_Bob Margolin Interviews Toby Walker For Blues Wax Magazine
_Here is an interview Bob Margollin did of me which was published world wide in BluesWax Ezine.
Aside from being an astonding blues musician in his own right, Bob Margolin was Muddy Waters guitarist for several years. Bob continues to have a successful career to this day, touring world wide while playing with such luminaries as Hubert Sumlin and Pine Top Perkins. In 2005 Bob won the W.C. Handy Award for Guitar
BM: When I first heard you play at the IBC in Memphis, your advanced picking made me think you must have at least spent countless hours woodshedding, learning songs from old records. But you have made musical visits to learn directly from older Blues players in the South too. Tell us about some of the players who have taught and inspired you.
TW: Well, you’re right on the first count Bob. I have spent quite some time woodshedding in order to develop my own very unique style, and as a fingerstyle blues player I’ve done that. However, I always wanted to take it much deeper, to explore this stuff at it’s source. So at the beginning of my career I started making journeys to some of the blues musicians of an earlier era that were still alive in Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. Eugene Powell of Greenville MS was a very powerful influence. He still played those ragtime blues much like he did back when he recorded in the thirties and I picked up on his style right away. Eugene actually told me that of the many players that visited him, I was one of the few that could actually follow what he was doing. He also asked me a very special favor… to carry on the blues for him. That meant a lot to me. Other artist’s that I’ve learned directly from were Jack Owens, James Son Thomas, Etta Baker, R.L. Burnside and Turner Foddrell. Their lessons were invaluable.
However, the most important lesson that I learned from all of them was that you need to find your own voice, your own way of playing. Each one of them had done that in their own way. So I combined what they’ve shown me with other influences I’ve had over the years… which is quite diverse… everyone from Merle Travis, Buddy Guy, Doc Watson, Jorma Kaukonen, Muddy Waters, Tampa Red my friend John Hammond, and even Dicky Betts among countless others.
The final result was my way of combining either an alternating, shuffle or dead bass line, chords and improvisational lead guitar lines together, giving the listener a sense of hearing 2 or 3 guitars playing at the same time. I throw in ragtime, blues, jazz, swing and many ideas from those old masters into the mix as well. By doing so I’ve found my own voice.
BM: Story-telling is an important part of your performances, both within and between songs. When and how did you decide to develop that?
TW: As a solo act, I’ve personally found that you need to develop more than just guitar chops. Always having great respect for soloists like Roy Bookbinder and even Arlo Guthrie, I realized there’s simply no better way to improve your show and tantalize the audience than by adding a good story or two. Having traveled around the country for many years by both hitch-hiking and driving, you tend to meet quite a few interesting characters along the way. Besides, haning out with some of those old time players have spurned a good yarn too!!
BM: You just came back from what you said was a very enjoyable tour in the United Kingdom. Do you feel a difference in your European audience compared to your American audience?
TW: I’ve been touring the U.K. and Europe for a number of years now and I can tell you this: the audiences I’ve played for are very passionate about not only blues but roots music as well. They don’t make a big fuss about labeling something as either blues, folk or roots music… to them it’s all great music from America. My manager over there, John Adams, told me that back in the sixties the English brought over everyone… from Buddy Guy to Brownie McGee. Electric or acoustic, it was all good music.
Another big, big difference was this: Their absolute attention during a show. The first time I was brought over I thought it was going to be a bit of a challenge once I saw I was playing a few pubs in addition to concert halls. In the States, bars can get pretty damn loud, and I prefer to play concerts. Not so overseas. The first pub I played in England was a joy. Everyone, and I mean everyone in the room froze in place during my first song… complete silence. I thought as I was playing that something had gone wrong. But when I hear this cheering and thunderous applause at the end of the very last note, I knew I was in heaven.
BM: At a time when many professional players are having a hard time sustaining a career, you’ve moved ahead with your music, recording and touring more. My guess would be that your progress is due to the very high quality of your music as well as working hard to promote yourself. What do you think?
TW: I sincerely believe it’s a matter of being flexible, dedicated and above all having the support of wonderful, invaluable friends that sustain and encourage you through not only the good times but the tough ones as well. By dedicated I mean that one has to learn as much as they can about the business of music - the promotion, the booking and even the bookkeeping. Flexibility means being able to bring all of your strengths and talents to the table: developing songwriting skills, showmanship skills, instrument chops and the willingness to play in venues outside the box, such as schools and libraries. Just recently Carnegie Hall has hired me to present an American Roots and Blues music program in the schools. Also, teaching the guitar is one of my all time passions.
BM: So you’re a guitar instructor as well?
TW: Absolutely! I love doing that just as much as I love performing. In addition to giving private lessons in my studio and workshops on the road, I’ve had the all time honor of teaching at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch. That’s tons of fun, let me tell you. Nothing better than sharing what I know with a bunch of enthusiasts during a long weekend with great food and friends!! That really turns me on, because I remember how jazzed I get when I learn something new from somebody. Remember – that’s what Eugene Powell meant about carrying this on for him. I’m more than happy to show folks some cool new licks or new ways of playing familiar songs. As a matter of fact, buty the time this comes out I’ll be offering lessons by email on my web site.
BM: Your new “Plays Well With Others” album is an opportunity to give your audience more than your fine solo show. On the songs for which I was a guest, we didn’t talk about the songs or parts very much, just jammed and recorded it. Did you do more preparation with your other guests? Did you find that the way the songs came out surprised you sometimes?
TW: I did choose songs that I knew would fit each players modality. My attitude was this: find really *great musicians, play them the songs and let them rip in their own way, just the I did it with you. After all, I’m looking for their voice here, not mine. I’m looking for their unique expression and talents to come out. That’s why I used Tom Griffith as my producer. He’s done things with Ry Cooder, Dr. John and many others and we shared the same philosophy: let the best of the players come out with freedom and fun. That’s precisely what I wound up with too.
BM: What are your musical plans from here?
TW: I’m going to expand my territory even more as right now I’m based out of the Northeast, the U.K. and northern Europe. Reaching more folks with not only my music but my teaching will be wonderful, as there’s so much more to do and enjoy.
* Martha Trachtenberg, Buddy Merium, Bob 'Hootch' Palluci, George Christ.