Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Nighthawk Says Goodnight

Seeing I've been held hostage by SiriusXM radio for the greater part of 2010, I missed the recent announcement that longtime Nighthawk drummer Pete Ragusa is retiring from the band. Last week, a friend sent me this link to John Kelly's Washington Post blog which has an interview with Ragusa. Ragusa had been with the Nighthawks for over 35 years. That's a hell of lot time to be anchoring the rhythm section in any band, let alone one that was considered by many to be the world's best bar band for many years.

Although I've seen the 'Hawks numerous times, I'm a little too young to have seen them play in the rip roaring days of the 70s and early 80s when their "classic" lineup of Ragusa, Mark Wenner, Jimmy Thackery and Jan Zukowski was playing up to 300 nights a year. And, to be honest, I never comprehended how much of a national band they were until 1994, the first year I attended Jazz Fest in New Orleans. I didn't see the Nighthawks play in New Orleans in 1994. They weren't even in town. But, not long after setting foot in Jimmy's for a Delbert McCllinton show, I noticed several Hatch Show Print posters for past shows at Jimmy's that featured the Nighthawks. Some of the aged posters listed the 'Hawks as the headliners, while others had them opening for acts like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. To this day, it always makes me feel good to see something old school D.C. when I'm traveling in other parts of the country.

Since I missed out on those wild 'Hawks shows back in the day, I'll share a story my friend "Mr. B." shared with me via email last year as we were discussing potential D.C. music posts here on Shedd's Spot.

I do remember the first time I saw the Nighthawks, though. It was the fall of '79 down at William & Mary in a large gym-like building. Admission was like a dollar or 2 and included unlimited beer courtesy of the student activity fund or something. Wenner had hurt his back and seemed to be paralyzed from about the chest down. A couple of roadies carried him on stage and propped him up against a stool or something. I didn't know anything about the blues and had likely never heard of the Nighthawks, but free beer? Hell yes. What I remember is that they jammed and jammed and jammed. I remember them totally rocking, playing for hours and just not stopping. Thackery playing behind his head, duck-walking, teeth, the whole thing. Finally at like 2:30 AM or something the authorities turned on the lights and the band took the hint and quit at the end of that song. We wandered off and threw a shopping cart off the roof of Billy's dorm or something. Anyway, great show and I saw them many times over the next several years.

After sharing that story, I guess the only way to wrap up this post is to say the Nighthawks, including Ragusa, have just released Last Train to Bluesville, an all accoustic CD recorded at, of all places, the SiriusXM studios in D.C.

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