The Nighthawks

The Nighthawks
The Nighthawks
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The legendary D.C. based blues group the Nighthawks stopped in at Shockoe Bottom’s Lulu’s last Sunday on their way home from Georgia. About 75 enthusiastic believers were there to greet them. The Nighthawks have been around since 1972 – that’s 42 years – and still play three or four shows every week. There’s only one original member and, honestly, when I hear that, it makes me wonder if said group is going to be just a shadow of the originals. In the case of the present day Nighthawks, they definitely live up to their legend.

 

Wenner, Owens

Wenner & Owens

Mark Wenner, the lone original member, still sings and plays harp as if it was back in the beginning and leads the four-man group through high energy sets. He’s backed up by Johnny Castle on bass and vocals and Paul Bell on guitar. Hardly newbies, both have been with the band for over a decade. Drummer and vocalist Mark Stutso completed the lineup in 2010. They’re tight and hold true to the original blend of Nighthawks-style blues and roots music.

 

Playing bars, colleges and smaller venues is satisfying and enjoyable to Wenner.  For him it’s about playing what he wants with great musicians who love to play and, most of all, having fun. While he’s played before crowds of 10 or 20 thousand (opening for the likes of John Lee Hooker and backing Muddy Waters), he has no interest in playing to huge audiences, “I can’t imagine playing to a Springsteen size crowd. It’d probably freak me out!”

 

Stutso 2

Stutso

On the flipside, although totally into what he’s doing now, Stutso admittedly wouldn’t mind crossing off his musical bucket list a shot at a higher level. “To get on the tour bus and relax after the show instead of loading out, climbing in the Econoline van and deciding whose going to drive. Yes, I’d like to try that.”

 

Sunday’s show included every song off their soon-to-be released CD, “444”, recorded recently at Richmond’s Montrose studio. Ellersoul Records is promoting the group and partner Ronnie Keith Owens (known to Richmond’s music community as blues harpist “Li’l Ronnie” ) says Ellersoul is about helping musicians make their music and some money too. “There’s so much good material begging to be put out. For us, a release is successful when it pays for itself and we can keep moving on.” Moving on himself, Li’l Ronnie joined the band for several songs, much to the crowd’s approval.

 

Ellersoul plans a formal CD release party some time before the May 15 release date. Visit their website and get on the email list.  Judging by past Ellersoul release parties, you won’t want to miss this.

 

PHOTOS BY SUZ KITSTEINER

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