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Ridin' with the Q
by Haven James

Event: NRBQ
Where: Joyous Lake, Woodstock (679-0367)
When: Sunday, May 30 [1999]
Links: The Offical NRBQ Page
(photo courtesy of
The Unoffical NRBQ Page)

Once upon a time in a far away galaxy, a distant S.E.T.I.-like project detected transmissions from a tiny blue planet orbiting third removed from its star. The radio waves pulsed in a haunting 1-4-5 pattern and seemed to roll through the ethers in a strangely predictable yet radical rhythm. So hypnotizing these audial sequences were, the ruling council dispatched a probe to explore the source of the new dimension of electronic stimulation. Crewed by four sentient beings, the craft beamed in on the frequencies and landed on the North American continent in the late '60s. Its passengers found no problem assimilating into the environs as their naturally radiant demeanor blended perfectly with the blossoming culture of the indigenous peoples of the times. But, drawn to the magnetic core of the emanations they had traveled so far in search of, their presence did not go unnoticed for long. Branded by the intensity of their energies, the superior intelligence they exhibited, and, the output of their experiments in the audio realms, this group of four soon developed a cult following of their own, and, ultimately, became known as "the" 'Q.

Adopting a conservative moniker for public exposure, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet ascended quickly to prominence in the musical spheres and has maintained a high public position to date, having accrued both a massive discography and an international fan base which includes many top names from most all of the fields of popular music. This infamous group will gather in Woodstock on Sunday, May 30, for a Memorial Day celebration at the Joyous Lake so shout it loud and get your tickets now, NRBQ is comin' to town!

Excepting those folks who live under rocks, almost everyone has at least heard NRBQ, or, is about to. This is a good thing because the operative word here is fun. This may sound a bit cliche to the uninitiated but trust me, it's a hard fact and is probably the reason they've stayed together gigging around the planet for some 30 years now. The band is currently out on a mini-tour in Japan but we caught up to bassist Joey Spampinato just prior to his departure and he explained, "I used to think we stayed together because it was too hard to find people who thought like we did so we were stuck with each other. But, we kinda realized that if we all didn't stay together, it wouldn't be as much fun; we kind of like speak the same language."

Put simply, Joey describes their music as "rock and roll with a jazz attitude." That interprets to mean they've drawn on influences that range as far and wide as Elvis to Sun Ra to Burt Bacharach, all put in a blender and poured out with that special NRBQ spin. To the delight of fans, Rounder Records is systematically revamping and releasing a major chunk of the earlier Q material on CDs. Most recent is a "kind of a re-issue, all hopped up with a couple of new things added," Joey tells of "Ridin' In My Car", the title song of which was brought to public prominence recently by Bonnie Raitt's Grammy effort.

And, there is an album of new NRBQ material due in September. Joey was just finishing his review of the final mixes when we spoke. "I think people are going to like this one the way they liked the Yankee Stadium record [which many feel is their most popular release to date]. This might be our best record," he said. The CD will house 15 new songs and as usual range from the sensitive ballad to the whacky extravaganza. One of the songs will be Joey's "Careful What You Ask For," which he describes as "sort of a positive thinking theme, sort of a creative visualization." Another is a ballad called "Love Came to Me," featuring a harmonica solo by friend Jim Houk. "Blame It On the World" will be another new one Joey wrote with his brother Johnny, who joined the band from the Boston-based Casuals about five years ago when guitarist Big Al Anderson set off on his own.

That transition looked to be the hardest bend in NRBQ's trail but turned out to be seamless. Joey explained, "Johnny grew up with the band [and so] was naturally influenced by the band. He always knew what we were all about it; he knew what it was. So, when it came time to crossover he could just walk right in. Plus, we could sing good together because we've got that family thing going, sibling harmony." Joey paused mischievously and went on, "Also, having my brother next to me on stage, it's kinda like more fun; Al was great and everything but I can't kick him around."

Veteran drummer Tom Ardolino also wrote and co-wrote for the record and, of course, keyboard maniac Terry Adams has new tunes on the upcoming CD. "Terry's always got a handful of them, he's got two handfuls," Joey reported. We did run into Terry here in town just before his flight to Tokyo and he was twinkling at the prospect of doing the Lake on Memorial Day weekend. Again, if you know them you'll know what we mean, and if not, be prepared for Mr. Whacky Tobacky to bend your brain.

It is hard to explain the wide fan base NRBQ attracts except that they cover so many bases it is hard not to get caught. Joey posits he never knew anybody who stopped liking NRBQ and so figures if they keep going the way they have been, "we'll have all of them by the time we're dead." As to the upcoming show, expect to hear a few of the new songs; so far they've done three live. Almost sounding like the willful parent, Joey said, "We've got a lot of work ahead of us, we better start learnin'." He paused to lighten up and added, "This band is hard to get together to rehearse, I think that's why everybody likes us, cause we don't rehearse!"

Catch the NRBQ rehearsal live Sunday, May 30 [1999], at Joyous Lake. Their manager explained they return from Japan on the 25th and will hopefully be over the jet lag by Sunday, though he added, "Those guys have been jet-lagged for 30 years now; we like them that way." Call FLS Management at 679-0214 for advance tickets.

Haven James has been a consistent contributor to the Music & Arts scene around the Hudson Valley and beyond for almost a decade through his column, Werewolves of Woodstock, published weekly in the Woodstock Times

A writer, musician, philanthropist, and Mac addict; he lives reclusively, high atop Overlook Mountain with his son and a menagerie of animals, both wild and domesticated. Though currently unmarried, rumors abound as to his intimate relationships with Madonna, Sandra Bernhardt, and Eli Bach; though he insists these notions to be pure hearsay. His identity has remained a mystery to all but the closest of friends as he often travels in disguise and appears unannounced and undercover at concerts and venues in a dedicated effort to get the real story.

Go to the Werewolves of Woodstock page for more articles by Haven James.
Haven James can be contacted at

Posted on April 22, 1999

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