Today we celebrate one of the great semi-forgotten masters of slide guitar, Mr. Robert Lee McCollum, otherwise known as Robert Nighthawk (one of the greatest pseudonyms in blues history).
Robert was born in Arkansas near the turn of the last century. Like many of his peers, Nighthawk lived a rambling life and never really stayed in any one place. He supposedly left home in his early teens to live the life of the travelling musician, which was the only real way to make money from the blues at the time. After putting in some time playing with other legendary bluesmen like the great Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson in Missouri in the 1930s, Robert Lee McCoy did a number of recording sessions for big labels like Decca and Bluebird.
He re-emerged a few years later as Robert Nighthawk, one of the dirtiest, most savagely explosive slide guitar players in history. Although he did eventually get signed to Chess Records, the king of all post-war blues labels, in the late 1940s, his career suffered due to another of Chess’s stars: Muddy Waters. The two men were considered musically similar, but Muddy was a much flashier and more accomplished performer. Nighthawk slowly drifted back into obscurity, only to be “rediscovered” in the early 60s while busking on Chicago’s famous Maxwell Street. Blues scholar Norman Drayon found him there and recorded “Live on Maxwell Street”, considered by many to be one of the greatest live blues albums of all time.
Robert Lee McCollum, aka Robert Lee McCoy, aka Robert Nighthawk was born on November 30th, 1909; he would be 103 years old today.
Here’s Robert absolutely killing a tune called “I Need Love So Bad”: