The Nighthawks to play Winter Park’s Blue Festival |

The Nighthawks to play Winter Park’s Blue Festival

Rebecca Kohl
Sky-Hi News

Recovering from quintuple bypass surgery and with 40 years of performing – singing and playing the harmonica – under his belt, Mark Wenner of The Nighthawks isn’t slowing down.

“My musical upbringing was all over the map,” said Wenner. “I was a little bit of a snob” he added, “I thought the blues was only played by old, black guys.”

Wenner was first interested in soul music and made the switch to the Blues in the 10th grade.

He was influenced by the early rock ‘n’ roll days – watching Jerry Lee Lewis on television with his hair flying around in front of his face. Wenner was taught by his school teachers that rock was the forbidden fruit.

He discovered three black stations on the radio and heard music he was unaware of and that put him into the soul era. Sneaking behind his parents, back, Wenner rode the bus for 25 cents to the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. The price of admission was 75 cents. He saw the likes of Otis Redding and The Temptations.

“I saw everyone from that era.”

His original intentions were to become an English teacher.

“My grandfather was a powerful Rabbi and he could mesmerize a crowd,” Wenner said. “I got to stand and recite at my Bar mitzvah. I got a taste of performing and I got sidetracked. I’m a little bit of a performance addict.”

“I was a fan of the harmonica. It’s not like a guitar where you can watch someone’s hands. The harmonica is invisible; it is more like learning from osmosis. It is an enormous amount of listening,” said Wenner.

“I’m an Ivy League educated guy even though I don’t sound like it. I sing in more of a Hillbilly voice – much to the dismay of my parents.”

The biggest blues influence in Wenner’s life was Muddy Waters, “father of the Chicago Blues.”

“Listening to him was life-changing,” Wenner said. “I put Muddy at the top of my list.”

Wenner opened for Muddy in venues like Berkeley, Calif.

Wenner founded The Nighthawks in 1972 after going to D.C. with the idea of starting a professional band.

Having gone through a dozen band member changes since then, the current band has Paul Bell on guitar and singing harmony, Johnny Castle on the bass – he and his bass “are one” – and Mark Stutso on drum – a “great” singer – and of course, Mark Wenner playing the harmonica and signing vocals.

They have been called the du-op of the Blues.

“We are four guys singing together that is unique and soulful.”

Known as a hard-touring band, The Nighthawks play parking lots to large festivals in foreign countries to Carnegie Hall.

“We play the same music and adjust to the venue. It keeps it interesting and takes a certain kind of skill,” Wenner said.

The Nighthawks are releasing their newest CD, “Damn Good Time,” on May 15.

Each band member added their vocals. “It is a very satisfying piece of work,” Wenner said. “This is a good one and I am very proud of it. We worked hard on it without any ego.”

“Damn Good Time” is the follow-up to The Nighthawks’ “Last Train to Bluesville,” which “garnered the band its first-ever Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation as Acoustic Blues Album of the Year in May 2011.”

“The Nighthawks are having more fun, having less stress, and have more confidence than they ever have. It truly is a joy,” said Wenner. “It is the best band I have ever had.”