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NRBQ’s Terry Adams shares the facts (and more) on the band’s new LP ‘Dragnet’

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NRBQ’s Terry Adams shares the facts (and more) on the band’s new LP ‘Dragnet’ (Photo by Norm Demoura)

“We play organic music for the right motive and I think maybe fans of the band can feel that, they need it.” – Terry Adams of NRBQ

We do need it. It’s been nearly eight long years since NRBQ issued an album of all new material but that changes this week with the release of “Dragnet,” containing 10 original songs plus the group’s unique arrangement of the classic TV show theme.

“Dragnet” is the latest NRBQ offering from Omnivore Recordings, the label behind the critically praised “High Noon,” 50th anniversary retrospective box set, the “Turn On, Tune In” live set, the rarities collection “In Frequencies,” and remastered catalog reissues. Of the label’s reissue of NRBQ’s 1969 self-titled debut (originally on Columbia), Adams says “That’s how it should have been done long ago.”

NRBQ has always been one of America’s most consistent, diverse and influential musical forces, both on record with 23 studio albums, and live in concert where they’ve performed literally thousands of shows with no two exactly alike. Fans have come to expect the unexpected as the band delivers an unpredictable blend of rock, jazz, blues, rockabilly, country and pop, performed with humor and virtuosity, from a seemingly endless repertoire of possibilities decided in the moment.

The group’s longest serving lineup last performed together in 2007, the same year founding member and keyboardist Terry Adams formed his Rock and Roll Quartet with guitarist Scott Ligon, planting the seeds for a new NRBQ that premiered in 2011 and now includes bassist Casey McDonough and drummer John Perrin.

“These guys are the best musicians I’ve ever played with,” Adams said of NRBQ’s lineup during an interview with The Maine Edge. That may raise an eyebrow of some fans that had their DNA rearranged after taking in a live show by the classic Q back in the day, but Adams was being sincere.

NRBQ’s most time-honored hallmarks have always been the band’s exemplary songwriting and performance, and both shine on “Dragnet,” which Adams explains was largely recorded live in the studio pre-pandemic. “We play together and record it live, you get better music that way,” he said. “When the studio closed, we had to stop for a while, but it all worked out.”

The record opens with the driving groove of “Where’s My Pebble?” an Adams/Ligon co-write born on a lengthy car trip, like several songs on “Dragnet.”

Ligon’s “I Like Her So Much” is sweetness personified in barely two minutes. Its honeyed melody is matched with a lyrical innocence that makes a perfect pop nugget that could have fit comfortably on any NRBQ record, or one by the Everly Brothers or The Lovin’ Spoonful.

Drummer John Perrin contributed “The Memo Song,” which offers a few helpful suggestions on living life. “If you can feel something, then you know it must be real,” Perrin sings. It’s a line that unintentionally describes the overall NRBQ ethos of a band driven by authenticity but forced to operate in an industry too often fueled by the opposite.

The title track on “Dragnet” is an NRBQ arrangement of the classic Jack Webb TV show theme song that Adams says surprised even the band. “I’ve always kind of messed with the “Dragnet” theme song over the years, so when I hit on that arrangement, we just did it in the studio then I kind of forgot about it for a while.” He says when the band heard it again while reviewing rough mixes, each member thought it was better than they’d remembered.

Adams’s “You Can’t Change People” sounds like a long-lost Brian Wilson song from the early ‘70s, both lyrically and musically. It has a certain Beach Boys quality but it’s ultimately pure NRBQ.

Casey McDonough’s “The Moon and Other Things” is one of the highlights of “Dragnet,” and like many of these songs from the first listen, sounds like an old friend we’re just getting to know. The understated beauty of the song lies in the seeming effortlessness with which it’s delivered.

Likewise, the gentle beauty of Scott Ligon’s “That Makes Me a Fool” has a spirit of timelessness in a contemporary torch song sung from the perspective of a guy who broke all the hearts and all the rules but is still in school.

The most unusual song on “Dragnet” is Adams’s “L-O-N-E Lone-ly” which opens with the sound of John Perrin personifying a human clock with woodblocks followed by Adams delivering lines as a guy who’s so down and out, even Walmart greeters turn the other way. “What am I waking up for? Nobody has anything to say to me,” he says glumly. Adams made a point of asking my opinion of the song.

“Is it related to how the pandemic made many people feel?” I asked. Adams chuckled and said “No, but it’s OK if you hear it that way. Did you laugh or cry when you heard it?” he asked. I told him it made me sad because he sounded sad. “I see,” he replied. “Sometimes you’ll hear it as comedy and sometimes (laughing) it isn’t.” That’s when I realized the song is kind of the musical equivalent of the blue dress/gold dress viral internet phenomenon of 2015. I did laugh near the end when Adams says even his “bastard cat” left him and moved next door.

If you’re looking for just the facts, “Dragnet” is quintessential NRBQ in both songwriting and performance. As a longtime Q fan, I may be a little biased. I probably should have stated up front that any perceived impartiality in this story is purely unintentional on my part, but maybe that’s a good thing. I hear beautiful new melodies, lyrics that make me smile and grooves that should come with a “caution while driving” warning, all wrapped in the authenticity that has always surrounded the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet.

Here's more from my conversation with Terry Adams:

The Maine Edge: It’s amazing to me that you somehow found the perfect musicians in Scott, Casey and John to carry on the legacy of NRBQ. They embody the spirit that has been always been with the band. What do those guys mean to you?

Terry Adams: Nothing means more to me than the band, but I’ve always been like that. I hate to see a band change. I hate it when somebody leaves, but then something better always happens. You get over it and move on. These guys are the best musicians I’ve ever played with.

The Maine Edge: One of NRBQ’s mightiest strengths has always been in the songwriting of the band. Does inspiration for new songs come to you the same way it always has?

Terry Adams: Most of my songs have been written as a groove first and then they get lyrics later on. I’m not a guy who has lyrics in mind to make a song about some story. It’s about music for me and then the lyrics fall into place. Sometimes they’re really good and sometimes they’re whatever they are (laughs). I’m more of a composer. I’ve never set out to write a song lyrically about something, maybe once I’ve done that.

The Maine Edge: Is “Where’s My Pebble,” the opening song on ‘Dragnet’ that you wrote with Scott, a good example of what you’re talking about?

Terry Adams: That’s another kind of songwriting where you start singing in the car and some of these car rides are pretty long. After about 8 hours or so, (laughs) stuff starts coming out. So I started singing “Quickly as you can take a pebble from my hand” for no reason in the car. When we got together the next time, we had that groove and it was perfect.

The Maine Edge: “Five More Miles” must be another one of those songs born on a car trip.

Terry Adams: (laughs) Yeah, that was definitely written in the car, trying to keep the driver awake by making up this stuff.

The Maine Edge: I love your take on the Dragnet theme. I still watch reruns of “Dragnet” on MeTV because it reminds me of a simpler time. Were you a fan of the show?

Terry Adams: Yeah, it’s always pretty funny but I’m a bigger fan of “Highway Patrol” with Broderick Crawford. I’ve always kind of messed with the “Dragnet” song over the years, so when I hit on that arrangement we just did it in the studio then I kind of forgot about it for a while. I asked our engineer to send me a rough mix of what we had so we heard “Dragnet” and we all said it was better than we’d thought.

The Maine Edge: I love Scott’s guitar on that song. It just sounds so cool. You mentioned “Highway Patrol.” Those shows are still fun to watch today. Did any actor deliver lines faster than Broderick Crawford? I have trouble sometimes trying to decipher his dialogue.

Terry Adams: The next time you watch that show, notice how much time they spent driving in reverse. They get into a car and first have to back out from wherever they are and none of that is edited out. Have you ever heard somebody ask ‘Guess how much of your life you spend sleeping?’ You could also ask the question ‘Guess how much time in “Highway Patrol” they spent backing up?’ The answer is a lot! (laughing) but I love that show.

The Maine Edge: I know you’re also a fan of The Three Stooges. I have to ask, which stooge do you most closely identify with?

Terry Adams: Probably Moe. I called Moe on the phone one time, have you ever heard that story?

The Maine Edge: No, but I’d love to. How did you happen to call Moe?

Terry Adams: I was in California and I’d met somebody who knew Larry Fine. Larry invited me over and one side of his mouth was full of gauze because he’d just had his teeth pulled. As I was leaving, he asked if I wanted Moe’s phone number, so I said sure, so he gave me Moe’s number for no reason. When I got back to the hotel, I called Moe and said “I just saw Larry but he was having trouble talking because he’d been to the dentist and had some teeth pulled. Moe said (gruff voice): “Ahh, serves him right!” (laughing). That’s what he said to me! He was probably 80 or 85 years old.

The Maine Edge: (laughing). That’s fantastic. At some point, you became friends with Betty White. There’s a picture of you together that pops up on the internet sometimes. How did you meet her?

Terry Adams: She’s an animal rights person like me. I was invited to this party, I think it was her birthday party. Anyway, we got talking and we just along really well. She’s a special lady.

The Maine Edge: You’ve found a great music label with Omnivore Recordings. Their NRBQ releases, including the “High Noon” box set, the reissues, and new albums like “Dragnet” are all done right. The music comes first for them and you haven’t always had that kind of love from record labels, have you?

Terry Adams: Not like this, no. They’re all record collectors and they know what it’s like to be on both sides of this as opposed to just focusing on the business side. They know what it’s like to be someone who needs this record or that record and they’ve really done a good thing with us.

The Maine Edge: If there was ever a band deserving of an in-depth documentary, it’s NRBQ. Is that something that you would like to see happen at some point?

Terry Adams: I think it is going to happen. We had a pretty good documentary with Mike Scully (Executive Producer of “The Simpsons.” Scully produced the 2003 documentary “NRBQ: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Best Kept Secret” which aired on A&E). I think there’s something they’re working on now.

The Maine Edge: I’ve seen some amazing NRBQ shows here in Maine. Do any of those visits stand out in your memory, Terry?

Terry Adams: Every time we come to Maine it’s special, I believe. Every place is different but I feel that Maine has its own thing. I guess we’ll be coming there again soon. I’m not sure when exactly but I think it’s going to happen.

The Maine Edge: This is a little off topic but I’ve made a lot of friends over the years through my love of NRBQ and I’m very grateful for that.

Terry Adams: Some people have gotten married and had kids because of us.

The Maine Edge: What does that feel like? That this idea that you and your brother (Donn Adams, trombonist of the Whole Wheat Horns) had back in the mid-60s turned into this extended musical saga that changed people’s lives and helped create new people in the process? It must be a good feeling.

Terry Adams: Yes it does feel good but I don’t really know how to describe it. Some people have said they tried to bring a friend to see the band but they just didn’t get it. Or, they brought someone that did get it. I always ask what it is they did or didn’t get? I never know because it’s just music, it’s not meant to be a puzzle or anything. We play organic music for the right motive and I think maybe fans of the band can feel that, they need it.

As we approached the end of the interview, Terry issued a musical challenge. “Does Link Wray come to mind at all when you hear us?” he asked. I told him that I was familiar with the guitarist’s 1958 instrumental “Rumble,” but hadn’t connected him to NRBQ. He relayed a story to me about his initial meeting with Link Wray in 1971 when the guitarist contributed backing vocals to the song “Get a Grip” from the NRBQ LP “Scraps.”

Terry Adams: Link Wray had pretty much vanished at that time and I was amazed to actually see him. I bought “Rumble” when I was 9-years old or something but I played the B-side “The Swag” a lot more often. So I told him I had all his records and how much they meant to me. He said “Great, what kind of guitar do you play?” I told him I played the piano and he looked at me kind of wide-eyed. He never got over that story. Years passed but every time we met, he would tell that story to whomever he was with. The clavinet (electronic keyboard used by Adams throughout NRBQ’s entire history) helps if you’re a Link Wray fan. The next time you listen to the record (“Dragnet”) you’ll hear his influence in one of the songs. You’ll have to find it for yourself.”

After listening to Link Wray’s “The Swag” and then listening to NRBQ’s “Dragnet” album, I think I found a nod to the guitarist in the title song at about the 70 second mark when Adams plays a very ‘Swag’-like turnaround and solo that Ligon continues on guitar. Right or wrong, it was a fun challenge.

(NRBQ will return to the stage for a series of east coast shows beginning November 17. For locations, tickets and venue information, visit www.NRBQ.com.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 08:11

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