Tom Staley – We’re Gonna Be OK

SKF NOTE: Referring to Tom Staley as a renewed-to-me drummer is more accurate than saying he is new-to-me.

On October 13, 2021 I added a post, Haunted for 52 Years by NRBQ, to this blog. Here is, in part, what I wrote:

Two days ago I bought the digital format of NRBQ’s first album. I owned a vinyl copy of the album when it was originally released in 1969. (Full disclosure, I was given a brand new promotional copy of NRBQ by my neighbor, Ed Matthews, who was, if memory serves, head of Artists & Repertoire at CBS records.)

What happened to my copy of NRBQ’s album, I don’t know. But for the last 52 years, in those life moments when I sing out loud some song snippet, my snippets were often from NRBQ’s first album recording of Rocket #9 or C’mon If You’re Comin’.

Truth to be told, until I sat down to write this post, I didn’t know Tom Staley was the drummer on NRBQ’s first album. I couldn’t tell you the drummer. My affection for NRBQ’s first album was for NRBQ as a many-sided band. Yes, it was/is a band of imaginative players sounding as if they were pulled from jazz, traditional country, rockabilly, and country blues bands.

If I was influenced by any specific about Staley’s drumming – which, if 52 years later I’m still singing the album songs, and downloading a new digital version of the album, Staley certainly influenced me – it was his contribution to NRBQ’s overall sound. It was Staley’s knack for bringing the best out of salad of songs ranging from rockabilly Eddie Cochran to avant garde jazz musician Sun Ra.

Today, for people who like to label music, NRBQ’s music might be called Roots or Americana music.

Staley played on NRBQ’s first four albums: NRBQ, Boppin’ the Blues (with Carl Perkins), Scraps, and Workshop. I’ve listened to them all while prepping for this post.

According to a 2017 Not So Modern Drummer interview:

Soon after Tom Staley joined NRBQ he was first exposed to the music of Thelonius Monk and Sun Ra. Jazz drumming was already on Tom’s radar…. Tom had begun taking lessons when he was ten, while also playing in the Fort Lauderdale Drum and Bugle Corps, and his junior high, and high school bands. Tom’ s main drumming influence was the legendary jazz drummer Joe Morello. He attended numerous Dave Brubeck Quartet performances, and also Morello’s drum clinics. This provided Tom with the strong foundation needed for NRBQ’s eclectic – jazz improvisational approach to playing music.

After leaving NRBQ, according to several internet accounts, Staley played drums in other bands, mostly in southern states. He also has a handful of albums under his own name. Twitchin’ in the Kitchen, Thenceforward, and We’re Gonna Be OK.

Tom Staley’s internet drum activities end at year 2020 and Staley’s wife, Karen, launching a GoFundMe page to help pay for treatment for what Karen describes as Tom’s “degenerative disc disease.” She said, “A little over a year ago, Tom started experiencing pain in his lower back so severe that he had to cancel all his gigs. Over fifty years of playing drums, gigging, late hours and lugging his gear have taken a heavy toll.”

I’ve written to Mrs. Staley, hoping to hear back good news about Tom. Wouldn’t it be great to thank him personally for making music that’s embedded in my head and heart for over a half-century?

Tom Staley second from left. Photo included with Omnivore Records’ release of NRBQ’s first album.

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