By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Back in 1966, a teenage Terry Adams used to push his piano into the bedroom and jam with brother, Donn, and a few other musical friends.
A half century later Adams is still pushing his keyboards across the country playing concert halls, clubs, and bars with that band born in the outskirts of Louisville.
NRBQ – originally for New Rhythm and Blues Quintet, and then Quartet – purveyors of off-kilter, off-beat pop rock is heading to Howard’s Club H, Saturday, Oct. 28, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20. Click to purchase.
A few home recordings mark the launch of a band that has persisted over the years, reaching music lovers ears in concerts, recordings, and the soundtrack of “The Simpsons,” where their loving irreverence was a perfect fit.
In a recent telephone interview, Adams said “you don’t want to lose the reason you got into it.”
“Music affected me when I was a young guy. Listening to it gave me something I couldn’t get anywhere else. It showed me the world, gave me insight into living. You can have times when you need a true friend and the music really reaches you. It’s there for you.”
He started “messing around” on piano around sixth grade. “I didn’t know I was going to be a musician. I just loved listening to it, and slowly I realized I was making it myself, and I never turned back.”
At the beginning during those bedroom sessions, “we just started playing music. Whatever we wanted. Different guys would stop by, and we realized we kind of had something.”
Louisville, he said, didn’t seem to them to have much of a music scene. They had to seek out the sounds. Back then, he said, music lovers thought nothing of liking The Beatles and Sun Ra. That openness has remained. The band’s originals and covers run the range ofAmerican music from classic country to surf pop, and everything between and way out beyond the fringe.
Adams is a jujitsu master of the keyboard. He makes his home at the intersection of Little Richard and jazz icon Thelonious Monk. Given this year is the 100th anniversary of Monk’s birth, Adams said he expects the band will pay tribute. Adams’ love of Monk goes back to his early teens. He’s recorded a full album of tributes “Thelonious Talks.”
Not that he can tell you for sure what will be on any given set. “It just happens,” he said. The band steps on stage not even knowing what the first song will be. “It can be risky,” Adams, who calls the tunes, said, “but for the most part it’s the only way to play music for me. You can tell what’s right for the moment when you’re there. You can’t really predict it the night before, the day before. You don’t really know until you’re there what’s supposed to happen.”
He recalls sitting in with the Sun Ra Arkestra, and Marshall Allen, the saxophonist who now leads the ensemble, declaring just as they were about to go on stage: “Nobody knows nothing.”
“That’s our philosophy,” Adams said. “We’re just going out there to let it happen and feel the vibes.”
Adams and NRBQ have felt the vibes in Bowling Green before. The band played the Black Swamp Arts Festival in 2003, sharing Saturday night headlining credits with Tom Tom Club. That was the year before the band took a hiatus because of Adam’ treatment for cancer.
The personnel has shifted since with the various members heading off in different directions.
Joining Adams in the current edition of NRBQ are Scott Ligon, guitar and vocals, Casey McDonough, bass and vocals, and John Perrin, drums. They’ve been touring since 2012.
In finding new bandmates, Adams takes a characteristically Zen approach. “With us, it’s a spiritual matter. You realize a guy’s right for the band without even hearing him play.”
They may be relative newcomers to the band, but they still have a grounding in its past. “These guys know the band’s back catalog better than I do.”
Adams said he didn’t know how many songs are in the NRBQ repertoire. “High Noon,” a five-disc set released by Omnivore to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the band’s modest beginnings includes 107 songs. That’s just the start. “Nobody ever counted,” Adams said. “I think we know more songs than we know.”
They haven’t stopped adding. “Happy Talk,” a new five song EP includes a couple new quirky Adams’ originals, “Yes, I Have a Banana” and “Head on a Post,” a basic take on the blues, aptly titled “Blues, Blues, Blues,” and quirky arrangements of two standards, Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” and “Happy Talk” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” a show tune Adams has loved since he was a kid.
Adams said despite the aggravation of increased traffic, he plans to stay on the road as long as he can find good vegetarian food and espresso. “I don’t see why not.”
There’s still more for NRBQ to experience. “Every town has a different vibe, a different audience. Every night is the unknown for us. We don’t have the same sound system, or the same sound guy, or the same stage. We don’t know what we’re going to play or who we’re going to meet.”