NRBQ: Still kicking 37 years later
To NRBQ’s cofounder/keyboardist Terry Adams, it’s a no-brainer.
The reason his East Coast rock ‘n’ roll group has played gigs for three decades-plus in this country and abroad, while steadily picking up high-profile fans like Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney and the Barenaked Ladies, is because NRBQ remains true to the music.
“It’s simple; if you have music to make, you make it,” Adams said last Friday from a recording studio in New York. “If you then get together to see what to do career-wise or commercially, that won’t work. A lot of bands quit because they’re only in it for that reason. For us, the music is first.”
Reconsidering his explanation, Adams paused before excitedly exclaiming: “We’re not done yet. Yes, that is the answer.”
For NRBQ to play continuously for the past 37 years doesn’t at all surprise Adams. Other band members are Joey Spampinato on keyboards and bass, Tom Ardolino on drums and Johnny Spampinato on guitar.
“We never intended to stop. We’ve always just had something to do. We’re finishing the best of our career CD right now, which will be out in April,” Adams said. All 13 songs on the release are new originals.
That’s good news for NRBQ’s international cult-like fan base. Even legendary musicians are hands-on fans of this group. NRBQ songs have been covered by Raitt, Dave Edmunds, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Charlie Robison and Widespread Panic. Unbeknownst to NRBQ members, two tribute records were created on opposite sides of the world in the band’s homage during a 24-month period. Several Japanese bands made a tribute CD, “That’s Neat, That’s Nice” two years ago. American musicians have done the same with Spirithouse Records’ “The Q People” CD released this Tuesday. On “The Q People,” Raitt, John Prine, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Los Lobos, Ron Sexsmith, Steve Earle, Widespread Panic, Yo La Tengo among others cover NRBQ favorites.
Gaining exposure in several genres
Adams has lost count of the actual number of NRBQ records made since the band formed in 1967 in Miami.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t know how many records we have. I sound like Frank Sinatra,” noted a mildly embarrassed Adams, before estimating the number to be 28 or 29 since NRBQ’s first release on Columbia Records in 1969.
With that many CDs out, NRBQ, which stands for New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, defies genre pigeonholing. The group mixes rock, pop, jazz, blues, R&B, rockabilly and even polka, often in one recording or concert set.
As for the group’s name, which honors one style in particular, Adams explains: “Everyone we know of, from Elvis to the Rolling Stones, started with R&B. We were going to keep it going since R&B covers it all. As for ‘new,’ when we put that word in our name back in the ’60s, it was a playoff of the group Modern Jazz Quartet.”
NRBQ reached the Billboard’s Top 100 only once, and that was 30 years ago with “Get That Gasoline Blues” during a timely gas shortage. In 1999, NRBQ attracted renewed national attention, thanks to a TV appearance, albeit in animated form on TV’s “The Simpsons.” On that Nov. 28 show, NRBQ appeared in animated form and in a live-action sequence playing its own version of “The Simpsons” theme, which ran under the final credits. NRBQ was the first band to ever achieve that live recognition on the show.
The next year, NRBQ broke into the movie soundtrack industry by appearing on the “Where the Heart Is” and “28 Days” soundtracks.
“It’s a lasting tribute to this band that they have fans throughout the entertainment industry that make it a point to try and work with the band when the opportunity arrives,” said Billy Cohen, NRBQ’s manager and agent. “The music coordinators of those films are fans of the band.”
In “28 Days,” NRBQ even appeared as a wedding band. “It was for a few seconds as a joke. With our tuxedos on, it was kind of fun,” Adams said.
Linking NRBQ and ‘The Simpsons’
Last year, “The Simpsons” longtime executive producer Mike Scully continued his NRBQ collaboration by commissioning members to create the theme song for Fox network’s comedy, “The Pitts.” Scully had more plans for the band he has admired since he was a teen; the result was a one-hour documentary, “NRBQ: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Best-Kept Secret.”
The documentary, which debuted on A&E’s “Breakfast with the Arts” Jan. 26, 2003, included current and archival footage of the band in concerts and discussions, along with testimonials from Raitt, R.E.M., Keith Richards, Costello, Drew Carey and Penn Jillette. Eight months later, when the band played in Manhattan, A&E staff invited NRBQ to the studio and added more interviews and songs to Scully’s documentary, resulting in “NRBQ Revisited.”
After 35 years of nonstop gigs and recording dates, Adams today is just as excited being in NRBQ.
“We’ve liked it all. You know, we’re playing April 30 and May 1 in two retrospective concerts at the Calvin Theater (in Northampton, Mass.), and it’s a chance to go back and look at some of the music and go forward,” Adams noted. “But right now is the best period. We keep going, get better, that’s the way it’s always been.”
Before the group returns to tour Scandinavia in May and then Japan in July, NRBQ is on a West Coast tour – with a gig Saturday at Cooper’s.
“It’s been quite awhile, three years, since we were in California. It’s our most favorite state, the food is the cleanest, California has the best variety of vegetarian choices. We’re vegetarians,” Adams added.
As for adding any new fans, Adams hopes to eventually catch the attention of longtime crooner Tony Bennett.
“We’ve got the right songs for him to cover,” Adams explained.
“They’re the most significant band that I could mention. And I love the Rolling Stones in a way that defies description. But I think NRBQ is the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.”
– Bonnie Raitt
“They’ve got perfect sweet-voiced ballads…and they rock like crazy. They’ve got some really great straight-up pop songs, that in more ruthless hands probably would have yielded a shorter and brighter career.”
– Elvis Costello
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