Early shot of the Night Raiders, Mickey Hawks rear center.
The Night Raiders 1958- (left to right)- Mickey Hawks, Bill Ballard, Bob Matthews, John Owens, Moon Mullins.
Screaming third single.
The third issue of their first single.
Mickey Hawks (on the upper left) with the Nightraiders.
Fourth single, with Mullins singing lead.
Last week I decided to cover the one white gospel singer who could compete with his counterparts of color. This week’s subject is one of the few white rockers who could match Little Richard’s screaming delivery of a rock’n’roll song scream for scream. There has been only a few of such voices to emerge in rock’n’roll over the years. In the 50’s Sun Records’ star Sonny Burgess on his debut disc- We Wanna Boogie b/w Red Headed Woman would be at the forefront of this small pack. In the early 60’s– Paul McCartney on the Beatles version of Long Tall Sally and his own I’m Down
was one such set of pipes, in the same group, John Lennon, warbler of the definitive version of the Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout was another. Later, Gerry Rosalie of the Sonics, and Jim Dickinson who sides would be spread out of a series of labels small (Sun, Plantation, Quality, Southtown, Barbarian, New Rose) and large (Atlantic) would join the club. But one of the first, and to my ears, the greatest, of the Little Richard inspired ofay howlers, would be a young lad from North Carolina named Mickey Hawks (born David Michael Hawks, July 17, 1940 in Thomasville, N.C., a few miles south of Winston-Salem). In fact, although it’s rather unlikely that either band ever heard of the other, in as many ways as one can count, Mickey Hawks and his Night Raiders were the precursors to the sound of the aforementioned Sonics, who from 1964-66, and then again since their 2003 re-union, the Sonics, pretty much sound like the Night Raiders with the Kinks guitar sound welded on top.
It is time once again to digress. Mickey Hawks’ family relocated from Thomasville to High Point, N.C., hear the Virginia border in 1942. As a young teenager, Mickey began teaching himself piano on his mother’s instrument, taking in all sorts of music on the radio, most especially the country sounds that dominated the southern airwaves. In 1956 he first heard Little Richard, and would soon learn to ape both the piano and singing style of the Georgia Peach. In High School he meet a drummer named Bob Matthews (a fascinating interview with Matthews can be heard here). Together the formed a duo called the Rhythm Rockers and began entertaining teens at school and local sock hops. Matthews was friends with a R&B styled tenor saxophone player named Moon Mullins who had a radio show on a small station in High Point. Mullins lead a four piece rock’n’roll band, said to be the only one in the immediate area. Soon the Rhythm Rockers– Hawks and Matthews joined Mullins group, and now a quintet and The Night Raiders were born. In addition to Mickey Hawks on piano and lead vocal, Moon Mullins on tenor sax (and sometimes lead vocals), and Bob Mathews on drums were 14 year old guitarist Bill Ballard and bass guitarist John Owens. Mullins surmised that his group needed matching uniforms, and to raise money for a haberdasher , decided to release a record. Mullins approached his friend Eddie Robbins, and using a home made studio built on Robbins back porch, they recorded two Hawks originals– Bip Bop Boom and Rock And Roll Rhythm. Robbins pressed up 500 copies of this record on his own Red Robbins label, which the band sold mostly at gigs. The entire press run was soon sold out, and today this first pressing (all of which were on clear red vinyl) is so rare I can’t even find a photo of the label, and a copy sold at auction would easily fetch in the four figures. For reasons unknown, Eddie Robbins would not press any more discs, but Moon Mullins would soon approach a disc jockey friend based out of Martinsville, Virginia, who pressed an additional 500 copies which were issued on the Mart label. Again, the entire press run sold out in a matter of weeks. Sometime in 1958, at a dance in Sanford, N.C. where the Night Raiders were appearing, they were approached by a fellow (possibly a soldier stationed at a nearby base) named Ian Thomas who claimed to have contacts with a record company in Chicago. Thomas forwarded a copy of the disc to Mike Oury who worked for Mel London’s Profile Records, the Chicago based indie (and sister label to London’s Chief, Age, Mel and USA labels) that would issue Junior Wells first (and best) singles with Elmore James on guitar, as well as rockabilly by Hayden Thomspon (who had recorded for Sun), blues guitarist Lefty Bates, and the proto-garage band the Noblemen (who cut an amazing version of Dirty Robber). Soon Profile re-issued Bip Bop Boom b/w Rock And Roll Rhythm, and it began to garn airplay around Chicago, even reaching #1 on a couple of stations. Bip Bop Boom became something of a local hit in the mid-west and went on to sell some 50,000 copies, which is believable, since it is still fairly easy to find. Despite (or perhaps, because of) its primitive recordings conditions– Bip Bop Boom remains one of the most astounding sonic displays to grace vinyl. “Bip bop boom/ it’s like a sonic boom”, so it said, so it was, so it shall always be. With two wailing, guttural sax solos, an over-distorted guitar break, pounding piano and thundering drums, it is everything rock’n’roll should be, but rarely is. I’ve used to to fill the dance floor while DJing for three decades and I’ve seen crowds literally go berserk when it kicks in after the stop time introduction. The flip side, one of those anthems to our music like Rock’n’Roll Is Here To Stay and It Will Stand, is only slightly less feral.
In 1959, exact date unknown, Oury took the Night Raiders into Chicago’s Universal Sound studio (where Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, and so many others recorded their best work). Although Universal was a state of the art facility with genius engineers, the Night Raiders sounded pretty much exactly like they did on their home recorded debut– primitive and out of control. Of the six sides cut that day, four of them would be issued on two singles– Hidi Hidi Hidi (a re-write of Huey “Piano” Smith & the Clowns’ Don’t You Just Know It, the songwriting credits were shared by Oury and someone named D.Thomas) was backed with the blasting, Link Wray style guitar instrumental Cotton Pickin’ , authored by the by now sixteen year old guitarist Bill Ballard. It was released in May of ’59, timed to celebrate the massive world wide jubilation that accompanied my birth, while two more tunes from the session– Screamin’ Mimi Jeanie b/w I’m Lost would escape the vaults thirteen months later. The final two tracks from that session, an original entitled Late Date Tonight and the Merrill Moore/Amos Milburn/ Ella Mae Morse & Freddie Slack/Chuck Berry/Rolling Stones (choose your favorite version) classic Down The Road Apiece went un-issued, perhaps lost forever. All four issued sides are superlative rock’n’roll, the best tune being Screamin’ Mimi Jeanie which opens with a cracking”machine gun”drum roll, the likes of which would not be heard on record again until the Sonics’ debut four years later. It’s also Mickey Hawks best vocal. He delivers the bellowing screams with musical blood lust. Again, there’s a full toned, blasting sax solo and a blistering guitar workout in the middle. It’s got everything you’d want in a rock’n’roll record, all played at full throttle!
Can I find any more appropriate cliches to describe these discs? Let’s try– savage, brutal, wild, frenzied, or just plain old fuckin’ great. This is the sound of hard rock’n’roll, in all its excitment and glory, as oppossed to “heavy rock”, which to my ears is lugaborious and painfully dull.
The Night Raiders played Chicago to promote their singles, drawing well in the clubs there. Back home in the South East, they performed around the Carolinas and Virgina area regularly for nearly seven years, building up a good size audience everywhere except their home town of High Point where for some reason they never caught on.
Profile closed up shop in late 1960, and the Night Raiders would not record another single until 1962, at which time Moon Mullins took over singing lead. That single — Gonna Dance All Night pts 1 and 2 (part two was simply an instrumental version of the a-side) was released on the Richmond, Virgina based Lance label and it doesn’ come close to matching their Profile output.
Meanwhile, Hidi Hidi Hidi b/w Cotton Pickin’ was re-issued on the Hunch label out of Pittsburgh, with Hawks’ name mis-spelled as Hanks. This was most likely a bootleg made to cash in on local airplay it got from Mad Mike and other Pittsburgh jocks that prided themselves on playing wild, obscure discs. After that, The Night Raiders wouldn’t set foot in the studio again until 1968 when the Piedmont label released the country flavored Baby I Got You on which Hawks, his singing style now much toned down, dueted with a girl singer named Gynn Kellum. The b-side was sung again by Mullins, Ain’t Gonna Cry wasn’t much to write your Mom about. The original group had gone their separate ways by now, although both Hawks and Mullins kept their playing music. Micky Hawks returned to his original screaming rock’n’roll style in the eighties when he discovered that he had a sizable audience amongst Teddy Boys and record collectors in Europe. The Profile sides had been bootlegged and re-issued dozens of times, starting with their appearance on the Collector (later White Label) LP Rock’n’Roll Vol. 1 in 1971, they would appear on dozens of compilation LP’s, bootlegs 45’s and eventually CD’s. They still show up on compilation discs, most recently on the U.K. JSP label’s double CD Virgina Rocks and the Virgin (U.K.) double CD United Rockers, both from 2009. Mickey Hawks played quite a few festival dates around England and the continent in eighties and recorded LP’s of new material for the Sunjay and C-Horse labels, while the German Star Club label put out a CD that mixed the classic six Profile sides with some later recordings and some ’62 un-issued demos under the title Bip Bop Boom in 1999. Hawks later recordings were fairly corny nostalgia based tunes like Fifties Girls, Harley Davidson, The Good Old Days, etc. along with some cover tunes, but his voice was still in fine shape and the Teddy Boys loved his live act.
Mickey Hawks kept performing until his death in 1989. Of the original Night Raiders– Moon Mullins opened a club called Danceland in Madison, N.C. and may still be alive, Bill Ballard died in 2005, John Owens and Bill Matthews were both still alive last time anyone checked. And those immortal words– “Bip Bop Boom/it’s like a sonic boom”, they shall live forever. Amen.