It was a roots-rock summit conference at Ritchie Coliseum Saturday night as all five Nighthawks, four-eighths of Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band and two-sixths of Johnny Reno & the Sax Maniacs crowded the stage for the final encore. With four wailing saxes, two dueling guitars, boogie-woogie piano, blues harp and the tightest rhythm section around, Jimmy Thackery led the gym in the call-and-response bacchanalia of the Neville Brothers' "Brother John Flash Iko Iko," and then Price took over for a sizzling version of Bobby Bland's "I Don't Want No Woman."
The newest roots-rock sensation, Texas' Johnny Reno & the Sax Maniacs opened the show with a feverish set of honking rhythm and blues horns and party shouts. Led by the wiry, charismatic Reno, the band often switched instruments to allow a three-drummer knockabout on "Mellow Saxophone" and a five-saxophone blowout on "Boogie at Midnight."
Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band followed, showing a new tough-rock edge to their Memphis soul sound. Glenn Pavone's heated guitar solos bit and chewed up the soul melodies without ever swallowing them. Price's vocals were especially smooth and dramatic on Eddie Hinton's "That Dangerous Highway." The Nighthawks turned in the night's most versatile set as they ranged from Merle Travis to Bo Diddley to Chicago blues. Keyboardist Greg Whetzel, who joined the band in January, filled out the sound with rockabilly piano and soul organ, while Mark Wenner's country tastes balanced Thackery's urban blues emphasis.