“WHEN THIS BAND GETS ON THE TRACKS AND STARTS ROLLING, IT’S UNSTOPPABLE.”Then there’s the fact that not all fans welcome personnel changes. “It was tough at the beginning,” Adam admits with a wry chuckle. “Whole groups of people would come to shows and just stand there giving me the finger all night. The only thing that made me smile was to think, ‘You guys paid to sprain your middle fingers and not enjoy the show.’”
Seven years on, after multiple tours and three studio albums, MacDougall still digs the gig. “I love playing with the Crowes,” he says. “When this band gets on the tracks and starts rolling, it’s unstoppable.”
New York-born, LA-based MacDougall first crossed paths with his future bandmates years earlier while playing with singer/songwriter Patti Rothberg, who supported the Crowes on a European tour. He’d also worked with Furslide, who released a single album in 1998. Back then he was more interested in jazzy and funky sounds than the raunchy classic rock of the Crowes.
“My childhood piano teacher, Joseph Kerr, was a jazzy, bluesy player from Texas,” says Adam. “My mom, who played cello, was into jazz, and she’d take me to see him play around Manhattan. Once when I was 10, he asked me to come up and play, so I did some primitive boogie-woogie thing he’d taught me. Someone put a tip in the jar, and I thought, ‘Alright!’”
By the time Adam attended New York’s High School Music & Art—yes, the one depicted in the movie Fame—he was a keyboard fanatic. “My older friends introduced me to electric jazz and funk,” he recalls. “Bernie Worrell with Funkadelic really opened me up. By 15 I was into the keyboard players who worked with Miles Davis: Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea. Meanwhile, Richard Wright from Pink Floyd was blowing my mind. He really opened me up to sounds and space.”
Adam still loves those open-ended styles, and continues to explore them when gigging with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a jam-oriented side band fronted by Robinson, the Crowes’ lead singer. But it took some time to settle into the Crowes’ stripped-down rock and roll.
“I was out of my comfort zone,” he says. “Of course I knew about cats like Ian Stewart and Leon Russell, but I really didn’t have a background in rock piano, which is a different way of looking at things. It’s more angular, with all those hard-hitting dominant 7 chords. Also, rock bands move differently than funk bands. In funk, you stick to the tempo, and add the feel by pulling and pushing around that steady meter. In rock, sometimes the whole band just has to slow it down for a moment and then come back. I have a lot of respect for all the drummers I play with, especially Steve Gorman in the Crowes, because he really understands the way songs can move organically. It can be epic.”
Adam’s main instrument with the Crowes was a beloved Yamaha upright piano—until all the gear in the band’s Hoboken rehearsal studio was submerged beneath seven feet of brackish water during Hurricane Sandy. “We had everything in there,” Adam recollects. “Clothes, guitars, keyboards, all sorts of things. Everything got toasted.”
When the band reunited in 2013 to tour after a two-year hiatus, MacDougall wanted to try something new. He inquired about getting a real piano keyboard action built into a box, which he could use to control digital sounds. “Someone told me Yamaha was already making exactly that,” he says. “I went to a showroom, played an N1, and thought, ‘Man, this is amazing.’ We’d tried everything, and the N1 was the coolest. Not just the keyboard action, but also the internal sounds.”
The tour was a hit—but what about those hostile fans? Adam laughs. “Well, I’d grown my hair out and gotten a little grayer. Some of those same people came up and said, ‘Hey, man—you are so much better than that last guy!’ I just smiled and thanked them.”