Robert Nighthawk,
Live on Maxwell Street 1964
(Bullseye, 2000)

There have been a lot of great live blues recordings, but this 1964 date has got to rank among the top contenders for best ever. It was recorded, not in a club or concert hall, but, as it states in the copy, "at the corner of 14th and Peoria, Chicago, Illinois, September 1964." It's been around for a while, but is back and better than ever, remastered and with five new tracks.

Robert Lee McCollum was born in 1909 and never recorded under his own name. Blues fans will be familiar with him primarily for his early work as Robert Lee McCoy and his work from 1949 on as Nighthawk, but he also recorded as Rambling Bob and Peetie's Boy. Although I greatly enjoy the early McCoy work, this Maxwell Street set is McCollum's golden moment.

All the ambience of the street is here -- no club, no recording studio, not even a living room feel. It's a sound that you couldn't get in any interior, spiced with traffic noises and cheers and yells from the gathered audience. Nighthawk's response is to give them more of what they want, and it's impossible to imagine a street vendor with hotter and more delicious wares.

"Cheating and Lying Blues" is slow and driving, with some top-notch solos, while "Juke Medley" is fast and short and rocking. "The Time Have Come" slows things waaay down, and is filled with deep and moving solos. The songs blend beautifully into each other throughout, the rambunctious "Honey Hush" segueing flawlessly into "I Need Your Love So Bad," with its remarkable single-line solos. This track is the highlight of the CD, one of the best blues you'll ever hear.

Nighthawk plays a wide variety of blues, and can stop and turn on a dime, changing emotions from carefree exuberance to profound sorrow in a matter of seconds, and taking his audience with him as surely as if they were chained to his guitar. "Take It Easy Baby" is another blues burner, and there's an astonishing slide guitar solo in "Anna Lee/Sweet Black Angel," very simple yet very moving because of the voicing that he's able to put into his sound. The last of the original cuts is "Maxwell Street Jam," a fine showcase for Carey Bell's harmonica.

The extra tracks are fine, but don't have the power of those on the original release. "Big World Blues" is a solid, straight-ahead rocker, but "I Got News for You" doesn't have the intensity of the previous tracks. "All I Want for Breakfast/Them Kind of People" slow the tempo down, and J. B. Lenoir supposedly makes a guest appearance on his "Mama Talk to Your Daughter." The music wraps up with the ironically titled "The Real McCoy," and is followed by a thirteen-minute interview with Nighthawk. It's interesting throughout, though he seems a bit reticent. Still, it's well worth listening to, at least once, and since it's at the end of the CD, you won't have to program it out on repeated listenings.

And repeated listenings are in store for this classic live concert that now sounds better than ever, and is supplemented with some extra tracks. For the blues fan, this purchase is a no-brainer. It belongs right next to B.B. King's Live at the Regal (which, by the way, was recorded the same year). Give Nighthawk five stars out of four for this one, and envy those lucky, lucky passersby on Maxwell Street who heard this all live thirty-seven years ago.

[ by Chet Williamson ]



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