NRBQ's "We Travel the Spaceways" in orbit
Two of the most adventurous bands of the late 1960s were Sun Ra’s avant-garde Arkestra jazz group and NRBQ, the eclectic rock band whose acronym name stands for New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, but whose music to this day continues to encompass virtually all genres of popular music.
“Sun Ra and the Arkestra were good friends of ours since the ‘60s,” says NRBQ co-founder Terry Adams. “I learned a lot from Sun Ra.”
Adams returned the favor last year in truly fitting fashion: He insisted that Sun Ra’s 1973 album Space Is the Place (not to be confused with the 1993 album release of the soundtrack to the 1974 Space Is the Place science fiction film co-written by Sun Ra and featuring him and the Arkestra) be taken together with NRBQ’s 2012 album We Travel the Spaceways (the titletrack was Adams’ arrangement of Sun Ra’s composition/titletrack to his 1967 album with his band then called his Myth Science Arkestra) on a remarkable journey of 83.4 million miles at 17,500 miles per hour.
Copies of both discs accompanied the International Space Stations (ISS) Expeditions 55/56, which lifted off on March 21, 2018, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport in southern Kazakhstan, and returned, after 197 days and 3,152 earth orbits, to the steppes of Kazakhstan on October 4 2018.
Sun Ra's "Space Is the Place" in orbit
As NASA astronaut/ISS Expedition 55/56 flight engineer Richard R. Arnold II noted in a NASA Certificate of Authenticity showing launching and landing of the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft used during the expeditions, We Travel the Spaceways was “flown for NRBQ during Expeditions 55 and 56 in appreciation for your incredible support during this mission.”
For NRBQ, however, it was the second space mission. Band fan Arnold, then mission specialist, had taken the Q’s 1983 album Grooves in Orbit aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery when it launched March 15, 2009 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, flew to the International Space Station, then returned almost 13 days later on March 28 after 202 earth orbits and a round trip of 5,313,565 miles at a speed of 17,685 miles per hour.
"Grooves in Orbit" in orbit
“It came as a complete surprise!” says Adams. “We didn’t know it was even out there until we got a package in the mail from Richard, who had taken it up. Then last year he contacted me again and said he was going out again and wanted to take We Travel the Spaceways. I asked him if he’d take Sun Ra’s record [Space Is the Place] also, because it wouldn’t feel right if he didn’t. I sent him the record and he was happy to take it as well.”
Born Herman Poole Blount, Sun Ra took the name he’s known for after the Egyptian sun god Ra. After steeping himself, his band and his music in futuristic myth, he died in 1993, but remains a big influence on Adams, who later performed with The Sun Ra Arkestra, which had remained active.
Terry Adams (left) and Sun Ra Arkestra leader Marshall Allen in London in 2007
“Terry is one of The Creator’s cultural advisors,” Ra once told an interviewer. “He’s well-known because he has true talent, not because he’s aggressive. He cares about music. He hears music. He may not speak the same language as most people, but he can reach them anyway.”
It turns out that Adams can also reach the stars--and bring Sun Ra along for the ride.
Terry Adams and Sun Ra