What sustains a band for more than three decades? Not a hit radio band, but a roll-up-your-sleeves/drive to the next gig overnight/carry your own gear up the steps and night after night make people happy kind of band. One that makes them dance; sends them home to come back again—and again. What makes that kind band stay together through relatively few personnel changes? Answer: A good idea; a universal yet somehow unique, good idea.
The Nighthawks sought not so much to reinvent rock and roll, but simply to have it reinvent itself by taking the original ingredients and following—if somewhat loosely—the original recipe. And like good cooks, the individual personalities involved ultimately affected the outcome.
The band was over 10 years old and had baffled the mainstream industry before the term “roots rock” was coined to explain the likes of West Coasters like Los Lobos and The Blasters. By then, the affiliation with many of the living blues greats seemed to brand The Nighthawks a “blues band” despite the fact that they played with Carl Perkins as well as Muddy Waters.
The Nighthawks had its genesis when lead singer-harmonica player extraordinaire Mark Wenner returned to his native Washington, D.C. after six years in New York City, lured back by the success of his friend Bobby Radcliff’s local acclaim with a blues band. Mark joined forces with a then very young Jimmy Thackery and formed The Nighthawks in 1972. They spent a couple of years building The Nighthawks’ reputation with a revolving cast of characters until, in 1974, they decided to get the best rhythm section the area had to offer: Jan Zukowski on bass and Pete Ragusa on drums.
The Nighthawks set off on a musical mystery tour that took them to 49 states and a dozen countries. They played with nearly all the living blues legends as well as a new generation of bands, sometimes called “the Blue Wave”, and released several important albums including the best-selling Jacks and Kingswith Pinetop Perkins, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Calvin Jones and Bob Margolin. (Servern Records 2017)