The name NRBQ, possibly inspired by the MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet), was originally coined by trombonist Donn Adams when he, his keyboard-playing younger brother Terry, and guitarist Steve Ferguson practiced in the Adams family basement in the Louisville, Kentucky area; the abbreviation initally stood for "New Rockabilly Quartet". The Adams brothers were in a group called the Stardusters with saxophonist Keith Spring, and Terry was also in The Merseybeats with Ferguson. Although documentation is scarce, the Adams brothers and Ferguson may have performed in Louiville as NRBQ with drummer Charlie Craig as early as 1966. The Merseybeats were the most successful of these various groups, having recorded three singles including compositions by Ferguson. When The Merseybeats broke up, Terry and Steve moved to Miami, encountered Bronx transplants Joey Spampinato (bass) and Frank Gadler (vocals) and Florida native Tom Staley (drums), and formed the first "official" NRBQ line-up in 1967. (The abbreviation had come to stand for "New Rhythm and Blues Quintet".) Keith Spring and Donn Adams often backed the group as the Whole Wheat Horns.

In 1969, the group released their self-titled debut album on Columbia Records. The material contained a broad range of original songs as well as covers by Eddie Cochran and Sun Ra. The members consider this the band's "birthday" and have celebrated anniversary milestones based on it.

The band had a 2-album deal with Columbia, and the label asked them to collaborate with Carl Perkins on an album before recording their followup to "NRBQ". The band complied and released "Boppin' The Blues" in 1970, only to find out that Columbia considered it the second album of their deal, and had no interest in releasing another NRBQ album.

Ferguson decided to leave the group, and was replaced by Al Anderson, formerly of The Wildweeds. Kenny Sheehan played guitar in the interim, and all three guitarists appear on 1971's "Scraps".

In 1972, Gadler also decided to leave, and the lineup reverted to a quartet.

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