Robert Nighthawk Should Be a Household Name

It’s interesting that Robert Lee McCollum — Robert Nighthawk — never got the recognition accorded other blues players, many of whom he impacted.

A lot of tremendous information is available at the great looking site SundayBlues:

Robert Nighthawk was one of the blues premier slide guitarists playing with a subtle elegance and a fluid, crystal clear style that was instantly recognizable. Nighthawk influenced a generation of artists including Elmore James, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and particularly Earl Hooker. In many ways Nighthawk was the archetype of the classic bluesman spending his entire adult life rambling all over the South with frequent trips to the North playing a never ending string of one nighters punctuated by sporadic recording dates. Nighthawk’s recording dates brought him only limited success but he remained popular in the South his entire life. Nighthawk’s life remains somewhat indistinct; for one he never stayed in Chicago long enough to establish himself, he was interviewed only briefly and unlike many artists didn’t appreciably benefit from the blues boom of the 1960’s. The aim of this website is to shed light on this important bluesman and put his contributions in the proper historical context.

For all his influence Nighthawk remains a mostly neglected and mysterious figure. One reason was that he recorded very sporadically which saw only about a dozen scattered sessions from the 1930’s up until his death in 1967. Though he consistently recorded strong material his record sales remained low. Another reason stems from the man himself who associates referred to as restless, taciturn and stubborn. “Nighthawk was polite but taciturn…He would grin, and occasionally “grandstand” on Maxwell Street or in a Club, he was usually serious; sometimes almost bitter.”7 And as Henry Townsend commented:”You sure couldn ‘t dance off his blues – boy, they were as draggiest as they get! Nighthawk had ways more Iike Robert Johnson than anybody else that I know. Quiet conversation – you’d have to bring it out of him – just a quiet kind of guy.” Others, however, have described Nighthawk in less somber terms. Charlie Musselwhite described him this way: “To me… he was real friendly, sort of reserved. He never lost his cool in any way; he was always in control, but not in control like “uptight”, he was just a real smooth operator, you know?”12 Carey Bell relates: “He was a lot of fun. Tells a lot of lies. He was good at telling lies and jokes.”12 (Continue Reading…)

Above is the always cheerful “Cheating and Lying Blues.” The first stanza is a doozy. It’s the only clip I could find of Nighthawk playing — but it’s a real interesting video, to say the least. Below is “Mama Talk to Your Daughter,” which was written by J.B. Lenoir.

[Homepage photo: Bob Palez]

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