Tom Ardolino, NRBQ drummer, dies at 56

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Tom Ardolino makes a cameo on stage with NRBQ April 3, 2011, in Albany. (Photo by Fred Boak)

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.

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41 thoughts on “Tom Ardolino, NRBQ drummer, dies at 56

  1. Greg H

    Very sorry to hear this about one of my favorite from one of the all time great bands,,NRBQ. Will miss his unique playing,,heart goes out to his family,friends & band mates

  2. PaulS

    Saw the Q over 100 times. Will surely be missed. Great drummer and from what I’ve heard a good guy as well.

  3. Country Paul Payton

    Unique, energetic, enthusiastic – the definition of a rockin’ drummer as well as being the ultimate Q fan (and member) and an amazingly knowledgeable music historian. Tommy, you went way too soon. Thank you – and NRBQ – for all the great gigs and for playing at my (first) wedding party.

  4. Michael Taricani

    Sorry to hear the news. Hearts out to his family. He was something. NRBQ was one of the great music secrets of the northeast and he was unique.

  5. Cozy Ralston

    My old friend Max Weinberg (Springsteen’s drummer) helped popularize the term “BIG BEAT”…TOM had the rare talent of throwning down one of the very few “BIG BEATS” in rock n roll…powerful, clean, rockin, propulsive and swingin at the same time…TOM’s rockin the heavenly gates right now!

  6. matt m

    Sad day Tom’s happy drum beat will be missed. First heard the Q in 1969 Fillmore East been a fan ever since. Deepest sympathy to all family and friends

  7. Pingback: RIP Tom Ardolino, Drummer for NRBQ » Rock Town Hall

  8. Teri

    SO SAD. I lost count how many times I saw this band, all over NY and CT and MA during my college years and beyond. I never saw any other drummer hold the sticks the Tommy did. He clearly loved what he was doing, sometimes with an almost childlike glee. He was so cool. RIP Tommy…I will think about you when I’m drivin in my car…

  9. Gman

    I covered these guys when they were practically the house band at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, and anybody who made their shows in Saugerties and Palenville was privileged indeed. He was a wonderful guy to hang with.

  10. Mark Cauffman

    Always a treat to see the “Q” because you knever knew what magic was gonna happen. You would see Tommy there duitufully behind his kit chuckling at Big Al and Terry’s banter….
    RIP, Tommy. your music brought a lot of happiness to a very sad world. Perhaps old “Captain Lou” came and got you for a gig….. Hope you get a great kit in Heaven and you give God a smile.
    Prayers to your loved ones at this time…

  11. Rich Ardolino

    This past week has been both an extremely happy and very sad time for my family. We welcomed our beautiful granddaughter, Olivia, on Monday and we were heart broken on Friday to have lost my brother Tom.

    On behalf of my family, I would like to say how much your kind words have given us comfort in knowing how much Tom was loved not only by his family but also by his fans and friends.

  12. jason

    Sorry for the loss. Never heard of him or the band. Just saw it posted online, so I decided to check the article out.

  13. Michael Frost

    It’s great to admit not having any real idea what made Tom Ardolino one of the greatest drummers that the world has ever known. People out there who saw him live, do you agree? It brought me to tears more than once–just witnessing the authentic thing that he would pull off. What was it? Don’t know…

  14. Andy Bassford

    The term “musician’s musician” is often overused, but if anybody was one, it was Tom Ardolino. There are a few musicians whose greatness is equally apparent to both the most casual fan and the working pro. Tom was one of them. Anybody could respond to his enormous beat, fantastic feel, and the joy he radiated from behind the drum kit. But Tom was also a past master of the all-important subdivisions and spaces between the notes, things that professionals hear and audiences feel. Not only was he a loud, hard hitting drummer whose mission was to get everybody on the floor dancing, he was simultaneously one of the most subtle and sensitive accompanists ever. It’s incredibly rare to find both of these characteristics simultaneously in the same musician, but that was Tom’s genius, a word I don’t use casually. I didn’t know him personally, but I would be astonished if he wasn’t the same supportive, loving, and thoughtful person in life that he was on the bandstand. His death is a huge loss.

  15. Andy Bassford

    @ Michael: You ask a wonderful, and complicated, question. The short answer, if there is one, is that like Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, or Carly Barrett, there was no difference between Tom’s playing and who he was. Many otherwise very accomplished musicians use their facility to mask their feelings, or to project only a narrow beam of feeling. The great ones, like great boxers, leave it all on the floor, whether it is obvious visually or not. I can fully believe that Tom’s drumming could produce tears, while simultaneously forcing you to dance your legs off.

  16. Billy Rosenthal

    What an inspiration to me and other drummers. Man he could crack that snare. Saw Tom twice in the late 70’s and early 80’s NEVER DISSAPOINTED! He will be missed.

  17. Bob Davidson

    Was there ever a happier face behind a drum set….I think not…Tom, this isn’t goodbye, just “see you later”……..RIP

  18. Pingback: NRBQ Drummer Tom Ardolino Dies at 56 - Catch Fire Music - Catch Fire Music

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  20. harry eckman

    i lost one of my best and closest friend. only nrbq and my close and dearest friends know this. it’s a very sad day for me and the world. hey tom , who’s going to go with me to the flea market on sundays. “it makes no sense.” donn and the boys know what i’m talking about. very distraught

    1. harry eckman

      today ,i was 62, born jan, 8th,1950. my whole day was about tom’s life. not my birthday. very difficult time for me. too, terry, al, joey, johnnie, klem david, donn, keith, two phils, .baxter,, pat. the qlist goes on. hey boys , this is like the oscars., i can’t get off stage. as, tom would say, help me

  21. Lesley Eckamn

    I knew Tommy not only as a fantastic drummer that rounded out that amazing band, but also as the guy who would come over our house and play with our daughters Dena and Rachael. He was a part of our family. They used to call him the meow man. Wonderful memories, sweet Tommy you will be missed.

  22. Pingback: NRBQ Drummer Tom Ardolino Dies at 56 | Music

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  24. beefheart

    thank you mr ardolino for always working that kit, your drumming will always be admired for ever

  25. Pingback: Tom Ardolino, NRBQ drummer, dies at 56 | That Eric Alper

  26. Shawn Dunn

    Though I’m very sad to hear of Tommy’s passing, I’d rather bring up a few memories that make me smile when I think of Tommy. Singing Volare in front of the band as a NRBQ Black Box request. Remarking that he hated “Heavy Metal Ballads”. Thanking Big Al for the Ponderosa gift certificates for Christmas. Beatles covers while playing as part of Baby Macaroni.
    Thanks Tommy – not only were you a totally unique drummer, you were a fun and unique human being.

  27. Steve Harvey

    Gone too soon. Sure hope you’re in a happier place, Tommy. You use to joke that you were doomed. Sadly that joke came to be all too true. Thanks for putting me on the guest list all those times and for making the 80s a bit bearable with you and the boys.

  28. ken t

    tommy was the wheels of their unique sound…many memorable times following the q………………

  29. Stacey Sandler

    It’s taken me a few days to get to reading everything. I’m heartbroken. We visited w/Tom Thursday evening and while he was kinda cranky (who wouldn’t be after being in the hospital for any length of time?), there was no indicator that this would be our last visit. Two things Tom loved was having his hair combed and getting a back/neck rub. So as my pal Donna and I rubbed his neck and shoulders from either side, I simultaneously combed his hair, shortly after dubbing it “The Einstein” . . .part of the fun was naming the hairdo!!

    Tom was the guy you always felt comfortable around. He was a pussycat of a man and a beast behind the kit. I have never, nor will I ever meet anyone quite like him. Love you, Tom!! xo

  30. Patrick "PJ" O'Connell

    Tommy Ardolino never took a formal music lesson his entire life. So different from anyone I’ve ever met, Tom simply was music.

    I first saw Tommy play at a free WHCN NRBQ show in Bushnell Park in Hartford during the summer of 1974. He ‘d been in the band for less than two weeks and and it was his second or third show. The sound of the six players on stage (Terry, Al, Joey, Tommy, Keith & Donn) was unlike anything I’d ever heard; like a single, seamless but breathing organism hatched from another time and place. The whirlwind of black curls on the drum riser in the NRBQ softball shirt was the heartbeat of this phenomenon. My brother was home taping the live simulcast, later providing me with my new audio Bible to study, absorb and confirm: yes, this actually did happen.

    From that moment forward, equipped with a driver’s license and fake ID (the ‘drinking age ‘ was 18 back then), I went to as many NRBQ shows as possible all over southern New England. The following year, as president of my high school, the only “official act” of my administration was to hire NRBQ to play the prom. I fortunately became friends with all the band over time, and they were a key inspiration in my pursuit of music and songwriting, culminating in the rare and great opportunity to play and record with them.

    Tommy was the key ingredient on my last record Join The Crowd. He listened to rough acoustic demos of the new songs in my car en route to the studio, often humming through the songs. Once there, every tune was captured in one or two takes. So flawless, so natural… just like the Bushnell show, 35 years earlier.

    I have a great memory of pulling up to Tommy’s house late last spring, and Tommy was out in his driveway feeding bread crumbs and little nuts to one of the neighborhood black tailed squirrels. And the little creature was standing on it’s hind legs eating right out of Tommy’s hand. That was Tommy. As with his beloved cats, and all his meows, Tommy’s soul was beyond human. He was, to quote Eddie Cochran, ‘Something Else’. Irreplaceable. Amen.

  31. Gr8ful George

    Very sad to hear of Tommy’s passing always made an effort to see these guys anytime they came around Best kick out the jams band hands down./ You where a force behind that kit ..many fond memories of the Q at Shaboo ! You will be missed dearly Tommy… Richie Hayward is waiting to do a drum duet with you brother.

  32. Chris

    Sad news. I saw NRBQ at least 40 times during the late 1970s and 1980s. They were the best live band that few people outside of the Hartford region ever heard of. Tommy and Joey Spampinato formed one of the greatest rhythym sections around, Al Anderson was incomparable on lead guitar and Terry Adams was a manic madman on keyboards. RIP, Tommy.

  33. dave d. san diego

    San Diego enjoyed the Q. They came seldom but kicked whole wheat ME AND THE BOYS ass. Tommy and Joey packed a punch and beat goose pimple POCKET that rattled the rafters no matter what the venue.
    I loved his WHITE CHRISTMAS and ODE TO BILLY JOE and whatched his attack on his kit while holding drum sticks between index and middle fingers..HIT THE HAY,Tommy. Sleep in heavenll peace.
    DAVE D.


  34. Marypat Ball

    My deepest sympathy to the Ardolino family. Tommy was a real sweetheart with a great sense of humor and an amazing drummer. I will miss my dear friend. And the beat goes on…

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