Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin

Bob Margolin is best known for his seven-year stint as Muddy Waters’ right-hand man. Highlights of his tenure include 1975’s Woodstock Album, appearing with Waters in the Band’s The Last Waltz film in 1976, and playing on the four Johnny Winter-produced Waters albums recorded between 1978 and 1981.

The Waters band split up in 1980—about the same time Margolin was christened “Steady Rollin’” by a DJ, and began plying the East Coast blues circuit with his own band. He recorded five solo albums beginning with 1993’s Down in the Alley, and, in 2005, Margolin was honored with a W.C. Handy Award for Best Guitarist. For his new CD, In North Carolina [Steady Rollin’ Records], the veteran bluesman played all of the instruments, and also engineered and produced the disc in his country home.

What’s your current gear setup?

A Gibson Les Paul goldtop reissue, a ’56 Fender Stratocaster, a Fender “No-Caster” #0590, a ’58 Gibson ES-150, a National Resophonic steel, and a late-’30s Gibson L-00. The electrics are strung with GHS Super Steels—gauged .012, .016, .020, .032, .044, .056—and I play with Golden Gate thumbpicks. My amps are a Victoria Regal and a vintage Gibson Skylark.

Do you feel you have evolved as a guitar player?

Sometimes, when I listen to what I played with Muddy 35 years ago, I think I would play the exact same thing today. And that makes me wonder. On the other hand, I’ve been trying to get closer to the heart of the music over the years, and In North Carolina probably features my instrumental skills more than any of my other albums. I’m not trying to break new ground—I’m channeling what I’ve learned from the giants of the music like Muddy, Jimmy Rogers, and Robert Lockwood, Jr.

And yet, you show a surprising Django influence on “You Rascal You.”

I don’t have the chops of the people who dedicate themselves to him, but I found a couple of licks that captured the flavor of his music. To do some fast picking when I go to the IV chord in the solo, I realized I couldn’t hit each note separately with my left hand, so I just slid from the first note to the last note while picking quickly, and it came out sounding right. When I saw a video of Django on YouTube, he was doing the same thing!

You use an unusual G minor tuning on your signature song “She and the Devil Blues.”

I got that from Muddy’s One More Mile, where he uses an open-G tuning, but with a Bb [D, G, D, G, Bb, D, low to high]. It results in really eerie-sounding blues chords that may not be traditional, but they work well musically.

Muddy did not play many minor key songs beyond “Same Thing” and “Just Want to Make Love to You,” did he?

“Just Want to Make Love to You” is kind of ambiguous as far as being major or minor, as are a lot of the songs featuring chromatic harmonica. You might use the major or minor third as a passing note, or to set up tension. It’s not obvious what key you are in, and it’s not necessary to know if it gets the feeling.