Barbara Cue – On the Q tip
The scheduling is the hardest part, really. Take five guys with various domestic situations and pressing musical commitments in popular local, regional and national bands, and you’re bound to run short of time for a side project. But just having fun is a great motivator, and since their inception as an NRBQ cover band, the players in Barbara Cue have gladly made room in their crowded lives for the slow evolution of the group.
“Slow” is the operative word here. The original concept behind Barbara Cue germinated years ago in the common ground between fellow NRBQ fans William Tonks (who played guitar for a while with North Carolina band 6 String Drag) and Todd Nance (drummer for Widespread Panic). “Back around ’88,” Nance remembers, “I was over at William’s dubbing some video footage of NRBQ,” and a friendship based on fandom was cemented.
In the years that followed, Tonks and Nance toyed with the idea of forming an NRBQ cover band, but they didn’t put a lot of energy toward it until 1997, when they hooked up with pedal steel player John Neff (Star Room Boys) and bassist John Mills. Crumpy Edwards (Bloodkin) wandered into an early rehearsal and was drafted as a bassist and/or guitarist, freeing Mills to play acoustic when the spirit moved him.
The NRBQ-only policy was tossed out early on. “We were into our third practice when we found all these other covers we liked by the Meat Puppets, Warren Zevon, etc.,” Tonks says. Soon after, they decided to branch out into originals as well. “Somebody might come in with half a tune,” Edwards says, “and someone else would finish it for them.” Gigs ensued at a rate of about four a year, and a quickie recording project with producer David Barbe turned into a full-fledged album, Louisiana Truckstop.
In Barbara Cue, everybody writes and everybody sings. In a less song-focused band, this could make for a stylistic train wreck but Barbara Cue is all about cohesion. Tonks and Neff’s complementary solos never overpower each other; abundant vocal harmonies identify the music as pop but don’t dull the edges of enthusiastic performances.
The influence of the original Q hovers over Louisiana Truckstop, most notably in this Cue’s lovely cover of “Little Floater” but also in the album’s adventurous bent. There’s honky-tonkish country rock (“Find A Fool”), reflective balladry (“Picture Of You”, “Don’t Take It Away), and bluesy barroom music (“True Identity,” “Back In Town”).
The schedules of Barbara Cue’s members are as busy as ever , meaning there will be no massive tour coming soon to a town near you (though they’re planning a small Southeastern tour in early spring). And they recently scored their dream gig opening for NRBQ in Athens — “even playing ‘Little Floater’,” Tonks says, “at Terry Adams’ request.”