When Wild Musicians Attack!

Ryan Adams is headed this way. Where does he fit in among the great meltdown artists of yore?

Look out, Houston! Ryan Adams is on his way to town. The troubled troubadour is slated to play the Verizon Wireless Theater on June 15, and early reports of his current tour say that his antics are still up to his Replacements-like standard: disaster one night, sublime wonder the next. Shades of 2002, when a drunken Adams fielded a silly request for Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69" by stopping the show, whipping out his wallet, digging out $30, handing it to the fan and then having him removed from the building. (The fan was let back in and got to keep the money.)

A netizen from Philly, posting at, reported a train wreck of a show in which Adams took long breaks between songs, bitched ad nauseam about the sound system and battled hecklers -- whom he has started to attract in relatively large numbers -- from beginning to end. Days later, another correspondent reported that Adams's D.C. show was excellent and that the singer's stage patter was hilarious. Which Ryan will show up in Houston?

In honor of the impending appearance of one of popular music's great meltdown artists, I've decided to compile a list of five of the greatest onstage meltdowns in music history. As you can see, Adams and his brother in abuse-the-audience-banter, Conor "Roping Steers and Roping Indians" Oberst, have a ways to go to catch these greats. Enjoy, and as always, send in recollections of others you have seen to

Please, for the love of God, don't ask Ryan Adams 
(second from right) to play "Summer of '69."
Please, for the love of God, don't ask Ryan Adams (second from right) to play "Summer of '69."

Star: Jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard

Specifics: Circa 1967 at an unknown venue, probably in Europe

Meltdown: On a bootleg tape that has been passed from collector to collector for close to 40 years, Hubbard can be heard unleashing some torrential trumpet riffs and then uncorking the following tirade to a jeering audience: "Fuck you white motherfuckers! Fuck you white motherfuckers! [Voice in crowd: 'Go home!'] Well, okay, I'll go home. If you don't like me, kiss my ass! That's right, 'cause you jive, you jive, you jive! You white motherfuckers! You the ones who started this shit! Lemme show you -- you the ones -- fuck you! fuck you, you white motherfuckers! [Hubbard starts to weep.] If you don't like me, kiss my black ass! You motherfuckers! [The drummer tries to launch into the next song.] Fuck it, I won't do it!"

Aftermath: Unknown, though this was not to be the last of Hubbard's meltdowns, nor the last to be caught on tape. Another was at Cleveland club the Front Row, where, in 1977 he stormed off the stage screaming, "Miles Davis, Miles Davis, Miles Davis. I ain't Miles Davis, motherfuckers!"

Star: Charlie Rich

Specifics: 1975 Country Music Awards, Nashville

Meltdown: On stage to announce his successor as CMA Entertainer of the Year, Rich opened the envelope, announced that his "good friend John Denver" had won, and then set fire to the envelope and results card. Earlier in the evening, Rich had been spotted backstage swilling gin and tonics and autographing a woman's bare breast.

Aftermath: Rich's spin doctors went into overdrive: His gaffe, they said, came as a result of a negative reaction to a pain medication he was taking to overcome an agonizing spider bite he had incurred while mowing his lawn. (Yeah, that's the ticket.) Rich was pretty much finished by this incident, and the CMA continues to hold a grudge long after his death -- despite being both a critical fave and the biggest artist in country music for a few years in the early '70s, he is still not a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Star: George Jones

Specifics: 1979, the Exit-In, Nashville

Meltdown: For much of 1979, George Jones wallowed in severe whiskey and cocaine addiction. Eventually, his whole personality cracked, or perhaps "quacked" is a better word, into two distinct beings. One was George Jones, washed-up country singer. The other was Donald, or sometimes Deedoodle Duck, who spoke in quack-talk. Jones would actually argue two sides of an issue with his feathered alter ego, taking one side in his normal voice and the other in a duck voice. During this time Jones often would forget his own lyrics, but Donald/Deedoodle wouldn't, so it was perhaps inevitable that Donald/Deedoodle would be making a concert appearance sooner or later. The duck's debut came at Nashville showcase venue the Exit-In before an audience of industry insiders, at what was supposed to have been a comeback show. As recalled by Jones's then-manager Shug Baggott in the Jones bio Ragged But Right, Jones "came onstage and announced that George Jones was washed up, a has-been, but that on that night a new star was born who was going all the way to the top. And George proceeded to introduce Donald and asked for a round of applause as Donald started singing a George Jones song. As George stood onstage, face drawn, with his pants falling down because he had lost so much weight and looking ridiculous singing like a duck, you could see tears in most of the people's eyes."

Aftermath: According to Baggott, Donald continued the quacky-tonkin' (only geese "honky"-tonk) until he was carted off the stage in a straitjacket. And as with Hubbard, this was far from the last meltdown for the Possum, but it just goes to show you: It may walk like a duck and it may talk like a duck, but it might not be a duck after all -- it just might be George Fuckin' Jones.

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