Nighthawks- Damn Good Time
Damn Good Time
By Grant Britt
“When we started out, it was seemingly impossible for a couple of white boys playing blues-oriented rock and roll to get any recognition,” Mark Wenner says of the band he and Jimmy Thackery started in DC in 1972. Fifty years down the road, the Nighthawks are recognized as one of the best roots bands in the business.
Although they’re categorized as a blues band, that was never Wenner’s intent. “We’ve been true to the music we set out to play,” he says, defining the Nighthawks as “not a white-boy blues band, but an American music band reaching out to all these great musical sources.”
Their latest, Damn Good Time, pays homage to a bucketful of ‘Hawks influences from all over the musical spectrum, covered and transformed with the Hawks special sauce. Wenner takes Elvis’ “Too Much” back into the raw backwoods country come-on it was before E hickupped all over it.
Even though Wenner is the only original member still in the band, this version of the Hawks is as good or better than any version since the original group. For years even after his departure in ‘86, guitarist Jimmy Thackery was the elephant in the room. Danny Morris, Bob Margolin and Warren Haynes all tried on his shoes for awhile before Paul Bell came onboard in ’04.
Bell has long since banished Thackery’s ghost with his ability to put his personal stamp on anything from Jimmy McCracklin to Nat King Cole. Bell helps give McCracklin’s “Georgia Slop” a harder edge, backed by a slammin’ Bo Diddley beat by new guy Mark Stutso (a Hawk since ’10 who contributes four songs and sings lead on 5) and another ’04 addition, bassist Johnny Castle, who contributes a gritty vocal. There’s still a Thackery connection though Stutso, a 20- year vet of Thackery’s band, The Drivers.
Onboard since original drummer Pete Ragusa left in 2010, Stutso’s hard-hitting style, songwriting skills and lusty vocals add depth to the Hawks’ sound.
The band’s bluesy makeover of “Kansas City” hitman Wilbert Harrison‘s “Lets Work Together,” with Stutso sounding like former Wet Willie lead vocalist Jimmy Hall, is a standout, as is their smoky reworking of Nat King Cole’s “Send For Me,” slowed down and dirtied up, with Wenner advertising himself as the doctor willing to make house calls to cure what ails you, love-wise.
Damn Good Time is one of the best roots records of the year from a bunch of blues-tinged roaddawgs who still know how to rock.