Margolin’s First Band

Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 11,

1998. All rights reserved.

Rollin’ on with Bob Margolin

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin can dispel all the popular

stereotyped notions of blues as sad, down-and-out music. When Margolin

and band take the stage to play his brand of blues, it’s an uptown,

upbeat roadhouse party. Working with just a trio at his live shows,

he regularly raises the roof wherever he goes.

With each new album, guitarist, singer and songwriter Margolin continues

to expand the boundaries of modern blues. Take his latest outing for

Alligator Records of Chicago, "Up and In." The album is a

shining example of how far the blues form has evolved since Johnny

Winter’s heyday in the early 1970s. The listener is compelled to listen

up and pay attention to sometimes funny, often insight-filled lyrics

like "Blues For Bartenders," "Up & In," "Just

Because." and "Not What You Said Last Night." Margolin’s

music — particularly his own songs — is foreground music.

Long associated with the Muddy Waters Blues Band, Margolin grew up

in Brookline, Massachusetts. He began playing out professionally in

the early 1970s while still in high school. He became enamored with

the recordings of Chuck Berry, and he credits supportive parents with

helping to develop his career as an amateur musician.

"In the early 1970s, there were a lot of good musicians around

Boston," he recalls, in a phone interview from his home in Greensboro,

North Carolina, where he’s lived since 1990. "There were a lot

of national acts coming through, so there was a good scene for learning

how to play blues. In 1971 I got in the band of a fellow who had played

with Muddy Waters in the 1950s, a guitarist named Luther `Georgia

Boy’ Johnson. He ran his band the same way Muddy did and he was pretty

influential on me."

Working with a variety of Boston area blues bands, including one called

the Boston Blues Band, he found himself at a crossroads while attending

Boston University.

"When I was about 19 or so, I was in college and somebody that

I was in a band with who was a little older and more experienced than

me, told me: between college and the music, I seemed to be working

against myself," he recalls. "He pointed out that my life

would be a lot easier if I decided which was my priority. And so at

an age when a lot of people are trying to figure out who they are,

that statement just kind of lit a path for me for the rest of my life."

Margolin, who also writes a column for the West Virginia-based magazine,

Blues Revue, adds he has no regrets about his decision.

His first big break was joining Muddy Waters’ Band. He stayed with

the legendary singer, guitarist and bandleader for seven years, from

1973 to 1980. Margolin freely admits his next big break came about

in 1993, when he signed with Alligator, a growing, very hard-working

independent record company that distributes blues worldwide.

Asked to recall how the master of electric blues guitar

told him he was hired, he says the late Waters was always very direct,

whether he was angry or happy. Waters’ Chicago-based blues band was

making another stop at Paul’s Mall, a Boston blues club. Waters, himself

a stellar player of slide guitar, had just parted ways with his previous

guitarist the night before.

"He told me right then and there. He asked me to come to his hotel

the next day and bring my guitar. He said, `Play it,’ and I tried

to play some of the nasty old stuff the way he would play it, and

he was impressed. He was kind of impressed the way you would with

a puppy doing a trick, like: `Look at this kid playing my stuff here!’"

Margolin recalls that Waters had mellowed by the time he began working

with him in 1973. "But I’d heard from other people who’ve played

with him that it was not the same kind of scene a few years before

that. Let’s face it, while it’s not as tough as it is for a lot of

jazz musicians, the life of a bluesman — even someone of Waters’

status — is a tough one. When I joined up with him in the ’70s,

everybody was happy and friendly, and there weren’t any bad attitudes

going around." Waters died in April, 1983.

In a sense, Margolin got all the college education he wanted through

the 1970s by playing side by side with the master night after night.

"He put me on the right hand side of him on stage and I tried

to use what I learned to give him what he wanted on the bandstand,"

he says. "He really ran a band well on stage and gave everybody

a chance to be a fulfilled musician. He used to say, `If you’ve got

a star in the band you’ve got give him a chance to shine!’ He’d give

you a chance to look good up there rather than being an anonymous


"I was also much much younger than anyone else in the band, they

were all these older, much more experienced men, and I used to just

love to listen to all of them speak socially. Every time they’d see

me all love sick, they used to laugh because they’d been through it

a million times and they knew what was going to happen next, even

though I didn’t. It was a great opportunity to be around these experienced,

seasoned musicians, both musically and socially."

Highlights of his time in Waters’ band included playing for President

Jimmy Carter on the White House lawn in 1978 and taping Martin Scorcese’s

ground-breaking concert documentary, "The Last Waltz." The

film documents The Band’s last concert at Winterland ballroom in San

Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van

Morrison, Ronnie Hawkins, Waters, and other legendary performers are

featured. "There were a lot of musicians around and virtually

everyone there was fairly famous except me," says Margolin.

"As a rule, older people like Muddy didn’t keep up with pop culture

any more than somebody who is in their 60s keeps up with what’s happening

in the alternative rock scene today. The thing with Muddy was a lot

of these people knew who he was, but he didn’t know who they were,"

Margolin recalls. "He was in there hanging out and keeping to

himself and people who were very famous like Joni Mitchell and others

would come up and introduce themselves to him, but he really didn’t

know who they were. He hadn’t the slightest idea who they were, any

more than your grandmother would be familiar with the Spice Girls."

Top Of Page
Margolin’s First Band

In 1980 Margolin struck out on his own, leading a band under his own

name. Since the days with Waters’ band and even before, Margolin has

played and recorded with nearly all of the significant post-World

War II blues musicians: Junior Wells, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker,

Koko Taylor, Albert King, Hound Dog Taylor, Big Walter Horton, Etta

James, Lonnie Mack, and more recently, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny

Winter, the Allman Brothers, and the Rolling Stones.

Despite leading his own band for the next nine years, he didn’t record

his first album under his own name until 1989, when he recorded two

albums for Powerhouse Records, a small Washington, D.C., label run

by his friend and fellow guitarist Tom Principato. Since then, Margolin

has recorded three critically-praised albums for Alligator, "Down

In The Alley" (1993), "My Blues and My Guitar" (1995),

and his latest "Up & In" (1997).

Margolin says he gets inspiration for songs like "Maybe The Hippies

Were Right," "Boston Driving Blues," and "Movin’ South"

from the great songwriters of the idiom, artists like Percy Mayfield,

Willie Dixon, and Louis Jordan. "Those three are the ones I’ve

admired quite a bit over the years. For contemporary writers I really

admire what Rick Estrin is doing," he says. Estrin leads a West

Coast swing blues ensemble, Little Charlie and The Nightcats.

Asked how he gets ideas for funny songs like "Boston Driving Blues,"

Margolin says he often writes songs on the road, and in the last year,

he’s begun traveling with a laptop computer, to both write songs and

check his E-mail. When writing humorous blues songs, one isn’t going

for depth, you’re just trying to be amusing, he explains.

In "Boston Driving Blues" Margolin sings:

When you see a yellow light in Boston, speed up, and

get on through

If you linger you’ll get the finger, and the car behind will honk

at you.

In the song he also relates that since he’s moved to the South,

all the other drivers think he’s crazy. The lyrics are perfectly framed

by Margolin’s rhythmic guitar playing and Mark `Kaz’ Kazanoff’s wailing,

urgent saxophone treatments. "Boston Driving Blues" is not

a slow tempo song.

"It’s the voice of experience," says Margolin. "I wrote

that song in Alabama, knowing that I was going up to Boston the next

week and thinking about it. I took out a pad and wrote the song while

we were traveling in the van."

They call him "Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin" because of his

reputation for being a hard working bandleader. At the Old Bay Restaurant

in New Brunswick, he’ll be accompanied by Wes Johnson on drums and

Tad Walters, a very busy young man, just 22, who plays bass, some

harmonica, guitar, and sings a bit, too. "You don’t just get a

static three pieces," says Margolin, "we change around the

styles and the instruments quite a bit. There’s quite a few flavors

on the menu."

Now 48, Margolin says he averages about 170 shows a year — about

half the days in the year.

"I try to strike a balance between having a career and having

a life at home off the road, and having them work for each other instead

of against each other," he says, before he catches himself and

adds: "It’s a nice theory, anyway."

— Richard J. Skelly

In addition to the music, the Old Bay will be serving

up loads of ‘gator meat — alligator bites, alligator chili, alligator

picante, grilled alligator sausage, and alligator gumbo — no joke.

Alligator meat, it turns out, has graced the Old Bay menu, along with

catfish, crawfish, and gumbo for years. Here’s the complete lineup

of performers at the Alligator Festival:

Rosie Ledet, Old Bay Restaurant, 61-63 Church Street,

New Brunswick, 732-246-3111.. Zydeco. Thursday, March 12, 9:30


Shemekia Copeland, daughter of the late Johnny "Clyde"

Copeland. Friday, March 13, 9:30 p.m.

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin, $5 cover. Saturday, March

14, 9:30 p.m.

Previous Story Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments