"I had NRBQ going in 1966, if you can believe that," Terry Adams says as he makes an offhand comment about the legendary band that he founded almost five decades ago. NRBQ has a strong cult following that includes fans such as low-fi trash rocker Jad Fair and Lovin' Spoonful frontman John Sebastian. They rank among the thousands of fans who have had the opportunity to become obsessed with Adams' music.
The band's new album Brass Tacks is a quirky, catchy album with Adams' trademark master formula of brilliant songwriting and an undeniably potent rhythm section. The album features a number of stunning originals, including the oddball jazz number "Places Far Away," a song that Adams penned when he was only 15 years old.
"I connect my life as just one big day, so it's not so much of a difference between 'now' and 'then,' Adams says about the song. "I used to think in phrases like, 'way back then' or, 'things were like this,' but now I just think it's all one big day."
Adams' history with the band is long and winding and stars an unbeatable soundtrack. There have been many personnel changes throughout the period, from Al Anderson leaving the group in 1994 to write for Nashville superstars to the major realignment of the band in 2011 when Adams announced that the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet would be taking the name NRBQ. Adams seems very satisfied with the band's current line-up of guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough and drummer Conrad Choucroun.
"Scott and Casey have an incredible natural ability to harmonize vocally, and as a band we feel whatever each other is thinking," Adams says. "I like to hear how musicians interact with each other, something that I think is sometimes lost in today's music. I like to hear bands be spontaneous, and we have that and we try to stay organized and moving towards the same place when we play together."
NRBQ has always been a pop band with the musical chops of an avant-garde jazz quartet, a quality that remains static outside of enormous personnel changes. The track "I'm Not Here" showcases Ligon's ability to pick up a random instrument and compose a worthwhile solo.
"Scott Ligon is a multi-instrumentalist — he can pick up any instrument and play," Adams explains. "Sometimes, an instrument would be there in the studio, like this fretless banjo, and there was no real plan for there to be a banjo in 'I'm Not Here,' but someone had left it from the night before and he picked it up and played that solo." Adams also said that he is proud of the fact that Brass Tacks is devoid of anything but utterly organic instrumentation, largely due to the masterful abilities of the band he plays with.
The band has a history of releasing perfect pop gems that romanticize automobiles, from "Little Floater" to "Me and the Boys" and "Ridin' in My Car." Brass Tacks delivers "This Flat Tire," a continuation in that songwriting tradition.
Adams says the song originated from an unfortunate drive to Philadelphia during which he hit a piece of wood on the highway. He continued to drive for two hours before pulling over to examine the damage. By then, he needed a new tire and proceeded to find a car shop that could replace his old one.
"It sounds simple, but, like I say, it was a slow leak and it just reminds me of other things in life," he says. "You might think something is bothering you but you're not quite sure what it is until you stop and actually do something about it. Until then you won't feel your spirit being free."
And these guys are certainly free-spirited. On Brass Tacks, the band tackles the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic "Getting to Know You," a choice that may seem odd at first until you consider the lengthy list of bizarre covers the band has played over the years, among them the rockabilly classic "I Got a Rocket in My Pocket" and Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm."
"The song has always meant something to me," Adams says of the Cash track. "At first it sounds like this cute song in a movie sung by a bunch of little kids and later on I begun to see how it applies to NRBQ's sound. I got the idea to cover the song a few years back, but it takes a while to formulate how to do it so that it feels natural to our style."
Although Adams says that the band is focused on promoting Brass Tacks right now, fans can look forward to a project involving the works of Thelonious Monk sometime in the near future. The band is touring throughout the summer, and Adams says that fans can anticipate the band pulling from the entirety of its discography, a task that Adams mentioned can be challenging for NRBQ, given the depth of the band's catalog.
"If a person has the opportunity to hear this music, especially more than once, if you expose yourself to it, it can take a place in your spirit," Adams says. "Many people tell me they can't live without it because I've given them something important."
It's hard to think that there might be a finer compliment a musician could receive.
8:30 p.m., Thursday, June 19, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd. Tickets: $20, 216-383-1124, beachlandballroom.com.