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Clip: The ABCs of NRBQ's bond to soul sisters, the Shaggs

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.suntimes.com/output/entertainment/sho-sunday-nrbq25.html The ABCs of NRBQ s bond to soul sisters, the Shaggs April 25, 2004 BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 25, 2004
      http://www.suntimes.com/output/entertainment/sho-sunday-nrbq25.html

      The ABCs of NRBQ's bond to soul sisters, the Shaggs

      April 25, 2004

      BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter

      The men of NRBQ have been throwing their unique voices around the world for
      35 years. The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet has played with the Shaggs, Carl
      Perkins and Grand Ole Opry star Skeeter Davis. Bandleader Terry Adams has
      produced artists as diverse as late zydeco king Boozoo Chavis and the Hot
      Shots, Tokyo's best country-pop band.

      And NRBQ knows how to celebrate its 35th anniversary in style.

      Last week NRBQ released "Dummy" (on its own Edisun label), one of the
      finest records of its colorful career. Recorded in February, the project
      features heartfelt Adams compositions such as the Eddie Cochran-tinged "One
      Big Parking Lot," and a surf-soul-hip hop workout called "Hey Punkin'
      Head," which Adams wrote for a 1980s Hulk Hogan movie but that the band
      never recorded.

      Cool covers include "Little Rug Bug," which was a playful song-poem in its
      earlier life. (NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino was a major song-poem collector
      who sold his inventory to comedian Penn Jillette.) "Dummy" closes out with
      a timely '60s pop-meets Slim Galliard track "Misguided Missles" that
      features ex-Qster Al Anderson on guitar. The track had been intended for
      NRBQ's hit 1994 "Message for the Mess Age" album.

      "Dummy" is connected by engaging beats and dissonant rhythms. "This record
      felt good to do," Adams said from his home in Florence, Mass. "If you can
      record how you feel, that is a good thing."

      The album art features ventriloquist dummies created by Hedi Kennedy. Her
      talking heads tribute to NRBQ started with drummer Ardolino. "Then came
      Terry Jr.," Adams said. "They [the dummies] started making up their own
      minds about everything. We had to keep the dummies in a box. Now they've
      gone nuts, running an album and everything."

      That's not the first time that's happened.

      NRBQ knows stupid. In 35 years, the band has recorded for (in order), CBS,
      Kama Sutra, Red Rooster (twice), Mercury, Bearsville, Rounder (twice),
      Virgin, Rykodisc, Rhino, Sundazed (vinyl) and now Edisun. "Everybody's got
      a piece of us," Adams said. "That's why they're all hoping the most success
      for us. It will pay off for everyone. We've auditioned every label. None of
      them have been good enough."

      To celebrate its 35th anniversary, the band will perform reunion shows
      Friday and Saturday night at the Calvin Theatre, in Northampton, Mass. NRBQ
      will play with everyone who was once in the band, including Al Anderson,
      Ferguson and the Whole Wheat Horns, which includes Adams' brother Donn.
      Honorary NRBQ member John Sebastian, formerly of the Lovin' Spoonful, might
      show up. (In 1982, Sebastian played on NRBQ's "Grooves in Orbit.") "I think
      I'll just buy a ticket myself and sit in the audience and watch it," Adams
      said. "I want to see these guys play."

      As for reunions, Betty and Dot of the Shaggs reunited at NRBQ's 30th
      anniversary concert at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. It was their
      first appearance outside their hometown of Fremont, N.H. They will not
      appear at the 35th anniversary reunion, however. "I talk to Dot two or
      three times a week," Adams said. "The whole band loves the Shaggs. There
      might have been 50 copies of that album [the Shaggs' "Philosophy of the
      World"] around when we came across it. So we went and found them. It wasn't
      easy."

      Adams led his bandmates on a road trip to New Hampshire in search of the
      Shaggs. They found the Wiggin sisters and discussed the re-release of
      "Philosophy of the World" for NRBQ's Red Rooster label, which it had just
      launched. Adams even got Dot signed up with ASCAP so the Shaggs would
      receive royalties.

      "Somebody may tell you that somebody did this or that, but it was just us,"
      Adams said. "My concern has always been to make sure they were treated
      right. We thought the music was so good we made sure that certain musicians
      heard it. It was amazing how fast they took off with musicians, because
      their music is so full of originality and spirit. Then you get this other
      side where people think it's about something else. It's strictly about the
      music. They speak their own language. I'm not interested in the play or the
      movie or whatever," he said, referring to Joy Gregory's musical.

      "There's more Shaggs music to be heard, and I hope to work that out
      someday. There's lots of stuff [tapes, and home movies of the band's
      performances in the Fremont town hall]. Dot and I were talking about that
      the other day."

      "It's just the music."

      NRBQ was formed in Louisville, Ky., before moving to Miami and then New
      York City, where Bruce Springsteen once opened for the band. NRBQ began as
      the New Rhythm and Blues Quintet, with lead vocalist Frank Gadler. When
      Gadler left in 1972, NRBQ became a quartet.

      Another longtime member, Al Anderson, left NRBQ in 1994 to concentrate on
      his Nashville songwriting career. At the same time NRBQ bassist Joey
      Spampinato was auditioning for Bill Wyman's spot in the Rolling Stones.
      NRBQ came close to being kaput. But all is well now.

      Joey remained with the band and recruited his younger brother Johnny to
      replace Anderson's sharp Telecaster solos. Johnny's whammy, single-note
      runs are reminiscent of Lonnie Mack, an influence on original NRBQ
      guitarist Steve Ferguson, whom Anderson replaced in 1971.

      Meanwhile, over the years, Adams dabbled in everything. He had a cameo in
      the Robert Altman film "Short Cuts." He recruited his bandmates to be cast
      as walking zombies in George Romero's "Day of the Dead." And Adams produced
      the Sun Ra Arkestra.

      Born in Louisville, Adams grew up in a musical home. His mother played
      piano in the church. "At a very early age, music took me out of everything
      that was being offered to me," he said. "All that was boring. I heard the
      possibilities coming out of an eight-inch oval speaker that I'm looking at
      right now. I would never let my parents throw it away. At age 5, I knew
      there was something out there."

      Adams first played trumpet before switching to piano at age 12. "I had to
      play piano once I realized the thrill of playing more than one note at a
      time, which I was unable to do with a trumpet. But then it was the
      combination [piano, trumpet], and here it comes..."

      Adams' gift as a bandleader and producer is his ability to strip away
      labels and pretension to make the most genuine music. He did it in working
      with the Shaggs, he also did it while producing the Tokyo-based trio the
      Hot Shots, whose "Jubilee!" (1997) was recently re-released on Sundazed
      Records.

      The Hot Shots are a minimalist country-pop quartet trio consisting of
      female vocalist Chie Kodama (acoustic guitar), Yuichiro Matsushita (guitar,
      vocals) and Kenji Ohyama (upright bass). "Jubilee" is a joyful Japanese
      romp through Elvis Presley's "Treat Me Nice," Buddy Holly's "Everyday" and
      others. "Tom [Ardolino] had one of their 45s," Adams said. "Then I picked
      up a Japanese 45 I really liked. We met them while we were in Tokyo. Chie
      called me and asked me flat out if I would produce them. Since 'Jubilee!,'
      we recorded a much better record."

      During the recording of "Jubilee!" the Hot Shots drummer became ill and a
      series of guest drummers sat in on sessions done in Los Angeles. Legendary
      New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer plays on "Whole Lotta Lovin'," and Adams
      takes over on "Treat Me Nice." "That was like a party, which is why it is
      called 'Jubilee!' But this record that is in the can is strictly the Hot
      Shots," Adams said. "They have an amazing rhythm section on their own and
      one of the best guitarists [Matsushita] I have ever heard."

      NRBQ also is the subject of a hot tribute album called "The Q People"
      (SpiritHouse Records) featuring contibutions from Yo La Tengo, Steve Earle,
      Los Lobos and Widespread Panic. "It is amazing somebody had the energy to
      stick with that whole project," Adams said. "I thought the whole thing was
      great, but I really liked the [David Trenholm] string quartet arrangement
      on [King Radio's] 'Yes, Yes, Yes.' And it was an honor to have Spongebob,"
      referring to Tom Kenny, who closes out the record with an NRBQ medley.

      Earle is a longtime NRBQ fan. "Pre Wal-Mart, there used to be a chain of
      discount stores in Texas called Gulf-Mart," Earle said from his Nashville
      home. "I bought 'Boppin' the Blues' [NRBQ's 1969 collaboration with Carl
      Perkins]. It looked cool -- Carl Perkins playing with a bunch of hippies."

      Earle relates to NRBQ for personal connections as well. "I moved to
      Nashville when I was 19, and I knew a lot of people from Louisville," he
      said. Earle's friend and guitarist Tim Kreckel (James Brown, Jimmy Buffett)
      has turned down being in NRBQ three times. "He had to think about it every
      time. Him and [Steve] Ferguson were in a band together."

      For the tribute disc, Earle and his band covered Adams' "A Girl Like That."
      The song's sweet chords and appointed melodies is a good match for Earle, a
      huge fan of the Beatles. "NRBQ may be the closest thing to that [Beatles]
      sensibility this country has ever produced," said Earle, who is wrapping up
      his next album, "The Revolution Starts Now." "There was the Lovin'
      Spoonful, but that was only for a minute. There's been an NRBQ since 1969.
      We got to a point where we would watch videos of NRBQ on the bus before we
      walked onstage."

      NRBQ has never done the same set twice. The band has a repertoire of more
      than 500 songs.

      "'A Girl Like That' fascinated me, and I didn't realize how fascinating it
      was until I tried to learn it," Earle said. "Roscoe [Eric Ambel, Earle's
      electric guitarist] had to sort it out for me. Every inversion in the key
      is in the song. It's a Rubik's cube. It's not quite right unless you play
      the chords exactly how NRBQ played it. And the lyrics are so Terry [Adams].
      They're so f-----d up, and they don't repeat themselves as much as the
      normal pop song does.

      "I love that band. NRBQ is one of the constants in my life."

      He is not alone.
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