NRBQ is an American rock band founded in 1967. They are known for their live performances, containing a high degree of spontaneity and levity, and blending rock, pop and jazz styles of the 1950s and '60s. Their best known line-up is the 1974?1994 quartet of pianist Terry Adams, bassist Joey Spampinato, guitarist Al Anderson, and drummer Tom Ardolino.
Name of the band
The abbreviation "NRBQ" stands for New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (originally Quintet), although a 1982 article in Creem magazine suggested a different meaning: "Nothing Really Beats Quality". (The band's inability to achieve mainstream commercial success has led many fans to lament that "NRBQ" could also mean "No Records Bought in Quantity.")
The band's music, a rollicking blend of everything from stomping rockabilly to Beatles-influenced pop to Thelonious Monk-inspired jazz, has attracted fans as diverse as Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Keith Richards and Penn and Teller. NRBQ songs have inspired cover versions by Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, and Dave Edmunds, among many others. In addition, they served as the unofficial "house band" for The Simpsons for the season 10-12 period in which NRBQ fan Mike Scully was head writer and executive producer, contributing several songs and even appearing in animated form as well as on camera during the end credits to perform the show's theme song during the Take My Wife, Sleaze episode. They have also appeared in feature films, including 28 Days and Day Of The Dead.
NRBQ's devoted following has been stoked by years of legendary live shows. The band never works with a setlist, so fans never know what songs they may hear. In addition to their own compositions, the band has performed a broad range of cover material, and has even worked no-refusal audience requests into their act.
However, all of this admiration from their peers and fans has never resulted in chart-topping success. The band has made only one appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in its nearly forty-year recording career ("Get That Gasoline Blues" reached #70 in 1974.) More than once, NRBQ has garnered a major-label record deal, only to be dropped after one or two albums due to poor sales. The situation is largely due to the impossibility of defining the band in terms of any single pre-existing musical category, but the band's eccentric sense of humor, while beloved by fans, hasn't helped their commercial potential, either. Over the years, the group has played festival sets while wearing pajamas, hired professional wrestler "Captain" Lou Albano as their manager (for whom they penned a song in tribute), and exploded Cabbage Patch Dolls on stage.
In 1985, the members of NRBQ all played zombies in George A. Romero's third 'dead' film Day of the Dead.
NRBQ formed in 1967 in Miami, Florida, coming together from the remnants of several other bands. The original members were keyboardist Terry Adams, guitarist Steve Ferguson, singer Frank Gadler, drummer Tom Staley, bassist Joey Spampinato (originally known by the stage name of Jody St. Nicholas). In addition to their instrumental prowess, everyone sang lead vocals at various times. The group relocated to the northeastern US, living for a while in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and gained attention in local clubs. In the spring of 1969, they were the opening act for a 3-band program at "The Fillmore East." The second act was Joe Cocker (the program noted that "...his version of 'With a Little Help From My Friends' was having some 'mild success' in the U.S.). The headline act was The Jeff Beck Group, with lead singer Rod Stewart. NRBQ was signed to Columbia Records in 1969, and released their self-titled debut album the same year. The record featured cover versions of everyone from Eddie Cochran to Sun Ra, along with a number of similarly wide-ranging original songs. The following year, the group collaborated with rockabilly legend Carl Perkins on an album titled Boppin' The Blues.
However, before NRBQ could finish their third album, Columbia dropped the group, unhappy with their lack of chart performance. Over the next three years, the band would experience heavy turnover, with the departure of Ferguson (replaced for one year by Ken Sheehan), Gadler, and Staley, and the arrival of two new members: guitarist/singer Al Anderson and drummer Tom Ardolino. (Ardolino had been a fan of the band for several years, corresponding and trading tapes with Terry Adams. One night, when Tom Staley was too sick to return for an encore, Terry invited Ardolino to fill in. He did such a good job that Al Anderson didn't notice the substitution until he glanced back well into the encore. When Staley later decided to leave the band for good, Ardolino was the natural choice to replace him.) The Adams/Spampinato/Anderson/Ardolino quartet stayed together longer than any other incarnation of the band (twenty years from 1974 until 1994), and was often augmented by the Whole Wheat Horns, consisting of tenor saxophonist Keith Spring and trombonist Donn Adams, Terry's older brother.
In 1977 the group released "Ridin' In My Car" as a single from the All Hopped Up album. The song garnered a great deal of airplay in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, but didn't break out nationally. Mercury Records thought enough of its commercial potential to license it for inclusion on the band's followup album At Yankee Stadium. Although the initial release of At Yankee Stadium contains it, Mercury chose not to renew the agreement, and subsequent pressings omit the song. "Ridin' In My Car" never became a national hit, but it has remained in the band's live act consistently since its release.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, NRBQ recorded a number of albums, mostly on Rounder Records or the band's own label, Red Rooster Records. The band also garnered a reputation for unpredictable live shows, since it eschewed the use of setlists. A former staple of the group's gigs was "The Magic Box", a mysteriously-painted crate into which fans could drop slips of papers with requests on them. The band would play whatever songs they drew out of the box. Over the years, the results ranged from the Beach Boys' "Caroline No", to a discordant version of the Christmas standard "Jingle Bells". If the band had never heard of the song, they would simply create something on the spot -- usually a discordant musical hash that included the title somewhere.
The band would receive another shot at major-label stardom in 1983, with the release of Grooves In Orbit on Bearsville Records. However, a feud developed between the group and label owner Albert Grossman, and Grossman refused to let the band out of its exclusive contract. As a result, NRBQ couldn't record any new material for several years, until Grossman died in 1986. Fortunately, the contract did allow the band to release archival material on their own label.
In 1989, free from the Bearsville contract, the band got another one-album major-label deal with Virgin Records. Wild Weekend became the first NRBQ album to reach the charts since their 1969 debut, but it wasn't enough for Virgin to extend the deal.
The early 1990s saw appearances by various NRBQ members on albums by Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, and Johnnie Johnson. In addition, Ardolino became active in the rediscovery and release of musical recordings in the "song poem" genre.
The band's long-time lineup came to an end in 1994, as Al Anderson left to pursue a songwriting career in Nashville. He was replaced by Joey Spampinato's younger brother Johnny, a member of The Incredible Casuals. The band's recording and concert career continued unabated, including the release of a children's album, 1997's You're Nice People You Are, and the creation of their new label, Edisun Records.
On April 30 and May 1 of 2004, the group celebrated its 35th anniversary with concerts at the Calvin Theater in Northampton, Massachusetts. The shows featured every former and current member of the band, as Ferguson, Gadler, Staley, Sheehan and Anderson came back for a mammoth NRBQ reunion.
Near the end of 2004, NRBQ went on hiatus. The repeated rumor was that Adams had developed a severe case of tendinitis in his hands. During this time, Ardolino and the Spampinato brothers started playing shows as a trio, under the name Baby Macaroni. (Many years earlier, NRBQ had performed under this name, taken from an Ernest Noyes Brookings poem, during a brief period when they were trying different names for the band. Other names used included "Billy The Kid" and "The Marlboro Men.") After a number of months, Adams would recover well enough to tour with former drummer Staley and Japanese rockabilly group the Hot Shots.
In June, 2006, Adams and Ferguson released the album Louisville Sluggers (with Ardolino on drums, Pete Toigo on bass, and other supporting musicians), and this album's lineup performed some live shows in the US and Japan as "The Terry Adams - Steve Ferguson Quartet" and "Rock & Roll Summit Meeting". In a September 2006 appearance on Bob Brainen's show on WFMU, Adams addressed the ongoing NRBQ hiatus (then at almost two years), indicating that "some members" of the group had "different priorities" from his own. He stressed that fans shouldn't see him as "replacing" NRBQ with the Adams-Ferguson Quartet, but he was also reluctant to characterize the new band as a "side project".
Also in September 2006 came the release of a SpongeBob SquarePants album, The Best Day Ever, which included backing music by all four NRBQ members, as well as Al Anderson. The album, a collection of '60s-influenced pop/rock produced by Andy Paley, and co-written by Paley and the voice of SpongeBob, Tom Kenny, also included such musical luminaries as Brian Wilson, Tommy Ramone, James Burton, Flaco Jimenez and Philadelphia DJ Jerry "The Geator" Blavat.
On April 27 and 28th of 2007, the band gave a pair of "38th Anniversary" performances in Northampton, MA, the first public NRBQ shows since 2004. Both Al Anderson and Johnny Spampinato appeared in the lineup, along with the "Whole Wheat Horns": Donn Adams and Jim Bob Hoke, and unannounced guest appearances by John Sebastian, original NRBQ drummer Tom Staley, and longtime saxophone accompanist Klem Klimek. The management announced their intention to make the performances an annual event, at least for the next two years until the band's 40th anniversary in 2009, although in an August 11, 2007 interview on Michael Shelley's radio show on WFMU, Terry Adams claimed this statement was made without consulting the band.
Terry Adams released a solo album titled "Rhythm Spell" in 2007. According to the NRBQ Homepage website (see below), his new band, the "Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet," has tour dates scheduled for August and September, 2008. Additionally, the site notes that Terry is scheduled to perform (apparently without the band) at a concert celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the "Stay Awake" LP (on which NRBQ performed "Whistle While You Work") at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus on October 30, 2008.
Around 2008, original guitarist Steve Ferguson developed small-cell lung cancer. In the spring of 2009 he was reported too weak to travel but on June 26, 2009 was reported to be in Northampton, MA for a three-night stand to 'play with many of his old mates one more time'. Other NRBQ alumni on the billing included Al Anderson, Joey Spampinato, Johnny Spampinato, and Frank Gadler. In a live radio interview, Terry Adams said he was aware of these shows but acknowledged that he was not invited. He went on to say that it was likely that there would be another NRBQ reunion.
NRBQ (Columbia) 1969
Boppin? the Blues (w/Carl Perkins) (Columbia) 1970
Scraps (Kama Sutra) 1972
Workshop (Kama Sutra) 1973
All Hopped Up (Red Rooster) 1977
At Yankee Stadium (Mercury) 1978
Kick Me Hard (Red Rooster/Rounder) 1979
Tiddlywinks (Rounder/Red Rooster) 1980
Grooves in Orbit (Bearsville) 1983
Tapdancin' Bats (Rounder/Red Rooster) 1984
She Sings, They Play (w/Skeeter Davis) (Rounder/Red Rooster) 1985
Lou and the Q (w/"Captain" Lou Albano) (Rounder/Red Rooster) 1986
RC Cola and a Moon Pie (Rounder/Red Rooster) 1986
Uncommon Denominators (Rounder-era compilation covering '72 through '84) (Rounder) 1987
God Bless Us All (live album) (Rounder) 1987
Diggin? Uncle Q (live album) (Rounder) 1988
Kick Me Hard- the Deluxe Edition (reissue, w/8 bonus tracks) (Rounder) 1989
Wild Weekend (Virgin) 1989
Peek-A-Boo (multi-label compilation covering '69 through '89) (Rhino) 1990
Stay with We (compilation of Columbia years, w/unreleased songs) (Columbia/Legacy) 1993
Message for the Mess Age (Rhino) 1994
Tokyo (live album) (Rounder) 1996
You?re Nice People You Are (Rounder) 1997
Tapdancin' Bats - The Anniversary Edition (reissue, w/4 bonus tracks) (Rounder) 1998
You Gotta Be Loose (live album) (Rounder) 1998
Ridin? in My Car (reissue of All Hopped Up, w/unreleased songs) 1999
NRBQ (sometimes known as "The Yellow Album") (Rounder) 1999
Scraps (reissue, remastered, w/3 bonus tracks) (Rounder) 2000
Scraps Companion (15 tracks from radio show from Memphis in 1972 and 6 Outakes from Scraps sessions) (Edisun) 2000
Atsa My Band (Edisun) 2002
Live At The Wax Museum (previously unreleased concert from '82) (Edisun) 2003
Dummy (Edisun) 2004
Transmissions (2-disc Japan-only compilation featuring about 40% unissued material) (Caraway) 2004
Froggy's Favorites Vol. 1 (compilation of unreleased live tracks 1979-1999) (Edisun) 2006
Ludlow Garage 1970 (previously unreleased concert from '70) (Sundazed) 2006
Christmas Wish- Deluxe Version (Clang) 2007