Undoubtedly one of the most versatile American bands of the last 50 years, NRBQ — short for the “New Rhythm & Blues Quartet” — formed in 1966. While NRBQ never had a Top 10 hit in the U.S., the band has always had friends in high places. Several NRBQ songs have been heard on The Simpsons as head writer and executive producer Mike Scully is a long-time fan. Beyond Bob Dylan, R.E.M., Keith Richards and Elvis Costello being noted as fans of the group, NRBQ songs have been covered by the likes of She & Him, Widespread Panic, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Dave Edmunds and Los Lobos.
As a band with 50 years of history, it may not be obvious where a new fan should start with the NRBQ catalog. However, Omnivore Recordings released High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective last month. High Noon is the first-ever career-spanning box set of NRBQ, featuring five discs of favorites, rarities, concert staples and previously-unissued gems alike — 106 songs in all. The booklet of High Noon also includes previously-unseen photos along with extensive liner notes.
Downtown caught up with NRBQ founding pianist Terry Adams for Q&A about High Noon and plenty more. Earlier this month, NRBQ — which also includes guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough and drummer John Perrin — played a packed show at Brooklyn’s The Hall at MP. For future tour dates and other NRBQ-related news, visit www.nrbq.com.
The new NRBQ box set is a 50-year retrospective. For you, is it enjoyable to look back on work that is from decades old?
Terry Adams: It’s a blast because the music always we’ve made, no matter from when, still draws me in. I can still feel what each of us was feeling as I do now. But that box set is the future, too.
Do you have a favorite song or moment within the box set?
TA: I really enjoyed recording a song most recently, written by Sun Ra. It’s called “Love In Outer Space.” We’ve got vocal harmony with the melody and a 12-string guitar on it. Also, there’s a song called “Honey Hush” that was recorded at The Bottom Line — down at 4th and Mercer — back in 1974. It’s my favorite groove. Andthat place became our home in New York for many years.
Famous fans of NRBQ have included Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, The Replacements, Elvis Costello, John Sebastian, and Penn & Teller. Do you have a favorite NRBQ cover that you have heard?
TA: Bonnie Raitt has recorded some of our songs. The last time I saw her perform, she invited me up to play “Green Lights.” She’s got it, you know.
NRBQ famously collaborated with Captain Lou Albano. Was Lou And The Q as fun to record as it sounded?
TA: Even more fun! We met him on Ninth Avenue. There used to be a Howard Johnson’s restaurant and hotel there where the wrestlers stayed. I was down there with Jimmy Valiant who introduced us all to The Captain. I immediately asked him if he wanted to get into the music business as our manager. He said yes, without hesitation.
Believe it or not, it was extremely-controversial or I could say greatly-misunderstood at first. At The Ritz, I asked him to insult the audience when introducing us to the stage. I think they were stunned and couldn’t hear it. Later we did some ads for radio and TV with him, but the stations — after just one play — refused to air them, saying they were offensive and sent the money back. A few years later there were all kinds of wrestlers on TV regularly selling this or that.
It hurt us, but now I laugh about the fun times we had with him. They are among my best memories. He was constantly telling jokes in succession, so fast that you could never remember them. When we had a booking, I’d tell him where we were going to perform and what time he should be there, but he’d always come knocking at my door five hours before that… always on!
Where was the first gig that you ever played in New York City? What do you remember about it?
TA: I wouldn’t call it an engagement, but when I was about 18 years old and in the City for the first time I went down to the Five Spot Cafe on St. Mark’s Place. All I wanted to do was play a chord or two on the same piano that Thelonious Monk had played so many times. It was daytime, a few people were eating.
I asked the guy at the door if if I could up and see the piano. He said that it would be alright and asked me my name and where I was from. I thought he was just being friendly, but as I got to the stage, I heard over the PA System, “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Terry Adams from Louisville, Kentucky.” So I sat down and played “Ruby, My Dear.” They applauded. I then walked out to the pay phone, called my brother and said, “Guess what I just did!”
As for NRBQ, we first played The Scene on 46th Street, I believe. It was a great spot to play. New York has always been magic for me.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
TA: I like The Zen Palate.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
TA: Sometimes, I wish there really was free time to spend. But I guess if there were, I’d love to be with friends and play records. I’d like to stay in close contact with every one of them, but some people grow up, get busy and start doing grown-up things.
Do you have a favorite album of 2016?
TA: High Noon by NRBQ. No question about it.
Finally, Terry, any last words for the kids?
TA: Sure, hold on to your inspirations and dreams, and wherever you go, always bring your kindness with you.