Drummer had been a key
member of the band from 1974 until it went on hiatus in 2004.
By Fred Mills
NRBQ devotees no doubt knew this was coming eventually, but
it still hurts deeply just the same: drummer Tom Ardolino, who joined the band
in 1974 and played until the middle of the ‘00s when the group went into
hibernation, passed away on Friday at the age of 56, in Springfield, Mass. It’s
known that he’d been battling an undisclosed illness for some time, and a few weeks ago the NRBQ website posted the news that he’d entered a hospital for treatment.
One of the most beloved American bands in history, NRBQ had
a number of reunion shows since 2004 and Ardolino performed at most of them,
but by the time keyboardist Terry Adams put the group back together last year
for an album and tour he was too sick to resume duties behind the drum kit.
Speaking to BLURT in October of 2011, Adams
commented on his new-look NRBQ and paid tribute to Ardolino when he said, “How
could I ever have another rhythm section or greater guys than Tom Ardolino on
drums? But Conrad [Choucron] – 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
And always will be, in the hearts of memories of ‘Q fans. Ardolino
was one of the most genuine and unaffected guys in the business, quick with a
handshake and even quicker with a good word. At the NRBQ Facebook page there
was an instant outpouring of grief and remembrances after the announcement of
his passing was made on Friday evening. One typical comment: “RIP Tommy, Heaven just got another great
member in the band….”
Erstwhile NRBQ guitarist All Anderson, quoted in the Hartford
Courant, said of Ardolino, “He was a great drummer and a great
guy. He had a totally unique style of drumming that nobody can ever duplicate.
That was one of the baddest rhythm sections in the world.”
After NRBQ split in 2004 Ardolino cut a solo album, Unknown Brain. He also played with
numerous other musicians, including NRBQ auxiliary member P. J. O’Connell,
whose 2011 album Join The Crowd (reviewed
here at BLURT) prominently featured his percussion talents. O’Connell, remembering Ardolino this weekend, observed, “I first saw Tommy play at a free WHCN NRBQ show in Bushnell Park in Hartford during the summer of 1974. He ‘d been in the band for less than two weeks and and it was his second or third show. The sound of the six players on stage (Terry, Al, Joey, Tommy, Keith & Donn) was unlike anything I’d ever heard; like a single, seamless but breathing organism hatched from another time and place. The whirlwind of black curls on the drum riser in the NRBQ softball shirt was the heartbeat of this phenomenon.
“I fortunately became friends with all the band over time, and they were a key inspiration in my pursuit of music and songwriting, culminating in the rare and great opportunity to play and record with them. Tommy was the key ingredient on my last record. He listened to rough acoustic demos of the new songs in my car en route to the studio, often humming through the songs. Once there, every tune was captured in one or two takes. So flawless, so natural… just like the Bushnell show, 35 years earlier.”
He will be greatly
missed. Enough tears, though – let’s rock, and remember: