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Rock band

For the Record

Released Debut Album

Off-Balance, Eclectic Approach

Exit Big Al

Selected discography


NRBQs music suggests what might happen if Huck Finn and Bugs Bunny strapped on Strato-casters [electric guitars], appraised Malcolm Jones, Jr., in Newsweek. Since the late 1960s, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartetknown to the world at large as NRBQ and to devotees as the Qhave played eclectic, playful, good-time music, becoming known in the process as one of rocks best live bands and working steadily despite a lack of impressive record sales.

Encompassing everything from 1950s rock to free jazzRolling Stones Michael Azerrad called them spectacularly encyclopedicthey have maintained one of the most loyal fan bases anywhere. Pop music fans generally divide into two camps regarding NRBQthose who consider them among the great bands of the last two decades, and those who have not yet heard them play, insisted Mark Rowland in the liner notes to the groups two-CD compilation Peek-A-Boo. For Rock band more than 20 years NRBQ have been steadily converting audiences from the second camp into the first,

For the Record

Members include Terry Adams, keyboards and vocals; Al Anderson (bandmember 1971-94), guitar and vocals; Tom Ardolino (joined group 1974), drums; Steve Ferguson (left group 1971, returned briefly in 1972 and left again), guitar; Frank Gadler (left group 1971), vocals; Joey Spampinato, bass and vocals; Johnny Spampinato (joined group 1994), guitar; Tom Staley (left group 1974), drums. Whole Wheat Horns brass section has included Donn Adams, trombone; Jim Hoke, tenor saxophone; and Keith Spring, tenor saxophone.

Group formed in Miami, FL, 1968. Signed with Columbia and recorded self-titled debut album, 1969; recorded for various labels, 1972; appeared on A&M Disney movie song tribute Stay Awake, 1988; performed tribute to Sun Ra, 1994.

Addresses: Record company Forward, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Newsletter New Rhythm & Blues News, P.O. Box 311, Saugerties, NY 12477.

which is the only thing consistent throughout their otherwise confounding career.

It was a shock to fans when, in 1994, longtime guitarist Al Anderson left the Q; though his departure was the groups first break with tradition in many years, Anderson was replaced and the group vowed to go on. As Jones observed, Bands like NRBQ live and breathe music onstage and off, and theyre having much too much fun to dream of quitting.

Released Debut Album

The group was founded in the late 1960s by keyboardist Terry Adams, his trombonist brother Donn, and guitarist Steve Ferguson. NRBQs earliest incarnation was floundering in Miami, Florida, when bassist Joey Spampinato and singer Frank Gadler of the band the Seven of Us arrived in town; the two newcomers joined Terry Adams, Ferguson, and drummer Tom Staley in a new incarnation of the Q, which was a quintet for several years. They signed with Columbia Records and released their self-titled debut album in 1969.

Though only Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato would stay with the band for the long haul, Ferguson left an indelible stamp. Indeed, the bassist remarked to Rowland in the Peek-A-Boo booklet, He was one of the best guitar players I ever heard. Its a shame he didnt stay in the band longer, because he started writing songs that were really good and they never made it onto a record. The group recorded an album of rockabilly standards, Boppin the Blues, with rock pioneer Carl Perkins.

Anderson, whose band the Wildweeds had seen a measure of success in the Northeast, replaced Ferguson in 1971. Webb Wilder of Guitarr Player reported that Anderson considered his predecessor a heavy influence; he also mentioned James Burton, guitarist for early rock icon Elvis Presley, as an inspiration. Gadler left the Q in 1972, leaving the singing to the remaining members. Donn Adams appeared occasionally on recordings but was not a full-fledged member; drummer Staley departed in 1974 and was replaced by Tom Ardolino, who had never before played with a group. Even so, Terry Adams told Sally Eckhoff of the Village Voice, We knew he was spiritually right for the band.

Ardolino told Dan Oulette of Pulse! that he heard the band for the first time in 1970 and two years later was called onstage by Terry Adams when Staley didnt appear for the groups encore. I was afraid, but I went up there anyway, he recalled. Playing with a real band for the first time was wild. At the end Al turned around and he couldnt believe it was me. He thought Staley was still onstage.

Off-Balance, Eclectic Approach

The Village Voices Eckhoff described the bands sound with its longtime lineup: The Q sound, though achieved with a minimum of electronic gadgetry, can be about as complicated as pop gets. The use of each instrument fits into some iconoclastic tradition, and none of them match. Melding the modern jazz explorations of The-lonious Monk and Sun Ra (whose Rocket Number 9 the band covered on its debut) with Andersons sometimes countrified, sometimes bluesy leads, Joey Spam-pinatos love of pure-pop songcrait and Ardolinos versatile rhythmic approach, which Eckhoff declared lands between New Orleans session man Zigaboo Modeliste and a bunch of cardboard boxes falling downstairs, the Q found balance in an off-balance dynamic. The group was often joined by the Whole Wheat Horns, featuring Donn Adams. On top of this, a sense of surreal mischief and good-time nostalgia colored their lyrics.

NRBQ soon became known as one of the wildest and most enjoyable live acts on the rock scene. Unpredictability became the groups trademark, as Village Voice critic Jon Pareles explained: At some point in their live set, NRBQ generally reaches into the Magic Box, which contains song titles tossed in earlier by audience members. Whatever comes out, the band plays: [English rock legends the Rolling Stones early single] Under My Thumb,[the standard] The Shadow of Your Smile, anything. They may not play it straight, but they play it, and thats something.

This loyalty to the spontaneous, Parelesnoted, smacks of foolhardy bravado as well as craftsmanlike pride. We play popular music, they seem to be saying, and we play it all. As Terry Adams declared to Eckhoff, Im never happy unless something happens I didnt know was going to happen.

The bands trademark goofinessan attribute not treasured equally by all fanscan be witnessed in NRBQs song titles, such as Terry Adamss compositions Wacky Tobacky and RC Cola and a Moon Pie; through collaborations with wrestler Captain Lou Albano; and in the between-song performance art at their gigs. But even this lightheartedness seemed part of a serious commitment on the groups part to work on its own terms. The record industry, always enthusiastic at first, never knew what to do with the Q; as a result, the band shuffled from label to label.

Their 1970s album At Yankee Stadium received numerous plaudits, but it didnt keep them at Mercury for long. They moved from Red Rooster/Rounder to Bearsville to Virgin, eventually landing on Forward, the continuing artist subsidiary of the beloved reissue label Rhino. There have always been other labels after us, Terry Adams told Pulse!, but Rhino just seemed the rightest.

Despite not having had any mainstream hits themselves, NRBQ has recorded songs that are covered and admired by a number of other artists. British rocker Dave Edmunds fared well with his rendition of Me and the Boys, and the Q has enjoyed the acclaim of respected rock songwriters like Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, and the members of R.E.M. As Terry Adams remarked in Down Beat, the groups music is made by people, not machines, unlike many of the records dominating the pop scene. NRBQs esteem has led the individual members into some prestigious side projects: Joey Spampinato played with seminal rockers Chuck Berry and Keith Richards in the band Richards assembled for the film Hail! Hail! Rock & Rolland briefly filled in for the Stones departing bassist Bill Wyman, joining celebrated guitarist Eric Clapton on tour as well; Anderson toured and wrote with singer Carlene Carter and composed for country star Hank Williams, Jr.; and Donn Adams has played with jazz artist Carla Bley and participated in producer Hal Winners tribute album to Thelonious Monk. Willner invited the whole quartet to play on the album of songs from Walt Disney films he produced, and they obliged with a full-tilt version of Whistle While You Work.

Exit Big Al

In 1994 NRBQ released Message for the Mess Age, a more political album than they had hitherto attempted. It was generally well receivedMusician dubbed it their best since At Yankee Stadium though Spins Michael Corcoran used his review as an occasion to label them the worlds most overpraised bar band. The foursome also played a tribute concert to Sun Ra after the jazz innovators death, employing his horn section for a mixture of their own standard repertoire and a number of Ras compositions.

Andersons rather abrupt exit, therefore, stunned their loyal following: It is hard to imagine NRBQ without Big Al, Guitar Players Wilder had mused some years earlier. Say It Aint So read the headline over Musicians announcement of his split from the group. Joey Spampinatos brother Johnny, late of the Incredible Casuals, took Andersons place; BAM reviewer Sean ONeill declared that since an essential, seminal element of a delicate balancing act had been removed, he feared at first that the band would surely never be the same.

Andersons departure gave too-free reign to Terry Adamss penchant for silliness, ONeill reported of the early post-AI shows, But guess what! It was still a helluva a lot of fun. Johnny Spampinato, he noted, sounded like hed been studying the role for years. He had Big Als squealy leads down pat, and NRBQs trademark roadhouse sound remained intact.

The group clearly had no intention of slowing down, despite Andersons departure. As Terry Adams told the Village Voice, Ive never had another job. In the words of Newsweeks Jones, Bands like NRBQ live and breathe music onstage and off, and theyre having too much fun to dream of quitting. Whether the mainstream music world ever came around to their offbeat view of things was as moot in the mid-1990s as it had been in the late 1960s.

Selected discography

NRBQ (includes Rocket Number 9), Columbia, 1969.
Boppin the Blues, Columbia, 1969.
Scraps, Kama Sutra, 1972.
Workshop, Kama Sutra, 1973.
All Hopped Up, Red Rooster, 1977.
At Yankee Stadium, Mercury, 1978.
Kick Me Hard, Red Rooster, 1979.
Me and the Boys, Red Rooster, 1980.
Tiddlywinks, Red Rooster, 1980.
Grooves in Orbit, Bearsville, 1983.
RC Cola and a Moon Pie, Red Rooster, 1983.
Tapdancin Bats, Rounder, 1984.
God Bless Us All, Rounder, 1988.
Diggin Uncle Q, Rounder, 1988.
Christmas Wish, Rounder, 1988.
Uncommon Denominators, Rounder, 1989.
Wild Weekend, Virgin, 1989.
Peek-A-Boo: The Best of NRBQ (includes RC Cola and a Moon Pie and Wacky Tobacky), Rhino, 1990.
Honest Dollar, Rykodisc, 1992.
Message for the Mess Age, Rhino/Forward, 1994.

With others

(With Skeeter Davis) She Sings, They Play, Red Rooster, 1985.

(With various artists) Stay Awake: Music From Vintage Disney Films (appear on Whistle While You Work), A&M, 1988.

Group members have also participated in various recordings for other artists.


BAM, May 20, 1994.

Billboard, October 14, 1989.

Down Beat, April 1989; November 1992; May 1994.

Guitar Player, July 1989; August 1989.

Musician, March 1994; May 1994.

Newsweek, April 25, 1994.

Pulse!, March 1994; May 1994.

Rolling Stone, April 12, 1984; February 24, 1994.

Spin, April 1994.

Village Voice, April 3, 1978; October 31, 1989.

Additional information was provided by printed materials accompanying Peek-A-Boo, 1990, and by Forward Records publicity materials, 1994.

Simon Glickman