Adams grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and while attending Westmoor High School in Daly City he established his reputation as a musical prodigy. He had made plans to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but instead accepted an invitation to join Tower of Power for their first album, East Bay Grease (1970). He remained with the band for 25 years and was responsible for many of their distinctive horn arrangements, including "What Is Hip?" (1973) which earned him a Grammy Award nomination.
In 1995 Adams recorded his first solo album, Hidden Agenda (Epic), which reached #1 on the U.S. smooth jazz charts. His subsequent albums include Midnight Morning (Ripa, Blue Note) (2002), Firefly (215) (2004), Cool To The Touch (Ripa) (2006), East Bay Soul (Ripa) (2009), and East Bay Soul 2.0 (Ripa) (2012).
Adams has recorded with and/or arranged for numerous other artists, including Chicago, Heart, Elton John, Huey Lewis and the News, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, and Carlos Santana. In 1989 he was nominated (with Paul Shaffer) for an Emmy Award for his arrangements for the Late Night with David Letterman 7th anniversary special.