Tom Ardolino, the former drummer for cult favorites NRBQ, died Friday night after a long illness. He would have turned 57 Jan. 12.
After corresponding for years with keyboardist Terry Adams, Ardolino, a Springfield resident, joined the band in 1974 when original drummer Tom Staley departed. Ardolino remained behind the kit for the next 30 years, playing on 15 studio albums and countless live shows, until the group went on hiatus in 2004. Although he played at sporadic NRBQ reunion concerts in the intervening years, he wasn’t well enough to resume drum duties when keyboardist Terry Adams reconstituted the band with a new lineup in 2011.
“He was a great drummer and a great guy,” Al Anderson, who played with Ardolino in NRBQ from 1974-93, said Saturday morning. “He had a totally unique style of drumming that nobody can ever duplicate. That was one of the baddest rhythm sections in the world.”
When he wasn’t playing with NRBQ, Ardolino busied himself with other projects, including a solo album, session work on friends’ projects and playing on the Emmy-winning soundtrack to “Kids Behind the Wheel,” a documentary film. The latter gig didn’t go as planned, said Jim Chapdelaine, a West Hartford guitarist and producer who hired Ardolino for the job. Part of the music required Ardolino to drum to a “nu-metal type piece.” Chapdelaine 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.”
NRBQ’s announcement of Ardolino’s death, on the band’s Facebook page, was met with an outpouring of condolences and remembrances from fans.
“One of the best, heartiest, beatiest drummers to ever sit behind a kit, an eternal cherub and the most wide-eyed child ever to play in a bigtime rock ‘n’ roll band,” wrote Fran Fried, a former music writer at the New Haven Register.