BLURTING WITH… NRBQ

In which we travel
across the Q-niverse with Terry Adams.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

For almost 45 years NRBQ has inspired a near-psychotic
obsession in its fans for reasons ranging from matchless musicianship to ace
songwriting to good ol’ personality. Ask any Q fan and they’ll swear a blood
oath that it simply doesn’t get any better. They’re right; once NRBQ gets its
hooks into you, you’re forever spoiled.

 

So when there are changes – and these are inevitable when a
band survives over four decades – it can be difficult to cope. NRBQ fans
experienced this in 1994 with the monumental departure of 22-year Q vet Al
Anderson, whose ripping guitar solos (as on the band’s famous cover of Johnny
Cash’s “Get Rhythm”) and simple, genuine songs (“Ridin’ in My Car”) were so
much a part of the quartet’s appeal.

 

In fact, the Anderson
lineup – Anderson,
founder/pianist/singer/songwriter Terry Adams, bassist Joey Spampinato and
drummer Tom Ardolino – is considered classic and definitive by fans. They
nonetheless welcomed Spampinato’s brother Johnny Spampinato as a replacement
and NRBQ continued until 2004, when Q headquarters abruptly went dark.
Unbeknownst to many, it was due to Adams being
diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. While he sought treatment, Ardolino
and the Spampinatos performed as Baby Macaroni until 2007, when Adams felt good enough to resume NRBQ. In that time,
however, Ardolino lost the desire to tour and the brothers Spampinato were all
Q’d out.

 

Adams elected to form
another band, The Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet, with Pete Donnelley (The
Figgs) on bass and vocals, Scott Ligon on guitar and vocals, and Conrad
Choucroun on drums. With Donnelly and Ligon contributing and singing songs
alongside Adams, it became evident that this
could be another version of NRBQ, so Adams
went ahead and called it that.

 

It pissed off some longtime NRBQ fans. Many still longed for
a reunion with Anderson,
which happened on occasional one-offs, but wouldn’t take since Anderson was happy as a solo artist and Nashville songsmith.
Others felt that this new Q was akin to scab-staffed, reconstituted classic
rock bands. In some ways, they’re right – without Anderson, the Spampinatos and Ardolino, it’s
like too much of the band is gone. Like the Beatles or Kiss, or comic book
collectives like the X-Men, NRBQ was great for the sum of its parts. Then
again, those parts weren’t always there; Adams and Joey Spampinato are the only
true original members of the band.

 

Therein lie questions: Is it better to have this NRBQ or
none at all? Can you really quit Q? If the music and the spirit remain the
same, the answer is a deep and resonant ‘nope.’ If the band can truly Keep This Love Goin’ (NRBQ.com) as the
new album is called, why would anyone turn a deaf ear?

 

Although initially skeptical, BLURT gave the platter a shot
and was rewarded with wall-to-wall goodness. Donnelly, Ligon and Choucroun meet
and exceed NRBQ quality standards in every category, musically and spiritually;
we defy you to reject this batch of honest American rock ‘n’ roll songs, which
bear all the hallmarks of, and even define further, classic NRBQ. You’ll find,
if you give it a chance, that the sum of Adams, Donnelly, Ligon and Choucroun
is rather hefty and will only build upon your dorky, obsessive love for the band.

 

***

 

BLURT: How is your
health?

TERRY ADAMS: Yeah, that stuff – I kept that quiet for all
those years, but I had to bring it out to explain why there’s been so much
mystery and what’s actually been happening. A story came out that said we were
on a break of some kind, which I disagreed with from the start. I hated that
story, and I knew it wasn’t true. There was no hold; there was no NRBQ after
’04.

 

So you’re keepin’ the
love goin’, eh?

Well, NRBQ is like a Timex watch. It takes a licking and
keeps on ticking.

 

That’s good for us
fans. What sort of feedback have you received from folks after the shows?

Um, you know trouble is, all these years, before and after I
play I can’t talk to anybody. You know those boxers, when the boxing match is
over and all those people try to talk to them? How can you do that? I would
just say ‘Come back in twenty minutes.’ So I haven’t met a lot of people
through the years that I should have met through the years because it takes me
a while to come back after you put your whole self into the music for two hours
or so, I missed out on meetin’ people I should’ve met.

 

Do you ever get a
sense of just how much the fans really love the band?

Well you know, people have gotten married and had children
because of the band over the years. We caused humans to exist, and long-lasting
friendship. When you put your whole self into that music, you don’t have a lot
of time to think about that side of it, but it’s always nice to hear.

 

Have you been
recognized or is there a favorite fan interaction you could share? Where you
met a fan and saw the band through their eyes?

There was a couple of times when the State Troopers had me
pulled over and lookin’ through the car, and then came across NRBQ and Carl
Perkins and said, “Oh. You’re in this band? Alright. You guys can go. Go ahead.”

 

There are cop Q fans?

There must be a few. I was in one airport – I’m not sayin’
we’re a favorite of police; I’m just tellin’ you a couple of stories – I was
gettin’ ready to fly to Europe or somethin’ and there was this State Trooper
followin’ me at the airport. He stopped at the gate where I was goin’ and I
thought, This guy is gonna nail me for
somethin’.
I just felt like there was somethin’ goin’ on. And after he’d
been lookin’ at me for twenty minutes, he came up and said, “Where ya headin’?”
And I said Stockholm
or somethin’. He said, “Ah. Too bad. You guys gonna play ‘Get Rhythm?’ You
know, he’s startin’ to ask for certain songs.

            You know,
sometimes a pilot on a plane will come out and talk. But gettin’ recognized is
a funny thing, dependin’ on your mood. Because if you’re not feelin’ yourself,
but you’re gonna go out for a slice of pizza or somethin’, you don’t want
anybody to talk – it’s like, lemme get on a better shirt or shower before you recognize
me. And sometimes if you wanna get recognized, it’s like, “How come nobody’s…”
[laughs] You know, it can go either
way.

 

When I describe NRBQ,
I always feel like I’m describing comic book heroes. Because you get into
appearances, personalities, antics, how to tell a certain member’s song from
another, different eras – like classic X-men. It occurred to me that NRBQ fans
are like comic book geeks, at least with all things in the Marvel Q-niverse.
They buy every album, reissues, side project, collect bootlegs, etc. Of course
some of them feel a sense of ownership of the band, and they complain when
things change. Some Q fans have their NRBQ Underoos in a twist over the new
lineup. Discuss?

Well you know, I’m seven years ahead of the “news.” To some
people this is news, because there’s been silence since ’04. But I know what’s
happenin’. So people that are longtime fans, I understand there’s some sense of
adjustment ‘cause your concept of who did what or how it could be this way or
how it couldn’t be this way.
Sometimes people aren’t as resilient to change. I sympathize with that. I could
say the same for myself. How could I ever have another rhythm section or
greater guys than Tom Ardolino on drums? I get that. But it’s really about
being here now. And you know, I can – I love all the ex-members and I love
doin’ archival projects. It means a lot to me. I love all the hard work that
the guys, we’ve all put in. But I’m not going to live in the past. It’s not
healthy.

            And the
newer guys that have been playin’ with me now are so on that in some ways this is the best version of the band yet. It’s
not meant to be offensive to someone who’s a fan of someone else; it’s just
that times change. I had no say in this; it’s not somethin’ I would’ve done on
my own.

           Time goes by, and the guys have
every right to live their own lives. Somebody said Al Anderson played guitar
for us for 22 years and what went wrong? What happened? How come he’s gone? You
could turn that around and say, what went right? Why could he play with us for
22 years? Why was it working so well? Not why is it broken, but how did you
guys manage to do this for as many years as you did, together? That’s the
question. The miracle of that, other
than lookin’ at change as a problem.

 

I’ll admit I was initially
skeptical, but when the guys you’ve picked – I’m a huge Figgs fan so I know the caliber of songwriter and musician
Pete is, and how he’d fit in a band that has multiple songwriters and
vocalists. And how that band has a goofy side, just like NRBQ. And Scott, I was
familiar with him through the album he did with his brother Chris – they’re big
goofballs as well, and top-notch musicians. And they both have a knack for
simple, powerful songs. They seem to be a natural fit in a lot of ways. 

Yeah, they sure are. [It was a] question of openin’ up my
spirit to have the right people involved so that things happened that I felt
were supposed to happen. Pete, who has a solo album waitin’ in the wings, and
it’s brilliant. His writing his great; he’s one of the best musicians I know.
He’s perfect for us.

         And Conrad – he’s the perfect
successor to Tom Ardolino, for one thing. You might’ve seen that story, or
maybe you didn’t, where Tom and I heard Conrad in the early ‘90s sometime and
we looked at each other and Tom said, “Anything ever happens to me, that’s the
guy.” [laughs] Tom regrets he can’t
tour anymore, although he’s still with the band if we’re in a 75-mile radius of
his home. So we have two drummers on a lot of shows. So he’s an
honorary/still-member. But I thought of Conrad when I was reforming, getting
the right guys, and that story came back to me maybe 15 years later – yeah,
where is that guy? And I was able to track him down.

 

There’s a slight
physical resemblance between Conrad and Tom.

Some people, I think, actually thought I chose these guys
because they look like the other guys.

 

Well, who’s the
Spampinato?

It must be Pete! An Irish Spampinato, I guess.

 

You have a lot of fun
onstage. It’s magical. I imagine that hasn’t changed with the personnel.

There’s a CD called Crazy
Eights
– it’s [this version of] NRBQ live in ’09. Although it’s not a film,
you can hear the band really well, what’s goin’ on. And there are probably a
few YouTube things out there, some of them good.

 

So what’s the live chemistry
like with the new band? How do they feed into your energy?

You know, depending on the night, they can go anywhere – and
it’s gettin’ better all the time. But we haven’t really been on a heavy tour
schedule. We somewhat sporadically play, sometimes with three months between a
show, so we haven’t really cranked it up yet.

        But each time
I see them, it’s like we’ve been playing together [during the entire break].
They’re that much better.

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