NRBQ drummer Tommy Ardolino passes away at 56

Posted 07 Jan 2012 in Music + TV News


Tommy Ardolino has passed away at 56. All we have is this short blurb on NRBQ’s facebook page. “We regret to inform you that Tom Ardolino passed away today. Tom will be missed but his spirit lives on through those who were touched by him.”

He had been ill for some time, the band made this statement last month. “Tom Ardolino is presently dealing with a number of health issues and is expected to be in the hospital for some time.

“He was a great drummer and a great guy,” fellow NRBQ alum Al Anderson told the told the Hartford Courant today. “He had a totally unique style of drumming that nobody can ever duplicate. That was one of the baddest rhythm sections in the world.”

Tommy originally was a fan of the band. He was always sending mix tapes to founding NRBQ member Terry Adams. One night, Q drummer Tom Staley did not return for an encore. Tommy was asked to sit in. Sure enough, when Staley decided to leave the band, Ardonino was in. He played with NRBQ from 1974 thru 2004.

One of my favorite memories of  Tom was of him singing “Volare” during an old NRBQ show.  He was proud to be Italian.

What was one of his most heard works? Well that would be his drumming on a drivers ed piece of all things. He played on the Grammy winning film Kids Behind the Wheel. However, it’s wasn’t what he expected.

Part of the music required Ardolino to drum to a “nu-metal type piece.” Jim Chapdelaine, a West Hartford, Conn. guitarist and producer who hired Ardolino for the job said Ardolino declined at first to play it, explaining, “It would make me sad.” He ended up drumming on it anyway, swinging the part instead of playing a chugging heavy-metal rhythm.

“I left it in there and it’s shown in every driver’s ed course in the country,” Chapdelaine said. “When the producer of the film asked me about it, I told her we invented a new genre — Happy Metal. They loved it.”

Chapdelaine continued, “He was a beloved guy who didn’t know how beloved he was.”

Tom also had a passion for films, this year would see the release of a film that featured his screenplay titled City of Shoulders and Noses. Shooting begins soon and a fall release is expected.

In his honor, I’m going to repost a great piece that was written by Parry Gettelman of the Orlando Sentinel. It captures Tommy to a “T.”

— Larry Carta

Date With Q’s Drummer

Music – Soundboard

February 04, 2000|By Parry Gettelman, Sentinel Popular Music Critic

If you ever want to feel like a true VIP, see if Tom Ardolino will let you go record-shopping with him. I thought it might be instructive to visit the fabled Blue Note Records in Miami with the NRBQ drummer last weekend, in preparation for the group’s show at the Sapphire this evening. He didn’t mind my tagging along – probably because he was staying way out in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, and I said I’d drive.

Also, as it turned out, he didn’t know the way – Q keyboardist Terry Adams always does the navigating.

“I’m just the idiot boy,” Ardolino explained cheerfully. “I’m just the drummer.”

Walking into Blue Note with Ardolino created a commotion that could probably be surpassed only by entering an art-supply store with Salvador Dali. Owner Bob Perry came over to greet Ardolino, and staff members swarmed around to rave about the previous night’s show.

Ardolino had already paid a visit to Blue Note the day before with Adams but hadn’t completed his shopping. Adams loves records, but he doesn’t peruse the bins with the same zeal and tenacity as Ardolino.

When he’s playing drums, Ardolino often wears a dreamy, faraway look of contentment that can make you wonder how he can be hitting his kit so hard and executing so deftly NRBQ’s death-defying hairpin tempo shifts. When he’s flipping through LPs, CDs and especially 45s, Ardolino is as brisk and sharply focused as an archaeologist digging for the treasure of the ancients, knowing he has to outpace grave robbers and antiquity thieves.

In the world-music section, Ardolino instantly spotted a compilation of songs South African icon Miriam Makeba recorded on 78s early in her career.

“Oh, it’s that dirty David Allan Coe album,” Ardolino said, coming across a rare and risque item from the country star’s catalog.

Ardolino advised me to pick up a CD reissue of Andre Popp & His Orchestra’s 1957 Delirium in Hi-Fi (it turned out to be aptly titled and as delicious as it is delirious).

“What is this, heavy metal?” Ardolino asked as he cast an eye over the next section. “What am I doing here? It’s one thing I can’t get into.”

Ardolino flipped expertly through the imports, hoping to come across some new Japanese pop gem. Japanese pop is hard to find, but look out for Fantastic Plastic Machine, Instant Citron and Takako Minekawa, a singer who has recorded with NRBQ, he advised.

Ardolino found himself a Jan & Dean bootleg. I swooned over a collection of R&B obscurities called Chicken Shack Boogie Vol. 2, but Ardolino warned me: “It’s a whole series. There are a lot of those. You’ll go broke!”

Ardolino pointed out some particularly good albums by the Four Freshmen and one by former pop idol Fabian, whom Ardolino considers sadly underappreciated.

“He’s not the best singer – that’s what I like about it,” Ardolino said. “He’s sincere. He really is trying.”

Ardolino was happy to come across RCA’s CD reissue of the 1969 debut of the Shaggs, a trio of New Hampshire sisters who took rank amateurism to the level of pure genius.

“Can you believe RCA put out the Shaggs?” Ardolino asked. “I feel like I’m dreaming. I dreamt I saw the Shaggs on RCA!”

Ardolino proudly related that NRBQ’s recent 30th-anniversary celebration in New York featured the Shaggs as an opening act, performing for the first time in a quarter century. And he joined them on their four-song set because drummer Helen Wiggins was ill.

How hard must that have been, I wondered, given the algebraic impossibility of the Shaggs’ bizarre time signatures.

“We did a sound check and that was it,” Ardolino said. “I just went with it. I was real happy about it. They were so nice! I was nervous at first, but once we started playing, I wasn’t nervous. It was great!”

The two packed 30th anniversary shows were just one recent landmark for NRBQ, which in addition to Adams and Ardolino includes bassist Joey Spampinato and his younger brother, guitarist Johnny Spampinato. The group has a new, self-titled album on Rounder and recently appeared in animated form on a sweeps-week episode of The Simpsons. The band plays in a forthcoming Sandra Bullock movie, 28 Days, and Simpsons executive producer Mike Scully has been pitching a special on the band to VH1.

The momentum is obviously carrying through to the shows. NRBQ’s two Saturday night sets at Alligator Alley in Sunrise rocked so outrageously that the audience looked both ecstatic and decidedly dazed at the end of the night. A lot of the same people turned up, rather the worse for wear, for an electrifying matinee show at Churchill’s in Miami the next day – a make-up date for Friday when snowstorms had grounded the Spampinato brothers up north.

Adams and Ardolino carried on Friday as a duo, sounding like the world’s most demented NRBQ tribute band, merrily mangling the lovely ballad “Yes, Yes, Yes” and garage-rocking their way through other NRBQ songs.

“We’ll be back Sunday,” Adams said, “and we’re going to watch the Spampinato Brothers die up on this stage. Have you ever heard `Green Lights’ without a drummer?”

Adams and Ardolino didn’t actually let the Spampinatos suffer Sunday, at least not for long. Ardolino and Adams watched impassively while their bandmates soldiered through half of the first song alone, then leapt into action. And while the guitar-bass duo proved surprisingly propulsive, when Ardolino finally provided that first thwack, the music yanked at your spine like a demon chiropractor.

Just the drummer, indeed.

Posted by Larry Carta


  1. John DeAngelis (09 Jan 2012, 15:10)

    Thanks for the Tommy article and videos. But one thing: Tommy didn’t send Terry Adams demo tapes. He and Terry exchanged mix tapes.

    EDITORS NOTE: Thanks for the clarification. Changes have been made: LC

  2. Bob Perry (13 Jan 2012, 14:00)

    So sad to hear of this sweet gentle giant ,he would always spend time at my store in Miami (Blue Note) see above every time he would come down.. I love you Tommy R.I.P.

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