Mark Wenner, founder and leader of beloved roots band The Nighthawks, announces a June 15 date for the self-titled debut CD of Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors on EllerSoul Records. Joining Wenner (vocals, harmonica) in the band are fellow Nighthawks mate Mark Stutso (drums, vocals), as well as Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner (guitar, vocals), Zach Sweeney (guitar) and Steve Wolf (upright bass).
Produced by Wenner and recorded earlier this year, Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors showcases the tight-knit band’s foray into many facets of the blues, embracing influences from Chicago, New Orleans and Mississippi. The disc’s 12 tracks include two instrumentals, where the band gets to strut its collective stuff on the Paul Williams chestnut, “The Hucklebuck,” as well as the original, “Just Like Jimmy,” an homage to the legendary Jimmy Reed. Just like most of the Nighthawks albums of recent vintage, Wenner tosses in another salute to Elvis Presley with a blues-ified version of his classic, “Teddy Bear.”
“This band is actually a blues band,” says Wenner, addressing comparisons to the ‘Hawks. “The Nighthawks are a blues and roots-rock band. This band, with upright bass, is more authentic, old school and swinging. It’s closer to the Cash Box Kings than J. Geils; a whole different animal.”
The Blues Warriors have been active for several years and playing shows in and around the Washington, DC, area. They’re set to play two DC-area festivals in June: Takoma Park Jazz Fest and Silver Spring Blues Fest. The band will also open for The Nighthawks at the Ramshead on May 13 and will play for the Baltimore Blues Society picnic on Labor Day weekend.
Wenner explains how the band’s personnel and recording came about. “About 20 years ago, The Nighthawks played a concert in The Netherlands to kick off a pub-crawl style festival, and I saw a listing for Clarence "The Bluesman" Turner FROM WASHINGTON, DC! I thought I was on top of the DC blues scene, yet I didn't know this young man, so I made a point of catching his set. Clarence knew all the guitar tricks and put on a hell of a show. What really impressed me was how DEEP his blues were. I waited to meet him, and he turned out to be a nice guy and a real gentleman. Although he came up playing bass in the Go Go scene, he had grown up in a house full of blues, both recorded and live. He went on he became quite visible in the thriving Washington blues world and a favorite of the DC Blues Society. He was the obvious choice for a collaborator in a traditional blues band.
“One of the primary factors in such a band had to be upright bass, as opposed to the electric. Steve Wolf, who subbed in the Nighthawks for several tours in the ‘80s, had become a world- class upright player with experience in jazz as well time with the Washington wonder of many styles, Danny Gatton.
“Nighthawks drummer Mark Stutso was also recruited to form a swinging, shuffling rhythm section. To match Clarence, we looked at the young guns playing blues guitar. Zach Sweeney, who I had played with when he was too young to come to the blues jams without his parents, had returned to the area after some serious road experience with Wayne Hancock, was back and playing blues, rockabilly and honky tonk all over town. We got him.
“Squeezing gigs in between Nighthawks tours and everyone's busy schedules, we developed a swinging old school sound that demanded to be recorded. We found a sympathetic ear at Ambient Studio in Laurel, MD with Ray Tilkins, and had a lot of fun making this disc. I think the joy shows through in the tracks.”
The songs (with comments from Mark Wenner):
1) “Diamonds at Your Feet”- Clarence comes out swinging on a not-overly-covered Muddy Waters tune that features Little Walter-style chromatic harp.
2) “Teddy Bear” - Although the concept was pretty pure blues, I just couldn't help taking an unlikely piece from one of my favorite blues singers and giving it the Warriors' feel.
3) “Rock a While” - Not a well-known Joe Turner piece, Clarence says his parents played this one over and over in their house.
4) “Checkin' Up on My Baby” - Sonny Boy or Jr. Wells? We opted for Junior's version, bringing us into the early ‘60s when Buddy Guy was using James Brown grooves in the Chicago Blues guitar sound.
5) “Just to Be with You” - Clarence gets low down with more Muddy.
6) “King Bee” - Slim Harpo's tune was one of the first blues melodies I learned in the ‘60s and one of the first blues albums I bought. I got to play with Slim and Lightnin' Slim in New York shortly before they both passed.
7) “It’s My Own Fault” - Although Mark Stutso has sung this song in many bands, including Jimmy Thackery's, Tab Benoit's and Jason Ricci's, this is the first studio capture of his magnificent take on the B.B. King classic.
8) “Hello Josephine” - This version of Fats Domino's tune is based on the Terry Garland arrangement I played on. Chuck Berry meets Fats. I'm using the 12-hole Sonny Boy style big Marine Band. Blues Police Beware: There is a little Hillbilly in harmony.
9) “Trust My Baby” - Unrehearsed one take of a harmonica show-off Sonny Boy Williamson piece.
10) “The Hucklebuck” Zach and Steve get to a chance to really strut their stuff.
11) “Just Like Jimmy” - An “original” one take, on the spot, creation in honor of my first harmonica hero, Jimmy Reed.
12) “Dust My Broom” - Clarence's favorite “get hot” tune, less guitar and more harmonica driven than the usual and it just plain rocks.