“Trying to play these blues right will hurt like falling in love.”
Those were learned words Muddy Waters used to tutor his band’s new guitarist, “Steady Rollin’ ” Bob Margolin, who, 40 years later, has plenty of his own words to share. The longtime Blues Revue contributor has finally consented to the often-heard suggestion, “Why don’t you write a book?”
Margolin has released a page-turner of a book, Steady Rollin’ – Blues Stories, Snapshots, (International) Blues Fiction. Some parts were previously presented as columns in this magazine, although they’ve been polished and updated. Sharing his experiences, observations, and creativity with readers in a large, more permanent format is not only entertaining and educational, it is necessary because Margolin, despite being somewhat self-deprecating about his writing mechanics, is a person who has lived the blues and can describe them in a narrative congruent to the emotion of the music itself.
Here’s a news flash: the life of a bluesman isn’t entirely glamorous; in fact, it’s not even close. Steady Rollin’ tells what life is like off-stage. Imagine trying to convince a flight attendant to not check the guitar every time an airplane is boarded. Imagine after losing the argument discovering your livelihood smashed up in its case. Moreover, imagine the loneliness of a life on the road.Margolin offers true stories, candid and amazing photos, and his “blues fiction” in an easy-to-read format. This is not a chronological life story. Like listening to different tracks on an album, readers can enter at any chapter, and experience excerpts of a blues life. From records to cassettes to compact discs to MP3s, the presentation of music continues to evolve, and so do books. Steady Rollin’ is not offered in conventional book form. It is exclusively available electronically by an author who writes upon a laptop as he travels to gigs: “A sexy woman named Leola, wearing an overflowing halter top, a huge Afro and hot pants, breasted her way on stage and called off Aretha’s ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ ” Oh yeah, the bluesman can write.Certainly the nonfiction parts were absorbing. Gaining insight to Muddy Waters, whom he played with for seven years, and his cohorts, I suspect, is why most readers will want to purchase the book. But the blues fiction is a real treat, and it allows Margolin to give truth, flavor, and emotion without selling anybody out. Readers, however, can speculate who he describes, adding another level of intrigue.
“Blues fiction,” Margolin wrote, “is the closest thing to songwriting and playing music for me, because it combines my experience with my imagination in a story.”
It was important for Margolin to write Steady Rollin.’ Literary silence would have been a shame because living blues history is steadily losing its voice. Margolin’s band mate Calvin “Fuzz” Jones passed in 2010, and the clincher for the author may have been when Pinetop Perkins left the blues world in 2011. As Margolin finished up his book, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith also died. Writing the blues, no doubt, hurt like falling in love, too. Blues with a feeling, indeed. I highly recommend this book.
– Tim Parsons