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Steady Rollin' – Blues Stories, Snapshots & (Intentional) Blues Fiction
Written by Bob Margolin
96 pages (estimated)
Over the years, many fans have heard veteran blues guitarist Bob Margolin tell a story – or have read his writing for Blues Revue magazine or it's on-line publication, BluesWax. They have encouraged Margolin to write a book to share his tales from his life on the road and recollections about all of the legendary blues musicians that became his mentors and friends. After failing to arrange a deal with a traditional publishing company, Margolin decided to use technology to his advantage by selecting some of his Blues Revue material, updating each piece and bringing it all together in the E-Book format along with photos that he gathered during the last forty-plus years. To sweeten the endeavor, Margolin includes several pieces of “blues fiction”, which he describes as being”..the closest to songwriting and playing music for me, because it combines my experience with my imagination in a story.”
The first article finds Margolin reflecting on his life as he celebrated his 60th birthday in 2009, making music at the Carolina Blues Festival. He shares some of the guiding principles of his life, including making decisions based on asking himself if something will lead him to have a good time on the bandstand. After briefly touching on the changes brought on by new technologies, the author begins to describe his cherished friends, Muddy Waters and Willie “Pinetop” Perkins.
One lengthy chapter is devoted to Margolin's seven year stint in Muddy's band, leading to a friendship that the author describes with a touching honesty. Another piece relates Margolin's experience when he joins Muddy and Pinetop as guests at the famous Last Waltz concert for The Band in 1976. Also included is Margolin's touching tribute to Pinetop that paints the picture of a wonderful musician and an even better human being. The author's easy-going writing style allows Margolin to connect with the reader, getting you to feel the depths of his emotions on Pinetop's death.
Another chapter covers Margolin's career that started with him playing in several Boston rock bands, the Indigo's and Freeborn. There are photos of both bands along with the cover of a 1968 album recorded by a later version of Freeborne, now with an extra letter. The author describes getting hired by Muddy Waters in 1973 to replace Sammy Lawhorn because Muddy appreciated his efforts to play in the classic Chicago blues style. After leaving Muddy's band, Margolin never quit playing, sharing the stage with an ever-changing cast of musicians who shared his passion for the music. There is a chapter centered on another big part of Margolin's life, his love of dogs – specifically his border collies – that was written in the aftermath of 9/11 as Margolin sought to bring some measure of comfort to Blues Revue readers. The piece includes a description of an impromptu front-porch jam with Margolin and Hubert Sumlin playing guitar three dogs, who seemed to favor Sumlin's picking!
The heartfelt rendering of moments like that one is one aspect of the book that make it a worthwhile read. Another key element of the project are Margolin's insights into the business, comments that stand the test of time like the 2004 column simply titled, “Blues is Dead”, where he refuses to accept the notion that only music from the “innovators” deserves to be heard. “Hope in Tough Times Feels Like a Blues Song to Me” uses song lyrics to aid Margolin's assessment of the state of the blues business circa 2008 mixed with recollections of Big Bill Broonzy and a visit to the White House, adding as a coda the lyrics to one of his songs. Another high point is the piece that finds him shouting the praises of the blues women he has worked with, from Etta James to Diunna Greenleaf.
The final section offers a sampling of Margolin's fictional work, all with a musical theme sparked by his real-life experiences. His first fictional writing was a series he did for Blues Revue that imagined what things might have been like had the great blues harp player, Little Walter, lived a longer life. The stories included here depict the not-so-sexy life of a working musician, a rock star attempting to honor the bluesman who inspired him and the poignant examination of a musician well-aware of his fate in “I Believe My Time Ain't Long”.
This was a fun read and, at the end, I wanted more. Margolin's home-spun style lends an extra layer of depth to his reminiscing while his decades of experience lend credibility and flavor that make his stories all-the-more believable. Let's hope that Margolin will continue to share his writing with us. On the evidence here, a full-length work of fiction could prove to be quite memorable. In the meantime, do not miss this celebration of the man, the music and life itself!
The book is available at Amazon Kindle, iTunes Bookstore, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony eBookstore.
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.