Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors
Harp ace Mark Wenner, founder and band leader for Washington D.C.’s long-running Nighthawks, has put together a pure straight-ahead blues band in his latest side project. As you may know, The Nighthawks began as a solid traditional blues band in the late ‘70s but have grown into a blues/roots/rockabilly unit over the years and shifts in band members. Wenner, though, has been playing long enough to have supported Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo and many others. He’s not only schooled in the real deal blues. He loves it. “This band is actually a blues band,” says Wenner, addressing comparisons. “The Nighthawks are a blues and roots-rock band. This band, with upright bass, is more authentic, old school and swinging. It’s closer to the Cash Box Kings than J. Geils; a whole different animal.”
Joining Wenner (vocals, harmonica) in the band are fellow Nighthawks mate Mark Stutso (drums, vocals), as well as Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner (guitar, vocals), Zach Sweeney (guitar) and Steve Wolf (upright bass). Given the presence of Wenner and Stutso, though, there are plenty of similarities to The Nighthawks too. The Blues Warriors cover Muddy Waters twice, and as he’s done on recent ‘Hawks albums, Wenner transforms another Elvis Presley classic, “Teddy Bear,” into a blues excursion. The dozen tracks also include two instrumentals, the Paul Williams chestnut, “The Hucklebuck,” as well as the original, “Just Like Jimmy,” an homage to the iconic Jimmy Reed.
Aside from his bandmate Stutso, the other three players are active and well-known in the D.C. area, especially Turner, who ironically Wenner first met at a festival in the Netherlands twenty years ago. Steve Wolf, the upright bass player, is well travelled in blues and jazz bands, logging many gigs with Danny Gatton. Guitarist Sweeney was a youngster when Wenner first met him but went on the road with Wayne “The Train” Hancock before returning to the D.C. area.
Wenner sings most of the tunes but Turner delivers the real deal blues on the opening Muddy Waters tune “Diamonds at Your Feet,” “Rock a While,” “Just to Be with You” (another Muddy tune) and “Dust My Broom,” the latter of which is more of a harmonica showcase than the typical guitar one usually associated with the tune. Stutso is the most soulful singer in The Nighthawks and he takes the vocal lead here on B.B. King’s “It’s My Own Fault,” delivering the album’s best vocal performance. Wenner provides commentary and indicates which type of harmonica he uses on many of the tracks. As indicated, this is the real deal blues, free of tricks or showboating, played by musicians that go deep into the language.
The Blues Warriors have been active for several years and playing shows in and around the Washington, DC, area. They’re set to headline and Silver Spring Blues Fest on June 16th and will play for the Baltimore Blues Society picnic on Labor Day weekend. Catch them if you can.
- Jim Hynes