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Joey and Johnny in Japan - Cape Cod Times
By Rob Conery
In 1963 a song changed Joey Spampinato's life.
"I heard 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' on the radio," he says.
That's all it took.
All but struck dumb and wildly excited by that Beatles tune, he immediately formed a band. Thus began a unique American musical journey for Spampinato, who lives in Harwich, that has included everything from playing sold-out shows, to albums and years on the road, to being what he calls "a Rolling Stone for a day."
He even got the chance, decades later, to play with the co-writer of that transformative song himself, Paul McCartney.
The Spampinato Brothers are a Cape Cod band featuring brothers Joey on bass and Johnny on guitar, with Aaron Spade on guitar and J Cournoyer on drums.
It's something of an all-star lineup. Joey co-founded the influential NRBQ. Younger brother Johnny and Spade are the guitar players for local stalwarts the Incredible Casuals. Cournoyer played drums in the popular '90s band the High Kings, now defunct. "Those other two guys," says Joey of Spade and Cournoyer, "we have them in there for a reason. And Aaron's a great writer in his own right."
Says Spade: "I love how some melodies and chords and beats can make people dance, or cry, or feel a little less lonely."
In the Spampinato Brothers band, he says of playing with Johnny, "Our guitars bounce and bump and weave off each other, and I get to focus on being more adventurous rhythmically, but it's not the usual rhythm-lead division."
It's been a busy year for the Spampinato Brothers, who released their debut album, "Pie in the Sky," in February. I caught up with the brothers recently, before they embarked on a tour of Japan, at a local pizza joint.
Joey, 63, and Johnny, 54, were born in the Bronx. Their father encouraged them musically.
"Dad was a real music enthusiast," says Johnny. "He played guitar in the '30s and '40s."
He was first to record the brothers on his TEAC reel-to-reel recorder. It was a simple one-microphone setup. During recordings, says Johnny, "I remember you had to be real quiet in the apartment."
On the brink of a cultural renaissance, popular music was exploding in the early '60s. Joey remembers being terribly excited by the changes occurring in music.
"If you are at the right age, it'll pull you right in. You wanna get involved."
"I felt it, too," says Johnny. "But I didn't know what to do about it. I was 6 years old."
Impressed by how the Beatles were a self-contained unit that did the writing, the harmonizing, the playing, everything, Joey started a band called The Seven of Us. It was a vocal harmonies band, expanding on his love of Everly Brothers records, Beatles records and the a cappella music he heard in New York.
"There was always singing," says Joey. "You would hear it everywhere, it filled the hallways."
By 1967 he had co-founded NRBQ, or New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, in Miami. Its debut album was released on Columbia Records. The group toured for decades and played shows that grew to legendary status among its fans.
NRBQ was the band that almost was. It played a bouncy version of improvisational rock 'n' roll and released a handful of albums on several labels, but never achieved a breakthrough pop hit. Joey acknowledges they were "basically unmanageable." Today they are seen as musician's musicians. NRBQ counts Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney as fans.
Mike Scully is another fan. The longtime writer and former show runner for "The Simpsons" invited them to a table reading for the hit show. Later, Joey and Johnny contributed songs for a "Simpsons" album, and NRBQ even ended up on the show a couple of times.
"It was a treat to all of a sudden be a cartoon," says Joey, still chuckling at the memory.
In early 2011 NRBQ — which had staggered in recent years from one hiatus to the next — had something of a messy and incomplete split. Co-founder Terry Adams is currently touring with a revamped version of NRBQ.
During our interview, Joey was sanguine about the breakup/dissolution. "It was a working band. We'd be out on the road every week," says Joey. He likens it to a marriage where, sometimes, things just don't turn out. "Nothing lasts forever," he says. "Except diamonds."
Loyal fans kept NRBQ going through the years, and many of these same people now come out to see the Spampinatos.
Not that it's easy, or automatic.
"You're building new relationships," says Johnny of dealing with club owners, promoting the band, trying always to win new fans on the road.
This year has seen the Spampinatos play a mix of interstate tours and some local shows. It's not always smooth sailing. At an Eastham show at Willy's Gym, only about 30 people showed up. Weeks later they'd play in Orleans, to a nearly full house — and a lively, bouncing dance floor — at Joe's Beach Road Bar & Grill.
For a band whose members all live on the Cape, they often have to travel to attract an audience; it's a lot of cheap food and endless hours in vans.
But the trips pay dividends. They played to a crowd of 800 people in St. Louis, more than 1,500 in Chicago.
"Cleveland has been good to us, too," says Joey.
They talk about growing their reputation in Portland, Rochester, Buffalo. It's a momentum game; they try to come back multiple times, relying on the old word of mouth.
Since the record industry cratered, roadwork is more important than ever. Says Johnny: "It is work, and you have to remember it's your job, setting up, traveling and contacting people. But when you get onstage, that's the fun part. That's the easiest part of the day."
Joey agrees. "Those 90 minutes are the best."
The Japan trip had them playing in Tokyo and Yokohama, and there's talk of a Scandinavian tour in 2012.
Joey is underdog to no one. He played the Royal Albert Hall with Eric Clapton. During that trip, he got to jam with Paul McCartney. As though jamming with the ex-Beatle weren't enough of a head trip, I ask Joey who played bass that day. With characteristic understatement, he says, "I did."
So Paul McCartney, a man for whom relinquishing control is anathema, let Joey play bass. Higher praise is difficult to imagine.
He even auditioned for the Rolling Stones following the departure of Bill Wyman. Although Keith Richards was reportedly behind him, he ultimately didn't get the gig. Still, he looks back fondly on his time as "a Rolling Stone for a day."
Joey ended up playing on Richards' "Talk Is Cheap" album, and was the bass player for the all-star band that Richards put together as a birthday present to Chuck Berry, captured in the 1987 film "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll."
Speaking again after coming back from Japan, Johnny says the fans were very gracious. After one show, the band posed with fans in front of a massive eponymous banner, on which people had written things like "GET RHYTHM" and "ICHI-NI-SAN-SHI" ("1-2-3-4!").
"The shows were great. Fans bring presents and we signed lots of stuff," says Johnny. "We hate leaving them behind. It's always an experience of a lifetime, every trip."
A deep, abiding love of music still lives in Joey Spampinato, and the creative drive, after all these years, remains strong. He's still downright excited about the album and the chance to take the Spampinato Brothers act on the road.
The other members feel it too. Spade says: "When we're onstage, sometimes I look over and think: I can't believe I get to do this!"
Asked what he loves best about music, Joey says, enigmatically, "It's invisible."
He continues: "But it can be really powerful, it can make you feel so much.
STEREOPHILE.COM: "Pie In The Sky Review", David Sokol
THE SPAMPINATO BROTHERS: Pie in the Sky
"NRBQ fans know bassist Joey Spampinato as the writer of such indelibly appealing songs as "You Can't Hide," "Green Lights," and "I Love Her, She Loves Me." Blessed with a sparkle in his eyes, reminiscent of the Young George Harrison and a soulful country heart (he and Skeeter Davis were married back in the day), Joey- along with wildman keyman Terry Adams and guitarit Al
Anderson-made up the songwriting backbone that propelled the longstanding classic Q lineup. When Anderson left the band in the early 1990s, Joey's kid brother Johnny,
longtime member of the Incredible Casuals, was the naturual
Fast-forward. Joey and Johnny, whom their Bronx-residing mom calls "the most beautiful creatures in the world," have concocted their first non-Q album together and with a spot-on band, no less. As expected, it's bouncy and informal, dexterous charm oozing from every track. The opener, "Let Him Think on That," sounds like a mischievous twist on the Beatles' "You Can't Do That," right down to the cowbell; and ''You Wanna Be Free," cowritten by the brothers, could be a lost gem left off a vintage Elvis Costello album. There's nothing like brotherly harmonies and vocal interplay, and they abound on Pie. And in the CD's most poiIgnant moment, the Spamps cover "I Say Good Day Goodnight." This +4O-year-old nugget (originally playfully titled "I Say Gooday Goodnite") was written by the late but legendary Steve Ferguson, NRBQ's jaw-droppingly fluid original guitarist, and recorded by the band in its earliest incarnation. Unbearably catchy and cool, it clocks in at just over 90 seconds.
Smart, punchy music isn't quite the vibrant form it was in the last millennium, but Pie in the Sky inspires the sentiment summed up in the tide of Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, the 1987 Chuck Berry movie that starred not only Keith Richards but Joey Spampinato. Long live this sibling revivalry."
White Plains Times, Rock Stamberg
"PIE IN THE SKY is my favorite new album this year so far. It's a great, really great record...If you like the Beatles, NRBQ and good music in general, do yourself a big favor and get this album. It's an A+."
Nippertown.com: "The Spampinato Brothers' "Pie in the Sky", Pie In The Sky(Revolvo Records, 2010):
"Joey and Johnny Spampinato are, of course, half of the illustrious, omni-pop superstars NRBQ, or at least the last known incarnation thereof.
So it's no surprise where these guys are coming from – rollicking pop-rock with loosey-goosey rhythms nestled alongside sweet ballads.
For their debut as the Spampinato Brothers, Joey (bass) and Johnny (guitar) have teamed up with guitarist Aaron Spade (Johnny's bandmate in the Incredible Casuals) and drummer J. Cournoyer.
The album opens up with the rollicking "Let Him Think on That," which is pretty much a cousin of the Beatles' "You Can't Do That." They shift gears for the jazz-flecked "Baby Oh Baby," rev it back up for "Refined Man," and then take a decidedly left-hand, but still shimmering pop turn with "My Mother's Mother's Day Card."
The gentle bossa nova of "Girl in My Dream" leads into the quirky but quick (clocking in at just a minute and a half) "I Say Good Day Goodnight" penned by NRBQ co-founder Steve Ferguson and originally recorded by the 'Q back in '68. Well off the beaten track is the goofy "A Bear Is a Bear Is a Bear," which is, well, goofy, to say the least.
My current fave on the disc, however, is a chugging cover of Bill Doggett's instrumental "Boo-Da-Ba," which features a stellar guest appearance by the Lustre Kings' Jeff Potter on organ and harmonica. It's some righteous romp 'n' roll!"
"Fans of NRBQ, this one's for you.
Joey Spampinato and his brother Johnny, both members of the musically diverse, revered NRBQ, are headed to Ann Arbor with their new rock foursome, The Spampinato Brothers. They play a show at Goodnite Gracie on Saturday.
AnnArbor.com caught up with guitarist Johnny Spampinato recently at his home on Cape Cod, where he spends his time writing music, playing with his group The Incredible Casuals and checking out the local fishing holes whenever he can. Spampinato talked about NRBQ, the new band and its debut CD, "Pie in the Sky."
Rochester Arts Blog
"The Spaminato Brothers: An NRBQ is an NRBQ is an NRBQ"Posted by Jeff Spevak • September 17, 2010 • 12:41 pm
"I was trolling through the Internet, trying to figure out if the greatest bar band in history, NRBQ, still existed, when I came across this quote: "My two boys are the most-beautiful creatures in the world!"
That, of course, is the somewhat biased opinion of Teresa Spampinato, whose boys - Joey and Johnny - play as The Spampinato Brothers Sunday at Abilene Bar & Lounge. But let me say, they do indeed sound like the two most-beautiful creatures in the world on the brand-new Spampinato Brothers CD, Pie in the Sky.
What's it sound like, you ask? Well, Rochester's The Hi-Risers - a really great band - had better be at the front of the stage for this. It's just great, relaxed rock and roll, almost casual. NRBQ did some excellent work with John Sebastian, formerly The Lovin' Spoonful, which Pie in the Sky brings to mind.
NRBQ - Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Keith Richards are reportedly fans - was known for its sense of humor. "I was walking the woods the other day, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my hand" one of them kind of narrates in the delightfully comic groove "a Bear is a Bear is a Bear."
Joey, the bassist, was a founding member of the band, going all of the way back to 1967. Johnny, guitarist with The Increbible Casuals, a very offbeat but excellent outfit, joined in 2004 when Al Anderson left; That meant, of course, that both Spampinatos appeared on The Simpsons when the band played itself - and performed, in a very animated way - on the show.
Is NRBQ still alive? Judging from the various news reports and web sites, I don't think even the band knows the answer. Sunday's show will have to do, and it'll do well. Abilene is at 153 Liberty Pole Way. Admission is $8. it starts at 8 p.m."
"Tonight at FitzGerald's: The Spampinato Brothers Keep the Poppy Side of NRBQ Alive"
Posted by Peter Margasak on Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 3:00 PM
"For most of my life NRBQ was one of those "seminal" bands I heard about far more than I actually heard. I appreciated their fearless bar-band aesthetic on paper, but I just never got into their music. It's probably sacrilegious to admit, but I've yet to rectify that situation and dig into their old recordings (the band's studio work was famously inferior to their onstage output—playing shows was their raison d'etre). I'm almost as embarrassed to admit that what's forced me to rethink my dismissal of NRBQ has been a handful of recordings by spin-off groups, released since the band went on hiatus in 2004.
I've written for the Reader about several solo albums by pianist Terry Adams, NRBQ's heart and soul, but the latest record to float my boat is Pie in the Sky (Revolvo), the debut by the Spampinato Brothers—whose lineup includes NRBQ cofounder Joey and his brother Johnny, who played in the group for its final 13 years. The brothers are far less eccentric than Adams—he's a veritable encyclopedia of American music, from rockabilly to free jazz—but their gritty pop-rock is nothing to apologize for. Their bar-band roots help keep the music direct and fat-free, and they deploy their appealingly ragged vocal harmonies on everything from delicate ballads (the bossa nova-kissed "Baby Oh Baby") to pure power pop ("I Say Good Day Goodnight"). The music variously recalls the work of folks like Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and early Joe Jackson, and a natural-sounding foundation of fierce rock 'n' roll drives the tunes. Below you can listen to one of my faves, "Let Him Think of That."
The Spampinato Brothers—who also include Aaron Spade (Johnny's bandmate in the long-running Incredible Casuals) on guitar and J. Cournoyer on drums—play tonight at the FitzGerald's Side Bar."
NARROWS CENTER FOR THE ARTS
The Spampinato Brothers at Narrows Center for the Arts
© 2010 SPAMPINATO BROTHERS