After more than five decades on the road and in the studio his multidimensional musical vision continues to evolve and his outlook remains strong. Terry Adams, founder and omnipotent cornerstone of NRBQ speaks openly to EU about his mystical musical journey, NRBQ’s newest release Brass Tacks, Talk Thelonious, the band, and more. The New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, or Quintet, depending on the lineup at the time was founded in the late 1960’s by then Louisville resident Adams and Steve Ferguson, a guitarist and vocalist also from the Louisville area. To coin a phrase from jazz great Miles Davis this very well may have been “The birth of the cool”. The current lineup includes Terry Adams piano, clavinet, harmonica, vocals, Scott Ligon guitar, banjo, 2nd piano, vocals, Casey McDonough bass, vocals, and Conrad Choucroun drums. The music they make together is contagious. It’s rock, country, blues, pop, jazz, a little funk but mostly it’s NRBQ’s own distinguishable genre.
EU: Your music has been described as addictive. People get caught up in your music; how does that happen?
Terry Adams: It’s just who we are. Our music is not an intentional diversion. People are supposed to come away from music feeling better. Our message is happy, we’re in a groove and the lyric is second place. It’s in the spirit of the band. We are all natural born musicians open to the cosmos. We surprise ourselves. We don’t want to repeat.
EU: Help me understand that. You said that the lyric takes second place.
Terry Adams: There are some good songwriters out there but music can be weighed down by lyrics. Our voices are instruments. We are always open to learning and experiencing new things.
Terry Adams is far more composer than he is songwriter. He is grounded in improvisational jazz and never goes anywhere without one of his clavinets. A clavinet is a piano like instrument that works a bit like a guitar with a very unique sound that is one of Adams’s signature sounds. The clavinet was made by Hohner and was produced from around 1967 to around 1980. Consequently, Adams makes sure that his collection is well taken care of even to the point of crafting new more durable parts when necessary. In concert you often find him with one hand on the piano and one on the clavinet. His over the top stage presence captures his audience right away as he dramatically bangs the piano with his knuckles and forearm in Jerry Lee Lewis fashion.
EU: Terry, other very good musicians seem to gravitate towards you and they seem to have that same groove. How would you explain this?
Terry Adams: I don’t know, maybe it’s the inexplicable sound of the music. They are all musical partners and they’re open minded to the sound of the band. Our music is never someone else’s inspiration. We’re all writers. Everyone in the band writes.
EU: What inspires you to write?
Terry Adams: Oh, a good day, a good walk, the right espresso.
EU: You’ve composed a tremendous number of songs. Do you have any idea how many?
Terry Adams: Someone sent me a list one time and I was really surprised. I’m not sure, it just happens.
Adams explains that writing songs on the clavinet is different than writing songs on the piano. He looks for melodic and harmonic compositions and he describes the clavinet as a “worthy instrument” with its own feel. It is a strike and stringed instrument and the hammer pushes against a fret delivering that unique clavinet sound that is so discernable. Take a listen to Brass Tacks where Terry and the band deliver a heaping helping of cool compositions including the clavinet and more.
NRBQ toured with REM recently and the stories are frenetic. Adam’s explained that they toured with a ping pong table and NRBQ were the undisputed champions with a shutout record against REM! They all had a great time and the band will play with the Baseball Project on Friday the 25th of March at the St Augustine Amphitheater. The Baseball Project is Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon, Steve Wynn, and Mike Mills so REM is well represented.
Jazz great, Thelonious Monk intrigued Adams as a youngster and he had an opportunity to attend many Monk performances and had spoken with him on a few occasions. Fond memories abound when he discusses his own music and his devotion to Monk and his style. After nearly five decades of thinking about it the time came when he was asked to do a Thelonious Monk tribute concert. He initially declined and then rethought it and agreed. He recorded Talk Thelonious, his own interpretation of a select compilation of Monk compositions. He felt he “owed it to him”. Adams delved in deep. “Once I got in and how we interpret it I was feeling it” he said. “It’s deep compositions, nothing that isn’t for the night that we’re in. Everything to everything”.
If you haven’t heard NRBQ or Terry Adams you’re missing out. It truly is contagious music and the story behind it is fascinating. In musician’s circles, Terry Adams and NRBQ is justly the “Quiet Lion”.