At age nine, he lit on fire to become a theatrical pipe-organist, inspired by the million-selling LP George Wright at the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ on the HiFi label. Wadhams' parents bought him a piano in 1956, then a large Conn electronic organ in 1957. Taking lessons, he began appearing as a "child prodigy" at Hammond Organ Society meetings. He played for silent movies at the New Haven Paramount theater, which had a small Wurlitzer with all the bells and whistles; then concertized on larger pipe organs in Philly, Hartford, and finally once in 1959 at Radio City Music Hall, on their huge four-manual Wurlitzer still used daily before feature film presentations. At age 13, Wadhams was approached by managers, but his parents, fearful that he would miss out on a solid Eisenhower science education and a respectable career, said no more organizing. He was crushed and gave up music until his last term at Rippowam High School, when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, a pivotal moment in his career.
Wadhams was enamored of early rock from the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly through Little Richard and R&B on the Motown and Stax labels. He adapted their songs to lively piano and organ arrangements, sneaking out of classes at Rippowam to play the school's electronic church-style organ in the auditorium.
Hooked on the Beatles, Wadhams advertised for musicians to start a group and found Rick Engler, an avid surf music fanatic and soon lead guitarist, working at a nearby Dairy Queen ice cream shop. Doug Ferrara, who re-strung his Strat with bass strings, unable to afford a real bass, was second guitaring to Engler in his basement. Lyricist Don Askew and Wadhams were already writing what would now be called "Shakespearean rap tunes" during classes at Rippowam: "Oh, Baby, you exceed the norm/You're the glass of fashion and the mold of form." Wadhams told the All Media Guide a bit about this period: "Don Askew and Bill Shute were among the beat poets of the scene, Bill also playing guitar and mandolin in a folk/bluegrass band whose motto, according to their card, was 'just a-pickin' and a-grinnin.' Ken Evans, jazz drummer, answered one of the ads, showing up at our rehearsal space [Wadhams' parent's basement] in a double-breasted black 'n white checked suit -- with beret -- like a Hollywood gangster with his moll [actually his ex-wife Shelly] clad in sleek black leather, dangling from his arm." Wadhams told AMG, "our first gig was outdoors at the Ezio Pinza Theater, Stamford, Connecticut."
The Fifth Estate hit in April of 1967 with a cover of "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead" adapted from the soundtrack to the film The Wizard of Oz. Released on Jubilee Records, it was translated into German, French, Japanese, and Italian along with the original English. The band was an important '60s group with more songwriting depth than a novelty hit might indicate. A compilation of their music, Ding Dong the Witch Is Back!, provides evidence of their fun spirit and keen sense of utilizing the pop/rock format to express themselves in an entertaining way.
From 1966 to 1983, Wadhams focused on writing jingles, TV music, campaigns for McGregor Clothes, Windex, and other national brands, as well as for agencies. He arranged and sang the main theme for the Candid Camera TV series, NBC sports specials, and the Massachusetts State Lottery. In 1968, Wadhams was producer/director of animated short films (at Dartmouth College) including Garden, a multiple award winner on Hieronymous Bosch's famous 15th-century painting, "The Garden of Earthly Delights," distributed by the U.S. Information Service as well as commercially. In 1969, he co-founded Film Associates, Boston, one of New England's busiest production companies, garnering many awards and much press exposure. In 1970-1974, Wadhams was co-founder of the Orson Welles Film School, Cambridge, MA, the largest independent college-accredited film school in the U.S. He was head of the film production courses. Several students received Oscar nominations for class projects. Through 1973-1983, Wadhams was co-owner of Studio-B Recording Studios Cambridge, later moving to Boston. A vinyl LP, Chef's Salad, was released, one of the first compilations of Boston area music in the '70s and a good sampling of what the studio was busy documenting. Since 1974, Wadhams has credits as producer, arranger, and/or engineer of over two dozen singles and albums released on United Artists, CBS, Epic, Casablanca, Portrait, MMG, Playboy, and his own Boston International and Boston Skyline labels. In May of 1982, Wadhams began teaching at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. About that experience he told AMG: "The music production and engineering department has become the model for programs and departments all over the world. Moreover, it's my one shot at influencing how future producers and engineers learn to meld musical creativity with technical expertise. Kids are easily convinced that equipment, not people, makes music. And catering to this misconception, many other programs are purely equipment-based, and really don't even mention the collaborative process of music making that underlies making records of emotional substance, rather than just ear candy or wallpaper."
In his 19th year at the college, in 2001, Berklee Press/Hal Leonard published his book Inside the Hits. A true expert in his field, Wayne Wadhams has accrued numerous awards and produced many, many records, including Full Circle on Columbia, as well as the original version of "Mama Lied," a song written by Phil Gentili which was covered on a 1993 Tower of Power album. He resides in Boston where he continues to teach, write, and record music. ~ Joe Viglione, Rovi