By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — With a history dating back to the mid 1960s, freewheeling roots-rock band NRBQ brings it’s always unpredictable stage performance to the Bay Area for string of shows through Sunday night.
Founded in 1965 by keyboardist/vocalist and sole constant Terry Adams and his brother Donn — a trombone player who was only briefly performed in the band but coined the name on an early recording, announcing the band as “the New Rhythm and Blues Quintet.” — NRBQ formed in Kentucky but would relocate to Miami the following year after bringing guitarist Steve Ferguson on board.
Intensive club gigs helped the band develop its wide-ranging sound spiked with goofy humor that touched on old-time ’50s rockabilly, left-field jazz (Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra were avowed influences), country blues and psychedelic pop. With the line-up solidifying to include bassist Joey Spampinato, drummer Tom Staley and singer Frank Gadler, NRBQ scored a deal with Columbia records, issuing it’s self-titled debut in 1969 that featured covers of songs by Sun Ra and Eddie Cochran alongside the band’s stomping original tunes (including one co-written by Adams and noted avant-garde jazz composer Carla Bley).
The following year, the band released its sophomore effort, a collaborative recording with rockabilly guitar great Carl Perkins. While there would be some turnover in band membership with the departure of Ferguson, Staley and Gadler by 1974, Adams and Spampinato would bring guitarist Al Anderson and drummer Tom Ardolino to complete the line-up that would build up a fanatical cult following with its relentless touring and rollicking, joyously anarchic stage show over the next two decades.
Recording for a variety of labels after moving on from Columbia, the band would work with bigger labels like Kama Sutra and Mercury — which issued the band’s stellar 1978 effort At Yankee Stadium, which was not in fact a live album — in addition to recording on its own label Red Rooster. NRBQ eventually entered into a long-running relationship with Rounder Records that lasted through Anderson’s departure for lucrative Nashville songwriting work in 1994. Adams and company would soldier on, recruiting Spampinato’s brother Johnny on guitar.
The band would host many of its former members for a special 2004 reunion concert celebrating it’s 35th anniversary, but by the end of the year, NRBQ would go on an extended hiatus as Adams recovered from treatment for stage four throat cancer. The musicians would work together in a variety of configurations with Adams eventually convening a new line-up of NRBQ in 2011 featuring young additions Scott Ligon on guitar and Casey McDonough on bass.
Adams and the current version of the group (now including drummer John Perrin) have stayed active, touring to support new releases including their latest music, last year’s Happy Talk EP and the recent digital single “April Showers” on Omnivore Recordings. The label has also been reissuing some of NRBQ’s classic back catalog including the band’s brilliant debut and the 1977 album All Hopped Up, which marked Al Anderson’s first recorded work with the band.
Returning to the Bay Area for the first time since playing Oakland Burger Boogaloo and several local sets in the the summer of 2017, NRBQ will be performing that album in its entirety when the band headlines the Chapel in San Francisco on Friday night. Local support act Sweet Chariot features Hot Lunch singer Eric Shea playing a mix of Gram Parsons’ cosmic country and Exile On Main Street-era Stones swagger that leans a bit closer to the rock end of the spectrum than his country-tinged late ’90s outfit Mover. The group teams Shea with his former Parchman Farm bandmate Chris Labreche on drums, bassist Doran Shelley (who has played with the Cramps, ex-Hawkwind mainstay Nik Turner and space rockers Farflung) and onetime Ride the Blinds guitarist Chris Guthridge. NRBQ will also be performing as part of the Sonoma Mini Fest at Gundlach Bunschu Winery Saturday afternoon that will also include local heroes the Flamin’ Groovies and a solo set from Marty O’Reilly. On Sunday, the band holds forth at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz.
NRBQ with Sweet Chariot
Friday, Nov. 2, 8 p.m. $25-$28