Q&A with Mark Wenner - announces a June 15 date for the self-titled debut of Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors

"Rock and Roll and the popularity of real African American music really did help change America (and other counties too). When Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper and Al Jackson and Booker T worked together at Stax, it proved that there could be joy and harmony. Still not enough to stop all the hate and fear but it did shake the walls."

Mark Wenner: The Blues Warrior

Mark Wenner, founder and leader of beloved roots band The Nighthawks, announces a June 15 date for the self-titled debut CD of Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors on EllerSoul Records. Joining Wenner (vocals, harmonica) in the band are fellow Nighthawks mate Mark Stutso (drums, vocals), as well as Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner (guitar, vocals), Zach Sweeney (guitar) and Steve Wolf (upright bass).  Produced by Wenner and recorded earlier this year, Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors showcases the tight-knit band’s foray into many facets of the blues, embracing influences from Chicago, New Orleans and Mississippi. The disc’s 12 tracks include two instrumentals, where the band gets to strut its collective stuff on the Paul Williams chestnut, “The Hucklebuck,” as well as the original, “Just Like Jimmy,” an homage to the legendary Jimmy Reed. Just like most of the Nighthawks albums of recent vintage, Wenner tosses in another salute to Elvis Presley with a blues-ified version of his classic, “Teddy Bear.”

Mark Wenner's Blues Warriors - Photo by Linda Parker

The Blues Warriors have been active for several years and playing shows in and around the Washington, DC, area. They’re set to play two DC-area festivals in June: Takoma Park Jazz Fest and Silver Spring Blues Fest.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

Blues people are as varied as all people: a lot of really nice people and a few real assholes.

I found the Blues element in most American roots music to be the most appealing part. It has been the soundtrack to most of my life.

How do you describe your songbook, sound and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

My songbook encompasses a wide swath of most American roots music based on the smaller groups, black and white, that evolved in the late 40s into the early 60s. I prefer the sound of one or two guitars, with harp, bass and drums. Organ and piano are optional. As far as material, anything goes. I have been able to format nearly everything I have wanted to do into that style and sound. I enjoy electric bass, but have always loved the thump and groove of the big upright. Horns are optional. I didn't even like horns in my blues until later. I remember discovering a BB King album without horns and really loving it. When they remastered some of Muddy’s awful album, Blues and Brass, and eliminated the horns so you could hear Cotton and Spann, I was thrilled! I don't know where my "creative drive" comes from but it dominates my behavior and keeps me in trouble.

How has the Blues n' Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Like they used to say about the Navy, join and see the world. My music has gotten me to quite a few places, 49 states in the US (not Alaska) and a dozen countries including most of Northern Europe and Japan as well as the Caribbean.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My relationship with Muddy Waters was the most important of all. James Cotton as well. Muddy's band from the mid ‘70s and John Hammond. And all the fine folks who have been in the Nighthawks. The best advice I got was from Slim Harpo. He said "You play pretty good. Find some guys and stick with them."

"I found the Blues element in most American roots music to be the most appealing part. It has been the soundtrack to most of my life."

(Photo: Mark & Muddy)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

There were giants in those days. I don't foresee anyone coming down the pike who comes close to people like Muddy, Wolf, Hooker and Hopkins. I don't have hopes or fears about the future of the Blues. I am more concerned about the future of Humankind.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I am afraid that if Blues were to be more mainstream and popular it would turn to shit like most pop culture, even though I spent a lot of time early on promoting Blues and trying to get everyone to like it!

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications? 

Rock and Roll and the popularity of real African American music really did help change America (and other counties too). When Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper and Al Jackson and Booker T worked together at Stax, it proved that there could be joy and harmony. Still not enough to stop all the hate and fear but it did shake the walls.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

No question. 1952 to 1954 Chicago tavern with Muddy, Walter, Jimmy, Spann, and Below ripping it up and the women screaming.

What touched (emotionally) you from tattoo art and rare vintage motorbikes? What does 'Road' mean to you?

First time I saw a real, colorful forearm dragon tattoo in a store in Woodstock, New York, I knew I was destined for ink. I remember seeing the DC African American guys on their multi light dresser Harleys when I was in the back of my parent's car. I remember hearing a group of Harley's picking up my friend's sister a few blocks away. What a sound in the night! Road has meant a way of life. I am easing back quite a bit but it is still not unusual to find me behind the wheel for 3-5 hours on a US highway. I hate leaving my wonderful home, wife, dog and motorbikes, but once I pull out I do feel a sense of freedom. The best excuse for not having done something is "I was on the road."

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