Deaf, Dumb And Blind Workshop
Don't Knock At My DoorScraps
Flat Foot FlewzyLudlow Garage
GoofusLudlow Garage
I Got A Rocket In My PocketAll Hopped Up
It Comes To Me NaturallyAt Yankee Stadium
It's Not So HardScraps
Sitting In The ParkLudlow Garage
Talk To MeAt Yankee Stadium
This Old HouseKick Me Hard


NRBQ playlist



Contributor: Rob Millis

When rock ‘n’ roll and Sun Ra are your two chief reference points, it is fair to conclude that a balanced fan every bit as much as an ardent naysayer might find reason to understand why NRBQ aren’t the household name they so richly deserve to be. Or deserved, depending on how you view the lifespan of the group (of which more later).

“The world’s XXXX bar band” is the standard format of their appraisal, with XXXX either “greatest” or “most overpraised” depending on whether you are talking to a fan/a fellow musician (John Sebastian is probably their highest profile fan) or a half-witted simpleton journalist who doesn’t know his arse from a hole in the ground.

By turns nutty as a fruitcake and the tightest rock and roll band you’ve ever heard, NRBQ started their recording career in 1969 with a self-titled debut. Featuring an opening pair of Eddie Cochran’s stalwart C’mon Everybody and Sun Ra’s Rocket Number 9, the album was a smorgasbord of styles and in truth probably showed no cohesive direction or identity, despite an early glimpse at their own original songs and sheer “chops”. The rock and roll side of this melting pot was further indulged on their second release Boppin’ The Blues, a collaboration with Carl Perkins. These two releases were the only whole LPs to feature original guitarist Steve Ferguson who departed shortly after; furthermore Columbia dropped the band before their third LP.

Let’s briefly mention Ludlow Garage at this point – recorded live in 1970 and featuring the original line up, for me (and I’m not one for CD only retrospective releases, but …) it shows the versatility of the band in concert and is thus, in my opinion, a far more fitting document of this phase than their CBS debut, hence three selections including an off-the-wall instrumental (imagine Spike Jones conducting a rock band!) and a hauntingly beautiful soul ballad with stunning live harmonies. Whereas the mix of styles on the debut baffles, somehow it is impressive in concert just a year later.

CBS deciding to ditch the band was a shame because 1972’s Scraps is a fine effort. While featuring Ferguson and interim guitarist Kenny Sheehan in places (the title reflects a recording period from 1970-1971 and release was in 1972) this LP introduced ‘Big’ Al Anderson as their new permanent guitarist. However, further change occurred when singer Frank Gadler left after this LP leaving bassist Joey Spampinato (credited as Jody St. Nicholas on the first LP) as the main vocalist along with Anderson. Drummer Tom Staley hung around for Workshop in 1973 but was replaced in 1974 by Tom Ardolino.

Thus the line up of founders Spampinato and Terry Adams (keyboards) with Anderson and Ardolino took shape and lasted for twenty years. This period saw the group record a plethora of fine albums for a plethora of labels (including a period with Virgin who tried to crack them), as well as a season of The Simpsons as “house band”! They had their own permanent-cum-ad-hoc horn section too – the “Whole Wheat Horns”. As I mentioned above, for such a wacky band, NRBQ are/were generally very highly respected by rock and rollers for their own lean and perfect endeavours in that genre. Shakin’ Stevens was obviously an admirer – 1979’s Kick Me Hard contains almost note perfect blueprints for not only This Old House (of course, a huge hit for Stevens) but also Don’t She Look Good.

Al Anderson opted to pursue a writing career in Nashville and departed in 1994. Replacing him with Joey’s brother, Johnny Spampinato, the group soldiered on until 2004 when they took a break. In latter days, the story turns quite sad for such a well-loved band that steadfastly danced to their own tune.

Adams had called a sabbatical just months after their 35th anniversary gig (all previous members present for the occasion) having developed cancer but opting to keep such news from the fans. The Spampinato Brothers had in the interim begun a project of their own and did not regroup with Adams upon his recovery; it is reckoned that after Al Anderson departed, the flamboyant and whimsical nature of Adams’ influence had been allowed too much headway and that the Spampinatos were by now quite happy with their own straighter rock and roll project. Adams has been in for criticism for assuming the NRBQ name for his own project. Whatever the truth is, the fact remains that following both the departure of Anderson and the eventual death of Ardolino, there is a rift between Joey Spampinato and Terry Adams. And that, dear folk, is a real, real shame.


NRBQ official website

NRBQ biography (AllMusic)

Rob Millis has provided Hammond organ, Wurlitzer electric piano and vocals for such names as Dave Kelly, Micky Moody, John Fiddler. Rob resides in the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, where (as we all know) the blues was first invented …

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