|BOB MARGOLIN -
A STEADY ROLLIN' MAN
"Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin is a blues guitar player who has been a constant presence on the Blues Scene, gigging non-stop since before his 7-year '70s stint in Muddy Waters' band, and leading his own band and revues ever since. His latest album is bringing him fresh attention, but he has always lived his life around playing blues on a guitar.
Bob has recently released "The Bob Margolin All-Star Blues Jam," on TELARC Blues Records, featuring blues legends Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and bassist Mookie Brill. This collection of home, stage and studio jams is a top-notch collection of true blues, influenced by the masters while remaining fresh and spontaneous but still tight.
Another recent accomplishment for Bob is his producing re-issues of the Muddy Waters' classic late-70's BlueSky albums for Sony/Legacy, including “Hard Again,” “I'm Ready,” “Muddy " Mississippi " Waters Live,” and “King Bee.” Featured on these albums with Muddy are Johnny Winter and James Cotton as well as Muddy's legendary road band of which Bob was a key part. Bob considers himself fortunate to have been part of Muddy's band, and he is most gracious to share his memories of Muddy with TG.
TG: Congrats on the new CD "All-Star Blues Jam”, it's a very spontaneous record. How did it come about, you decide who you were going to get to play on it and instruments?
BM: In the last four or so years, I've been working with some of my Chicago blues buddies, putting revues together, and my booking agent suggested that a revue album reflecting our shows would be better than another solo album. It seemed like a good idea musically too because the players (Carey Bell - harmonica, Pinetop Perkins -piano, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith - drums, Mookie Brill - bass and Hubert Sumlin - guitar) are very spontaneous musicians. On this an album, we jam -- whoever's leading the song calls a key, counts it off, and we find our way together.
TG: "All-Star Blues Jam" captures a classic sound reminiscent of those great early Muddy Waters albums on Chess Records. Was this a conscious thing on your part, and did you record it on all vintage gear?
BM: It was recorded live, and we had a great engineer in Mark Williams who captured the sounds on the fly and mixed it as we went along. It was all recorded on just 2-track DSD, Sony's next generation of digital recording technology. The studio tracks all went through a Neve console and he used vintage mics, which also helped make it sound full and clear. Folks say that it does remind them of that classic Chess sound, but I think that may be from a Chess-style slap echo sound on my guitar. This actually came from a Boss pedal though! I lent the pedal to Carey Bell for his harp for a couple of songs too, and we used digital studio echo on Willie Smith's harp on "Juke." My pedal is a Boss RV-3, which also features reverb and combinations of echo and reverb. I was turned on to the pedal by Jerry Portnoy, who played harp in Muddy's band when I was there. I use it live every night. I think Boss just stopped making it.
Its all the same amp on this record though, I've found the amp of my dreams. The chassis is a ‘50's Fender Deluxe that I bought in 1967 for $40 that has been rebuilt twice - in the ‘80's by Cesar Diaz, and in the ‘90's by Mark Baier of Victoria amps. But at 22 watts, it was just a little too soft for me to gig with, so Mark recommended that I put 6L6's instead of 6V6's in it. He also recommended a speaker that has completely changed my life, a Jensen alnico reissue. It is probably the only speaker I've ever played that has a sweet sounding high end to it; it just really sings when you hit a high note.
As far as guitars on the new cd, I bought a reissue goldtop with a wraparound tailpiece in ‘99 from the Gibson Custom shop, which I use on most of the album. Another guitar you hear on it is an old 1956 Stratocaster from my days with Muddy's band. I also played a guitar that looks like a Supro, but has a nameplate that says "English Electronics" on it. On my acoustic songs with Hubert Sumlin, I use a re-issue National Steel given to me by Pinetop Perkins and Hubert uses my old small-bodied Gibson flat-top, which is close to Hubert's age. Hubert gets his trademark sound acoustic or electric.
TG: Way back in the beginning, what got you interested in guitar and what year was it? Do you remember who or what inspired you?
BM: Oh that's easy, it was Chuck Berry around 1964, and then I followed the path of his inspiration back to the blues. I remember discovering all those double stops that he'd play; he was just playing blues with double stops. And shortly after I got in Muddy's band, we opened for Chuck Berry in Kalamazoo . Chuck loved Muddy, who had helped him get his start on Chess Records), and he was playing in the dressing room, and said "Hey Muddy, listen to this" and he played a great Robert Johnson style blues, but with those Chuck Berry doublestops, and it was very interesting to hear as a guitar player. Muddy just looked on and smiled at him indulgently!
TG: Was it blues from the start or did you listen to other types of music?
BM: Growing up in Massachusetts I first played with rock bands in high school and college, and then by the late ‘60's I got into the blues…kind of fell in and haven't crawled out yet!
TG: How did you end up in Muddy Waters band?
BM: Muddy used to come through Boston , and I'd go to all his shows and eventually bands I was in started opening up for him. He could see I was trying to play the old school blues and he was very encouraging to me. In 1973, through a combination of being in the right place at the right time and Muddy must have seen some potential in me, I replaced guitarist Sammy Lawhorn in Muddy's band.
TG: And throughout the Seventies, you toured constantly with Muddy and played on perhaps his strongest albums. Do you consider your years with Muddy the highlight of your career?
BM: I'd say it was an important high profile situation for me, but in the more than 20 years since then I think I've gotten much better as a player. Muddy was special and I'm grateful to him for playing his blues next to him and for what he taught me. But I hope I've used that as a foundation for my own blues, beyond honoring Muddy.
TG: You also figure prominently in Muddy's appearance in The Band's “Last Waltz” movie. What was that experience like?
BM: Again, it was one of the most high profile things that Muddy ever did because it was in a movie, but the thing I remember most was the jam back at the hotel until 7am the next morning. It was basically a blues jam that I was in the middle of, but Levon Helm was playing drums, Ron Wood was on bass, Doctor John was on piano, Paul Butterfield was playing harp, and Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan were playing guitars. Bob was singing Robert Johnson songs like (in Dylan voice) "I've got a kind hearted woman! It wasn't too good musically, but it was amazing to jam with those blues-loving great players, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
TG: Based on what I've heard from the new album "All-Star Blues Jam", you have taken the Muddy Waters' slide sound to a new level. From a technique perspective, how do you approach slide playing?
BM: I tried to learn as much as I could from Muddy, it was a real opportunity. But if I'm just playing my own style, I also use the influence of Robert Nighthawk, who also influenced Muddy. I really love that sweet wide vibrato that Nighthawk had, and you can hear this in "Sweet Black Angel" from the new album. I wear it on the pinky and play most of this in standard tuning, although I have done a lot of open tuning stuff over the years.
TG: Many credit you for keeping alive the legacy of legends such as Muddy, Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin. What is your take on the State of the Blues in 2003?
BM: I think the blues is very healthy, artistically. It ranges from people who are traditional all the way to people that are progressive playing it in new ways. Some of the legends are still around, and there are people like Chris Thomas King and Rick Holmstrom putting it into electronic music and hip hop, and catching a whole lot of sh*t for it too!
TG: So do you consider yourself a blues purist, or do you feel that its ok that people are mixing it up with rap and electronica?
BM: Well, I had a recent experience of sharing the bill on some shows with Chris Thomas King, and he had a lot of pressure on him to play traditional. But he didn't bow to this at all, he was stubborn and he came out with a DJ and a bass player and pre-recorded tracks, and he got a very bad reaction to this. The blues police were outraged, but I really got into it and enjoyed it. I could see what he was doing, and really enjoyed it musically, but none of my blues friends who saw Chris liked it at all.
TG: Another project you are currently involved in is producing reissues of Muddys' late period Blue Sky albums… that must have brought back some fond memories. How did it come about?
BM: Oh boy, that's a lot of time traveling, especially because I'll spend a few days working on this, and then go to a gig with a lot of the same people 25 years later. Steve Berkowitz, a blues guitar hippie friend from 30 years ago in Boston is now the head for Sony Legacy, which mines Columbia Records' back catalog. He was able to get all the rights and master tapes from Muddys' estate and Johnny Winter's manager. He thought I was the right guy to produce it, and I'm very grateful. The first one coming out is called the Deluxe edition of the "Mississippi Muddy Waters Live" album and it features the original album plus an extra cd from 2 nights of Muddy in a club, recorded on multitracks. These were about to be thrown away and were rescued. This is the only album out of the remasters that we've remixed though, and the result is a lot of great material that hasn't been heard yet. I think this new live album is going to excite a lot of people. It's real strong. There's one song where he sounds a little high and happy, and after introducing the band he breaks into "Stormy Monday" as a tribute to T-Bone Walker who had just passed. It's totally spontaneous, and all in one song, and it is quite revealing about who Muddy Waters was.
TG: Any thoughts on working with Johnny Winter on those recordings?
BM: Johnny produced all that stuff, and that album means a lot to people who got into blues because of it in '77. There is a lot of Johnny's playing on that one, and a lot of the things he did as a producer to make that album sound so cool are detailed in the new liner notes. When I heard that one in Sony Studios I couldn't believe how good that one sounded. I had previously thought it would need re-mixing, but that fresh listen changed my mind.
TG: Over the years, how do you think your playing has changed?
BM: During the ‘80's and ‘90's, I spent a lot of time just playing in clubs. I would play whatever I felt like, not just Chicago blues, but old rock & roll, a little bit of rockabilly, just being self-indulgent. This really helped me learn a lot of things that I applied to my blues playing, and was important to me in terms of who I am as a guitar player.
TG: You've acquired some great vintage gear over the years, what are some of your favorite guitars and amps in your collection?
BM: I have the ‘56 Strat that's great, and a nice old ‘50's Telecaster that I got around 1990 that is mostly original, with a big fat neck and a four-digit serial number on the pickup plate that I really like a lot. Besides the Deluxe I have a Victoria 410 Bassman-style amp. In '94, when Mark Baier was starting Victoria , he asked Blues Revue magazine if they would review it. When it arrived at my house, I unpacked it, popped the tubes in, and with the first note from my old Strat realized that Mark had nailed the vintage sound that everybody loves so much. I don't officially endorse Victoria , but Mark gave me some amps. I still love them and use them. In fact, playing here in Milwaukee last night I had Hubert Sumlin playing through my Victoria 4-10 Bassman and he and the amp sounded absolutely amazing.
TG: Who are your all-time favorite musicians, and are there any current players you are listening to these days?
BM: Oh, all the old and young blues guitar players I really enjoy quite a bit, and in about 1976 I met a young guitarist from Boston and we became really good friends right away. And that was Ronnie Earl (TG '98)! He is one great player and friend.
TG: Are you currently touring?
BM: We're always touring, doing everything from small clubs to big festivals. We're in the Mid-West now, and are going to New York next.
TG: What would you like Bob Margolin's legacy to be on the world of music?
BM: I just love playing blues on the guitar, and I want to be considered one of the good ones!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Guerra's website www.tomguerra.com features his new cd with Mambo Sons "Play Some Rock & Roll!" which was recently named by NYRock magazine as one of this year's top indie releases.
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