One of the all-time great cult bands, NRBQ returns to New York tomorrow night, not in the same form as last time it was here, but with co-founder Terry Adams still at the keyboards.
The legendary group, now also including guitarist/vocalist Scott Ligon, bassist (and member of The Figgs) Pete Donnelly and drummer Conrad Choucroun, will do two shows at The Iridium.
The quartet has been together for three years as The Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet, but Adams is now reviving the NRBQ name to go with its just-released new album Keep This Love Goin’ (Clang). The last lineup of the beloved band–Adams, fellow co-founder and bassist/vocalist Joey Spampinato, longtime drummer Tom Ardolino and Spampinato’s guitarist/vocalist brother Johnny Spampinato–stopped playing together in 2004 when Adams was diagnosed with throat cancer.
Joey and Johnny now perform together as The Spampinato Brothers (Joey also plays bass in a band led by his wife, singer-songwriter and trumpet/piano player Kami Lyle). Ardolino is retired, though he rejoins the now recovered Adams on occasion and plays drums on a couple tracks–and created the cover art–on Keep This Love Goin’.
The last time an NRBQ band played in New York was at The Bottom Line, just prior to the fabled club’s closing in 2004. Having originally formed in 1967, the band also played there when it opened in 1974, and has remained a New York favorite from its beginnings.
“I’m happy to have NRBQ up and rolling again, and looking forward to playing The Iridium,” says Adams. “Although the band stopped playing for a few years, I wasn’t ready to call it ‘over’: People started talking about its ‘legacy’ and maybe they meant well–but I’m not dead yet! I really want to keep it going.”
Adams stresses that in no way is his revival of the NRBQ name a means of “cashing in,” in the manner of other bands who return to lucrative touring after a hiatus.
“You hear of bands that do that, who’ve had a string of hits,” he says, “but NRBQ never had a string of hits–but was a living artform! I conceived the band in my basement with my brother in 1966, and I want to keep it going. Maybe that’s the reason the new album’s called Keep This Love Goin’.”
He adds that he’s in no way trying to compete with previous incarnations of NRBQ, and notes that there have been a couple reunions of the last one. “They’re always fun,” he says. “I can’t wait for the next one–but people’s lives change.”
The NRBQ philosophy, however, remains the same.
“Before NRBQ, I’d been in bands that limited the type of music that was played and the clothes you could wear!” recalls Adams. “I even got fined for not wearing the right kind of boots! I just wanted a band that expressed itself musically any way it wanted to, and went out to find other guys who felt the same way.”
He says he didn’t set out to be a professional musician so much as a “professional listener,” an endeavor that manifested itself in the most incredibly eclectic pop music band’s name–NRBQ standing for New Rhythm & Blues Quartet.
“I couldn’t be someone who only likes jazz, for instance, or this or that genre–and that has something to do with the broad sound of NRBQ,” he explains. “It’s not a deliberate attempt to show off and play different styles, but show who we are and what culture really is now.”
Adams credits brother Donn Adams, who plays trombone whenever NRBQ brings along its Whole Wheat Horns horn section, for coming up with the band name, a la The Modern Jazz Quartet.
“Everything has rhythm and some blues inside of it, and we just put ‘new’ in front of it,” he says. After the band’s self-titled debut album was released by Columbia in 1969, “every group had to have initials!” he notes, namely, Blood, Sweat & Tears (BS&T) and New Riders Of The Purple Sage (NRPS).
The new NRBQ members, meanwhile, are like the preceding ones in that “they’re amazing musicians,” says Adams. “I didn’t’ have to audition or do a door-to-door search but just kept my antenna clean and mind open. Scott’s one of the best singers I’ve ever known–though I’ve been lucky to have singers like Joey and Al [former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson] who were also gracious enough to sing songs I wrote–since I don’t have much of a voice and write out of my range. Pete sings with The Figgs, and Conrad was on a bill with us in Texas or Oklahoma in the early ’90s when he was 19 or so, and Tom said, ‘If anything happens to me, that’s the guy!'”
At The Iridium, NRBQ will indeed be joined by The Whole Wheat Horns.
“It should be a lot of fun,” concludes Adams.
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