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Bricks In My Pillow

   "I've got bricks in my pillow mama
And my head can't rest no more
Spiders crawling on my wall
Black snake lying round my floor
"
*

United Records was founded in 1951 by A&R man Lew Simpkins and his financial partner Leonard Allen. Nighthawk was the only true Delta bluesman on United's roster and they might have been looking at Chess's success with their roster of popular Delta bluesmen. Only two years previously did Nighthawk score big on Aristocrat (soon to become Chess) with his doubled sided hit "Sweet Black Angel/Annie Lee" and the company obviously hoped for a repeat of this success. United recorded him on their very first day of sessions and two of United's first five releases were by "Robert Nighthawk and his Nighthawks Band." Sales never took off and Nighthawk headed back south and wouldn't record again until 1964.

Feel So BAd

Lew Simpkins was a veteran record man who had worked for the Miracle and Premium Records and brought many of their former artists to the new label. A news item in the trade press dated July 21, 1951, announces the formation of the United Recording Company. "The guiding force behind this new company is a Chicago area entertainment entrepreneur by the name of Lewis Simpkins. He had previous experience with the local Miracle and Premium labels in the Chicago areas. Simpkins is unique because he is one of the very few Black record company owners producing this music that is largely by and for the Black community. He joins the Rene Brothers in California (Excelsior and Exclusive) and soon to be executives Vivian Carter and James Bracken in nearby Gary Indiana with the Vee-Jay label."

Robert Nighthawk? I Didn't Think Nothin' Of Him

United's Leonard Allen scoffed: "Robert Nighthawk? I didn't think nothin' of him. I didn't go into those joints where they were playing. Lew knew him- he had Robert Nighthawk in mind for the first session. So after he cut the session it did nothin'."9 

Kansas City Blues

Robert Nighthawk's complete recordings for the United label are collected on Bricks in My Pillow a tremendous collection that has recently been reissued on CD with some previously unreleased material. Nighthawk recorded two sessions for United, one on July 12, 1951 and one on October 25, 1952 for its subsidiary States.

Crying Won't Help You

On his prior records for Chess Nighthawk stuck mostly to a slow, somber tempo but these sides find him backed by a swinging combo that propels him almost to the verge of rock and roll on up tempo numbers. The barrelhouse piano of Roosevelt Sykes and Bob Call or Curtis Jones teamed with the rock solid drumming of Jump Jackson and Ransom Knowling's snapping bass lend plenty of excitement while Nighthawk plays some magnificent slide. Nighthawk's deep mellow voice is perfectly suited to the music as well. These recordings represent Nighthawk melding the sound of the Delta with the more urbane sounds of post war Chicago. While these recordings are more stylistically diverse than his Chess sides they also contained fewer originals. Most of these songs had been in his repertoire for years. Nighthawk originally recorded "Take It Easy Baby" back in 1937 for Bluebird, "The Moon is Rising" was a staple of his King Biscuit shows and was a remake of Ivory Joe Hunter's 1945 hit "Blues At Sunrise" (covered prior to Nighthawk's version by Charley Booker who cut it as "Moonrise Blues" for Modern's Blues & Rhythm subsidiary in 1952 and Nighthawk's drummer Kansas City Red often sang the song), while "Nighthawk Boogie" was his theme song on the broadcasts. "You Missed A Good Man" was a song Nighthawk likely picked up from Tampa Red who recorded the song in 1935. The basis of the song actually goes back much further being copyrighted by Clarence Williams in 1915 as "You Missed A Good Woman When You Picked All Over Me." The song was first recorded by Trixie Smith in 1922 and again in 1923 by Eva Taylor the wife of Clarence Williams. Tampa reworked the lyrics but the the tune and chorus are identical. "Bricks In My Pillow" was another cover originally recorded by Bumble Bee Slim in 1935, "Kansas City" was a cover of Jim Jackson's 1927 classic and "Seventy-Four" was a song originally cut by Johnnie Temple as "Gonna Ride 74" for Decca in 1938 and later covered by Willie Love & His Three Aces as "74 Blues" for the Trumpet label in 1951. "Maggie Campbell", taken here with an unusual rhythm that sounds like a big band rumba, was a song Nighthawk likely picked up through Tommy Johnson who recorded the song in 1928 as "Maggie Campbell Blues"

Trixie Smith: You Missed A Goo Man You Missed A Good Man
Gonna Ride 74 74 Blues
Lucille Bogan: Black Angel Blues

Tampa Red: Crying Won't Help You

Some of the songs Robert Nighthawk would later cover

 



*Robert Nighthawk, Bricks In My Pillow

All Clips In MP3 Format

 

  1. Crying Won't Help You
  2. Take It Easy Baby
  3. Seventy-Four
  4. Maggie Campbell (alternate take)
  5. The Moon Is Rising
  6. Nighthawk Boogie
  7. Kansas City
  8. You Missed A Good Man
  9. Bricks In My Pillow
  10. Seventy-Four (alternate take)*
  11. U/S Boogie
  12. Feel So Bad
  13. Maggie Campbell
  14. The Moon is Rising (incomplete)*

*Previously unissued

Tracks 1,2,6,7,12:

Robert Nighthawk- Guitar, Vocals
Roosevelt Sykes or Bob Call- Piano 
Jump Jackson- Drums (probably)
Ransom Knowling- Bass
July, 12, 1951


Tracks 3,4,5,8-11,13,14:

Robert Nighthawk- Guitar, Vocals
Curtis Jones- Piano
Ransom Knowling- Bass
unknown second guitar 4,11
unknown drums
October 25, 1952

Tracks 1, 2, 4-5, 7, 12 can be found on "Robert Nighthawk: Prowling With The Nighthawk" (Document DOCD-32-20-6)

All tracks can be found on Bricks in My Pillow (Delmark 711)

  United Logo

Maggie Campbell

 

The Moon Is Rising

 

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Billboard July 21, 1956