“Son, you can’t eat records.”
“Growing up I didn’t go to college, but I listened to music, and my dad said to me that he thought I was buying too many records,” recalled Adams, now 65. “So I would buy a record and get my friends to act like it was theirs and walk in the house with it in their hands. (Laughs) And then when they got downstairs they would just accidentally leave it behind. So I learned what the world is about and what else is out there through the music.”
That education – and educating – process has not stopped since, and NRBQ’s latest album, Brass Tacks, shows Adams and company showing no signs of slowing down, or changing their philosophy toward their art. Just don’t call it more of the same.
“Nothing’s more of the same,” said Adams. “It’s all new music. It’s where we’re at right now, and whatever I do, I can’t help for it to be NRBQ. I don’t have a choice, I never have. It’s just what I do.”
No one’s complaining - not now and not in the 45 years since their self-titled debut album was released in 1969. Brass Tacks is NRBQ – and after lineup changes, deaths, and a cancer battle won by Adams, that’s something you wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear. But it’s the truth, a testament to Adams always finding the right folks to go along with his vision.
“I hear the phrase ‘new lineup,’ but from this seat, it’s the same that it’s always been,” he said. “You understand the music and you want to contribute to it and be a part of it, and there’s a good vibe there. That’s what it’s always been.”
But does it feel like 45 years?
“In a way, no, it doesn’t,” he laughs. “It’s kind of like one long weekend.”
It’s why the band has retained its loyal following for over four decades despite being one of the more eclectic collectives on the road these days. You could say that’s a death sentence in the compartmentalized music business, but the way Adams sees it, if you can accept the band for who they are, you’re in for life.
“I think NRBQ is sort of a test for people, and those who pass it can’t forget,” he said. “We don’t have the hooks that people seem like they need today, like an introduction. Here’s a blues band from Texas – oh, I get it. Here’s some guys from New Orleans – oh, they’re a fun band. So you have all these concepts, and no one can really figure out what the concept is for NRBQ except that it’s about the music. We don’t have that hook that people seem to want before they decide whether they want to experience it or not. When you experience this music, it does wonders for your soul and for your spirit, but you have to come to it on its own terms. So there’s no need for me to change it now – it’s been working this long, and it’s something that gets better and better.”
No truer words have been spoken, but Adams isn’t done yet, as a question about what gets him up in the morning to still make music every day delivers an equally compelling response.
“If you really love living, and even if you’re having hard times, I’d rather spend the rest of my time trying to solve a problem than being dead,” said the throat cancer survivor. “I can be dead later on, so I like being alive, and as time goes by, that gets more precious. Your friends are more important, and ones you lose are there, and that’s what the music is. I go for a walk in the morning, I see some squirrels and some birds and chipmunks, you have a nice espresso, and pretty soon the music’s coming out of me. We bring this together through sound and it’s a gift. It’s a gift to me, it’s a gift to listeners, and I don’t know what it is. If I knew what it was I’d be a poet.”
He already is. Just not a conventional one, and that’s the way he likes it.
NRBQ plays B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City on Monday, July 21. For tickets, click here