The Nighthawks Are Back in Town

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TROY — “Well, why didn’t you ever tour with the Rolling Stones?” 

The blues-rockin’ Nighthawks founder Mark Wenner’s wife Kathy is giving him some shit. He gives it right back. 

“Ok! I’ll call Mick and see if he has space on stage for a real harp player.” 

The blues-rockin’ Nighthawks are working on a new album tentatively titled 49/50. That’s how many years Mark’s fronted a band with that title, but Wenner’s been playing in one form or another almost as long as The Stones have existed, and The Nighthawks, long a favorite in 518, are coming back to the area for one of their first post-pandemic shows at The Hangar on the Hudson this Saturday night, July 31st. 

Wenner is a master harp player and considers the harmonica to be a lead instrument. “One thing I’ve done with my style is I’ve also tried to make the harp a competent rhythm instrument, especially in recording, and when I play live you’ll see a harp player like Kim Wilson. I’ve seen him do it in the past, but mostly he just sings or plays lead, and he doesn’t play backup when the guitar player is playing solos. That’s is something I’ve worked very hard with my playing to be part of the band in that sense. 

“The Beatles are actually my role model: four guys where everyone has a distinctive role and personality. Ringo would always get to sing one song that was like a Carl Perkins song, and George would write songs that were completely different from what John or Paul were doing, but somehow, they were able to put that all together and be The Beatles. That was always my concept of a band. At this point, Dan Hovey sings way better than I do, and drummer Mark Stutso’s an incredible vocalist. What do I want to be the main guy for?” 

Dan Hovey is the newest member of the band. His credits include Root Boy Slim, a notorious rocker whose Yale degree was no indicator of his outrageous shows. Years ago, I was offered a motel interview with “the biodegradable landfill of rock” as defined by the Washington Post. I asked his road manager if I could bring my young sons with me for the interview and was strongly advised against it. Slim passed years ago of unnatural causes. 

Nighthawks bass player Paul Pisciotta was playing for rockabilly legend Robert Gordon when Wenner was still in junior high school with the two.  “I was friends with Robert Gordon from a horrible private school I went to that he had to go to, but he had a band called The Confidentials, and they played at the local youth center although I didn’t really know Paul back then. I consider my two years there the worst two years of my life, but Gordon went there, too. Gordon and I both ended up in the same high school, and he sang lead in West Side Story in the high school production, pictures in my yearbook. He ended up in New York and ended up in the punk scene in a band called Tuff Darts.’ 

Dan Hovey wrote four new songs for 49/50, and long-time drummer and vocalist Mark Stutso wrote four, including “Gas Station Chicken.”  “That’s probably our hit, a funky rap song,” says Wenner. “I know it’s a hit because people sing along. The first time you hear it, you’re singing along before the song’s over.” 

Everybody’s got a pandemic story. Here’s Wenner’s.“Our normal modus operandi is to rough out 10 songs in an afternoon and go out and play ’em for a couple of years and then walk into the studio and sort of play ’em up a little bit with the technology available, occasionally bring in someone else for an overdub, certainly overdubbing the vocals.  

So, in comes the pandemic. “For the first time, we had a situation. We had a friend’s garage so it got to be cold. Then, Paul the bass player lives by the water in Edgewater near Annapolis, and no one but him and his girlfriend occasionally would be at that house. So, it was pretty much a safe place, and we were all pretty much behaving ourselves. 

“We were actually gonna come in and do pre-production in the studio beyond what we had already done, but by the time we got to the studio, we actually started recording. It should have been an eight-month process, and we’re actually four songs away from being fully mixed.” 

More than 50 years playing and with so many past members you need a dance card to keep up, Wenner recalls his early influences. “I mean the real knockout is the September of ’66. The homecoming band Columbia in October was the Paul Butterfield Band. I was already idolizing and listening to Butterfield. But it was an old-fashioned homecoming, and my girlfriend came up on the train with her little prom dress on a hanger in a bag. We didn’t dance. We stood in the very front of the stage in front of Butterfield the whole time going “Duh, duh. This is what I wanna do.” So, my studies suffered, but I spent a lot of time in m dorm room playing the harmonica. 

When I had the Northeast Blues Society, I booked The Nighthawks a lot. They may not be the Rolling Stones, and Mark may have gone through a myriad of band members, but they never fail to get the job done. And the Hanger is the perfect place for them with the legs of the bar made of prosthetic devices. Rock and roll hoochie coo, baby. 

The Hanger on The Hudson is located at 675 River St. in Troy. Doors open at 7. The show runs from 8 to 11, $15 advance, $20 day of show. 

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