Robert Nighthawk

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Robert Lee McCollum
Birth name Robert Lee McCollum
Also known as Robert Lee McCoy
Robert Nighthawk
Born (1909-11-30)November 30, 1909
Helena, Arkansas, United States
Died November 5, 1967(1967-11-05) (aged 57)
Helena, Arkansas, United States
Genres Blues
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Vocals, slide guitar, harmonica
Labels Victor, Bluebird, Decca, Aristocrat, Chess, Delmark, United, States
Associated acts Memphis Jug Band

Robert Lee McCollum (November 30, 1909 – November 5, 1967)[1] was an American blues musician who played and recorded under the pseudonyms Robert Lee McCoy and Robert Nighthawk. He was the father of the blues musician Sam Carr.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Helena, Arkansas, he left home at an early age to become a busking musician. After a period wandering through southern Mississippi, he settled for a time in Memphis, Tennessee, where he played with local orchestras and musicians, such as the Memphis Jug Band. A particular influence during this period was Houston Stackhouse, from whom he learned to play slide guitar and with whom he performed on the radio in Jackson, Mississippi.

After further travels through Mississippi, he found it advisable to take his mother's name and, as Robert Lee McCoy, moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in the mid-1930s.[2] Local musicians with whom he played included Henry Townsend, Big Joe Williams, and Sonny Boy Williamson. This led to two recording dates in 1937, the four musicians recording together at the Victor Records studio in Aurora, Illinois, as well as recordings under his own name, including "Prowling Night-Hawk" (recorded 5 May 1937), from which he was to take his later pseudonym. These sessions led to Chicago blues careers for the other musicians, though not for McCoy, who continued his rambling life, playing and recording (for Victor/Bluebird Records and Decca Records) solo and with various other musicians, under various names. Kansas City Red was his drummer from the early 1940s to around 1946.[3] He recorded Kansas City Red’s song "The Moon Is Rising".[4]

McCoy became a familiar voice on local radio stations. Then Robert Lee McCoy disappeared. Within a few years, he resurfaced as the electric slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk and began recording for Aristocrat and Chess Records, the latter of which was also Muddy Waters's label. In 1949 and 1950, the two men's styles were close enough that they were in competition for promotional activity. Waters was the more marketable commodity, being more reliable and a more confident stage communicator, and thus received the attention. Nighthawk continued to perform and record, taking up with United Records and States Records 1951 and 1952, but did not achieve great commercial success.

In 1963, Nighthawk was rediscovered busking in Chicago, and this led to further recording sessions and club dates and to his return to Arkansas, where he performed on the radio program King Biscuit Time, on KFFA. He continued giving live performances on Chicago's Maxwell Street until 1964.[2]

He had a stroke followed by a heart attack and died of heart failure[1] at his home in Helena. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery, in Helena.

Historical marker[edit]

Mississippi Blues Trail marker honoring Nighthawk in Friars Point, Mississippi

The Mississippi Blues Commission honored Nighthawk with a historical marker in Friars Point, Mississippi, on the Mississippi Blues Trail.[5] The marker was placed at Friars Point because Nighthawk called the town his home at various times in his itinerant career. He recorded the song "Friars Point Blues" in 1940.[5]

Recordings[edit]

  • Bricks in My Pillow, 1977 Delmark reissue of 1951 and 1952 United recordings
  • Robert Nighthawk: Prowling with the Nighthawk (Document), 26 sides recorded for Bluebird, Decca, Aristocrat, and United from 1937 to 1952, including "My Sweet Lovin' Woman" (which he wrote under his given name, Robert McCollum)
  • Ramblin' Bob (Saga), 24 sides recorded for Victor, Decca, Chess, and United from 1937 to 1952
  • Live on Maxwell Street (1964), as Robert Nighthawk and his Flames of Rhythm (reissued by Rounder Records, 1980, 1991; some versions include an extended interview with Nighthawk)
  • Robert Nighthawk: Sweet Black Angel (1948)
  • The Aristocrat of the Blues, (MCA/Chess CHD2-9387)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Doc Rock. "The 1960s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-10-05. 
  2. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 150. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  3. ^ Harris, Jeff (July 1, 2004). Komara, Edward; Lee, Peter, eds. Blues Encyclopedia. Rutledge (published 2004). pp. 559–560. ISBN 1135958327. Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Kansas City Red | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-10-05. 
  5. ^ a b [1] Archived May 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.

Sources and external links[edit]