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Live Review
The Nighthawks
@ The Backroom, Delray Beach, Florida, Mar. 5, 1999
By Dave "Doc" Piltz
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For the past 20 years, The Nighthawks have been known as "the world's greatest bar band," in the Washington, D.C. area. So well known that they have been able to transcend the local bar band label to take on an national audience. Many Twin Cities' blues fans are well aware of The Nighthawks original guitarist, Jimmy Thackery, who has gone on to achieve his own success with his band, The Drivers. On Friday night at The Backroom in Delray Beach, I got to find out why The Nighthawks have maintained their popularity for so long.

Surprisingly enough, except for the slowly revolving door of guitarists since Thackery, three of the four Nighthawks have been together since they cut their very first album; Mark Wenner on vocals and harmonica, Jan Zukowski on bass and Pete Ragusa on drums. Just prior to the release of their last album, Pain & Paradise, Pete Kanaras took over as guitarist and has remained a Nighthawk ever since.

The typical show at The Backroom starts sometime between 9:30 - 10:00 p.m. and ends at 1:00 a.m. However, on Friday, The Nighthawks drove in from North Carolina, arriving at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, began their show early and quit even earlier. So early in fact, that people were still arriving at The Backroom to see The Nighthawks as they were packing up the equipment to leave for their next show Sebastian, Florida (110 miles away) on Saturday night. The strange timing of the show and limited advertising resulted in a poor turnout for The Nighthawks. Those lucky enough to be in the audience, however, were not disappointed.

During their short stay at The Backroom, The Nighthawks offered material from the early days of the band to songs from their forthcoming CD, Still Wild, scheduled for release on April 27th. Because of the time limits on their performance, the focus of the show was on Still Wild and the band's current release, Pain & Paradise.

Though noticeably tired from traveling, the band powered through a variety of tunes. Everything from Willie Dixon's, "The Same Thing" to Marvin Gaye's, "That's The Way Love Is" and The Temptations, "Can't Get Next To You." Some of my favorites from the abbreviated show included "Shade Tree Mechanic" from Pain & Paradise, "Just A Little Bit" from Rock This House and the title track from the new CD, "Still Wild." The night also included a pretty fair Elvis impersonation by Mark Wenner and the announcement of Pete Ragusa's upcoming 50th birthday on Monday, March 8th.

Solos were well-handled by Wenner on harp and Kanaras on guitar. Wenner is a very accomplished harp player and Kanaras offered a variety of sounds, hinting of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. At one point, Kanaras even had his guitar sounding like an organ which had several members of the audience looking for the non-existent keyboard player. The Nighthawks sound was filled in by the strong rhythm section provided by Zukowski and Ragusa on bass and drums respectively.

Given the energy and entertainment provided by The Nighthawks, it's too bad that more people did not know about the early start and end time for the show. It was nice to see that despite the poor turnout, the "world's greatest bar band" lived up to their name.

This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.

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