Despite an unfortunate one day delay we will now return to the topic at hand: NRBQ.
For those who did not follow my helpful and life-changing instructions to check out some NRBQ over the weekend, I will describe them the best way I can. Imagine interstellar jazz traveller Sun Ra fronting a rock band and you will get an idea (albeit small and one-dimensional)about NRBQ. Not only does the band play some of the catchiest bar-band rock around, the band can immediately stop on a dime and play humourous ditties or songs just so crazy and “out” that it almost turns you off of the band and makes you decide to not listen to them anymore. Then, almost magically, the band will play something so tuneful and McCartney-like as to make you wonder why they are not all over the radio. It is this dichotomy that has both endeared the band to its’ many, many fans and also kept the band out of the mainstream.
You will often find two camps of NRBQ fans: ones who like the band better in it’s most popular incarnation when guitarist/songwriter/ex-Wildweed Al Anderson was still in the band (there were a few other guitarists before Big Al – he didn’t join until 1974) and those who like his replacement, Johnny Spampinato, Joey’s brother, who took over in 1994. Being a talented songwriter (besides being a demon on guitar)Anderson had to always know he could write hits. Even while being criminally ignored by the general public while being in the ‘Q – his songs were often covered by other country and rock artists. Nashville eventually called Anderson and he jumped ship, leaving the lead guitar spot open. Luckily Johnny shares the same genetic musical genius as his bassist/songwriter/singer brother Joey and he easily slid into the replacement slot and has also found his songwriting legs with the band as well, contributing one of their best latter-day songs, Be Here Now.
There is much argument over which album is the band’s best. They’ve recorded over twenty albums and about half of those are live documents, building them a following today that is populated by many jam-band fans who are attracted to the band’s willingness to experiment onstage and their formidable improvisational abilities. Since I prefer studio albums to live ones (which I feel never quite fully captue a band’s true sound and the total live experience)I find the albums most talked about are At Yankee Stadium, Grooves In Orbit and Wild Weekend.
At Yankee Stadium (1977) is a classic by anyone’s standards, containing most of the songs people associate with NRBQ. The songs Ridin’ In My Car, Green Light, and Me and The Boys are on this CD and it is, in a word, great. Every song is killer and pop bands like Cheap Trick and the Cars would dream of releasing this CD.
Wild Weekend (1989) is probably their best late period album, and the last album for which they were signed to a major label deal. They got a lot of press for this CD and it’s lack of commercial success despite the ‘Q reigning in most of the crazy side of their personality, sealed their fate as an underground band forever. There were a lot of potential hits on this that would have sounded great on the radio. It’s too bad radio sucks.
My personal fave is Grooves in Orbit, which came out in 1982. Not only does it have the killer song Rain At The Drive In but, to me, the album has the best selection of classic NRBQ songs than any other CD they did. This CD delivers on the promise that At Yankee Stadium suggested and, for the most part, the band was never this good on album again. The love songs are tender and meaningful and the rockers rock like hell.
You can probably tell that I can’t say enough about this marvelous band. While this is a just a small smattering of info, I hope it is enough to get you a little psyched about trying a few of the band’s CDs. All are worth the money because there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Some are better than others but all of them have some gems on them.
Are you new to the ‘Q?

The Music Nerd Knows……

3 thoughts on “NRBQ PDQ 2”

  1. Nice post. As a longtime Q fan, I used to wonder why they never got on radio either.  I think one problem was their constant label jumping. They had a stint on Kama Sutra Records in the mid 1970s, wher they released "Scraps" and "Workshop." These efforts are both first-rate, but I think critics don’t count ’em as among the band’s best because no one can ever find ’em.

    Just for the record, NRBQ did manage to get two singles into the pop charts.  The first was "Stomp" from their first LP, which made it to #122 in June of 1969 (that means it only ever hit the Bubbling Under chart). The second was "Get That Gasoline Blues," a non-LP single that was a humorous look at the 1970s gas crisis. It made it to #70 in Feb. 74 but CANNOT be found nd can be found on "Peek-A-Boo," the band’s best of. It’s on the "RC Cola and Moon Pie" compilation which is really "Workshop" with some songs deleted and some added.



  2. It was good to come across this post. I was searching the web to try to find a copy of “Get that Gasoline Blues” when I did. I’m putting together a CD for my brother that’s about memories of the FM station we listened to when we were both teenaged stoners, and NRBQ figures prominently (along with John Prine, among others.)The station was WPLR in New Haven Conn., and growing up on the East End of Long Island it was the only decent rock station we could pick up. During the mid to late seventies and beyond it was all we listened to. NRBQ was pretty big, not only at the station but the whole tri-state area of NY, NJ and Conn. I always thought they were from Conn. Maybe you know? I got to see them one time and all I remember was they cooked and were LOUD!!! Anyway, now I live in Nashville, and have had a chance to see Big Al a couple times here. Delbert McClinton puts on a benefit every year for The Nashville Children’s Theatre which I’ve been to 6 or 7 times and 2 or 3 of those Big Al was there. He usually performs with Jeffrey Steele or Gary Nichols (whom he writes with) and man, he still rips! When I first moved here I was in a used record store and came across a CD by him called “Pay Before You Pump” marked “Demo – Not For Sale” (which of course it was!) I have to say it would be an essential addition to any Q fan’s collection. It’s chock full of great rockabilly cuts, a couple slower paced tracks and one Zydeco-flavored track that even pokes fun at those not accustomed to that unique rhythm. One of the tracks was cut by Billy Ray Cyrus and one by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band but neither got much airplay and neither was as good as Al’s originals. The credits are a who’s who of Nashville A-team players and even Elvis Costello makes a showing (yeah, Al!) Big Al just released another album titled “After Hours” which I immediately bought because I love him. I haven’t had a chance to really listen yet but I like what I’ve heard so far. BTW, if anyone out there likes balls-out, southern, rockablilly, s**t-kickin’ music you gotta check out Jeffrey Steele. He had a minor hit with a track called “Somethin’ In The Water” and I can’t believe he hasn’t gotten a major label deal of his own (although you get the feeling when you see him perform that he’s just plain crazy!) His voice is phenomenal and he plays left-handed guitar like he’s chokin’ a snake. A perfect match for Big Al. So, thanks for keeping the spirit alive for NRBQ and buy Big Al’s albums, although he doesn’t look like he needs the money!
    Pete in Nash-vegas.

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