Back in 2004, the bad news for NRBQ fans — that’s the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet to the uninitiated — was that after nearly 40 years, the eclectic roots-rock band was calling it quits.

It was rumored then that the band had split because frontman and pianist Terry Adams had injured his hand. That’s not quite true, says Adams.

“I needed to take a leave of absence,” says the Kentucky-born musician, whose speech still bears traces of his home state. “That didn’t stop the band. I needed to stop for a couple of months and I was having to deal with some physical issues. I came back and played a couple of shows.”

If his time off didn’t break up the band, it did give a few of the group’s members a push to pursue new projects. NRBQ bassist and co-founder Joey Spampinato and his guitarist brother Johnny Spampinato “decided that they always just wanted to have their own band,” says Adams.

And after so much time with NRBQ, Adams has welcomed the change, as well. He’s formed a new band, the Terry Adams Quartet, which comes to Iota Club & Cafe Thursday — where Adams’ trademark wild, jazzy piano style will be on display in all its wacky glory.

Adams says he’s had an easy time adjusting to his new rhythm section, which includes bassist Pete Donnelly and drummer Conrad Choucroun — though he admits that two decades of playing with legendary NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato and drummer Tom Ardolino makes tough company for anyone to measure up to.

“The rhythm section of the last NRBQ was one of the best in the history of music as far as I’m concerned,” Adams reflects. “But I took some time and chose the musicians that are in the band now for the right reasons. Knowing they’re totally devoted to music, rather than [choosing] out of convenience because they’re in the neighborhood — or have their own PA system like in the old days.”

» Iota Club & Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va.; with Bobby Houck; Thu., Jan. 20, 9 p.m., $16; 703-522-8340. (Clarendon)

Five DC Musical Acts That Never Broke Big

The DC area also had its share of musical artists who seemed destined for the big time, only to wind up cult favorites. Here are five:

Eva Cassidy: Ignored by major labels during her short lifetime (she died at 32), the folk-jazz songbird only found an audience posthumously, when her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” became a surprise British hit.

Four Out of Five Doctors: This snappy power pop quartet from the early 1980s packed the house at Jammin’ Java for their reunion shows the past few years. But music industry machinations back in the Reagan Era kept them from the big time.

Grin: Nils Lofgren’s first major band dropped four first-rate, critically-acclaimed albums, but disbanded after not achieving the success that everyone expected.

Tommy Keene: The power pop master seemed poised to take his place alongside Marshall Crenshaw at the dawn of the 1980s, but never quite did, even after signing with a major label.

Trouble Funk: Back in the day everyone seemed to know this R&B/funk group, yet despite being signed to the Sugar Hill label, they never cracked the pop Top 100.

Written by Express contributor Tony Sclafani
Photo by Chris Donnelly