I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me you’d never heard of a group called The Blues Hawks. Frankly, they’re not much of a band. They’ve only been together for a handful of days and only played one show – in Clarksdale, Mississippi, no less. You might know one of the members of the three-piece troupe – they’re all members of the University of Michigan. But they’ve more or less disbanded with only casual thoughts of ever playing together again. So no, it wouldn’t surprise me if you said you’d never heard of The Blues Hawks.
And yet, somewhat paradoxically, I wouldn’t be altogether dumbfounded if you said that not only had you heard of them, but you were anticipating a reunion show and the grapevine held nothing but rave reviews. In the group’s short existence – the members known colloquially as The Hawk, T-Bone and Wonder Bread (myself, full disclosure) – they’ve managed to play one of the most well-known juke joints in Mississippi, garnered a number of random, though devout, fans and gotten themselves in the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale in what is certainly one of the greatest musical non-truths (I hesitate to say hoax because that wouldn’t necessarily be true either) of all time.
Allow me to start from the beginning:
It began as a group of associates on their our to Mississippi for spring break. We knew of one another’s musical prowess only peripherally. As such, The Hawk and T-Bone, the masterminds and guitarists, brought along their acoustic guitars to have casual jam sessions and bond over old Robert Johnson tunes. I’ve played the guitar for quite some time, but stopped honing my skills a while back. As such, my ax stayed at home.
After arriving at our destination, we sat around, planning out the week to follow, laughing about Eric Clapton’s lack of the blues and salivating about all of the barbeque and greens we were going to eat. And sooner rather than later, the guitars were pulled from their cases – one of which was decimated by the Mississippi airport’s luggage crew and opened rather haphazardly – and the jamming ensued. After a fulfilling session and a hearty meal, The Blues Hawks decided to head downtown to a small juke joint named Red’s Lounge, where a Mississippi bluesman by the name of Lightnin’ Malcolm was playing.
A word about Red’s: though it’s rather famous for any number of reasons – and apparently “Good Morning America” is doing a piece on this small bar in the near future – the most notable aspect of the bar, to an outsider, is probably its leaky roof with accompanying buckets and sinkless bathrooms. The diviest of dives, Red’s is not particularly welcoming but has a strangely homey feel.
In any case, Lightnin’ Malcolm walked into a packed bar shortly after we arrived, played an incredible set of originals and covers and commanded the crowd better than most seasoned mega-artists. What happened next, though, is where the legend was born.
Maybe it was our successful jam session earlier, the ease at which Lightnin’ handled the bar or just the thought of playing for the profits from the door, but The Hawk somewhat rambunctiously walked up to Red and asked if he had anyone booked for the following night. No one was scheduled so The Hawk volunteered us, The Blues Hawks, to play. Red told us to be ready to play by 9 p.m.
Not thinking much of it until the next day, The Blues Hawks went to bed confident we were going to play an incredible show for the hell of it and bring in a few bucks in the meantime. But upon waking up and realizing we – that a group of guys who had never truly played together – had a concert in less than 12 hours with no electric equipment or drums to boot, panic set in.
Rushing into downtown Clarksdale to rent equipment from a generous shop owner – two guitars and an amp for $50 and two pairs of drum sticks bought cheap – we began practicing immediately in an old barn nearby.
Without a drum set, my job was running back and forth, getting lyrics for T-Bone. Upon my return to the barn, there was a woman standing around filming the rest of The Blues Hawks for a documentary. We paid them no mind and when they had wrapped shooting, asked if we were playing somewhere. “Red’s,” we said.
“Oh, you’re The Blues Hawks,” she said. “I heard you guys are great. I am going to come see you guys tonight.”
Now, it had truly set in. People had heard of us. And were actually coming to see us play. Practicing intensified as the sun gradually set and before we knew it, we were in the van, rented equipment in back, on our way to Red’s. A point of interest: We weren’t sure that there was a functioning drum set, though we had seen the remnants of one the night before and upon getting there, we found that the snare was broken, the floor tom was missing a leg and there were no cymbal stands.
I placed the only functional cymbal on a stool and propped up as much of the set as I could. About a half an hour later, we were playing to a mostly empty Red’s as our various fans straggled in and out of the bar. After an hour and a half, we had ran through every song we had rehearsed as well as a couple of extended jams and were packing up in an effort to leave before anyone found us out.
The next day, we ran into our friends who were making the documentary only to be handed release forms. They were filming for the Delta Blues Museum and were searching for artists from the area or ones that embodied the sound. Apparently, The Blues Hawks did and we were being cut into their film. Needless to say, we never told them that we weren’t really a band.
Inexplicably, three guys named The Hawk, T-Bone and Wonder Bread went from casual musicians to a well-known trio of Mississippi musicians in the Delta Blues Museum over the course of a couple of days. But don’t hold your breath for a reunion; The Blues Hawks went out on top.
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