"You've never been to an NRBQ show?!! Oh man, and I thought you were hip..." Jack's look of disenchanted pity turned to demonic joy when he realized I would be having one of the major live music experiences of my life that night, because NRBQ were in Music City. It was the late eighties, it seemed like the whole world had caught on to them before I had. Sure, I'd heard their name all my life. When I was taking the train in to Philly through my teens to see shows at the Electric Factory, I always saw their names on concert bills. They were just never playing the nights I was there.
Jack, on the other hand, was the quintessential Q fan. He'd seen them many times, various places. Their piano and clavinet genius, Terry Adams, was his idol, though he's not the kind of guy who talks like that, he's from Pittsburgh. Jack's a grown man and quite a good keyboard player himself, built his own recording studio where he makes good records for various Nashville artists. But you'd never have known all that while we waited right up front for NRBQ that night. Because Jack was all wound up like a teenager at his first concert, which was my first impression of what this group does to their audience.
There obviously had been no soundcheck, because the crew were still bringing gear on stage, and it was only minutes before showtime. House lights were dimmed, and I could feel the anticipation all around me. People knew something really cool was about to happen. I looked around and saw some people, grownups, who had expressions on their face like a kid who was about to start a fire or something. I wanted Jack to check them out, but when I got his attention, he was looking at me the same way! He said, "This is the last part. When they bring in the clavinet and screw the legs to it and set it up, the music begins seconds later. Watch!"
Sure enough, the quartet immediately took the stage, and people started cheering. One came in wearing a snare drum, and he was playing that. The other stood by his piano, but then wandered over to the drum set, picked up some sticks, and started playing the tom tom. A third member started playing drums, and a big percussive crescendo was building up. Somebody picked up a trumpet and started blowing it, it was like a space army. Then out of nowhere, everybody was at their stations with their instruments on and all hell broke loose. Holy shit, it was utter pandemonium, and the show had been on for about three minutes. I was in heaven. Jack looked at me the way people used to when you were on an acid trip. "See what I mean?" And he started laughing like the devil. I looked behind, and the whole room was dancing.
There was a huge guy who made his Telecaster look like a ukulele, he was tearing it up so bad I thought the strings were gonna fly right off it. The drummer was an exploding cherub with a big smile and a curly wig. The bass player seemed small in comparison and so nice, (he sang like Paul McCartney!) and the demented leader was obviously the keyboard player. He was making faces at everybody like a monkey in a cage and pushing his clavinet all over the stage, pummeling it with his whole forearm, his fists and his elbows, and it was the funkiest, craziest rock and roll I'd ever heard.
They really shook me up by playing so many kinds of music so well. They stimulated my brain with their musicianship, and got to me emotionally with beautiful pop songs, so naive and reminiscent of the best things about romance and love. I laughed all night, their songs and stage demeanor were like the Three Stooges meet the Beatles.
began a fascination with the phenomenon known as NRBQ that I hope will
be with me all my days. I believe the world needs NRBQ, and I want everybody
to know about them. I moved away to CA and then to Europe for some years,
and ended up again in Nashville, hanging out with Jack. We're both good
friends of Joey's today, the bass player. So I'm gonna do an interview
with him. After that, what follows optionally is a very annotated discography
of a great band that's been together for over 30 years, made 23 records,
and probably played more shows than any group in the history of the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Joey Spampinato of NRBQ. continue