Adam Holcombe is one of those guys who kind of shoved everything else aside once he got bitten by the music bug.
As a pre-teen growing up in Barrington, Camden County, he dusted off a guitar he uncovered from a closet, talked his dad into getting the axe into better shape, and eventually embarked on a professional music career that he might make full time if he can convince himself to quit his day job.
“When I was 12 years old my father bought a guitar for my older brother,” says Holcombe, who performs 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, at Andre’s Wine Bar & Grill in Brigantine. “My brother didn’t really have the patience for it, so it sat in his closet for a year or so and got all dusty.
“One day I took it out, looked it over and said ‘Hey dad, why don’t you fix this up for me?’ He told me he’d only do it if I at least gave it a try. So I got a book of chords, tried the first one and it sounded pretty good, and then moved on from there.”
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The fifth song Holcombe played during a recent mid-week gig at Hang Time Bar in Absecon, where he appeared in a duo with Louie B, was “Come Together” by the Beatles — the band that really ignited his passion for classic rock. This is despite being too young, as a 30-something, to have lived through the heydays of many of the artists he now covers.
Other songs the two impressively replicated at Hang Time included “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan, “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young, “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix, “Hotel California” by the Eagles and “Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors.
“The Beatles are the band that really taught me how to play, and they probably don’t even know it,” Holcombe jokes. “I got myself ‘Mel Bay’s Book of Chords,’ sat down and started learning song after song in the Beatles’ catalog. I would strategically just break down one song at a time, for about a week at a time, and reached the point where now I can hear a song and pretty much play along with it.”
It all stemmed from gaining a grasp on a handful of basic chords and building on them, he says.
“Once I got into it, I’d pretty much just hide and devote myself to almost nothing else,” Holcombe says. “I stopped playing sports. Even my schoolwork kind of began to take a back seat to learning new songs. It became an obsession, and I’d just sit in the dark sometimes and try to know what the music sounded like with no distractions.”
The Andre’s gig Saturday — and the occasional duos or solo shows he plays at places such as Vagabond’s in West Atlantic City and the White Horse Winery in Hammonton — represent Holcombe’s off-season mode. Throughout the summer he is the lead guitarist for the five-man band InCognito, which is a popular presence throughout South Jersey, performing every Sunday during the summer at Laguna Grill & Rum Bar in Brigantine. He is also an occasional sideman with Papa Guyo Guyocious, including when the funk-rock specialist opened for The Wailers on the beach in front of Laguna Grill in August.
Holcombe plays with a plugged-in Fender acoustic as a solo artist, then switches to a black Gibson electric guitar with his band — one given to him as a birthday gift by his wife, Leah. The band also includes bass player Anthony Scafidi, Holcombe’s longtime friend.
“He and I have been playing together now for 23 years now, and classic rock has been our wheelhouse since the start,” Holcombe says. “I could play that stuff all night. There’s about 350 songs that we can do (as a band), and people will occasionally throw out requests that, even if we’ve never tried it, we might give it a whirl.”
With a band or flying solo, Holcombe says success is always measured by how into the music the crowd is each night.
“Pleasing the room is what this scene is all about,” he says. “When you’re doing cover music, you’re trying to play for the room, and you always try to feel them out and give them what they want.”
If the situation seems right, Holcombe will occasionally throw in original material he wrote himself.
“I’m really going to try to give my own stuff a push whenever possible,” he says. “I’ve heard enough people suggest that I quit my day job and give music a full-time push, so I’m trying to weigh that out. There seems to be a good little buzz going that’s giving me the confidence to say ‘maybe I can do this.’”