"We have in common the musical language of Chicago blues, but we would like to speak it in a fresher, less manufactured way than we could on a conventional blues album." —Bob Margolin, from the liner notes
Guitarist Bob Margolin has run with the big boys for most of his career. Included in his extensive resume is the brass ring of blues gigs—a seven-year stint with the Muddy Waters Blues Band.
Twenty years after Muddy's passing, Margolin has maintained close ties with several fellow alumni of that groundbreaking blues collective. In recent years, many of them have toured with him as the Bob Margolin All-Star Blues Jam. Fans of the old school can soak up a generous dose of gritty, authentic Chicago blues in Margolin's aptly titled Telarc release, All-Star Blues Jam.
Joining Margolin is an elite corps of musicians that stretches back to the heyday of urban blues and beyond: harpist Carey Bell, who also played with Muddy before launching his own successful solo career; singer/harpist/bassist Tom "Mookie" Brill, a longtime sideman with Margolin and Bell; pianist Pinetop Perkins, whose roots are deep in the King Biscuit heyday of the 1930s; drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, a multiple Handy winner who also lends vocals and harp work to the mix; and guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who backed Howlin' Wolf for 25 years and inspired a generation of blues rockers that includes Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The album's thirteen tracks came together in some of the most freewheeling, off-the-cuff settings. The recording locales range from a studio built in an old church to a quiet back room in Margolin's home, and the musicians use whatever instruments and recording gear is on hand at the time. The result is raw, rollicking and completely in the moment.
The jam kicks off with a moody rendition of Johnny Shines' "Brutal Hearted Woman," featuring Bell's eerie chromatic harp and a syncopated undercurrent from Smith. Brill delivers a fine interpretation of the classic Bobby Bland love song, "I'll Take Care of You," while Margolin's own "Mean Old Chicago" serves as a tribute to the late Jimmy Rogers (with a guest appearance by Rogers' son, guitarist Jimmy D. Lane). Later in the set, Smith delivers a personalized version of Muddy Waters' "Country Boy," with a few additions to the original lyrics.
"On each song, one of us calls the key and counts it off or just starts playing," Margolin explains. "What happens then is a musical adventure. It's not a rehearsed, crafted, studio-perfected performance, but it is filled with spontaneous interaction and intuitive collaboration."
Check out Bob Margolin's All-Star Blues Jam, and be a part of the emotionally charged immediacy of the blues.