NRBQ’s Terry Adams says music is always best when it’s surprising



By Steve Newton

In decades past, strict-minded parents would try to keep impressionable youngsters away from rock ’n’ roll, believing it to lead to all manner of delinquency, not to mention swinging of the hips. But times have changed. Nowadays, beat-driven music is directed right at the kids, and not just by shepherdly singer-songwriters such as Fred Penner and Raffi.

NRBQ, normally known as a wildly unpredictable pop band with eclectic jazz flavourings, has just released its first children’s CD, You’re Nice People You Are. Now the quartet is encouraging library skills in “Encyclopedia”, admonishing jaywalkers in “Always Safety First”, and exploring nature in “Spider”. So why, after nearly 30 years, is it finally time to indulge the wee ones?

“I gotta say that we’ve been gradually headin’ that way all along,” says pianist-vocalist Terry Adams, on the line from San Francisco before a gig at Frisco’s famed Fillmore. “We just think that way. Maybe our minds are going, I dunno.”

Adams says the decision to record a collection of tunes for the Frosted Flakes set wasn’t brought on by the band members’ sudden profusion of babies, nor by memories of their own favourite children’s entertainers. “I liked all music right away,” he declares, “whether it was children’s music or not. As far back as I can remember, I was listening to Jimmy Reed or Link Wray or Elvis, you know.”

As well as the new kids’ CD, NRBQ—aka the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet—recently released a live album, its first featuring Johnny Spampinato, who took over the guitar spot from “Big Al” Anderson in ’94. Simply titled Tokyo, the 17-track disc includes typically chaotic versions of such NRBQ standards as “Rain at the Drive-in”, “I Want You Bad”, and “Me and the Boys”—many of which will no doubt be rolled out when the band plays the Gate on Sunday (September 7). Adams denies that the band was trying to revel in a Cheap Trick Live at Budokan vibe when it made Japan the setting for a live disc.

“You got it in reverse order there,” he points out. “We were in Tokyo, and someone just wanted to record. In fact, it came out in Japan first, before it got licensed to Rounder. We actually have another live album coming out earlier next year called You Gotta Be Loose in the USA.”

Including its previous handful of live recordings, NRBQ has released more than 20 albums since its eponymous debut of ’69, which received critical raves for its blend of rootsy rock, blues, and avant-garde jazz. The band has performed pretty well everywhere in the world since then but still holds certain countries especially close to the heart. Canada is one of them.

“I love Canada!” Adams blurts out. “I played the Toronto Jazz Festival a few months back with Marshall Allen, who’s the saxophonist for Sun Ra—actually, the leader of the band now. Marshall and a group called Space Posse are playing over at Berkeley tonight, and I’m probably going to go and play with them.”

Whether jamming with avant-garde innovators or reverting to childhood to conjure simplistic ditties for little folk, Adams always attempts to integrate the unpredictable into NRBQ’s quirky mix.

“I’m into all music as long as it’s real,” he says, “but for me, the music’s always best when it’s surprising. Even as I play it, I don’t like to play the same thing. It’s just an easier, more natural approach to be spontaneous to the environment, to the spirits around, you know.”


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