Terry Adams (born August 14, 1948) is an American pianist/composer and a founding member of the musical group NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quintet/Quartet), known for decades of extensive touring, energetic and humorous live shows, and wide-ranging musical repertoire, including rock, blues, country, pop, and jazz. NRBQ ceased performing in 2004, leading Adams to form the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet in 2007. In March 2011, Adams announced that he was changing the name of the band to NRBQ. A new NRBQ CD, "Keep This Love Goin'," heralded the move.

Adams was born in Louisville, Kentucky where he met fellow resident Steve Ferguson, a singer and guitarist who would also become a charter member of NRBQ. His older brother Donn Adams has served in various support roles with the band, including originally coining the NRBQ name, playing the trombone (as part of the "Whole Wheat Horn" section), and writing liner notes.

Brief musical history

While Adams would spend his early musical years playing in various rock and R&B groups in and around Louisville, he and Ferguson eventually arrived in Florida, where they met up with three other musicians (singer/bassist Joey Spampinato, drummer Tom Staley, and singer Frank Gadler) who joined them to launch NRBQ in 1967. The group relocated to the northeast, and a recording contract with Columbia Records followed soon thereafter. However, most of NRBQ's subsequent recorded works have been released on smaller, independent labels. Although the group has made personnel changes over the years, Adams and Spampinato have remained in the lineup throughout the band's history. The band worked almost constantly, either in the studio or on the road, from their formation until 2004, when the group went on a hiatus for several years, interrupted only by a few select concert dates. After NRBQ stopped performing, Adams continued to record and tour as a solo artist and with other musicians. 2006 saw the release of "Louisville Sluggers", a collaboration with former bandmate Ferguson, and an accompanying tour. Aftwerward, Adams released "Rhythm Spell" and "Holy Tweet", and began touring with his new group, the "Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet", In a March 2011 letter to his fans on NRBQ.com, Adams revealed that in 2004 he had been diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer, which was at the time of the letter in remission. In the same letter, Adams also announced the rebranding of his quartet as the new NRBQ. The band's members are Adams, Scott Ligon on guitar and vocals, Pete Donnelly on bass and vocals, and Conrad Choucroun on drums.

Adams has focused much of his career on playing, writing, and singing with NRBQ, but he has found time to devote to other projects, including the discovery and production of the musically untrained sisters comprising "The Shaggs," live and recorded work with jazz composer Carla Bley's band in the 70's, collaborations with spoken word artist David Greenberger, solo recordings and performances, a duet recording with alto saxophonist Marshall Allen (known for his long career with the Sun Ra Arkestra), and the recent performances and recordings described above.

He also released a solo jazz album, 1995's "Terrible".

Stage presence

Adams' live performances with NRBQ are brimming with energy, technique, wild humor, and showmanship that ultimately veer towards a kind of highly entertaining self-parody. Any given NRBQ performance has been propelled in great part by Adams' exhilarating technique, his artful musicality and his magnetic stage presence. He is known to appear onstage in colorful shirts and with various elastic bands tied in his long blond hair.

Musical technique and approach

Adams is an idiosyncratic virtuoso pianist/keyboardist, composer, and singer. His early years were spent absorbing American vernacular piano styles, and in particular he drew influences from a number of country, blues and rock artists, both famous and obscure. Comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis's aggressive approach have been common, but the range of Adams' vocabulary and skills reaches far beyond such a narrow categorization. For example, another distinct influence on Adams' playing and composing is Thelonious Monk. His shifting gears between rockabilly hammering and lyrical, jazz-flavored open harmonies can be shocking.

Adams' technique on the piano can be extremely powerful and percussive at times, and elliptical and introspective at other times. He has stated that during the 1970s he invested time in the further development of his understanding of jazz harmony, forms and techniques. His live and recorded work clearly reflect his ability to incorporate the latter studies with the variety of other styles he had earlier assimilated. It can take a while for the unschooled listener to appreciate that most of the "wrong" notes he plays are intentional (though sloppiness generally is a core value of his and NRBQ's overall statement).

In addition to being a brilliant pianist, Adams remains committed to the Clavinet, an instrument manufactured by Hohner company (from 1968 to 1982). The sound of this instrument--essentially an electronic version of the clavichord -- is most commonly associated with Stevie Wonder's music and other well-known pop artists, but Adams' typically offbeat approach transcends and/or abandons the instrument's usual cheesy funk associations. As with much of NRBQ's work, the oddball qualities Adams explores are not always smooth or easy to listen to. He expertly utilizes the instrument's various built-in settings, effects pedals such as chorus or phase shifters, and the natural overdrive of a tube amplifier to derive a huge variety of tone and color, some quite grating and abrasive. Adams creates melodic lines and solos, chordal structures, and low-range bass lines on the Clavinet. He has exploited its guitar-like timbre to create a thick mesh with NRBQ's guitar players (notably effective in duet with the now departed Al Anderson). Adams' loyalty to this instrument, which has the lyrical and romantic qualities of the kazoo, is typical of his idiosyncratic dedication to the generally unfashionable and downright silly.

Although Adams is capable of approaching any keyboard instrument, whether a toy piano or an organ, with his unique artistry, in recent years he has spent most of his live and studio performances either behind the piano or the Clavinet. Occasionally he utilizes basic synthesizer patches to add additional color, or to veer into Sun Ra-inspired "space-outs." He is also a proficient harmonica player, and a passable trumpeter. His vocal capabilities are not strong in the traditional sense, but he uses his voice and its often croakish tonality to great effect, whether in harmony with his bandmates or in a lead capacity. His lead vocals range in emotion from loony and excited to a kind of world-weariness. His vocal sound and style is central to the NRBQ attitude, a sort of wise-guy Bugs Bunny take on the world and the all-important quest for fun, which continues to animate the NRBQ attack even as they approach elderliness. When his edgy voice was combined with Joey Spampinato's sweet balladeering and Al Anderson's grizzly-bear roar, NRBQ had three of the most varied and memorable vocalists of any rock act.

Composing and songwriting

Terry Adams writes songs and instrumental compositions in a variety of styles, including skewed blues forms and clever pop and country songs. He skillfully embeds odd chord changes and unexpected turns into accessible pop forms. His lyrics can be extremely humorous (or downright silly at times), and he is also capable of being oddly poetic. He has collaborated on a number of songs with bandmate Spampinato, who is known for his ability to craft beautiful, sometimes Beatlesque tunes. A number of Adams' songs have been covered by other pop artists, including Dave Edmunds and Bonnie Raitt.

Adams, like his bandmates, has a fondness for a variety of musical styles and for unusual or historically notable artists. These interests have led to an interesting set of other artists' material being covered by NRBQ, including Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra, Tin Pan Alley songs, and various theme songs from television and cartoons ("Batman," "The Chipmunks," etc.). His vast knowledge of many song catalogues and his ability to exhort his band, his semi-regular horn section, including his brother Donn on trombone, and an array of luminaries as guest stars (John Sebastian and Raitt being particular kindred spirits) to higher peaks of weirdness, jolliness and celebratory froth are the linchpins of a legendary yet obscure American music original.