The Nighthawks – Established 1972
VizzTone Label Group VT-NH01
14 songs – 49 minutes
Founded in 1972 by harping front man Mark Wenner, The Nighthawks have proven time and time again that they’re the hardest working road dogs and best bar band in the business, and they celebrate their golden anniversary with this smoking-hot set, a mix of all shades of blues, R&B and roots that demonstrates clearly why they’re still just as vital today as they were 50 years ago.
Based out of Washington, D.C., Wenner fell in love with the music as a youth while attending concerts at the Howard Theater, one of the most important stops on the chittlin’ circuit. With an early lineup that included guitarist Jimmy Thackery and the then-veteran rhythm section composed of bassist Jan Zukowski and drummer Pete Ragusa, they quickly became a first-call band whenever Muddy Waters and James Cotton were looking for an opener. And through their own bookings, they established a path on the blues highway that opened doors for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughn and dozens of others to follow.
After Thackery left in 1986 to launch his award-winning solo career, the trio regularly toured the East Coast in the company of Elvin Bishop, John Lee Hooker, Pinetop Perkins and John Hammond. And different iterations of the band have included Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie), Jimmy Nalls (Sea Level) and several more lesser known talents who’ve gone on to establish themselves across the musical spectrum.
The current roster includes longtime Thackery percussionist Mark Stutso, guitarist Don Hovey and bassist Paul Pisciotta, all of whom deliver vocals and had a hand – along with Wenner — in penning some of the on this one, all of which were composed during the coronavirus crisis.
This one was produced by The Nighthawks along with longtime friend and associate David Earl, the owner of Severn Records, and it was captured at his Severn Sound Studios in Annapolis, Md. Tommy Lepson sits in on keys for two cuts, and Earl lays down guitar tracks on another.
“Nobody,” a ‘60s hit for Bruce Channel penned by Wayne Carson Thompson, fires out of the gate to open the action with a funky drumbeat. It’s a driving rocker that features Mark at the mic with choral responses from the band and fat runs from Paul prior to Wenner’s mid-tune solo. Hovey’s “You Seem Different” lopes from the open and he handles vocals with a slight country edge, describing the growing distance between lovers sharing the same bed. And the solos that he and Mark share are saccharine sweet.
The band delivers a smooth, contemporary update of “I’ll Come Running Back to You,” a ‘50s chart-topper for Sam Cooke, before Stutso’s “Coming and Going” drives from the jump atop a funky shuffle as it sings praises of a lady who looks good in no matter what way you see her. Then the band turns back the clock once again for a stripped-down version of Jimmy Reed’s familiar “Take It Slow” and fiery take on “Johnny Too Bad,” penned by Delroy Wilson, the early Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae star.
Three more pleasing covers — Mose Allison’s jazzy “Ask Me Nice,” Rayford Starke’s “West Memphis” and Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You” – follow before “Gas Station Chicken,” a funked-up, original, bluesy rap that sings praises of the food that keeps the band fueled up and ready to go.
The final four songs feature three more Hovey creations. The percussive “Houseband” opens the run with an shuffle and harp run. It’s an interesting number that describes the joy and action that bluesmen discover on the other side because folks on this side are “so hateful.” Up next, “Fuss and Fight” swings from the hip as it wonders why there’s so much conflict in life because we all reach the same, final end. A take on “Run Red Run,” a 1959 hit for The Coasters, precedes the unhurried closer, “Driving,” a sweet ballad that states that the singer doesn’t get behind the wheel much anymore because of the haze in his eyes, but he’s still willing “to give you a ride.”
The Nighthawks have put out some great albums across the past five decades, and this one ranks right up with the best of ‘em. Must listening – and a whole lot of fun!