Not ALL the great bands played Woodstock.
The Rascals passed on the gig, Felix Cavaliere told me, protesting the lack of black bands in the lineup; and NRBQ — who lived in Saugerties and could have practically walked to Woodstock — played the Aerodrome in Schenectady that August 1969 weekend. My musician brother, Jim Hoke, saw them there, and it changed his life.
“Our old drummer, Irwin Gantz was playing in the opening band, a slick, old-school Albany soul band,” he said on Monday from Nashville, still amazed at the contrast in styles, music and everything.
“The ’Q had hair down to their elbows, and bare feet. They did Sun Ra’s ‘Rocket Number Nine,’ for a long time; followed by a letter-perfect ‘Cathy’s Clown.’ I remember them doing songs from the first Columbia LP including ‘Kentucky Slop Song’ and ‘Ida’ (a Carla Bley song that Terry wrote words to). They were GREAT!
“Steve Ferguson blazed a style of guitar that was equal parts Lonnie Mack and Jimi Hendrix,” Jim continued. “Singer Frankie Gadler never stood still: always jumping all over the place, swinging from beams above the stage. They had a single out that they performed, which summed up the band pretty well. It went: ‘I’ve got this joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.’ ”
They also played “Louie Louie,” “Fergie’s Prayer” and more, to a sparse, amazed crowd.
“They were in complete control (with looseness) of all the many styles of rock or jazz they played,” said Jim. “Not a bit of parody or self-consciousness anywhere. They knew what they were doing and gave off the sense that it was totally real; that there was a lot more where that came from, instead of an attitude of, ‘Now this is jazz; now this is rockabilly.’ They illustrated the spiritual connection and similarities between styles rather than the details that make the difference.”
Jim said, “My reaction was complete, instant awe. It blew away everything that’d come before. It was total musical freedom. It was the kind of thing that makes you drop your life and go follow this band, Grateful Dead-style. [A musician friend] Mark Comstock said after I took him to hear the ’Q at The Palomino in LA, ‘They’re not just a band; they’re a world view.’ ”
Miracle of miracles, 40 years later, NRBQ pianist Terry Adams has released “Holy Tweet,” a record with all the joy of early NRBQ in its heart and its sound. On Saturday, Adams will play new songs from the album, and also some NRBQ faves, at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium with his new band, the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet. They played their first-ever gig there 18 months ago.
Since their Aerodrome debut, NRBQ has played almost every venue here over nearly 40 years of nonstop wandering. This weekend, when they perform at WAMC, Adams and his new crew will land just 10 miles east of the now-vanished Aerodrome site on Route 5. (This is the place where he played with original ’Q guitarist Steve Ferguson in July 2006).
Over the years, they sowed consternation at the UAlbany Campus Center Ballroom with a leisurely, oblivious and really long smoke break. More consternation followed at J.B. Scott’s — with “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as set-closer and encore — but Albert Grossman signed them that night to his Bearsville Records label anyway.
Adams’ grand piano arrived at Camp Union at Union College by horse trailer, and he rode it hard. They held their own at UAlbany’s Mayfest between British popster Paul Young and hip-hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
’Q guitarist Al Anderson nearly burned the RPI Fieldhouse down, upstaging headliner George Thorogood. When the air-conditioning broke down at Bogie’s on a hot night, the crowd nearly melted, but nobody left, and when soundman Klem Klimek wrung out his T-shirt, the heat had shrunk it so much that he couldn’t tug it back on.
Over those 40 years, NRBQ also lit up Saratoga Winners; Music Haven; the Tulip Festival; the Big House; the Van Dyck; Revolution Hall; and virtually every place in Northampton.
Through that whole run, they continued to amaze and exasperate, playing raw rockabilly (Carl Perkins played on their second album), fiery free jazz (the greatest pianist in rock history, Adams plays in an idiosyncratic style that’s as much Sun Ra and Thelonious Monk as Jerry Lee Lewis or Ray Charles) and romantic love songs (friend John Sebastian says the ’Q learned what he calls their “Italian crooner” flavor from him, from the Lovin’ Spoonful).
Since the Aerodrome, the summer they didn’t play Woodstock, the ’Q has changed personnel only twice, when Ferguson, Gadler and drummer Tom Staley left in the 1970s between “All Hopped Up” and “At Yankee Stadium” (which of course was not recorded there), replaced by drummer Tom Ardolino and guitarist Al Anderson, and when Anderson left (1994) replaced by Johnny Spampinato.
Adams has released an album every year since NRBQ went on hiatus in 2004. The rocking duo album “Louisville Sluggers” reunited him with Steve Ferguson just before their show at WAMC. The full-on rocker “Rhythm Spell” was a sharp-focus studio effort. “Love Letter to Andromeda” exploded solo keyboard jazz with prepared piano and celeste and was promptly honored by the San Francisco Chronicle on its Best Jazz of 2008 list.
There’s little jazz on “Holy Tweet;” maybe attesting to Adams’ satisfaction with “Andromeda” and a desire to rock out with elements of his new band and old friends. The album features new guy Scott Ligon playing guitar and bass and singing up a sweet storm, while NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino punches out the beat. Jim Hoke — a fan since Woodstock weekend, who has played on a handful of NRBQ albums and at probably 100 ’Q shows — sweetens the opening track “My Girl My Girl” (no, not the Temptations’ classic played twice) with harmonica and recorders. Adams serves up a blast of British Invasion brashness on “Never Cop Out” and otherwise peers at love through a neon fun-house kaleidoscope that inspires him to pay tribute on “Feet” to the two extremities that “took you straight to me.” On “She’s Got Everything,” he praises a lover’s attributes and suggests, compatibly, that he’s got everything else. He pledges “Yes I Will,” offers the “Key to My Pants” and delivers oddball romantic detours, cul-de-sacs and breathtaking freeway dashes to joy.
That’s still what Terry Adams does. He tells you “I’ve got this joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart,” and he brings you right in.
The Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet plays on Saturday at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium (339 Central Ave., Albany), starting at 8 p.m. Admission is $23. Phone 465-5233 ext. 4 or visit www.wamcarts.org.
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.