Percy Nelson

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The Nighthawks band that flies out of Washington, D.C., must have performed at every honky tonk in New England, many of them named the Dew Drop Inn. Use of this band name originated decades earlier than…
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The Nighthawks band that flies out of Washington, D.C., must have performed at every honky tonk in New England, many of them named the Dew Drop Inn. Use of this band name originated decades earlier than the aforementioned house rockers, who originally formed in 1972. From the late '20s through the early '40s, the multi-instrumentalist Percy Nelson fronted a Night Hawks that toured throughout New England as well as Canada and sections of the American Midwest. Mind the gap in the earlier version of the band name; the word "nighthawk" has indeed become accepted in a compressed form since the '20s, but the space is nicely symbolic of the differences between bands sharing the same name, a gap that is obvious but really not that wide.

Both groups are there to compel the audience of dancers, Nelson's repertoire tucked into the bib of whatever songs or dance feels were popular commercially that week -- as opposed to the later Nighthawks, essentially a living urban blues jukebox blissfully unaware of fads. The most lasting effect of Nelson's band seems to have been that it provided real opportunities for many young musicians, many of them from cities in Connecticut such as Hartford and New Haven. Nelson hailed from the former, played drums as a teenager, and then switched to saxophones in the early '20s, quickly adding clarinet and flute to his arsenal. His Night Hawks originated out of his sojourn to nearby New York City in that decade. The band's schedule was not all one-nighters by any means: one hotel gig kept going for all of 18 months.

Nelson no longer considered himself a full-time player once he grounded this particular group, which at one time featured trumpeter and vocalist Billy Douglas. Throughout the '40s and '50s Nelson usually had some sort of ensemble going in his hometown. In the '60s he was known more as a clarinetist and a sideman, his gig of note being with a band whose name has unfortunately not enjoyed such continued usage, Paul McGeary's Gin Bottle 5 Plus 1. It is assumed this is not the Paul McGeary who ran for the Massachusetts State Senate and was compared to Howard Dean. Despite what seem like strongly traditional leanings, Nelson has been cited as influential by some avant-garde players from Connecticut.