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Steady rollin' with Bob Margolin and Muddy Waters: Part 1

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Northern Californians hungry for the best in blues should catch Bob Margolin and Bob Corritore this Wednesday night at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco.
Margolin is the better known of the two artists, a gifted guitarist whose career stretches back nearly a half century. The Massachusetts native has compiled an impressive discography in that time; I can personally recommend “The Bob Margolin All-Star Blues Jam (2003), “Up & In” (1997), “Chicago Blues” (1990) and “The Old School” (1988). Margolin also is an accomplished writer, as the blog on his website and his e-book, “Steady Rollin’,” attest.
My own interest in Margolin dates back nearly 30 years. An Indiana University student at the time, I strolled off campus one fall afternoon and walked a block down Kirkwood to Discount Den. There, I purchased my first Muddy Waters album, “King Bee” (1981). It was a simple act that continues to have profound repercussion in my life.
Margolin played with Waters from 1973-80. He’s the fuzzy-haired young guitarist jamming with Muddy on “Mannish Boy” in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz.” He also was part of the Waters band that recorded a largely stellar series of late ‘70s-early ‘80s albums on Blue Sky under Johnny Winter’s direction.
Now there is little sense in arguing that Muddy’s best work wasn’t the classic Chess stuff. I am ever-enthralled with that work and so won’t try to make the argument. I will say, however, that the Blue Sky albums contain some of the strongest Waters’ performances ever committed to disc. He’s a bit of a lion in winter, to be sure, but man, oh man, can he still roar. So does the band, which includes Margolin, Winters, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.
“King Bee” is the last in the series but because I bought it first it remains the favorite. The sex and swagger of “Too Young to Know,” “Champagne and Reefer” and “(My Eyes) Keep Me In Trouble”; the resignation of “Sad, Sad Day”; the escapism of “Deep Down in Florida” are tangible. The album closes with my favorite track, the fiery (and the title says it all) “No Escape From the Blues.”
The first album in the series, “Hard Again” (1977), is nearly as satisfying and also contains a stone-cold fave, “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock And Roll.” The middle studio installment, “I’m Ready” (1978) betrays a tad less energy, although the title track and “Screamin’ and Cryin’” rank with the series’ finest tracks.
There are also two live albums, one released at the time and another of fairly recent origin. “Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters: Live” (1979) was recorded in Detroit and outside Chicago and went on to win a Grammy. It offers the listeners a more direct and visceral experience of Waters’ power and emotions and his band’s remarkable chops. The wanting and desire in these versions of “She’s Nineteen Years Old” and “Streamline Woman” comes across raw and unfettered. The disc concludes with a near-10-minute take on “Deep Down in Florida.” A 2003 re-release expanded “Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters: Live” to two CDs.
This period in Waters’ storied career took a curtain call in 2007 with “Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down,” thanks to Margolin.

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This live album is from concert tapes of a 1977 tour featuring Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, and James Cotton after the release of the legendary “Hard Again” album. I played in the original concerts, chose the songs for the CD from the raw live tapes, worked on the sound of the recordings with golden-eared engineer Mark Williams, and wrote the liner notes for it. The album won a Blues Music Award in 2008 as Best Historical Recording.

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