NRBQ (originally short for “New Rhythm and Blues Quintet”) were formed in 1967 by pianist and guitarist Steve Ferguson and bassist Joey Spampinato (then using the stage name Jody St. Nicholas).
NRBQ left Florida and made their way to New Jersey, where they began playing New York City regularly, landing a recording contract with Columbia Records and releasing their eponymous debut LP in 1969.
The album was well-reviewed, but sales were poor. Columbia hoped to trade on a revival of interest in 1950s rock ‘n’ roll for their second LP by pairing the band in the studio with rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins. Boppin’ the Blues was an interesting experiment that didn’t fare much better than NRBQ’s debut, and they parted ways with Columbia.
In 1971, NRBQ landed a new record deal with Kama Sutra Records. Steve Ferguson left the band with Al Anderson taking over lead guitar for 1972’s Scraps.
Frank Gadler left the band shortly thereafter, with Adams, Anderson and Spampinato sharing lead vocals from that point.
Workshop (1973) featured a minor hit single in the topical novelty rocker Get That Gasoline Blues. By 1977’s All Hopped Up, NRBQ had relocated to the Northeast and were recording for their own label.
New drummer Tom Ardolino completed a lineup that would remain stable until 1994.
For over 20 years, NRBQ released a steady stream of independent albums and played almost every club in the United States at one time or another, building a well-deserved reputation as a stellar and wildly unpredictable live act.
In 1989, the band took one last chance with the major labels, signing with Virgin for the album Wild Weekend. In 1994, Rhino Records released Message for the Mess Age, which proved to be Al Anderson’s last album with NRBQ as he was tired of their busy touring schedule and left the group to work as a contract songwriter in Nashville.
Joey Spampinato’s brother Johnny took over on guitar, and the band continued to record and tour at a steady pace. They also began popping up regularly on the popular television series The Simpsons as one of the show’s top writers, Mike Scully, was a major fan.
The band formed a new label to release Atsa My Band (2002) and Dummy (2004), and in 2004 they staged 35th-anniversary concerts featuring appearances by every current and former member of the group. They broke up quietly soon after.
Founding member Steve Ferguson died of cancer at his home in Louisville on 7 October 2009, aged 60.
Terry Adams was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004, though in 2011, he announced he was free from the illness.
Joey and Johnny, meanwhile, hit the road as The Spampinato Brothers and released a fine album, Pie in the Sky, in 2010. They announced in 2011 that had renamed the group NRBQ and released the album Keep This Love Goin’ in May of that year.
Longtime drummer Tom Ardolino died on 6 January 2012 in Springfield, Massachusetts, aged 56.
NRBQ returned in 2014 with the album Brass Tacks. In 2016, they hit the road for a well-received tour in tandem with masked instrumental rockers, Los Straitjackets. They commemorated the band’s golden anniversary with a five-disc, career-spanning box set, High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective.
Drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks died of bronchiectasis on 20 February 2017.
In November 2021, the band revered by critics as “the world’s best bar band” released Dragnet, their first album of new studio recordings in seven years.
Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and Keith Richards have all shared their admiration of NRBQ with interviewers, and NRBQ songs have been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, Dave Edmunds, Steve Earle and Spongebob Squarepants.
Bobby Lloyd Hicks