Terry Adams of NRBQ Reissues Terrible: An Album That’s Anything But

Terry Adams of NRBQ Reissues <em>Terrible:</em> An Album That’s Anything But

Written by Ray Chelstowski

It took NRBQ keyboardist and founding member Terry Adams over 30 years to release his first solo album. After completing work on the Robert Altman film Short Cuts, he was approached by New World Records executive Arthur Moorhead and asked to consider making a jazz record. The result is the highly acclaimed 1995 release, Terrible. The naming of the album certainly didn’t reflect the material to be found in the 12 original tracks and the record has since become a much-revered spin among fans of NRBQ and jazz in general. Memphis songwriter Van Duren, a longtime fan of NRBQ, has said that for years this record was his in-between-sets “go to break music.”

Now Omnivore Records is reissuing the record with four additional tracks and making it available on vinyl for the first time as a 2-LP set. It’s another exceptional collaboration between Terry, the band and the label, with entirely new packaging and photos from the sessions. The record is bright, with heavy doses of brass, and the sound is open and airy; perfectly representing the live setup the players embraced at the Nevessa Production facility in upstate New York.

There is an army of talent to be found on this record, and Terry receives support from bandmates Johnny Spampinato (guitar), Joey Spampinato (bass), and the late Tommy Ardolino on drums. But the focus here is on the creative genius to be found in Terry’s work. The writing, the arranging, and his on-the-spot innovation bring a sense of magic to this music. It transcends genres and reminds us all of how uniquely his vision has impacted the music of his infamous band and the artists who’ve been privileged to work alongside of him through the years.

In live shows, Terry is known for bringing a zany sense of Marx Brothers-inspired humor to his performances. While this record is anchored in jazz, Terry never takes himself too seriously and the inherent fun that the players most likely had in these sessions is transmitted through each take.

Copper caught up with Terry to talk about the making of the record, his approach to the creative process, and to hear about what might be next for an artist who always seems to have something new that’s he’s just about to share with the world.



Terry Adams, Terrible, album cover.


Ray Chelstowski: While you were often busy outside of NRBQ with collaborations, it took some time to do a solo record. Why was it the right time to do one in 1995, and why did you decide to make it a jazz record?

Terry Adams: Well, I was asked by Arthur Moorhead of New World Records to do a jazz record. He had been talking to (drummer) Bobby Previte about it. For me songs just kind of arrive so I never really think about sticking to a theme, and Arthur told me I could do anything I wanted as long as I included the NRBQ song “Yes, Yes, Yes.” So I did. The only song I kind of cheated on is “These Blues” which isn’t really a jazz tune but I threw it in anyway.

RC: It’s surprising how quickly the record came together, especially with this many different ensembles.

TA: Things went quickly. We did the entire thing in three or four nights. I set up different ensembles for each song. I had a few really good rhythm sections and five or six different horn solos going on in my head. We recorded in Saugerties [New York], which is near where I used to live, so it ended up being a nice, fun time.

RC: This is a brass-heavy record. How did you go about charting the horns?

TA: When I was writing the charts I got tendinitis in my right hand. It started to take so much energy to write the parts for these guys, so I started to use Jim Hoke (saxophonist) to write out the horn parts from then on because I couldn’t score. The music I make is really about the personalities that make it. I don’t look to hire the perfect musician who can read the parts. Instead, I look for the personalities that will make sessions more fun and the music more of ourselves.


RC: Did your work on the Robert Altman movie help you decide on who would support you on the record?

TA: Well, I met Bobby Previte and Greg Cohen (bass) [while] doing that movie. The rest of the guys had been friends for a long time. Bobby and Greg lived in New York City so it wasn’t hard for them to get up to the studio. It was only about 100 or so miles so that all worked out pretty easily.

RC: There are four new songs on this reissue. Did you arrive to the studio with songs in hand, and how did you decide which ones to keep?

TA: I had some that I guess you could say had been laying around, or that we had been playing. But when we got to the studio I wrote and added some too. There’s one song, “Wrong Gasket,” that was recorded outside of the album sessions. That was live in Toronto with Marshall Allen (sax). I included it because it thought it fit perfectly with this album.

I think it was really because I had enough songs. It seemed like the right amount. It’s a pretty long album and is about an hour long. But when you make a two-record set you wind up with one side that’s blank if you don’t add more. You put 20 minutes per side and then there ends up being nothing on side two of the second record. So, I told them that I had some things that would fit.


RC: Was this recorded live and did it require many takes?

TA: Yeah until you get it right. We’d set things up, go through it a couple of times and see how things were going. When we were doing “These Blues” we were having a really good time and it was getting [to be] late at night. There was nothing wrong with the takes that we didn’t end up using. It’s just that I wanted more out of them. So, I called John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful) who didn’t live far from the studio. He answered the phone and I told him that I had this session for him, just a blues song, and that I wanted him to come over. He said, “I’m sorry but I’m in bed. I’m already in my pajamas.” So I said something like, “OK, we’re just going to have to make history without you!” As soon as I said that he showed up with a guitar and some crazy amp and that was that. You can hear his distorted guitar and it’s exactly what I mean about the personality [of a musician]. Everything was fine with the guys who were playing on the track, but once a different guy walks into the session the spirit of the room changes. That’s what knocked “These Blues” over the top.

RC: You’ve now done a number of projects with Omnivore Records. Is there anything else in the queue? And what’s next with NRBQ?

TA: Yeah I just finished one. I don’t know that we are ready to announce it. It’s a reissue and we found a good guy to work with and the remastering has it sounding really good. There’ll be bonus tracks and some other stuff.

In terms of the band, we’re heading out down South for a little bit. In April we’ll be in the Midwest. We’re always working on something.


Terrible Tracklist:

  1. “Toodlehead”
    2. “Venusian Sunset” (Originally Titled “Le Sony’r”)
    3. “Say When”
    4. “Yes, Yes, Yes”
    5. “Hilda”
    6. “Brother” (Originally Titled “Dog”)
    7. “I Feel Lucky”
    8. “Out The Windo”
    9. “Little One”
    10. “Distant Instant”
    11. “Thinking Of You”
    12. “These Blues”

Bonus Tracks:

  1. “Wrong Gasket”
    14. “Thedy”*
    15. “Kalimba”*
    16. “Say When” (Take 2)*

* Previously unissued


Header image courtesy of Merritt Brown.

Back to Copper home page