Terry Adams is one of a kind.
Founding member, driving force, and visionary behind the artistically uncompromising and critically acclaimed NRBQ since the band's inception more than four decades ago, Adams has been described as "the untamed genius of the keyboards" and "one of the Creator's Cultural Advisers" (the latter quote from the legendary cosmic jazz explorer Sun Ra). Adams's consummate musicianship, distinctive rocking jazz piano, and innovative use of the clavinet, as well as his irreverent sense of humor, have delighted and dazzled music fans around the world. It is his unique point of view that has shaped this great American band, through 40+ years of live performances and a nearly equal number of albums.
After more than six years of limited NRBQ activity, from late 2004 until early 2011, Adams revealed that he'd been diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer in 2004, shortly after the release of the studio album, Dummy, and the NRBQ 35th Anniversary concert. In the years it took to rebuild his health and rebuild the band (former NRBQ members Joey and Johnny Spampinato decided to move forward with their own band; drummer Tom Ardolino retired from the road), the ever-prolific music-maker Adams released new music every year: Ten By Two, live recordings with Marshall Allen of the Sun Ra Arkestra from the Toronto Jazz Festival and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, in 2005; a collaboration with original NRBQ guitarist, the late Steve Ferguson, 2006's Louisville Sluggers; the pop-rockin' Rhythm Spell in 2007 ("the best NRBQ album that the Q never made," said All Music Guide); Love Letter To Andromeda, solo performances on prepared piano and celeste, in 2008; and the widely-acclaimed pop gem Holy Tweet in 2009. All are first-class additions to his discography, which also includes nearly 40 NRBQ releases and Adamsís first solo album, 1995's Terrible.
In the rebuilding years, Adams also produced and/or oversaw the release of NRBQ archival projects including three in 2006: Froggy's Favorites, a double CD of previously unreleased live material; Ludlow Garage, a CD release of a live performance by the original line-up from 1970; and Derbytown, a 1982 live performance DVD. In 2007, Adams compiled a collection of NRBQ holiday songs, released as Christmas Wish-Deluxe Edition and also prepared God Bless Danny Boy, a download-only live recording from a 1985 Philadelphia performance. He also produced Teen Street for Japanese band The Hot Shots, compiled an 18-track anthology Look At The Birdy for songwriter Chris Ligon, and co-produced the 2010 debut release Say Go from Washington DC songwriter/guitarist Jim Stephanson (which featured guest appearances by Adams and Q alumni Steve Ferguson, Joey Spampinato, and Tom Ardolino).
Adams found his new band, his "unbeatable combination of spirits," in 2007, dubbing them the Rock & Roll Quartet. Multi-instrumentalist Scott Ligon was on guitar and vocals, Pete Donnelly was on bass and vocals, and Conrad Choucroun was on drums and background vocals. The Quartet began touring in November of 2007. In December 2008, Steve Pick reviewed a Euclid Records instore in St. Louis, saying, "It turns out that while Al Anderson was, indeed, a first-rate songwriter, and that Joey Spampinato and Tom Ardolino were a cracker-jack rhythm section, Terry Adams was the shaper of NRBQ's sound. Because, now that he's grabbed some younger and hungrier road warriors to form the Rock & Roll Quartet, I find it absolutely impossible to discern the difference from the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet that preceded it. Apparently, Adams himself is the guy who demands those spacey rhythms, those backbeat-slapping drums, that jumping bass line, that T-Bone Walker-on-acid guitar. I had a blast watching Adams and crew on our stage. He is clearly willing to push the band in any random direction his mind conjures up at any given moment, and the addition of the Whole Wheat Horns made for a half hour or so of twisted takes on a lot of American music."
The Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet released a live CD, Crazy 8's, in early 2010. More people realized that Adams's new band was a continuation of the old band Ė great musicians, no set lists, a fearless attitude, rock, jazz, pop, humor. And it was fun. "Might as well be NRBQ," said the Huffington Post.
With the release of the new studio album Keep This Love Goin' in the spring of 2011, Adams announced that the Quartet would resume the name NRBQ. Many people who had seen the band evolve onstage - from the aforementioned St. Louis swing in 2008 to the Clang! Thang in 2009 to San Francisco shows in the fall of 2010 to a southern U.S. tour in January 2011 - werenít surprised. Said Roctober Magazine of the new CD, ". . .itís timeless and fun. Adams and his cohorts, old and new, have always tapped into something that makes their music never sound dated and never sound dull." Added the Schenectady Gazette, "Keep This Love Goin' is the usual - that is to say, pretty unusual - diverse, veering romp through the sprawling musical territory that a previous edition of NRBQ claimed as 'omni-pop.'"
WFMU's Bob Brainen witnessed the first weekend of "new" NRBQ shows and said of the April 2, 2011 performance at the Bearsville Theater, "What we got was one of the best, most satisfying shows to match any NRBQ show (I've seen around 100 or so, I'd guess?). Hell, to match any show by any band that I have ever seen! . . . the magic and mystery continues with this band. How do they play sporadically at best and know and remember dozens and dozens of songs? My friend asked me about how many songs were repeated from the night before. Keep in mind that both shows were about 5 hours of music total. I answered, 'maybe 15-20 percent.' How many songs is that, and what fraction of their entire song list is that? There were even songs that, like the Q of old, you are hearing for the first time and can't figure out if they are new originals, standards from 80 years ago, or something somewhere in between."
"I don't know how this band does it, but I have never had any doubts they were 'the new NRBQ' and I can't see how anyone who witnesses this band live would feel different. Hey, it took me 3-4 shows to start to get to know the 3 strangers from late 2007 on. I've seen the band maybe 15 times and, like I said on my show yesterday, after 3 or 4 shows, I felt like: 'The circus is back in town!' It's amazing to see people dancing from, literally, little kids to seniors who look like they're in their 70's but are dancing like they are young again, and during a Q show, everyone feels young."
Over the last few years, as Adams released solo pop albums like Rhythm Spell and Holy Tweet, and stepped front and center as the focal point of the Rock & Roll Quartet, his complexity as a unique musical talent gained even wider appreciation than before.
Adams has always believed that rock and roll is supposed to be fun and that live shows should always be new and full of surprise. He doesn't believe in musical categories or rules. But he is also dead serious about the music. It is his love and devotion to the music that drives him.
He's always been acknowledged as a great entertainer and the "wildman of the keyboards," but it's also true that his music can just as easily touch the heart as the funny bone.
Adams came up with the term "omni-pop" in the 1980s to describe NRBQ's musical point of view, and his original compositions reflect that diverse perspective. For every "Wacky Tobacky," "Hit the Hay," and "Key To My Pants," there is a rock song like "That's Neat, That's Nice," "Me And the Boys," and "Never Cop Out" or beautiful pop melody like "My Girl My Girl," "Little Floater," and "Things To You" or torch song like "Yes, Yes, Yes," "I'm Alone" and "My Life With You."
Then there are compositions like "One Shoe," "Imaginary Radio," "Roll Call" and "Stay With We" - all soulful, moving, and uniquely Terry Adams.
Adams knows instinctively what will work in the mix that is NRBQ. Just as important as the original compositions from Adams and his fellow Q songwriters are the endless Adams arrangements, from "Get Rhythm" to "Indian Love Call" to "I Got A Rocket In My Pocket" and on and on. (You can read more on that subject here.)
Adams is just as comfortable playing with rock legend Link Wray or jazz great Roswell Rudd. He appeared in the Robert Altman film Short Cuts and, with NRBQ, in the Sandra Bullock film 28 Days. His music has been heard on The Simpsons and Space Ghost. He has also, as producer, introduced to music fans worldwide The Shaggs, Boozoo Chavis, and the late wrestling great Captain Lou Albano, to mention a few. He toured with jazz composer Carla Bley through Europe, compiled a Thelonious Monk collection for Columbia records, and produced albums for cave rock band The Neanderthals and Chuck Berry's piano player Johnnie Johnson. And it was the mind of Terry Adams that brought the Magic Box, Cabbage Patch Dolls, band dummies, and onstage karaoke to the world of NRBQ!
Throughout his career, Adams has lived and breathed his musical philosophy. He recognized long ago his purpose in life and has pursued it, with an unfailingly youthful spirit and optimistic attitude. Equal parts brilliance and insanity, Terry Adams's every note, every action is infused with his indomitable musical joy. He really is one of musicís true originals.