Los Angeles, Interview With Bob Margolin, By Jerry Rosen

Posted on 8/20/2009 by Monica Yasher

Bob Margolin has been one of the most active blues musicians in the world during the past forty years. Here is a brief summary of his career. Many more details are available at his highly informative website Muddy Waters invited Bob to join his legendary band in 1973. Muddy was impressed with Bob’s mastery of the “Old School Chicago Blues” style. Anyone who knows blues and has heard Bob play will testify to this. Bob was with Muddy until 1980.

Bob supported himself as an independent blues artist in the 80’s. During this time, he did special shows with the likes of James Cotton, Taj Mahal, Etta James, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, George Thorogood and many others. Starting in the 90’s, opportunities for independent blues bands were starting to decrease and Bob turned to recording as a means to maintain and elevate his career. He recorded well-received CDs for the labels: Power House, Alligator, Telarc and Blind Pig during this decade. In 1994, Bob began playing with some of Muddy’s old band members in the Muddy Waters Tribute Band. This enterprise produced award winning blues music; it also gave many deserving blues artists a chance to make some money and extend their careers. Bob has been nominated for and won many awards. Of particular note are his Handy Award for guitar in 2005 and his Blues Music Award for guitar in 2008. Bob was also instrumental in helping Muddy’s son Big Bill Morganfield launch his career in the late 90’s. Bob has played regularly with the legendary Pinetop Perkins who is still going strong (Pinetop was one of Muddy’s piano players). Bob can currently be seen with The Bob Margolin Allstars who, over the years, have featured James Cotton, Carey Bell, Jerry Portnoy, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, Bob Stroger, David Maxwell and Mookie Brill. Bob is also a regular columnist for Blues Revue magazine. One wonders how he finds the time for all this.

I would like to preface my interview with Bob with some personal experiences I have had with him because I believe these do a better job addressing his true character than merely listing his many accomplishments. I first met Bob over the Internet in the late 90’s. I had recently started playing blues (after a fifteen-year break) and had my own band. I was surprised that Bob took the time to communicate with a complete unknown. He gave me valuable advice about running a blues band and recording. When I started a blues label (South Side Records) in 1999, he was very generous with input on this endeavor as well. Bob invited me to come see his touring band at the Blue Café in Long Beach, California and he told me to bring my guitar. The place was packed with well over two hundred people. During his first set, I was mesmerized by the sheer power and professionalism of his trio. I was impressed with Bob’s ability to fill out the sound with only three players. His vocals, slide, rhythm and lead work gave the music a propulsive feeling that made it sound like a much larger band. There was a young guy playing bass who also sang a few songs; he played two solo numbers on slide guitar and played some harmonica too. It was clear that Bob was giving him a chance to show his stuff. In the second set, after a few numbers, Bob stepped up to the mike and said, “In the house is one of L.A.’s top blues guitarists, Jerry Rosen.” He then called me up and asked if I wanted sing a few numbers. I was too scared to sing, but Bob let me solo on four tunes. Up to that point, I had just been playing in dive bars in remote areas of Los Angeles. I got a standing ovation when I was finished (mostly because the backing band was amazing) and that had to be one of the high points in my life.

The next time Bob was in town, he was playing at the Café Boogaloo in Hermosa Beach, California with Pinetop Perkins. He invited me along with my band mate South Side Slim to sit in with his band. He let Slim sing two songs to a packed house and we were completely stoked having played with one of the greatest blues legends of the 20th (and 21st) century.

A few years later, Bob invited me, my singer Mary Dukes, and singer/harp player JT Ross to come see him play with the Muddy Water Tribute band at Pepperdine University in Malibu (probably the richest setting for a blues concert you’ll ever encounter). After their set, Bob invited us backstage, showed us the touring bus and spent at least an hour talking to us about blues. Anyone who reads Bob’s column in Blues Revue knows he often writes about undiscovered talents in an effort to give them some publicity. He started the VizzTone label group as a vehicle for helping artists release their own CDs. He is the personification of someone who has given back to the music that has given him such a successful career.

Below is a short interview I did with Bob. Even though he was on the road, and clearly busy, he took the time to answer my questions.

JR: What were some of the things you learned from your time with Muddy Waters that have helped you as a bandleader?

BM: Treat the band with respect and friendliness. Invite them to communicate. Never mess with anyone's money.

JR: What specific musical influences did Muddy’s music have on your own?

BM: Before I met him, he was my favorite musician. I wanted to play Old School Chicago Blues and I still do. But by getting into his band, I learned it directly from him onstage.

JR: What is your opinion of the blues music scene today?

BM: It is artistically exciting -- there are great Blues musicians emerging with talent and ambition. It is also economically challenging -- it is harder than ever to build a career and make a living.

JR: What are some of the pros and cons of recording for an indie label, such as Alligator (or any of the other ones you have been on)?

BM: A label may finance the recording, give the artist an advance, take care of distribution, advertising, promotion, and lend the artist any prestige that the label has accumulated from putting out good music. On the other hand, the label will want to recoup its money before the artists gets any, and take a big share of the profits. Also, some labels will try to influence the music and create uncomfortable pressures on the artist. That can be good if the artist needs the guidance or bad if he doesn't.

JR: Why did you form your label VizzTone? What have you learned from this endeavor?

BM: It started out having a partner in forming my own record company, Steady Rollin' Records, to put out my In North Carolina album in 2007. Then we took on another partner with more record company experience. Then we realized we could bring this service to other artists. VizzTone is not a label; it's a label group. The artist has his own label and produces his own CD, but we provide artist services in partnership and take less of a cut than a label would.

JR: I’ve heard it said that blues music must expand to stay alive. Some people say that the I IV V model is dead. What is your opinion on this?

BM: Who's counting? I doubt there's anyone analyzing the music for chords and rejecting anything with a simple Blues progression. Blues never was mainstream popular, and a lot of people either don't care for it or aren't even interested in hearing it. But those who love it really love it a lot and sustain the scene.

JR: Why do think there is such a limited market (even compared to jazz and classical) for blues music?

BM: Blues isn't marketed like rock or pop music. You still see almost no Blues on TV. The Internet provides great access to it but it's still a "limited market." It's amazing that Blues doesn't just fade away, but as in the last answer, those who love it really love it a lot.

JR: What are some of the difficulties for a working, touring blues band?

BM: It's much harder to book and play a tour that takes a musician from city to city with only a few days off and have the band make more money than they spend to travel and do business. There are less weekday gigs than there used to be. Some bands are able to do it. I prefer to work on weekends and then come home for weekdays anyway, and I've been out here long enough so that it sustains me.

JR: Can a band support itself from touring revenue?

BM: "A band" is general. If it's a huge band with a lot of people in it that needs expensive transportation and accommodations. If it's 3-5 people, maybe. And they have to be decently paid for gigs and sell lots of their CD's from the bandstand. If they become very popular and can draw people to their venues, a lot of money can at least pass through their hands on the way to paying their bills.

JR: What advice do you have for aspiring blues artists who have yet to land a label deal or secure a booking agency?

BM: Do it yourself. Try to use the Internet to stay as visible as possible. But most important is to play music that is so deep and powerful and exciting that the soulful Blues audience will want to hear them. That's the hardest part; they've got to really stand out artistically.

JR: What are some of the highlights of your career?

BM: Well, you could take a list of awards and big gigs from my website, but for me the highlight is living a life of playing my best music for soulful people.

copyright Jerry Rosen To purchase the rights to reprint this article please email

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