Derroll Adams (born Derroll Lewis Thompson) is Pacific Northwest College of Art’s least well known alumnus. Born in Portland, Oregon on November 25, 1925, he attended PNCA when it was still known as the Museum Art School.
Before entering art school, Derroll Adams survived life as a logger and as a Navy combat diver. Here’s how/why he changed his name to “Adams”.
In 1930, Elizabeth and her son moved into an apartment house in Portland. One of the tenants there, George Irwin Adams, came to assume the role of Derroll’s missing father. He was a good and generous man – “a true old westerngentleman”, as Derroll often repeated – and whose name he later assumed. His grandfather, “Grandpa Adams”, had fought the Indians and had known Wild Bill Hickock personally. One day, young Derroll asked him if he too had a six gun. Grandpa Adams’s only answer was to half-open the tails of the greatcoat he always wore, allowing Derroll a glimpse of the sawed-off shotgun that was strapped to his leg. Derroll’s Aunt Netty, a former saloon dancer, used to live with one of Kit Carson’s companions and saw the man get shot dead in a duel right in the middle of the street. Derroll could spend literally hours telling such stories.
This timeline locates Adams’ first meeting with Pete Seeger as taking place at Reed in 1946.
Twice married and twice divorced by the age of 26, he left Portland, banjo in hand, for Los Angeles. There he teamed up with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and joined the growing folk song army.
He crossed the Atlantic in 1957, entering film history in 1967 when he was recognized at a party by a longtime fan named Bob Dylan, whose British tour was being documented by D. A. Pennebaker. He never returned to the US, except on musical tour. He died in Belgium in 2000.