Mark Wenner, Founding Member of The Nighthawks, Blues, Harmonica, SingerMark Wenner and his band The Nighthawks have been performing and recording for over 40 years. He did this with and alongside an impressive list of blues and R&B note-worthies. Mark recalls that most adults perceived rock & roll as the devil’s music when he was young.

It was a time, he notes when Elvis was in the army, Jerry Lewis was banned, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran were dead, Little Richard was immersed in church, Ray Charles was in jail, and Gene Vincent was crippled. Mark sensed a conspiracy of sorts, as radio began to market the likes of Fabian and Frankie Avalon. Mark recalls that older people hated rock & roll, and teachers would yell about its ills for an entire period. In response, Without his parents permission, Mark ventured to DC’s Howard Theater, where he would see The Motown Review, Otis Redding, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye mentor, Billy Stewart. Mark fell in love with music, learned to play harp, and formed The Nighthawks in 1972.

Known as the hardest-working band in America, the Nighthawks have performed with the Vaughn brothers, Greg Allman, George Thorogood, Warren Haynes, Muddy Waters, BB King, and others. Everyone seemed to love the band. Greg Allman even talked about joining the band. In some cases, The Nighthawks helped propel their peers to fame. Big-time fame unfortunately eluded The Nighthawks. The band can take solace in that documentary filmmaker Michael Streissguth took an interest in them and created the film Nighthawks on the Blue Highway.

As you can imagine, Mark has a lot of stories to tell. During our conversation, he shares a few good ones for sure. He also breaks down how he consistently got his band into new venues in the early days. His strategy was all about relationships and asking for help.

The Nighthawks have been labeled an American blues roots music band, which is not too off the mark. But I imagine that Mark would say The Night Hawks are simply a blues band.

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Mentions and Related Episodes

Nighthawks music on iTunes

Michael Streissguth

Nighthawks on the Blue Highway documentary website

Nighthawks on the Blue Highway DVD

The Howard Theater

Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival (episode 6)

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