NRBQ: Not Playing Around With Tiddlywinks

NRBQ: Not Playing Around With Tiddlywinks

Written by Ray Chelstowski

NRBQ has always been a band that rock insiders considered to be the best in the game. Founded in 1966 as the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, they have had famous fans like the Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt, and each NRBQ member has spurned offer after offer to leave the quartet and join one or the other of the world’s biggest bands. But every musician who has ever rounded out the foursome has put this act and the music they celebrate first. NRBQ’s rare mix of rock, country, jazz, and Tin Pan Alley has kept their live act one of the most sought-after tickets year after year. Here in New England where I’m based, their music remains the soundtrack to summer.

My buddy Matt got me into them in college and once “the Q” grabbed me they never let go. I’ve seen NRBQ perform in many locations, in various configurations, and every time I’ve walked away from the show further amazed at how far the band is capable of taking their exceptional repertoire of songs.

Their catalog has a sweet spot. The five-year span between 1978 and 1983 might have been their richest run, where NRBQ seemed to deliver records that were cohesive, colorful, and creative in a way that incorporated the band’s unique sense of comedy and selfless collaboration. One of the finest examples of this is 1980’s release, Tiddlywinks. It was their eighth studio album and featured Terry Adams (keyboards), Joey Spampinato (bass), Tom Ardolino (drums) and Al Anderson (guitar), plus The Whole Wheat Horns (Donn Adams and Keith Spring). The singles “Me And The Boys” and “Never Take The Place Of You” quickly became fan favorites and remain set list staples to this day. The album also ushered in an unlikely partnership with pro wrestling impresario Captain Lou Albano, who became the band’s ambassador. It was a turn that would come to define the 1980s for NRBQ and elevate Captain Lou and NRBQ to more visible national heights.


NRBQ, Tiddlywinks, album cover.


Now, over four decades later, Tiddlywinks returns, remastered and expanded with tasty extras. Four bonus tracks are added to the mix; “I Don’t Think Of…” and “Big Goodbyes,” recorded during the Tiddlywinks sessions and released on 1983’s Tapdancin’ Bats collection, plus the radio and TV spots originally issued on the flip side of the “Never Take The Place Of You” 7-inch single.

The reissue also features updated artwork and liner notes from original engineer Tom Mark (who had worked with the band on At Yankee Stadium – in keeping with the band’s sense of humor, it’s not a live album). I personally like how those [liner notes] open with an image of the original “Me And The Boys” lyrics, jotted down on a note pad from a Holiday Inn in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It’s a testament to this band’s endless commitment to the road and to their fans.

We caught up with NRBQ founding member Terry Adams about why this record stands apart, what he loves most about the music they made in this memorable session at Bearsville Studios in upstate New York, and how the ever-changing band lineup keeps the material fresh and surprising.


NRBQ at the time of recording Tiddlywinks. Courtesy of Kirk Kume.


Ray Chelstowski: Bonnie Raitt is one of your band’s biggest fans and famously covered the track “Me and the Boys” from this very record. Were you as surprised as she was that she just won the Grammy for Song of the Year for “Just Like That?”

Terry Adams: That’s good. She deserves it! That’s just great!


RC: The re-release contains the TV and radio spots that were created to promote the record’s release in 1980. Was that always part of the plan for the Tiddlywinks reissue?

TA: It actually happened at the last minute. They were working on the music and I remembered that ad and located it on a different format. I sent it to someone and they transferred it just in time to make this re-release.

With those ads we “invented” Captain Lou [Albano] within the music industry. That was our idea and my brother Donn wrote that ad. Back then no one knew who Captain Lou was unless you were a wrestling fan. He was great for us.




RC: There were three songwriters in the band’s lineup at the time. How did you decide which songs made the final cut?

TA: On Tiddlywinks these are the songs that the other guys wrote. They had a couple of songs each that they brought to the sessions and they sounded great. It was that simple.

RC: The Whole Wheat Horns with your brother Donn on trombone are there once again. How did you decide where they fit best?

TA: Well Donn is on a lot of songs on this record. You don’t necessarily hear him on each of the songs but he’s there. He plays on “Feel You Around Me” and a bunch of other cuts. He snuck in on a lot of them and some are obvious, like “Music Goes Round and Round,” because they require horns.

RC: “Music Goes Round and Round” is the only cover on the record. How did it make its way onto the album?

TA: I got the idea to do that song after we had done it a little bit in person and it “did good,” people really enjoyed it. That’s all that mattered. It didn’t matter who wrote it, whether it was one of us or someone else.

RC: Tiddlywinks was your first record on a smaller label after having left Mercury Records. Did that allow you more creative freedom?

TA: We had all the room we needed on the label before this. They may have had a bit more money for the production but it was the same band. We didn’t change because we changed labels; at least in this case (laughs).


RC: You’ve recorded most of your albums at Bearsville Studios. What do like most about that room?

TA: Well for starters, it was near where we lived. That was the main thing. Then we became friends with [engineer] Tom Mark who worked there for a while and recorded us a lot. That and being close to home was enough for us.

RC: Is there anything that the current band lineup allows you to do with these songs that surprises you?

TA: They’re all pretty loose. All I can tell you is that when we’re playing an old song we’re playing it “in the now.” We’re not trying to imitate anything. We just go with how it is at the moment, and sometimes that ends up sounding the way it used to. It’s just all about how we feel right then. This is a band of personalities. That what I like most about being part of a band; where four different personalities express themselves and put themselves directly into the music.

RC: Musician Klem Klimock is often your band’s live concert secret weapon. How did he begin working with NRBQ?

TA: He can do anything. Klem used to do sound for us way back in the day, and we’d invite him to come and play with us on the last song. He’d come and go and over time he started to play the horn a lot more. Now we pretty often have him come out with us. Lately he’s been playing accordion which has been pretty great.

RC: How has your live keyboard setup evolved over the years?

TA: Well, the clavinet [keyboard] has been around since we started. It’s [really] a stringed instrument and I play it like a guitar more than anything else, so it’s got a really important sound. The other instrument I play is the piano. We used to take a grand piano with us all of the time but we had to stop that because the one I have isn’t what it used to be. So, I use a fake digital piano and the clavinet. The other instrument I carry is the [Yamaha] DX7 [synthesizer] which is just for fun; you never know what’s going to come out of it.


NRBQ today. Courtesy of MP Ball.


RC: After 50-plus years of touring, is there one room that’s your favorite to play?

TA: We play a room called Fitzgerald’s in Chicago that’s just a down home sort of place to play. It’s actually where we’re playing next. We feel good in there. But we like every place we play because it’s always different. We don’t have a system that makes the sound the same from room to room. That keeps everything challenging and fun.

RC: What do you love most about Tiddlywinks?

TA: The whole album is so organic. It all comes together really well and it just has a sound. Every record is different but this is even more so. It has its own healthy organic sound that really hangs together. It has its own punch which is why I thought it would be worthwhile to bring it back, even though it’s older than we actually realized. To me it sounds really fresh, like it was released a month ago. It doesn’t have a “big studio” sound to it. It just sounds clean. I like that!


Header image courtesy of John Krucke.

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