Thursday, March 10, 2011

NRBQ: 1969 Self-Titled Debut On Columbia Records

We'll tackle the 1st two records material in this order, so that we're not talking about the "Stay With We" comp when the 1993 period rolls around. It's important to not,e that sadly, all 3 of these releases are currently out of print (OOP):

NRBQ (Columbia) 1969
Boppin’ the Blues (with Carl Perkins) (Columbia) 1970
Stay With We (Columbia Era Compilation with unreleased songs) (Columbia/Legacy) 1993

Here's some backstory:

"Fergies Story" By Keith S. Clements

Steve first met Terry Adams in 1965 when Steve was starting the Mersey-Beats USA and needed a keyboard player. Terry auditioned; their musical relationship has continues to this day. Shortly after that meeting, they both attended a big R&B show at the Armory that included Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Jr., Walker and The Allstars and Billy Stewart. The Mersey-Beats USA did British covers, which was popular at the time. They had to add the USA because there was already a British band named Mersey Beats. Steve and Terry started writing their own original material and in late 1966, they left the band to begin what would eventually become NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quartet). Terry's brother, Donn Adams, booked gigs for them.

Terry went to Florida to play organ with a group called The Seven of Us. Steve joined in New Jersey. When that band broke up, part of the personnel became the foundation of NRBQ. Steve credits Donn Adams with the name. The original version of NRBQ included Steve, Terry, Joey Spampinato on bass, Frankie Gadler doing vocals and drummer Tom Staley. Later, for live shows and recording sessions, the Whole Wheat Horns, with Louisvillians Donn Adams on trombone and Keith Spring on saxophone, were added. NRBQ's star rose quickly, with a Columbia recording contract in 1969 which resulted in several singles, including "Stomp," and two albums. NRBQ collaborated with another Columbia recording artist, Carl Perkins, on "Boppin' The Blues."

Keyboardist Terry Adams and lead guitarist Steve Ferguson met while members of the Louisville-based Mersey Beats USA. By the mid-1960s, in a quest for steadier working conditions, the pair had decamped to Miami, Florida where they hooked up with New Jersey-based The Seven of Us singer Frank Gadler, bassist Joey Spampinato (aka Joe St. Nicholas) and drummer Tom Staley. As The New Rhythm and Blues Quintet (easy to see why they opted for NRBQ), the group quickly moved to New Jersey where their already quirky live show began attracting fans. They also found a mentor in the form of bluesman Slim Harpo. Harpo helped the band land a spot at Steve Paul's New York club The Scene which eventually caught the attention of A&R types working for Columbia Records.

Signed by Columbia, the group made their recording debut with 1969's cleverly titled "NRBQ". In a nutshell, the album is simply unlike anything else being released at the time. All but ignoring the public's infatuation with psych and blues-rock, these guys turned in a set that bounced all over the musical spectrum, including stabs at country ('Kentucky Slop Song'), hardcore blues (a steaming cover of Eddie Cochran's 'C'mon If You're Comin''), rockabilly ('C'mon Everybody'), sensitive singer/songwriter (Ferguson's 'I Didn't Know Myself') and straightforward pop ('You Can't Hide'). For goodness sake, there's even a Sun Ra cover ('Rocket Number 9') !!! Every time I hear this album I simply scratch my head and wonder what Columbia Records was thinking when it signed them. An amazing debut that some four decades later may still be the best thing they've done. How a newly signed band managed to get away with it is beyond me!

"For Connecticut's Wildweeds, it was fun (sort of) while it lasted" By Fran Fried

Anderson cut a solo album for Vanguard, but his fate was cast the night Lakaitis (who died of a heart attack in 1988) took him to his first NRBQ show in Amherst, Mass., in 1969. Two years later, Anderson was in the band.

NRBQ line up 1 (1967-70)

Terry Adams: keyboards, vocals, harmonica
Steve Ferguson (Nov. 21, 1948 - October 7, 2009): lead guitar, vocals, harmonica
Frank Gadler: vocals, tambourine
Joey Spampinato (aka Jody St. Nicholas): vocals, bass
Tom Staley: drums, percussion

NRBQ: 1969 Self-Titled Debut On Columbia Records Versions:

Title / Format / Label / Cat# / Country / Year
NRBQ (LP, Album) Columbia CS 9858 US 1969
NRBQ (LP, Album) CBS S 63653 UK 1969
NRBQ (LP, Album, RE) Columbia PC 9858 US 1969

There is a defective pressing of the LP circulating which has a mix that has a balance of prominent vocals and very low instrumentation.

Side 1:
1.) C'mon Everybody (Capehart - Eddie Cochran)
2.) Rocket Number 9 (Sun Ra)
3.) Kentucky Slop Song (Terry Adams)
4.) Ida (Terry Adams - Carla Bley)
5.) C'mon If You're Comin' (Brownie McGhee - Sonny Terry)
6.) You Can't Hide (Jody St. Nicholas)
7.) I Didn't Know Myself (Steve Ferguson)

Side 2:
1.) Stomp (Steve Ferguson)
2.) Fergie's Prayer (Steve Ferguson)
3.) Mama Get Down Those Rock & Roll Shoes (Terry Adams)
4.) Hymn Number 5 (Terry Adams)
5.) Hey! Baby (Bruce Channel - Margret Cobb)
6.) Liza Jane (traditional)
7.) Stay With Me (Terry Adams)

Two singles from the LP were released:

Stomp / I Didn't Know Myself (Columbia 4-44865) 1969
C'mon Everybody / Rocket # 9 (Columbia 4-44937) 1969

My thoughts:

For me, NRBQ's debut is a very unique and eclectic album that has a personality that is hard for me to put my finger on -- it defies categorization. For me, the seeds of what NRBQ would evolve in to are represented, but the pre Al Anderson group is a very different type of group and stands separate and alone.

Obviously, the fact that 3/5ths of the group changed is a major factor. Ferguson, Gadler, and Staley all had unique individual musical voices. When they left the group, they were not really "replaced" in the sense that the new players that came in copped their feel. Another difference for me, is that the sweeter pop side that Joey Spampinato later made more prominent is all but absent on the debut record.

For lack of a better description, the record has a really hippie, homey, communal, rural sound to me. To me it doesn't really sound like a 60s record in relation to the contemporary sounds of the time, but the vibe is definitely very 60s.

C'mon Everybody is an absolutely crackin' and energized burst of pure rock. Every time I hear it I have to clap along.

Coming after C'mon Everybody, the Sun Ra cover of Rocket Number 9 really makes a statement about their musical diversity. Terry Adams seems very proud of their version, and that Sun Ra personally chose NRBQ to pass the song on to to introduce his music to the rock world. Again, Terry proudly tells of playing Rocket Number 9 at rock shows in Florida, and getting the whole crowd to sing along to what is, at its core, and avant-garde jazz song. This is my fave Sun Ra cover ever -- great energy and group interplay.

Kentucky Slop Song, C'mon If You're Comin', I Didn't Know Myself, Fergie's Prayer, Hymn Number 5 all have that herbal, lysergic, spirited, contemplative 60s vibe that I referred to earlier. After this record, it seems to me that they left these types of songs behind.

Joey Spampinato's You Can't Hide is notable, not only because it is a total rockin' kick a** song, but because it is the one song on the record that sounds like the NRBQ of later years, and could have shown up and been logical on any of their other later records.

The version I have on LP sounds pretty poor to my ears. It has a really dull and squashed tone -- really thin with not much dynamic range. It is the only copy I have heard, so I am not sure if I just have a bad copy, or if it's just how the record sounds. The remastered versions of these songs sound infinitely better on the "Stay With We" CD compilation.

I really wish that Sony or Sundazed would reissue this album on CD and LP.

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