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Robert Nighthawk

Robert Nighthawk

Life and careerBorn in Helena, Arkansas, he left home at an early age to become a busking musician, and after a period wandering through southern Mississippi, settled for a time in Memphis, Tennessee, where he played with local orchestras and musicians, such as the Memphis Jug Band. A particular influence during this period was Houston Stackhouse, from whom he learned to play slide guitar, and with whom he appeared on the radio in Jackson, Mississippi.After further travels through Mississippi, he found it advisable to take his mother's name, and as Robert Lee McCoy moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in the mid-1930s. Local musicians with whom he played included Henry Townsend, Big Joe Williams, and Sonny Boy Williamson. This led to two recording dates in 1937, the four musicians recording together at the Victor Records studio in Aurora, Illinois, as well as recordings under his own name, including "Prowling Night-Hawk" (recorded 5 May 1937), from which he was to take his later pseudonym.These sessions led to Chicago blues careers for the other musicians, though not, however, for McCoy, who continued his rambling life, playing and recording (for Victor/Bluebird and Decca) solo and with various musicians, under various names. He also became a familiar voice on local radio stations; then Robert Lee McCoy disappeared.Within a few years, he resurfaced as the electric slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk, and began recording for Aristocrat and Chess Records, the latter of which was also Muddy Waters' label; in 1949 and 1950, the two men's styles were close enough that they were in competition for promotional activity; as Waters was the more marketable commodity, being more reliable and a more confident stage communicator, he received the attention. Though Nighthawk continued to perform and to record, taking up with United and States 1951 and 1952, he failed to achieve great commercial success.In 1963, Nighthawk was rediscovered busking in Chicago and this led to further recording sessions and club dates, and to his return to Arkansas, where he appeared on the King Biscuit Time radio programme on KFFA. Nighthawk continued giving live performances on Chicago's Maxwell Street until 1964. He had a stroke followed by a heart attack, and died of heart failure at his home in Helena.Historic markerNighthawk was honored by the Mississippi Blues Commission places a historic marker in Friars Point, Mississippi, marking his position on the Mississippi Blues Trail. Governor Haley Barbour stated the following:This talented Mississippian made a huge contribution to development of thatunique genre of music, the Mississippi blues. I am pleased Nighthawk’s imprint on the blues scene, which is still heard through the tunes of modern-day blues artists, will be recognized with his inclusion on the Mississippi Blues Trail.The marker was placed at Friars Point, as Nighthawk called this town his home at various times during his itinerant career. He recorded a song called "Friars Point Blues" in 1940.RecordingsBricks in My Pillow — 1977 Delmark reissue of 1951 and 1952 United recordings.Robert Nighthawk: Prowling with the Nighthawk (Document) — twenty-six sides (1937–1952) recorded for Bluebird, Decca, Aristocrat, and United, including the song "My Sweet Lovin' Woman" (which he wrote under his given name, Robert McCollum).Ramblin' Bob (Saga) — twenty-four sides (1937–1952) recorded for Victor, Decca, Chess, and United.Live On Maxwell Street (1964) — (under the name "Robert Nighthawk and his Flames of Rhythm"), reissued by Rounder Records, 1980, 1991.Robert Nighthawk: Sweet Black Angel (1948).The Aristocrat Of The Blues — (MCA/Chess CHD2-9387).


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