A file photo of Tom Ardolino of NRBQ pictured backstage...

A file photo of Tom Ardolino of NRBQ pictured backstage at The Q People Tribute CD Party in Hollywood, Calif. (March 8, 2004) Credit: Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- Members of the category-defying band NRBQ knew from the outset that their prospects of mainstream success were slim.

With a sound and attitude that embraced the seminal rock of Chuck Berry and no-borders expanse of free-form jazz experimentalist Sun Ra, the dance rhythms of zydeco kingpin Boozoo Chavis and dreamy pop of Brian Wilson, the quartet spent the '70s, '80s and '90s recording and touring chiefly for the reward of accolades from fellow musicians, and from a coterie of devoted fans.

The group's approach was what first caught the ear of 15-year-old drummer Tom Ardolino. He sent a fan letter to keyboardist Terry Adams after catching one of the group's shows in Springfield, Mass. In 1974, Adams invited him to join the group when drummer Tom Staley quit.

Ardolino spent the next few decades providing nimble, propulsive backbeats for bandmates Adams, guitarist Al Anderson and bassist Joey Spampinato until health issues forced him to quit touring.

Those problems contributed to Ardolino's death Friday at age 56 from alcoholism-related illness.

"Tommy deserves an entire wing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Bonnie Raitt told The Boston Globe last year.

Only three of NRBQ's albums ever charted, in the lower reaches of Billboard's Top 200 Albums rankings. Yet Elvis Costello once told Rolling Stone, "I'd much rather any day go see NRBQ playing than any of our illustrious punk bands in England."

Ardolino separated from his wife, Keiko, with whom he had a stepdaughter, Emiko, and a stepson, Liku. He is also survived by his brother, Richard.

-- Los Angeles Times

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