Bob Margolin

Bob Margolin
In North Carolina

Steady Rollin' Records

By Karen Nugent
October 2006

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In a photograph of Bob Margolin’s two border collies, the one on the left is a typical good looking example: head turned, eyes bright. But the other, older dog is staring straight into the camera, with an almost human smile. That’s Colleen, and she’s the one who has a song dedicated to her on his new record, In North Carolina, to be released shortly. Margolin said Colleen’s the dog on the inside of the disc, “both literally and spiritually.” The younger dog, Cap, is on the cover.

The record - described as his most personal - and with references to his wife, mother, home and pets (there’s a cat named “Big Maybelle” too) seems to make the point that this bluesman has become weary of the road.

To say the album is personal is an understatement. Amazingly, Margolin plays all of the instruments himself – drums, bass, lots of guitars - and sings, alone, at his home using a new type of recording software that allows for good, professional quality. (He had it mixed by an experienced engineer “using his golden ears” on some high-tech processing equipment.)

“I think the result is my most personal recordings yet,” he said, noting that it’s the opposite of his last album, The Bob Margolin All-Star Blues Jam with Carey Bell, Mookie Brill, Jimmy D. Lane, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Smith and Hubert Sumlin, all experienced musicians.

“Having done that, I wanted to not only do something different this time, but find something different from all the live and studio recordings that I’d done,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed making demos for albums at home - conceiving all the parts and putting them together.”

The album was written slowly, taking several years to finish, he said.

Half of the 14 songs are his own originals, and there’s also a bonus track, a spoken word feature of an entertaining blues fiction story Margolin wrote for Blues Revue magazine a few years back. It gives insight into the world of a blues musician, especially those strange encounters at gigs.

As usual, his stellar guitar playing is the highlight of the disc. Always unsurpassed, it’s tasteful yet packed with deep soul. There are all kinds of unusual keys, different uses of various guitars and amplifier placements, and unique takes created by this guitar guru.

For example, who knew that the song “Floyd’s Guitar Blues” was one of the first electric guitar recording ever made? I remember Margolin playing this beautiful, unearthly sounding song live at shows many years ago, but I was only able to buy it on an obscure Nighthawks (vinyl) album. Finally, it’s available, and with an unbelievable story in the liner notes recounting the time Les Paul himself asked Margolin if he knew the song.

There are several blues standouts on the disc: “Natural Blues,” a T-Bone Walker tune that’s usually done as a slow blues, but that is transformed sans pareil into a hoppin’ jump; Tampa Red’s “Baby, Baby, Baby,” with slide guitar extraordinaire, and “Red Hot Kisses,” a Sonny Boy Williamson hit with delicious electric guitar picking substituting for the harp.

“For the rhythm guitar I pay tribute to some Robert Lockwood Jr. licks, and the solos and fills are electric guitar leads, hopefully with some outrage at having been misled by those ‘red hot kisses,’” Margolin said.

The opening track, “Tell Me Why,” is a classic Muddy Waters song first recorded in the 1950s. His band, with Margolin as a sideman, played it live in the 1970s. Margolin said he and Muddy worked out two guitar parts, both of which are on the new disc. The slide part is done on a Les Paul Goldtop that Margolin uses on stage a lot, and the Stratocaster is a 1956 model that he used in Muddy’s band.

There are several of Margolin’s blues originals on the disc.

“Hard Feelings,” initially recorded on his 1999 album, Hold Me To It, has his feet functioning as percussion by placing a microphone between them. “Bring Me Your Blues” is a slow, low-pitched ballad originally recorded as an instrumental. The lyrics are a nod to his mother’s knack for saying the right thing during times of trouble.

“Just Before Dawn” is a Chicago-style blues about loneliness, and “Lonely Man Blues” is an original he wrote in the 1970s and offered to Waters for his I’m Ready album. It wasn’t on the original, but was added to a 2004 reissue. Margolin said the song was first done as a slow blues, but Muddy recorded it as a shuffle. On this disc, it’s done as a Texas-style shuffle, and has the great line, “If I can’t see you, I just don’t need my eyes.”

Also offered is Louis Armstrong’s “You Rascal You” which was also recorded a few years ago by former band mate Jerry Portnoy, in his Down in the Mood Room album.

Margolin said his version was inspired by one done by Armstrong in his later years with Louis Jordan. He said it deconstructs that band arrangement into two guitar parts, with a Django Reinhart influence.

The haunting “Colleen,” inspired by the aforementioned border collie who passed away this year at 17, is a multi-guitar riffed instrumental with a touch of country. OK, so the dog was nearly deaf at the end. Nevertheless, Margolin said she lay right in front of the amplifier as he recorded each guitar part, and could hear the song.

The fact that he played in Muddy Water’s band for years is almost an aside at this point. Margolin has developed enough in his own right to no longer have to name-check Mr. Morganfield. But, of course, that just ain’t right, so the album is dedicated to Waters, along with Colleen and Jeff Sarli, a bass player who worked with Margolin in the early 1980s. He died in September just as Margolin was writing the dedications.

Margolin, 57, left Brookline for points south in the mid-1970s, after playing in Muddy Waters’ band from 1973-1980. He has made a home with his wife, Pamela, and their pets in North Carolina. The title track, the second song on the disk, is a beautiful love song about missing that life while on the road. It’s a slow, melancholic tune, but ends with some superlative guitar blasts.

“The licks in the slide solo at the end of the song are Muddy slide licks, first from the song “Same Thing” and then, his standard slow blues slide solo – just put in a different context. Then, I just pick on a National Steel guitar, answering those licks with the slide, and they just end together – at my door,” Margolin said.

He astutely decided to include “She and the Devil,” a wildly popular tune at his gigs. On this disc, he said, it’s recorded in a “strange G-minor open tuning with slide, for a lonesome sound” played alone, acoustically.

The only unfortunate selection on the new disc is “Tears of Rage” written in the 1960s by Bob Dylan for the Band. Sung by Margolin in a low register, he acknowledged that the song isn’t exactly blues in the musical sense. But, he said, as a “lament to broken patriotism after the 2004 presidential election” it is blues in spirit.

The disc is available at www.cdmojo.com and at Margolin’s gigs.

www.bobmargolin.com

www.cdmojo.com

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