Numbers Guy Finds Time to Rhyme

Numbers Guy Finds Time to Rhyme

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Everything has to add up for Tom Adamson. As an Associate Professor of Business at Midland University for the past 29 years, he understands the value of the bottom line being on target. But as a poet/songwriter for most of his life, Adamson wants to be certain his lyrics have a common denominator as well. “They’re really both about communication,” Adamson said in comparing business to poetry. “The verses are like numbers. They either add up, or they don’t.”

More than his fair share of verses have added up for Adamson over the years. Enough to have 22 books published, including his most recent compilation “Two Towns Over.” It’s also provided him enough material to have numerous songs published by Bob Clay, a singer in Maryland.


Adamson’s poetry roots go back to his days growing up in the blue collar town of Monticello, Iowa. “I grew up next to a factory that was about 25 feet from my house,” he recalls. “The guys got to work at 6 a.m., so I started getting used to getting up at 6, whether I wanted to or not.” Along with early rising, Adamson also learned about some choice language as a youngster. “My backyard was very close to the platform where the workers would take their breaks,” he said. “They would sit in these barrels and smoke and swear. I heard it every day. If I wanted to get some attention, I’d swear – in a cute way.”

He would cure that potty mouth by attending church. But as it turned out, the songs would often lead to potty lyrics. “We’d be in church singing and I would always try and change some of the words around,” he said. “It would be something like ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Hurry up, I gotta pee.”

As a teenager in the 1960s, Adamson grew up with some of the greatest songwriters of a generation. “I loved Roger Miller, Johnny Cash and The Beatles,” he said. “When I was 17, I bought Sgt. Peppers (Lonely Hearts Club Band). On the back of the album, it had the song lyrics. So I got together with a couple of kids and started writing our own songs.”


It wasn’t until about 20 years ago Adamson put those words to music. “I put an ad in American Songwriter Magazine that said 'got lyrics, need music,' he said. That’s when he got his response from Clay and the two began making music together. “I’ve never met him, but I’ll send him lyrics every so often,” Adamson said. “Some, he won’t do anything with. But the one’s he likes, he’ll record. I really love hearing the rhythm and music with the words. I look at the words as wheels on a bike. He’s the one who puts the rest of the bike together and takes it in a new direction.”

So did Adamson ever think of making a career of being the next great songwriter of our generation? “If I had made money, it would become a job, then I’d be in agony,” he said. “It’s a hobby for me. It’s my mental, internal hobby.”

Adamson is a true numbers guy in nearly every sense of the word. Of the nearly 1,500 poems he has written over the years, most of them begin as fragments, many that he will piece together at a later date. Some, he’ll just walk away from. “I might come up with one verse,” he said. “So I’ll number each of them. I might come back later and think that 14 goes with 20. “I like to leave them open and see where I can go with it. I can write a verse and walk away.  It’s sort of like writing your own crossword puzzle and forgetting to solve it. There might be certain lines that I love, then I’ll try and figure out what I’m going to do with it.”

His ideas come from just about anywhere. As a teacher for four decades, he’s come across many individuals and stories in his journey. “A lot of what I write is about relationships and events of my life,” he said. “When I have conversations with people, I hear phrases that stick with me. People say the most incredible things. You just have to listen.” There are even inspirations that come to him at any hour of the day. “I might be laying in bed and a phrase will hit me. But it’s got to be good enough to get me out of bed.”

Adamson has taken his poetry on the road over the years. He will make several appearances at local libraries throughout the year, sharing his love of lyrics with others. He’s also found a way to persuade a few of his students to attend sessions along the way. “It’s called extra credit,” he joked. “I think my students are a little surprised at first when they find out I write poetry. But I’ve actually had kids over the years as students that started to write. I tell them to write down something every day and if someone is impacted by it, then that’s incredible.”

At 67, Adamson has no plans of slowing down with his teaching, or writing schedule. He estimates he writes about three poems a month and attempts to publish a book each year. “Like anything else, if you discipline yourself, it will get better,” he said. “When I retire, maybe I’ll go back and read everything I’ve written. “I have fun with it. If I’m lucky, it will keep me young.”