NRBQ’s time in the sun
For 50 years, NRBQ have been delivering expertly crafted, deliriously zany roots-based pop. Informed by vintage rock ’n’ roll, boogie-woogie blues and avant-garde jazz, not to mention the Three Stooges and show tunes, their live sets are the aural equivalent of ADHD. While they’re revered by fans — that is, anyone who’s seen them onstage — mainstream success has proven somewhat elusive. Outside of their 1989 hit, a cover of the Rockin’ Rebels’ “Wild Weekend,” the Q is largely a cult phenomenon.
The beating heart of the band is a straw-haired gas fire named Terry Adams, a manic rock ’n’ roll genius who torches every keyboard he touches. Adams, who founded the New Rhythm and Blues Quintet in his native Louisville, Ky., in 1966 — but kicked them into overdrive in Miami in 1968 — is the only original member remaining. The current group, featuring Scott Ligon on guitar and vocals and Chad Choucroun on drums, has been touring and recording as NRBQ since 2011, albeit with recent addition Casey McDonough on bass. They also play behind Adams on his 2015 release “Talk Thelonious,” a tribute to one of the keyboardist’s seminal influences, jazz giant Thelonious Monk.
Recorded live, the album features Adams’ idiosyncratic arrangements of Monk classics such as “In Walked Bud” and “Straight No Chaser,” as well as lesser-known titles. The project was deeply personal for Adams and a long time coming.
When Adams first arrived in New York in 1967, he took every opportunity to see Monk perform and eventually befriended the enigmatic pianist. “He was intimidating,” Adams confirms by phone from a friend’s house in Western Massachusetts, not far from his home in Vermont. “But I think he appreciated me because I didn’t seem intimidated.”
One night, in the kitchen of the Village Vanguard between sets, Adams asked Monk if he would play “Gallop’s Gallop,” an obscure song from his canon. Monk asked his saxophonist, Paul Jeffrey, if he knew the tune, but Jeffrey was stumped. So Adams sung it for him, all 32 bars. “I didn’t request it because it was obscure, I just really loved that song,” he recalls, laughing. “It was quite an experience to sing it for him.”
Another jazz legend, Sun
When: 8 p.m. Thursday Where: Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton Cost: $20-$35, $10 for under 21 (with parent or legal guardian) Contact: Call 561-465-3946 or go to FunkyBiscuit.com. Ra, also played a vital role in NRBQ’s story. In late 1967, Ra handed Adams a 45 of his song “Rocket No. 9.” NRBQ had broken up, but Adams was so inspired by what he heard that he put the band back together. They regrouped in Miami and played clubs such as Thee Image and the World, as well as at Greynolds Park.
NRBQ also crashed the Miami Pop Festival, which was held in May 1968 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. They weren’t on the bill, which included Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, but they ended up onstage with Chuck Berry.
While the band’s tenure in South Florida was shortlived, Adams recalls it fondly. “Florida is definitely where we picked up our atomic energy,” he says. “The sun was a big influence on us. In an interview in the ’60s, they asked me, ‘What are your influences?’ and I said, ‘The sun.’ They said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, ‘Well, the sun and Sun Ra and Sun Records.’ ”