By Blaine Schultz
NRBQ originally stood for New Rhythm and Blues Quintet. But most often Quartet. Except when the band backed up Carl Perkins, it briefly stood for New Rockabilly Quartet. They have been known to add the two piece Whole Wheat Horns. Old bumper stickers for the band simply read Q.
So what to make of this band that spans five decades? — How about a collection that nabs an archaeological track from 1966 and journeys through five discs in an attempt to define a band that remains pretty much indefinable, and continues to be vital to this day.
Omnivore Recordings has taken the challenge to corral the legacy of a band known to pass the hat at shows requesting any and all song suggestions. Maybe it is best to start with founder Terry Adams’ comment in 1969, when asked for his inspiration he replied, “The Sun: Sun Records and Sun Ra.”
At the outset keyboardist Adams and his fellow longhairs played decidedly non-hippy psychedelic rock. Even if it was not called American roots music back then, that’s as good a thumbnail as any. Guitarist Steve Ferguson and bassist Joey Spampinato anchored lineups for the early days.
By 1974 the classic lineup of Adams, Spampinato, guitarist Al Anderson and drummer Tom Ardolino was intact. For over two decades this version of the band toured endlessly and released albums. It was during this fertile epoch that the band managed collaborations with both professional wrestling manager Capt. Lou Albano and country singer Skeeter Davis.
From pure pop songs that could have been Top 40 hits, to sunny vocal harmonies, to Anderson’s Telecaster neck-wringing, to Spampinato’s bass groove, to Ardolino’s swinging drums, to Adams’ honky tonk piano by-way-of fuzzed-out Clavinet, to liberal dashes of humor – you could not have assembled a better band with a mail order kit.
In the 1994 guitarist Anderson left the band for a successful career as a songwriter in Nashville, where his resume is mind-boggling. He was replaced by Joey’s brother Johnny Spampinato (it should be noted there is an NRBQ tune based around the brothers’ surname.) The new lineup didn’t miss a beat and the band continued with its chosen modus operandi for another decade.
Along the way the members of NRBQ voraciously applied themselves to side projects like performing music for the Simpsons, Space Ghost, SpongeBob SquarePants, appeared in movies Day of the Dead and Shakes the Clown, and collaborated with artists from Rolling Stone Keith Richard to Appleton native Susan Howe.
By 2004 the band finally took a break. The brothers Spampinato and Ardolino formed a side project while Adams battled throat cancer. Sadly, Ardolino died in 2012. Last year it was reported Joey was battling cancer.
In 2011 Adams recovered and revived the NRBQ name and continues to tour and record (a good slice of disc one features the new members).
Credit the Omnivore honchos for gathering material from albums released on at least 14 different record labels and tossing the usual high calorie previously unreleased tracks.