but I didn’t care because I really loved the instrument. Being outside the culture, it’s a little easier to overstep the barriers, you know.
“And then he just appeared one day in the London Lounge with his djembe (West African drum) like he did and started playing,” said Martyn Henderson, singer, guitar player, and owner/operator of the London Lounge. “And from that our friendship was sealed. We were working together from day one, basically. So it was good.”
“Well…my experience…I could probably go on quite a lot about Rain because personally he helped me a lot. Coming back to the old London Lounge days.” We are now talking with Paul Bailey, guitar player, singer, and Director of Intern China, Zhuhai. “When I first started going there, I hadn’t picked up a guitar in a long time. I didn’t even bring a guitar with me to China.”
TG: So you moved directly from Korea to Zhuhai?
AW: Yeah, I had a month back home in the U.S. but I moved here in August of 2013.
AW: And I found out I got the job in February of 2013. And right away I started searching any bars in Zhuhai that had live music. Back in February. So I had a list of all the places that had any mention of live music even if it was years ago, you know, and I actually contacted Mark Clulow from Zhuhai Nights and he put me in contact with Martyn Henderson of the London Lounge and said, ‘Talk to this guy.’ So basically I was talking to several musicians before I even got on the ground here. And basically I arrived on Thursday evening, I think it was, and then the next day was a Friday and I went out and played at an open mic at the London Lounge on my second day here. Then those guys that I jammed with offered for me to play drums and I gigged with them at the Chicago Bar two weeks later. So I played my first gig after being here for 2 weeks.
TG: En, en…
AW: I think one of the coolest things that happened in Zhuhai for music was Chimelong Circus. I remember the first time that the Big Band Theory came down to London Lounge. I’m sitting there watching and these two Filipino guys are beside me and they’d heard me playing earlier and they said, ‘Hey man, we’re trying to start another band outside of that band (The Big Band Theory) and would you be interested?’ It was Roy and Jun. And that was how The Staggs met. We agreed to start a band and, in the past year, The Staggs have been the most booked band in expat bars in Zhuhai.”
TG: So your first full band was The Staggs with Roy and Jun.
AW: In Zhuhai, yes. And then Martyn and I were getting some acoustic stuff together. He played guitar and I played djembe. And he let me join him and Joanna. And we started the acoustic group called Kewl Jam. Me and Martyn wanted to start a full band and Paul Bailey agreed to sing for us. I was supposed to be the drummer for the band but we couldn’t find a bass player. So then we found Alex and were like, ‘Ok, if Alex will play drums I’ll just become the bass player.’ That’s how I ended up being the bass player for Chairman Wow; and that was the lineup that went out—Martyn, Alex, Paul Bailey and me. That’s how Chairman Wow started.
“He obviously came over and kicked me up the ass and got me playing again properly,” continued Martyn Henderson. “So he really helped me that way and I’m still playing in bands and other people that he played with have formed other bands, so it’s really developed from there. That’s a good thing. I’m now working in another band with Paul Bailey, The Spit Shined Spurs. We’ve been playing but it’s been difficult to keep things together because people have changed. We’re just ready to start gigging again.”
This is Paul Bailey speaking: “We did a cover of ‘My Generation’ by The Who and I just remember one practice Rain came out right and said to me, ‘You haven’t sung it in key once, Paul.’ Very straight up, and I was shocked. I was like, ‘Really, I thought I sang that pretty well.’ And he was like, ‘You sing it well, you just sing it in the wrong key.’”
TG: We’ll change directions a little bit. Could you tell me about your job here in Zhuhai. You work for the Zhuhai International School, correct?
AW: Yes, I work as a music teacher for Zhuhai International School.
TG: And your students are what ages?
AW: Like 5-18.
TG: And you’re teaching them what instruments?
AW: I teach the school band, which is all the band instruments basically. I do some dance with them. I do some singing. And we do a little bit of music theory, some history and composition skills, things like that, like creating their own music too. That’s really a goal of mine is to get kids confident enough on their instruments so that they can create their own, you know.
TG: Are there any pieces that you introduced to your students and you thought, ‘Oh they cant do this,’ or ‘They won’t like it’ or ‘It’s too difficult’ or they showed you the amazing talent that they had…?
AW: I mean, there is such variety of skills that you might have a few students who really excel at one thing while you might have others who don’t do so well with it. And then on the flip side, the group who didn’t do so well with one thing do well and the other ones don’t. It’s more tasked based than individual based, it changes. I try to focus on a different variety of tasks. So that different people get to work on their strengths and weaknesses at different times.
At some point the parallels between Mr.Wolf’s life as a music teacher and life as a musician become so apparent, it’s best to just mention them. I asked Janice Lee about his participation in school performances and events at ZIS. In complimentary tones, she described Adam’s tireless efforts to cultivate and nurture students’ musical abilities and then to organize and coordinate those abilities for school performances at major events and holidays. And, as we’ve seen, as soon as he would finish his duties at the school…well… But it doesn’t stop there.
“He was bringing down more and more musicians,” said Mark Clayton, owner/operator at The London Lounge, CFO at Quality2West, and organizer of the Come Together Charity Music Festival. “He was bringing down musicians from Tangjia; he was bringing down people from the school, from the universities. He was getting musicians together. He was forming bands at our open mic. It was an easy choice.”
On September 13, 2014, Chairman Wow, featuring Joanna on vocals, mounted the stage for Zhuhai’s one and only charity music festival, Come Together. In October of 2014 when Mike Davis, then owner/operator of the Old Chinese Junk, was hospitalized in critical conditions, who was there to organize local musicians for a night of jamming and fundraising? You guessed it…
TG: So what song compositions mean a lot to you? What songs do you have on your phone now that you had a CD of when you were 16 and that you’ll have on your computer when you’re 80?
AW: One really inspirational album for me is Benzoso by Led Zeppelin (Editor’s Note: I have searched but cannot confirm this album title). I love the drumming and the bass playing of John Bonham and John Paul Jones on “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Black Dog” and “Dazed and Confused”. When I first heard those songs I was about 17 and they really made me want to be in a band. It was that and Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses; those two albums really made me want to play in a full band, instead of just doing the duet or the acoustic solo thing, you know. To some extent even Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid by Collective Soul. It didn’t impress me so much compositionally but I learned to play almost every song on the album on every instrument. I know everything that’s gonna happen on it, you know. So that one’s pretty meaningful to me also, I guess.
“Its complicated,” said Janice Lee. “You sort of need to know the educational system of IB (International Baccalaureate, the program employed at ZIS). At the end of their middle school year they (the students) do a big, year-long project. And they can choose any project they want, whatever interests them.”
According to ibo.org, Through the Middle Years Programme (MYP) projects, students experience the responsibility of completing a significant piece of work over an extended period of time. MYP projects encourage students to reflect on their learning and the outcomes of their work—key skills that prepare them for success in further study, the workplace and the community.
“They have to just show specific skill,” continued Janice, “and one student wanted to organize a charity event for an autism school in Zhuhai. And because it was a charity event and because it was a music charity event, he asked Adam to be his mentor. So Adam supported the student throughout the entire process of setting up an event, finding musicians, and making sure there was practice time and that they were well prepared for it. The student did all the leading but Adam was definitely there to support and guide him.”
And on July 1, 2015, Adam “Rain” Wolf left. His final Zhuhai Moment reads, “Two of the last people I saw in the last 24 hours are also two of the first people I met when I came two years ago. Driver Bossman Charlie, and Gina the all Star secretary…A big thank you—to two people who played such an important part in my Zhuhai life.”
TG: Is there any one person in Zhuhai who has had the biggest musical influence on you?
AW: I’d actually like to give credit to a guy in Indiana where I did my undergrad, Indiana, Pennsylvania. His name’s Anthony Frazier, and he runs a local radio music show that features local musicians and he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. He goes out of his way to seek out young musicians and find them venues. He books local things. He’ll let artists come on the radio show and do things and he just loves local music. He really was inspirational to me. Also as I think now, I kind of see, in the way that I seek to help try to develop a local music scene, I’m doing, in a way, the same thing he was doing for me when I was younger.
TG: So, in that vein of talking about tradition, I feel like that’s one of the powerful things about most forms of expression, music especially, is you can kind of pass on a feeling, or information, from generation to generation. Like I love music from all times and I feel like loving music from all times gives me a connection to the past and that connection to the past can help create the future. Is there any kind of legacy that you would like to have left in Zhuhai or what is it all for? Is it just for your passion? Is it just because you like…
AW: Honestly what makes me happy still to this day about Korea is that the venues that started having music when I was there still do and even one of the bands that I started still play, you know. And like the guy that I recorded with, he’s found a full band to back him up and he still plays and he never gigged before he met me and he is out gigging now. As for leaving a legacy, I don’t think I’ve done anything to leave a legacy, you know what I mean. It’s more than just me. It’s everybody doing it together but that makes me happy. What would make me happy is to walk away from here and in a year or so look back and say, ‘There’s still bands, there’s still venues and live music is happening. That’s what I want to see, I just want some live music happening in the community. And people enjoying it.
TG: Yeah, what is it about live music happening that gives you a sense of satisfaction?
AW: It gives me meaning being away from home. It connects me to home in a way, because music was such a big part of my life at home. For instance, when I lived in Indonesia and when I lived in Korea, I’d go out and see the Indonesian bands or I’d go out and see the Filipino bands in Korea and I’d go two or three times a week instead of just sitting in my apartment by myself and not doing anything. I wanted to go hear music and it’d take me back to home in a way. And I realized I could bring that same feeling to other people.
On a recent Thursday, I headed to the London Lounge for Open Mic Night. Prior to leaving the office, en route to LL, I spoke to Mark Clayton: “There is a void left, there is a void with him gone. On the other side of it, there’s also a nice legacy that’s left, because the open mics which he helped to grow are now still going, very very well.”
When I arrived all eyes were on the UEFA England vs. Wales match. The stage and gear sat quietly neglected as the teams battled 1-1 into the final minute. But by then it was too late…
“We are lacking in bands,” continued Mr. Clayton. “That’s the honest truth. The LL does have music nearly every Friday and Saturday, actually most of them, but the choices now…
There’s very good musicians out there, but there’s not as many anymore. Because Rain was involved in so many bands and so many individuals projects. When Rain left, we lost 7 or 8 bands and that void has never been filled. So now all of the bars that have live music in Zhuhai are still fighting with each other for live music. There’s a void.”
TG: The first night that I met you (on that seaside taxi cab ride) you were talking about…there’s kind of this competition between…but you managed to transcend all that and I remember you talking about it the first night we met…lots of musicians will basically get put on a house gig and they’ll find one place where they can do a gig…
AW: And I’ve been offered that and I turned it down. I’m a firm believer and I’ve talked about this from day one, here: for a music scene that’s really young, like ours, to grow, musicians can’t just play at one place, they need to rotate around. I’m playing everywhere that I can play a gig. Playing live music is my passion and nobody’s telling me where to play or where not to play. I’ve made that a ground rule.
One man never makes all the difference. Many people with congruent passions, interests, and goals working together is the way in which ecosystems change. Like tribes banding for the sake of gathering firewood, for the hunt, for a round of storytelling or for rhythm. It is those with whom we surround ourselves that define us. In the span of 2 short years, Mr. Adam Wolf, known to many simply by his stage name ‘Rain’, assembled countless duets and bands, played in every venue that would have him, participated in and organized charity events, and made it possible for people from all over the globe to enjoy and participate in live music on a regular basis in the burgeoning Pearl River Delta oasis of Zhuhai.
It is the collision of tribes which diversifies the ecosystem. And that’s a beautiful thing. So I asked Paul Bailey, “What are some of the more memorable shows that you did with Chairman Wow? What shows really stand out in your mind?”
“My happiest gig,”
said Mr. Bailey, “was probably our first one. It was just a little gig at the London Lounge. And like I said, it was the first time I ever played a show set as a singer. I just had this massive rush of happiness and confidence after the show. (Kate’s saying it was when they had their closing party for the first London Lounge. I’m not one hundred percent sure if that’s true.) And just like generally having that sort of…that…what would you say…you get that feeling that you’re doing something that you care about with other people who care about the same thing and maybe after practice you go for a couple of beers or some food and you’ve got that kind of camaraderie that you don’t really get in a lot of other situations.”
And like those West African drummers, “the most renowned people in their ethnic groups” who “go all over the world touring as representatives of African Music”, Adam Wolf continues his world tour. He currently teaches the children of U.S. statespeople— diplomats and whatnot, as the story goes—at an IB school in Moscow.
Adam said to me, “A lot of these guys had performed for the Queen of England or George Bush or President Obama or the Chancellor of Germany,” and, if history is any indication and continuity is as real as the air we breathe, it will one day soon be Mr. Wolf’s turn to take his place in front of great world leaders and share with them some of the magic he has gathered, On His Musical Journey Around the World.
Post Script: If you ever visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mr. Wolf recommends “the Primanti Brother’s Sandwich. It’s basically a ham or beef or chicken sandwich which is served with cole slaw and french fries. It’s like this big (indicates the size of his head) and instead of fries and cole slaw on the side, it’s all in the sandwich. It’s a Pittsburgh thing.” Thank you to Janice Lee, Martyn Henderson, Mark Clayton and Paul Bailey for their invaluable insight. Thank you to Dimitri Kotsilimpas for the interview photos. Thank you to JJ Verdun for offering a platform for publication. And a massive thanks to Adam for…well…you read the story….
By: Taylor A. Grimmer