Drummer Tommy Ardolino was born on 12 January 1955 and died 6 January of this year from “illnesses related to alcoholism,” reported the Boston Globe. It’s likely that most people haven’t heard of him, though his career in music was long and consistent. From 1974 (right after high school) to 2004 he played with NRBQ, a band the New York Times called, in a slightly off-key obit for him, “one of the longest-lasting and most beloved rock groups never to have a Top 40 single…” (as if having a Top 40 single automatically equates with being successful at your art) and, after NRBQ dissolved temporarily in the late 2000s, with a spin-off group, Baby Macaroni, comprising him and former NRBQ members Joey and Johnny Spampinato (bass and guitar respectively).
I first heard the Q in 1976 when my eldest brother, music director at a radio station, gave me three albums the station would never play. I forget what one of them was, but the other two I liked: the first recording of the Earl Scruggs Revue, and a double-album by NRBQ, Scraps/Workshop, with the original drummer, Tom Staley, as well as Terry Adams (keyboards, vocals), Joey Spampinato (bass, vocals), Al Anderson (guitar, vocals), and Frankie Gadler (vocals). By the time Scraps was recorded Steve Ferguson, the first guitarist, had departed, though he never went out of the orbit of the band. (In 2006 Adams and Ferguson recorded the excellent Louisville Sluggers, with Tommy on drums.) Gadler left the band after Scraps, and Staley after Workshop. Tommy and Adams had been corresponding and meeting now and then, and there’s a great story about his first time on stage with this band whose music he knew well. One night Staley left the bar their gig was in for the bus, either ill or simply thinking the show had ended, but the encore required a drummer. Adams recognized Tommy in the audience, invited him up behind the drums and, though he’d not played with anyone, he fit right in. When Staley moved on to other projects Tommy took his place. (A few years ago Adams and Staley toured together. In 2010 Adams, according to his website, helped produce Jim Stephanson’s CD Say Go, and played on it, as did Tommy, Ferguson and Joey Spampinato. A close bunch, these guys, and I haven’t even mentioned The Incredible Casuals, P.J. O’Connell or the Chandler Travis Philharmonic.)