ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 7, 1985
By Steve Newton
NRBQ stands for the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, but NRBQ isn’t a rhythm and blues band. A bit misleading, wouldn’t you say?
“It might be to some people, ” says bassist Joey Spampinato, over the phone from somewhere in Maryland. “Actually, the ‘new’ was supposed to mean new rhythm and blues, not a new band, if you know what I mean.”
Actually, NRBQ could have called themselves NRRQ (the New Rock & Roll Quartet), or NCWQ (the New Country & Western Quartet), or even NRBSBNSQ (the New Rockabilly-Swing-Bop-Novelty-Surf Quartet), because their music draws from all of those forms. When New Yorker Spampinato, guitarist Al Anderson from Connecticut, keyboardist Terry Adams from Kentucky, and drummer Tom Ardolino of Massachusetts joined forces in Miami, Florida, their diverse musical interests found a healthy home. These guys are about as anti-formula as a band can get. In fact, they don’t even use a set list!
“We like to go by the way it feels at the time,” says Spampinato. “How can you decide what’s gonna be a good song to play six songs into the set? It doesn’t work the same every night, so you have to go by the way you feel at the moment.”
NRBQ is the kind of band that will, on the spur of the moment, cover Rosemary Clooney or Cab Calloway or Sam the Sham. The band has also been known to pull out a hat, fill it with written requests from the audience, and then play whatever is drawn out.
“We call it ‘The Magic Box’,” says Joey. “It’s kind of a request box, but it’s not like a request for our songs. It’s a request for something that you’d like to hear us try to play.”
And which is the strangest request they’ve gotten so far?
“Well they’re all wild! If you’ve never played ’em before, every one of them is gonna be kinda wild. So we kinda slaughter a lot of songs.”
Maybe so, but NRBQ’s own compositions have certainly been judged worthy by their peers. Dave Edmunds has covered their song “I Want You Bad”, and Bonnie Raitt did a version of “Green Light”. And both singers have tried their hand at NRBQ’s “Me and the Boys”. Even their blistering arrangement of the rockabilly staple “This Ole House” was pirated over in England by Shakin’ Stevens, for whom it became a number one hit.
After finishing the West Coast tour that brings them to Club Soda June 6, NRBQ will be going back into the studio to record their tenth album, their second for Bearsville/Warner Brothers (their previous eight were on the Red Rooster label). But even with that many records to their credit, the group is still basically a critic’s favourite. NRBQ have received raves from such publications as Musician magazine, the New York Rocker, and The Record. And in Creem magazine it was stated that “NRBQ’s collected body of recorded work…may be the best representation of pure American music of the age.”
To find out for yourself you’ll just have to see the band in person. And leave those preconceived notions at home, please. It’s only a name!