Sitting in his living room, Adam Cox holds his son, Leonard, who is only a few months old. Tomorrow, Adam hits the road again, traveling the northern circuit as front man of the local string band Cletus Got Shot.
Adam splits his time between his family and his music career, delegating each hour of each day to picking up the kids from school and practices, making repairs to his home and writing new music for the band and his solo project.
Today, there is dirt under his nails. He has just finished building a picket fence.
“I have a limited amount of time on this planet, and I have a lot of projects I want to get done. If I have a moment to spare, I want it to be progressing something, working on something.”
He says he comes from a family of ditch diggers and that it’s in his blood to be a hard worker. He says he is just like his father who worked from sunup to sundown.
As his day job, Adam’s father worked on heavy machinery. During the evening he led prison ministry services across Oklahoma. The entire family was involved in leading the service.
Murderers, rapists and thieves would join together in worship and in song.
“For that one moment,” recalls Adam, “you got to see the human side of everyone. They were able to sing beautiful songs and hold their heads up high.”
It was during these worship services that Adam witnessed the uniting power of song.
At the end of one service, with a congregation of 300 women inmates, Adam’s father asked if anyone had a song they would like to sing. One woman stood up and began to sing. Adam says the melody was strange, the tempo scattered. He wondered if it was even a real song.
But then, the entire congregation joined in together.
It was their song.
“Singing together is a moment where everyone has the same mindset, and when people have the same mindset, they can move mountains. It’s very powerful,” says Adam.
Cletus Got Shot gained popularity in the local music scene by singing what Adam calls, “whiskey, weed and women” songs.
With maturity, the band has found something different to sing about.
“At some point, when you live life in the public eye, what you sing and your on-stage persona represents you as a person,” explains Adam. “I’m a family man, and I’m truly a humanitarian.”
The band agreed that their material should better reflect their individual beliefs and that a change was in order.
“It didn’t dawn on me that I had the power to write whatever I wanted,” he says. “I didn’t realize that positive messages were socially acceptable. I didn’t know who Social Distortion was or Woody Guthrie. I didn’t realize that existed.”
“When it dawned on me, ‘It doesn’t matter what other people think,’ it
was a great moment. The floodgates opened up. To be able to have my music reflect who I am and what I believe — it was amazing.”
Cletus Got Shot found their unified voice in the plight of the working man.
The current material weaves a humanitarian thread through songs that discuss the sociopolitical aspects of being a part of the working class. Adam says that the band hopes to give a voice to those who don’t have one.
He gathers other perspectives while he’s on tour.
“The best thing about traveling is seeing how people’s daily lives are in different regions. Listening to other peoples’ stories, you learn that we’re all just doing what we can do to survive. I can relate to that group of people.
“Being able to convey that in a song is very rewarding personally, singing about trials that are unifying.”
In the song, “A Friend to Help us Out,” Adam writes about the power of feeling united.
We stand at the edge/of the world/Another friend he stands/by our side/Our minds clear as rain/And steady as the wind/Our voices fill the sky/As one.
“One hundred years ago, music and the arts were politically driven and socially aware,” he says.
The band found inspiration in the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, which organized rallies to empower workers whose health and safety were being neglected by employers. The aim of the IWW was to create solidarity among the working class, bridging race, ethnicity and gender, to overthrow the employing class and working under the motto “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
During rallies, speakers would empower workers to stand against employers and unions alike. In attempts to sabotage the rallies, the Salvation Army Band was paid to play music to drown out the speakers.
The IWW created songbooks for the rallies. Singing revised lyrics of popular and traditional songs,workers began singing protest songs in unison with the Salvation Army Band as accompaniment. One of the most well known of these songs is “Preacher and the Slave” which was written by Joe Hill and cemented the phrase “pie in the sky” as a well-known American idiom.
Growing up as part of a prison ministry, Adam spent his youth making songbooks.
Using a songbook from 1923 as a model, entitled “I.W.W. Songs: To Fan the Flames of Discontent,” Adam
created a little red book of his own: “C.G.S. Songs: To Plant the Seeds of Discontent.”
The book, which is hand-typed, features socio-politically charged songs that discuss issues such as wage slavery, corporatism and the disintegration of middle-class America.
Adam says the songs are not politically driven to the left or the right; and that the band members have different ideologies.
“Nathan is a capitalist, a true theoretical capitalist. He’s all about it. Me, I’m a socialist. But we can agree on different things. We both know that things need to change, and working toward that is more important than bickering.”
The band’s new album, “Working Songs for the Drinking Class” will be a bridge between the old and new content of CGS. The double album was recorded by Adam Putman in Insomniac Studios and will feature politically driven tracks on one side, and “whiskey, weed and women” songs on the other.
Adam is also working on a solo project in which he is creating a book that will tell the story of his childhood to the tunes of the gospel hymns that were sung in the prison ministries.
A pre-release party for the new album will be held on April 20 at Smoke and Barrel. The official album release party will be held at the UArk Bowl on April 27. The UArk Bowl performance will also include 3 Penny Acre and Adam Lee. Admission is $10. Doors open at 7 p.m.