~Pre-War Session Work~

 


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Robert Nighthawk 1942
Robert Nighthawk, Helena, Arkansas, 1942

  "My mother often sit down and talk with me, talk with me about being so wild
Well and she said I'm scared that woman and whiskey is coin' to be the ruin of my only child" *

 The years between 1937 and 1940 were Robert Nighthawk's busiest on record. In addition to cutting 25 tracks under his own name he was in constant demand as a session musician. He can be found on approximately 80 or so sides playing with a variety of different musicians. It should be noted that there is some speculation that Nighthawk may not be the harmonica player on all the sides attributed to him in blues discographies.

 Nighthawk's recording career started in 1936 after he left the South and settled into the vibrant music scene of St. Louis. Henry Townsend recalled that Nighthawk was staying in St. Louis most of the time between 1936 and 1939. In addition to Townsend, St. Louis boasted such bluesman as Big Joe Williams, Peetie Wheatstraw, Walter Davis and Sonny Boy Williamson. "Nighthawk was a loner", but Sonny Boy and Townsend became good friends.23 Townsend and Williams were both under contract for Bluebird and it is through them that Nighthawk likely got his break. Townsend says he drove Sonny Boy, Nighthawk, Walter Davis and Big Joe to Aurora, Illinois, in his 1930 A Model Ford for their 1937 sessions: "I transferred them to Aurora, Illinois. There was about eight or nine of us …we stacked them in the car like sardines."23 This led to a marathon recording session resulting in six songs by Nighthawk, six by Sonny Boy Williamson, four by Big Joe Williams and eight sides by Walter Davis. It was Sonny Boy's songs, especially, "Good Morning Little School Girl", "Bluebird Blues" and "Sugar Mama Blues" which were the biggest hits but Nighthawk obviously impressed blues producer Lester Melrose as a talented guitar player and harmonica accompanist. Between 1937 and 1940 Nighthawk commuted regularly between St. Louis and the Bluebird studio in Chicago recording as a session musician and on his own. Nighthawk did session work for the Decca label as well.

Guys Was Followin' Sonny Boy Like People Was Followin' Christ

Sonny Boy Williamson I
Sonny Boy Williamson I

Back in St. Louis Nighthawk spent time playing with Sonny Boy and Henry Townsend often performing at Ernest Walker's tavern on Jefferson Avenue where they all met Robert Johnson. Thet were all deeply impressed with his music. Johnson left abruptly and then Nighthawk moved to Chicago in late 1938.23 Fred Utley, Sonny Boy's Uncle describes the atmosphere at one of Sonny Boy's gigs: "The place was full and the people just stood up in the chairs tryin' to see Sonny Boy. Sonny Boy's half-brother further explains: "Guys was followin' Sonny Boy like people was followin' Christ."23

 While Nighthawk played guitar on all his own recordings he played quite a bit of harmonica as an accompanist. "Well, I liked that (the harmonica) back in '24...youngstername a Jones, he's out a Louisiana, named Johnny Jones, and he learned me to blow harp."12 He played harmonica on record up until 1941 when he apparently gave up the instrument to focus on guitar. It was about this time that Nighthawk began mastering the electric guitar and perhaps this is why he abandoned the harp.

Studio Log
Studio log from Sonny Boy's Dec. 17, 1938 session

 In addition to his recordings with Sonny Boy and Big Joe, Nighthawk also accompanied the following artists: Baby Doo, Lee Brown, Walter Davis, Sleepy John Estes, Gene Gilmore, Willie Hatcher, Joe McCoy, Jack Newman, Ann Sortier, Speckled Red, Henry Townsend, Walter Vincson and Peetie Wheatstraw. Most of these recordings are available on CD. These CD's will be listed below. Some of these sides have been repackaged often so I will list the most recent reissues only.

Angel Child Rootin' Ground Hog

 In an article on Rhythm Willie for Blues & Rhythm magazine writer Scott Dirks writes: "Most of Willie's appearances as an accompanist on the recordings of other blues artists are attributed to 'unknown harmonica' or 'possibly Lee McCoy' in published discographies (a situation which this article will examine and attempt to rectify.)."45 Read the full article on the Sources/Artcles page.

*Sonny Boy Williamson, The Right Kind Of Life

All Clips In MP3 Format

Jack Newman- Vocals, Piano
Robert Lee McCoy- Guitar
October, 23, 1936

Big House Blues (unissued)
Down and Mistreated Blues (unissued)
Pepper Mama (unissued)
That Jive You Got (unissued)

Walter Davis- Vocal, Piano (except "Good Gal")
Henry Townsend and Robert Lee McCoy- Possibly guitar, Second vocal
-1 "Good Gal"
May 5, 1937

Angel Child
Fifth Avenue Blues
I Ain't Got No Changing Clothes
West Coast Blues
Shady Lane
What Else Can I Do
Nightmare Blues
Good Gal
-1

Walter Davis: Vol.2 1935-1937
(Document Records DOCD-5282)
Walter Davis: Vol.3 1937-1928 (Document Records DOCD-5283)

Big Joe Williams- Vocals, Guitar
Robert Lee McCoy - Guitar
Sonny Boy Williams- Harmonica
May 5, 1937

I Know You Gonna Miss Me
Rootin' Ground Hog

Brother James
I Won't Be In Hard Luck No More

Big Joe Williams: Vol. 1 1935-1941 (BDCD-6003)

Shady Lane

Good Gal

 

Sonny Boy Williamson- Vocals, Harmonica
Robert Lee McCoy and Big Joe Williams- Guitar
May 5, 1937

Good Morning Little School Girl
Bluebird Blues
Jackson Blues
Got The Bottle Up And Gone
Sugar Mama Blues
Skinny Woman

Sonny Boy Williamson: Vol. 1 1937-1939 (DOCD 5055)
Sonny Boy Williamson: Bluebird Recordings (RCA)
Sonny Boy Williamson: Sugar Mama (IGOCD 2014)
The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 1 (IJSP 77101)

Sonny Boy Williamson- Vocals, harmonica
Robert Lee McCoy- Guitar
Henry Townsend- Piano -1, Guitar -2
November 11, 1937

Up the Country blues -1
Worried  Me Blues
Black Gal Blues -2
Collector Man Blues -1
Frigidaire Blues
Suzanna Blues -2
Early in the Morning -2

Sonny Boy Williamson: Vol. 1 1937-1939 (DOCD 5055)

The Original Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 1 (IJSP 77101)

Good Morning Little School Girl

Welfare Blues


Speckled Red- Vocals, Piano
Robert Lee McCoy- Guitar
Willie Hatcher- Mandolin
Sonny Boy Williamson- Harmonica -1
December 17, 1938

Welfare Blues
Down On The Levee

Do The Georgia
Early Iin The Morning
Take It Easy
Try Me One More Time
Louise Baltimore Blues
What Makes You Treat Me mean?
St. Louis Stomp
You Got to Fix it -1

Speckled Red:1929-1938
(Document Records DOCD-5205)

 

St. Louis Stomp


Sonny Boy Williamson- Vocals, Harmonica
Robert Lee McCoy- Guitar
Speckled Red- Piano
December 17, 1938

Number Five Blues
Christmas Morning Blues
Suzie-Q
Blue Bird Blues
Little Girl Blues
Low Down Ways
Goodbye Red
The Right Kind of Life

Insurance Man Blues

Rainy Day Blues

Sonny Boy Williamson: Vol. 2 1938-1939 (DOCD-5056)
The Natchez Fire

Willie Hatcher- Vocals, Mandolin
Robert Lee McCoy- Guitar
Speckled Red- Piano
December 17, 1938

They're Mean To Me
So Unkind


Speckled Red: 1929-1938 (Document Records DOCD-5205)
The Death of Walter Barnes

Lee Brown- Vocal, Piano
Robert Lee McCoy or Rhythm Willie- Harmonica
Bill Gaither- Guitar
Unknown Bass -1 and Drums -2
September 14, 1939

Little Brown Skin -1
Lock And Key Blues -2
Treated Like A Dog -2
My Driving Wheel -2

Lee Brown: 1937-1940 (Document Records DOCD 5344)
Time Is Drawing Near

Gene Gilmore- Vocal
Robert Lee McCoy- Probably Harmonica
Baby "Doo" Caston- Piano
June 4, 1940

The Natchez Fire


Chicago Blues (Document Records DOCD-5444)
Baby Doo- Vocals
Robert Lee McCoy- Probably Harmonica
Gene Gilmore- Piano
June 4, 1940

The Death Of Walter Barnes


Chicago Blues Vol 2 1939-1944 (Document Records DOCD-5444)
Mailman Blues


Sleepy John Estes- Vocal, Guitar -1
Robert Lee McCoy- Guitar -2, Harmonica -3
Unknown Washboard -4
June 4, 1940

Mailman Blues -2,3
Time Is Drawing Near -2
Mary Come On Home -2
Jailhouse Blues Tell Me How About It (Mr. Tom's Blues) -1,3,4
Drop Down (I Don't Feel Welcome Here)
-1,3,4

Sleepy John Estes: Vol. 1 1929-1937 (Document Records DOCD-5015)
Sleepy John Estes: Vol. 2 1937-1941 (Document Records DOCD-5016)



Mary Come On Home

Big Joe and His Washboard Band (Kansas City Joe)
Kansas Joe McCoy- Vocal, guitar
Robert Lee McCoy- Harmonica
Ransom Knowling- Probably Bass
Amanda Sortier- Washboard, Vocal -1
December 14, 1940

If You Take Me Back
I'm Through With You

When You Say Goodbye
I Love You Baby

Good Time Blues: Harmonicas, Kazoos, Washboards & Cow-Bells (columbia/Legacy CK 46780)

Big Joe and His Rhythm Band (Kansas City Joe)
Kansas Joe McCoy- Vocal, guitar
Robert Lee McCoy- Harmonica
Ransom Knowling or Alfred Elkins- Imitation Bass
Amanda Sortier- Washboard
July 23, 1941

What Will I Do?
Oh Red's Twin Brother

We Can't Agree
Let's Try It again

Charlie McCoy: The McCoy Brothers: Charlie and Joe McCoy 1934-1944 Vol.2 (Wolf Records RST BDCD-6020)

We Can't Agree

I'm Through With You


Walter Vincson- Vocal, guitar
Robert Lee McCoy- Harmonica
Alfred Elkins- Imitation Bass
August 1, 1941

Every Dog Must Have His Day

You Know What You Promised Me
Gulf Coast Bay
Rosa Lee Blues
Can't Get a Word Iin Edgewise
She's Leaving Me

Walter Vincson: 1928-1941 (Wolf Records RST BDCD-6017)

She's Leaving Me 78
Peetie Wheatstraw- Vocals
Robert Lee McCoy- Harmonica
Lil Armstrong- Possibly piano
March 12, 1941

I Don't Feel Sleepy
My Little Bit
Seeing Is Believing
The Good Lawd's Children

You Got to Tell Me Something
Love Me With Attention
I'm A Little Piece of Leather

Peetie Wheatstraw: Vol. 7 1940-1941 (Document Records DOCD-5247)

I'm A Little Piece of Leather 78