With a discography going back to 1969, multiple covers by various artists, and a reputation as a fantastic live band, one has to wonder: Why isn’t NRBQ a bigger name in music?
After almost 50 years, NRBQ is still going with founding member Terry Adams, and the group will be playing at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Friday, July 7.
During a recent phone interview, Scott Ligon, who has been working with Terry Adams since 2007, discussed how he discovered NRBQ, which stands for New Rhythm and Blues Quartet.
“I’ve been a fan of the band since I was 18 years old,” Ligon said. “I’m 46 now, and they became my favorite band when I heard about them in 1988. I couldn’t even believe there was a band like that, that existed on the planet. I immediately started buying every single record on cassette and driving around in my car, listening to them. I just had a real instant connection with all of the music. There’s a certain kind of attitude, a feeling and a spirit to this music that is different. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s a real spirit of positivity and possibility that I related to right away as a young guy.”
Ligon knew all the songs, so it wasn’t hard for him to learn the material when he joined the group.
“I don’t remember ever sitting down and picking out the chords to these songs, but I knew them all,” he said. “I had them in my spirit. When it came time to be the guitar-player in the band, I already knew them all, but I had to sit down and ask, ‘What’s the chord on that bridge?’ and that kind of thing. Their catalog was in my soul similarly to the Beatles or the Beach Boys. That’s how highly I thought of this music.”
NRBQ is a band crate-diggers and audiophiles have known about for years, but the average music fan has probably never heard of it. I asked Ligon why that is the case—and he struggled to answer the question at first.
“I think that slowly but surely, people who are really music people find out about us,” Ligon said. “There’s just so much to wade through. The thing about NRBQ is the volume of work—there’s so much there. You really have to decide you’re going to do this if you’re going to dig in. There are about 30 to 40 albums. There’s just so much music out there, but I think true music-lovers find their way to it. But isn’t that a great thing when you go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’ve never heard this before!’? That’s the way I felt when I was 18 in 1988. I couldn’t believe this band existed.
In the 1980s, NRBQ enjoyed a colorful period during which WWF/WWE wrestler and manager “Captain” Lou Albano managed the band.
“There was something about this band I couldn’t put my finger on when I first started to see them, and I eventually figured out it was this wrestling thing,” Ligon said. “When I was growing up in the ’70s, my older brother would take me to see wrestling. I saw Andre the Giant, The Crusher, and Mad Dog Vachon, and this was a whole subculture onto itself back in the ’70s. It was really entertaining. These guys who ended up doing this, they had huge personalities that couldn’t be contained. There were 200 people at these things—old ladies to see Andre the Giant and people giving Dick the Bruiser the finger. It was crazy! I recognized this wrestling thing in NRBQ, and I had to discover that Lou Albano was their manager for several years. That was a really amazing chapter in the band’s history, and that happened before I became aware of them. But because I had an older brother who took me to see wrestling when I was a kid, that was another connection I had to this band.”
Considering how many live shows NRBQ plays—always without a set list—it seems like fans would often tape bootleg recordings, and that the band would be releasing a lot of live albums itself.
“I’m sure people do (record bootlegs),” Ligon said. “I’m not really an archivist, and as far as releasing another live record goes, that just depends on if we have a night when we really like the sound and feeling of it, and think people would be interested in hearing it. There’s no current plan to do it, but if something comes along that we really like, we’ll do another live record.”
I asked what those who attend an NRBQ show can expect if they’ve never seen the band before.
“I don’t even know what to expect!” Ligon said with a laugh. “Maybe in some weird way, that does answer the question. Nothing is off limits, and the whole catalog is fair game. We never know what song Terry will call next. It could be from the first record, or it could be from the last record. We never really know. Expect to have a good time and be happy when you walk out of there.”
NRBQ will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, July 7, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.