MUSIC NRBQ : Everyone’s Favorite : Once the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, the band’s been praised by the famous.
Terry Adams, Big Al Anderson, Joey Spampinato and Tom Ardolino are NRBQ, the best band you’ve never heard of. Everybody that hears them loves them, except for a bunch of servicemen in Florida.
“One time in Orlando, Fla., a while ago--1979 or 1980--we played at this place where we were supposed to play two sets,” said drummer Ardolino in a recent phone interview. “There were 75 or 80 military people there on furlough or something. They didn’t like us; they wouldn’t dance, they wouldn’t do anything. Between sets, the club manager came up to us and told us not to play the next set.”
Besides assorted servicemen, record companies don’t seem to like NRBQ too much, either. The band has about a dozen albums on about half a dozen labels. Virgin Records recently dropped NRBQ shortly after signing Janet Jackson, proving once again that talent and business aren’t necessarily related. Too bad, the band’s 1989 effort, “Wild Weekend,” contained a lyrical version of the classic 1962 instrumental of the same name by the Rockin’ Rebels. Since then, the band has released a two-CD compilation on Rhino Records.
“If they (Virgin) don’t want us, we don’t want them,” Ardolino said. “Al came up with the idea to remake ‘Wild Weekend.’ He wrote the lyrics and Terry wrote the bridge. We had to get permission from the original guys. I think Al got in touch with the Rockin’ Rebels in Ohio or some place like that. There’s a popular misconception that we don’t want success, but that’s not true.”
Everyone else pretty much likes NRBQ. According to the group’s bio, which sticks to the facts albeit with a lot of adjectives, NRBQ has lots of famous fans, among them: Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Daniels, Ray Davies, Elvis Costello, Pat Metheny, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, the Georgia Satellites, the Replacements, and if you go to the show Wednesday night at the Arlington Theater in Isla Vista, add yourself to the list.
Dave Edmunds, the Allman Brothers, Raitt and Hank Jr. have recorded NRBQ songs. NRBQ has opened for Deep Purple, Ike & Tina Turner and R.E.M. Bruce Springsteen once opened for them. Before they became an abbreviation, the band used to be the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet but that was back when the band started in the ‘60s in Socrates, N.Y. According to Ardolino, they’ve been on the road ever since, traveling to every state except Hawaii. They all live in different states now.
“I’m the newest guy in the band. I just started 18 years ago,” said Ardolino. “The band has been around for 21 or 22 years--1969, something like that. I used to be a fan of the band. I started to write fan letters, then we began exchanging tapes--reel-to-reel tapes; this was before cassettes. I was a drummer and they knew I used to play in my basement. Anyway, the original drummer quit and they hired me. This is the only band I’ve ever been in. We like meeting new people and I like not having to get up early.”
It’s always an adventure to see NRBQ because every set is different. Everybody takes turns in the spotlight; they’re all virtuoso musicians much in demand as session players, and everybody can sing. They play pop rock, hard rock, blues, R & B, ballads, fast, slow, soft--whatever it is, they can do it. This is one of the few bands that could play longer than the Grateful Dead.
“Mostly, NRBQ music means no rules,” Ardolino said. “We have never, ever had a set list. Sometimes, maybe, we figure out the first song but what we play depends on the audience. I know it sounds corny, but we all just love what we do. We all like each other, plus we don’t know what else we could do.”
* WHERE AND WHEN
NRBQ at the Anaconda Theater, 935 Embarcedero del Norte, Isla Vista, Wednesday night, $10.50. For more information, call 685-3122.