ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Robert NighthawkG-ManProwling With The Nighthawk
Walter DavisGood Gal Walter Davis Vol. 2 1935-1937
Big Joe WilliamsBrother JamesBrother James
Sonny Boy Williamson IJackson BluesThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1
Sonny Boy Williamson IGot the Bottle Up And GoneThe Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol.1
Robert Nighthawk Prowling Night HawkProwling With The Nighthawk
Robert Nighthawk Every Day And NightProwling With The Nighthawk
Robert Nighthawk Take It Easy BabyProwling With The Nighthawk
Speckled RedDown On The LeveeSpeckled Red 1929-1938
Sleepy Johns EstesDrop Down (I Don't Feel Welcome Here)Sleepy John Estes Vol. 2 1937-1941
Big Joe & His Washboard BandI'm Through With YouCharlie & Joe McCoy Vol. 2
Robert NighthawkFriar's Point BluesProwling With The Nighthawk
Robert NighthawkSweet Black Angel The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Robert NighthawkReturn Mail BluesThe Aristocrat Of The Blues
Robert NighthawkAnnie Lee Blues (Anna Lee)The Aristocrat Of The Blues
Ernest LaneOn Robert NighthawkThe Aristocrat Of The Blues
Robert NighthawkJackson Town GalThe Aristocrat Of The Bluese
Robert Nighthawk Crying Won't Help YouBricks In My Pillow
Robert Nighthawk Kansas City Bricks In My Pillow
Robert Nighthawk Maggie Campbell Bricks In My Pillow
Robert NighthawkThe Moon Is Rising Bricks in My Pillow
Robert NighthawkYou Missed A Good ManBricks in My Pillow
Robert NighthawkBricks in My PillowBricks in My Pillow
Robert Nighthawk Cheating And Lying BluesAnd This Is Free
Robert NighthawkInterview Pt. 1 (edited)And This Is Free
Johnny YoungThe Sun Is ShiningAnd This Is Free
Gordon Quinn Interview/And This Is Free
Robert NighthawkTake It Easy, Baby And This Is Free
Robert Nighthawk Crowing Rooster BluesMasters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
Robert Nighthawk Interview Pt. 2 (edited)And This Is Free
Robert Nighthawk I'm Gettin' Tired Masters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
Robert Nighthawk Lula Mae Blues Southside Chicago
Houston Stackhouse Cool Water Blues Masters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
George MitchellOn Robert Nighthawk
Houston StackhouseBig Fat MamaMasters Of Modern Blues vol. 4
Robert Nighthawk & the Blues Rhythm BoysYou Call Yourself A CadillacMississippi Delta Blues: Blow My Blues Away Vol. 1

Show Notes:

I've been an admirer of Robert Nighthawk for a long time and many years ago devoted a website to him at a time when I couldn't find that much information on him on the web. The site has grown over the years and includes just about every scrap of information on the man. Over the years I managed to interview several people who knew Nighthawk, including his daughter, his son, drummer Sam Carr, his ex-wife, his one time pianist Ernest Lane plus others. Several years back I had the opportunity to write the booklet for the CD compilation, Prowlin' Wth The Nighthawk, on the Document label. Today's show spans his entire career, from the 1930's when he went by the name Robert Lee McCoy, to the brilliant postwar sides he cut as Robert Nighthawk plus sides accompanying blues greats like Sonny Boy Williamson I, Speckled Red, Big Joe Wiilliams, Houston Stackhouse and others. Along the way we'll also hear interviews with those who knew Nighthawk plus part of a recorded interview with Nighthawk himself. The below notes come from my Nighthawk website and the liner notes from the Document collection.

Ernest Lane, Robert Nighthawk and Nighthawk's wife
Ernest Lane, Robert Nighthawk and Nighthawk's wife
Hazel McCollum circa late 1940's

Robert Nighthawk was one of the blues premier slide guitarists playing with a subtle elegance and a fluid, crystal clear style that was instantly recognizable. Nighthawk influenced a generation of artists including Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Earl Hooker and supposedly Elmore James. In many ways Nighthawk was the archetype of the classic bluesman spending his entire adult life rambling all over the South with frequent trips to the North playing a never ending string of one nighters punctuated by sporadic recording dates. Nighthawk's recording dates brought him only limited success but he remained popular in the South his entire life. It seems that every blues musician of consequence who emerged from the delta from the 30's through the 60's recalls running across Nighthawk. For all his visibility Nighthawk remains a shadowy figure; for one he never stayed in Chicago long enough to establish himself, he was interviewed only briefly and unlike many artists didn't appreciably benefit from the blues boom of the 1960's. Above all it was his ceaseless wandering that likely stopped him from achieving greater fame.

Pianist Walter Davis, who had been recording since 1930, was responsible for getting Nighthawk signed to the Bluebird label. Henry Townsend provided the transportation that transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. The musicians entered the studios on May 5, 1937 for a marathon recording session. Nighthawk cut six sides with backing by Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Joe Williams. The May 5th sessions were also Sonny Boy Williamson's first and Nighthawk and Joe Williams backed him on this legendary session that produced such enduring classics as "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Blue Bird Blues" and "Sugar Mama". In addition Big Joe Williams recorded eight sides under his own name with Nighthawk and Sonny Boy backing him and Nighthawk also backed Walter Davis on an eight-song session. All in all, Nighthawk would back Sonny Boy on 23 sides at three sessions, two sessions in 1937 and one session in 1938.

Nighthawk (known as Robert Lee McCoy during this period) recorded for Bluebird and Decca between 1937 and 1940 both under his own name and as an accompanist. This was Nighthawk's busiest period on record, recording 22 sides for Bluebird in 1937 and 4 sides for Decca in 1940 and many sides as a session musician backing up such artists as Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes and many others. Nighthawk recorded three lengthy sessions at Bluebird's Aurora Illinois studios. All three Bluebird sessions find Nighthawk with different accompanists with the exception of Sonny Boy Williamson who plays harmonica on every session.

Nighthawk had developed a distinctive single string style that is heard to good effect on these sides. He also plays some bottleneck most notably on the opening passages of "G-Man", "Don't Mistreat Your Woman" and "Prowling Night-Hawk." It was this latter song popularity that was the basis for his changing his surname in the early 40's. On June 5, 1940 he stepped into the studio again this time recording four sides for Decca as "Peetie's Boy." The name "Peetie's Boy" likely coming from his association with Peetie Wheatstraw.These represent Nighthawk's last pre-war sessions and produced the beautiful "Friars Point Blues" featuring his finest slide work to date and only a few steps removed from the magnificent slide work he would be famous for in later years.

When Nighthawk stepped into the Aristocrat studios on November 10, 1948 it had been eight years since he last recorded under his own name. In the intervening years his sound had undergone a transformation when he amplified his guitar in the early 1940's and mastered his brilliant slide technique. In 1948, with the help of Muddy Waters, Nighthawk began recording for Aristocrat later to become Chess. "I put him on the label" Waters stated. "Well I taken him to my company, you know and I helped him get on a record. Yeah, I taken him around to Chess, and then Chess heard him play, and he liked it." His session on July 12, 1949 was possibly his best. He waxed five sides that included "Black Angel Blues (Sweet Black Angel)" (based on Lucille Bogan's "Black Angel Blues" from 1930 and covered by Tampa Red in 1934 with the same title) and "Annie Lee Blues (Anna Lee)" based on Tampa Red's "Anna Lou Blues" from 1940. The pairing became a double-sided hit.

In 1951 Nighthawk signed on with United Records. United was founded in 1951 by A&R man Lew Simpkins and his financial partner Leonard Allen. United recorded him on their very first day of sessions and two of United's first five releases were by "Robert Nighthawk & His Nighthawks Band." Robert Nighthawk's complete recordings for the United label are collected on Bricks in My Pillow on the Delmark label. Nighthawk recorded two sessions for United, one on July 12, 1951 and one on October 25, 1952 for its subsidiary States.

While these recordings are more stylistically diverse than his Chess sides they also contained fewer originals. Most of these songs had been in his repertoire for years. Nighthawk originally recorded "Take It Easy Baby" back in 1937 for Bluebird, "The Moon is Rising" was a staple of his King Biscuit shows and was a remake of Ivory Joe Hunter's 1945 hit "Blues At Sunrise" while "Nighthawk Boogie" was his theme song on the broadcasts. "You Missed A Good Man" was another song Nighthawk likely picked up from Tampa Red who recorded it in 1935.

After a long absence Nighthawk returned to Chicago in 1964 and recorded several times including a blistering set taped live on Maxwell St. in conjunction with the filming of Mike Shea's 1964 documentary And This is Free. Maxwell St. was at the heart of Chicago's black ghetto and was a bustling open air market. Nighthawk really stretches out on some of his old classics including the stunning medley of his two biggest hits "Anna Lee/Sweet Black Angel" as well as a storming reprise of his "Take it Easy Baby. " Nighthawk shows off his wide repertoire playing Big Joe Turner's "Honey Hush", Dr. Clayton's "Cheating and Lying Blues" and Percy Mayfield's "I Need Love So Bad." In 1999 the 2-CD set And This Is Maxwell Street was released in Japan on the P-Vine label and issued in 2000 in the US by Rooster Records with an additional CD containing a 44 minute interview of Nighthawk conducted by Mike Bloomfield. The set contains all the original unedited recordings made in conjunction with the film. In addition to Nighthawk there are fine performances by Johnny Young, Big John Wrencher, Blind Arvella Gray, Carey Bell, Big Mojo Elem, James Brewer, Carrie Robinson and Little Arthur King. Nighthawk present on 22 of the 30 selections. In addition to playing some of these sides on today's program, we also hear an interview snippet from Gordon Quinn who was the sound engineer on the documentary.

Robert Nighthawk Maxwell Street
Robert Nighthawk Live On Maxwell Street

Pete Welding had formed Testament Records in the early 1960's as one of the handful of pioneering labels started by blues enthusiasts. He recorded Nighthawk with his partners Johnny Young and John Wrencher on October 14, 1964 cutting seven sides. In 1964 Nighthawk was recorded at a concert at the University of Chicago with Little Walter and Johnny Young. The song Testament sides and some of the concert selection can be found on the CD Masters of Modern Blues Vol. 4 – Robert Nighthawk/Houston Stackhouse. Hightone Records, which has been reissuing the Testament catalog, has come out with Down Home Slide and Down Home Harp which contain four previously unreleased live Nighthawk tracks from this same concert. Welding said of this session that it "resonates in my mind as perhaps the single finest one I was ever privileged to do…This is my favorite Testament session."

In 1964 Nighthawk recorded for Willie Dixon to interest UK promoters with touring lesser-known Chicago artists. These sides were issued on UK Decca in 1966 and issued on the album Blues Southside Chicago album which has not been issued on CD. Nighthawk cut two songs for this session: "Merry Christmas" and "Lula Mae." Today we spin the latter number which was a song originally recorded by Tampa Red in 1944.

Nighthawk credits Houston Stackhouse with teaching him guitar: "I started guitar in 1931…. Guy lived down in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, he, name a Houston Stackhouse, he learned me to play." Stackhouse emphasized: "I learned him how to play guitar, back in the 30's. I'd say, You ain't gon' eat nothin’ till you get these notes right…He done got bad with it then when he come back from Chicago." In 1967 George Mitchell recorded Nighthawk's last sides playing in Houston Stackhouse's combo, mostly playing bass due to declining health. The music harks back to Nighthawk and Stackhouse's early delta days. Tommy Johnson's influence looms large with five of his songs being covered. In a way Nighthawk's life had come full circle; he was once again playing with Stackhouse who taught how to play guitar, Stackhouse in turn learned directly from Tommy Johnson and here were the two old friends performing the songs of Johnson together one final time. Nghthawk died less than two months after these recordings on Nov. 5 1967 of congestive heart failure at the Helena hospital. He was buried in Helena's Magnolia cemetery. "He loved Helena,said Sam Carr, "that's the reason I buried him there."

Related Articles (word docs):

-Prowling With The Nighthawk Liner Notes Pt. 1 * Liner Notes Pt. 2

-A Note On Robert Nighthawk by Don Kent (Blues Unlimited no. 42)

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