"Muddy was close friends with [Nappy] in the Fifties," Margolin recounts. "He really liked his music quite a bit." Nappy also corroborated a story Margolin heard from Muddy. The blues legend was up on stage, putting his unique treatment on "Mannish Boy" A with his fly wide open. "Everybody from the side of the stage was trying to point it out to him and the crowd was going nuts," says Margolin. "He was rather exposed from what I heard. Muddy was singin' 'I'm a mannnn, I'm a mannn...' and then he looks down and goes 'I'm a man!'"
Another hero Margolin pays tribute to on the album is Chuck Berry (with an understated "Wee Wee Hours"), the man he says is the reason he picked up a guitar in the first place. "Chuck really idolized Muddy, and I remember the first time we did a show together. I remember seeing my two heroes sitting there in the dressing room, but Chuck Berry was kind of idolizing Muddy the way I would idolize either of them. He'd be sittin' there tunin' up his guitar and go, 'Hey, Muddy, listen to this.' And he'd play a little snatch of a Robert Johnson song and it would sound exactly like Robert Johnson meets Chuck Berry."
Unlike his two previous outings for the Powerhouse label, Alley goes beyond what amounts to a Muddy tribute, something Margolin says he had to get out of his system. But not completely out of his system. Two songs Muddy was known for, "Lonesome Bedroom Blues" and "Look What You Done," also appear on the disc. "Neither of them is really in his classic style," says Margolin. "Although on the song 'Tough Times' that I did with John Brim, I kinda went after a Muddy Waters-style guitar solo." You'll also note that Margolin's publishing company is called Delay Time, one of the cornerstones to Muddy's, and consequently Chicago blues's, distinctive sound. "It's kind of his own term for playing a little behind the beat, not having a straight 1-2-3-4 like country music does, but there's a delay. You don't quite hit the beat right where you would expect it to be, but a split second later. You're really waiting for the next beat to come, and it's not there when you expect it. But when it finally gets there, oh yeah, it feels so good, it's more valuable. If you listen to Muddy's songs, or it's really obvious in Jimmy Reed records, that's the sound. That's why they feel so good. They're very simple but they feel so good because of the timing."
These are the lessons and memories Bob Margolin draws on for inspiration A when he's playing 200-plus club dates a year, when he's giving interviews although he's bone-tired, when he's dealing with naysayers who claim he's breaking no new ground by playing traditional blues. He can look back with satisfaction. He was there for Muddy Waters's resurrection in the late Seventies, for the Blue Sky albums such as Hard Again, and the Band's infamous Last Waltz performance, which was to introduce the great man of the blues to an even wider rock audience. Invited to help the Band say goodbye to their fans at San Francisco's Winterland in November of 1976, Muddy wouldn't have dreamed of doing that show without Margolin behind him. "Wasn't that a man?" an awestruck Robbie Robertson exhorted the adoring Thanksgiving crowd. Bob Margolin will tell you.
Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin performs Saturday at the Stephen Talkhouse, 616 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, 531-7557. Tickets cost $10.