Forty years in, Bryan Adams is one of Canada’s most iconic rock exports. The former army brat is nearly peerless in Canadian music history, and has also made a name for himself as an acclaimed photographer and activist in a career that began in 1976.
It was that year that high school dropout Adams, born in Kingston, Ont. in 1959, replaced Nick Gilder in Vancouver glam band Sweeney Todd, recording the If Wishes Were Horses album.
It is around this time that Adams formed a songwriting partnership with Prism drummer Jim Vallance that would soon produce hits for the likes of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, KISS and Joe Cocker.
Adams signed to A&M Records, which released his self-titled debut album in 1980. “Fits Ya Good,” from 1981’s You Want It, You Got It, made a stir on the radio, but it wasn’t until 1983, with the release of Cuts Like a Knife, that Adams would hit the mainstream.
That album’s first single, the ballad “Straight from the Heart,” became Adams’ first U.S. Top 10 hit. The album also won him his first JUNO award, for Male Vocalist of the Year, although he was too busy touring in the U.S. to accept it in person.
Reckless (1984) would be sell over 12 million copies worldwide and include the hits “Run to You,” “Somebody” and “Heaven,” which was only released as a single thanks to pressure from radio. It became Adams’ first U.S. #1 and first million-selling single.
1987’s Into the Fire was a more-serious effort with deeper lyrics than Adams’ previous releases. With two million copies sold, it was a modest success, by Adams’ high standards anyway. Its follow-up, 1991’s Waking Up the Neighbors, was a collaboration with producer Mutt Lange that would sell 16 million copies and include the Grammy-winning single “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.”
His follow-up albums 18 til I Die (1996) and On a Day Like Today (1998) were not as well received, and Adams pursued other projects, including composing songs for the animated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron (2002).
Since 1999 Adams has also pursued a second career, as a photographer. He has shot ad campaigns for the likes of Hugo Boss and Guess Jeans, and worked with fashion magazines like British and Italian Vogue. Many musicians, including Rod Stewart, Lana Del Rey and Amy Winehouse, have sat for Adams who prefers to shoot in black and white.
Adams has long evinced an interest in philanthropy and human rights that can arguably be traced back to his opening slot of the U.S. Live Aid concert in July 1985. Adams and Vallance would co-write the Northern Lights charity single “Tears Are Not Enough” the following year, while Adams would take part in 1986’s Amnesty International “A Conspiracy of Hope” U.S. tour. Meanwhile the Bryan Adams Foundation, founded in 2006 in the wake of the tsunami that devastated southern Asia, funds various charitable initiatives worldwide.
Adam’s storied career has been recognized numerous times. He has won 18 JUNOs, a Grammy, two Ivor Novello songwriting awards, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2006. He is also an Officer of both the Order of Canada and British Columbia, and won the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2010.
Bryan Adams continues to record and tour. His most recent album, Get Up, was released in October 2015, with Adams directing the video for the single “You Belong to Me.”
Waking Up the Neighbors sold over 16 million copies.
Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame
Made an Officer of both the Order of Canada and British Columbia.
One of the few photographers chosen to take a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.