If the word "eclectic" didn't exist, someone would have to coin a similar term to describe the music of Terry Adams. Adams is best known as the keyboard player and founder of NRBQ, one of America's great unheralded rock bands of the 1970s and '80s. NRBQ was well known for following any number of musical paths, and Adams' solo work has shown he's similarly unwilling to confine himself to one stylistic framework as he interprets rock, blues, jazz, and experimental music -- sometimes all at once -- in his own playful manner.
Terry Adams was born in Louisville, KY, on August 14, 1948. A musical omnivore from an early age, the young Adams favored TV theme tunes and boogie-woogie piano music until he first heard Thelonious Monk at the age of 14, which sent him on a lifelong search for outré musical forms. By 1967, Adams had made his way to Florida, where he and guitarist Steve Ferguson were eager to form a band. They encountered bassist Joey Spampinato and vocalist Frank Gadler, who had recently parted ways with a group called the Seven of Us, and with the addition of drummer Tom Staley, they became NRBQ, generally thought to be an acronym for "the New Rhythm and Blues Quintet," though the bandmembers were hesitant to commit themselves to any official definition. In 1969, NRBQ were signed to Columbia Records, and cut a debut album that found them covering Sun Ra, Eddie Cochran, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee on the same LP, along with raucous originals from Adams and Ferguson. It was the opening salvo in one of the longest and most unusual careers in rock & roll; while the lineup was fluid in the first few years, with the departure of Staley, Ferguson, and Gadler and the arrival of guitarist Al Anderson and drummer Tom Ardolino, by 1974 NRBQ had a lineup that would remain steady for the next 20 years.
Eventually, NRBQ (now presumably the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) found a home in New England and were often cited as America's greatest bar band, reveling in their ability to play practically anything and do it with skill, charm, and a singular humor. (Not only would the band play requests, some nights they featured "the Magic Box" on-stage, in which patrons were encouraged to write down the name of a song they'd like to hear on a slip of paper, whether NRBQ had ever performed it or not, and the band would draw titles at random, bravely attempting to play whatever was pulled from the box.) In 1994, Anderson parted ways with the band, going on to a successful career as a songwriter and session guitarist in Nashville; Johnny Spampinato took over on guitar, and the band continued to record and tour.
When not busy with NRBQ, Adams collaborated with a predictably wide variety of other musicians. He toured and recorded with jazz composer Carla Bley, produced several albums for zydeco legend Boozoo Chavis, sat in with the Young Fresh Fellows on their album The Men Who Loved Music, backed up Lovin' Spoonful founder John Sebastian on his solo set Tar Beach, produced a rare solo set by Chuck Berry piano man Johnny Johnson, and added keyboards to sessions by Jad Fair and his group Half Japanese. Through NRBQ's Red Rooster Records label, Adams was also responsible for reissuing the wildly idiosyncratic album Philosophy of the World by outsider girl group the Shaggs, and producer Hal Willner invited Adams to join the band that backed up vocalist Annie Ross in Robert Altman's film Short Cuts. In 1995, Adams cut his long-awaited solo debut, jokingly titled Terrible.
In 2004, NRBQ released the album Dummy on their own Edisun Records label, and after a tour of Sweden later that same year, the bandmembers quietly parted ways. Since the end of NRBQ, Adams has, as expected, kept himself busy with a number of projects. He formed a combo called the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet with guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Pete Donnelly, and drummer Conrad Choucroun; the group toured frequently after NRBQ's breakup. He also leads another group, the more jazz-oriented Terry Adams & His Crazy Trio, which finds him reunited with former NRBQ drummer Tom Staley as well as Scott Ligon on guitar and Gene Oliveri on sax. After producing a comeback album for former bandmate Steve Ferguson in 1996, Adams teamed up with Ferguson to record the disc Louisville Sluggers in 2006. Saxophonist Marshall Allen took over leadership of the Sun Ra Arkestra after the death of the interstellar pianist in 1993, and Adams produced an album for the group, Song for the Sun, in 1999; Adams and Allen have since joined forces to cut a collaborative set, Ten by Two, in 2005. And after forming his own label, Clang Records, Adams has issued a steady stream of solo recordings (Rhythm Spell in 2007, Love Letter to Andromeda in 2008, Holy Tweet in 2009) as well as archival NRBQ recordings and material from Chris Ligon and the Japanese rockabilly band the Hot Shots. ~ Mark Deming