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Two masters unlock the secrets of the Blues

by Lee Adams

By eight o’clock the Clubhouse was packed wall to wall with anxious musicians. They stood around with guitars, basses, harmonicas and drumsticks in hand waiting to hear local blues legends Mike ‘Wezo’ Wesolowski and ‘Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin give a blues workshop, and chompin’ at the bits to get on stage and play themselves. The event was sponsored by the Piedmont Blues Society, which brought the two musicians together for an outstanding night of music.

Taking the stage Margolin made himself comfortable on a stool and holding his Gibson Les Paul across his lap he said, ‘“The type of music I love the most is Chicago old-style,’” referring to artists like Muddy Waters and Little Walter.

‘“I would love to do that all night,’” he continued as he talked about playing the style. But Margolin told the audience he saw no point of merely trying to reproduce what other greats had already done. There had to be something original to it, he said.

He told about his experiences playing with Muddy Waters in the ’70s, while Margolin himself was still relatively young and inexperienced in the matters of life and love. Waters once told him of a deep love he had for a woman and how when he went over to her house one day he heard her inside with another man. Waters said he knelt in the pouring rain, a gun in his hand, praying, ‘“Please don’t let me kill this woman.’”

Well, Waters didn’t, and he moved on. But the emotional scars remained. He told Margolin that once you love one woman, even if you move on to find a better love, there is still part of you that is gone forever and you can never get past it.

Margolin wondered if in his youth he’d already met that woman and ruined his life. But a love soon afterwards would be his equivalent to Water’s experience. As he dated one woman he found himself constantly jealous over her and worried that she might be cheating on him. After the relationship was over he learned that he had been right to be worried about her.

So Margolin wrote his own old-style blues song about love including parts about Water’s former love as well as his own. The powerful sounds of his guitar and gruff voice conveyed the message well, and a line in the middle of the song talked about that woman when she would one day be in hell.

‘“I feel sorry for the devil,’” he sang, ‘“when he gets to know her well.’”

The line brought cheers and whoops for the audience.

A couple of songs later Wesolowski joined Margolin on stage for the Little Walter song ‘“I Just Keep Lovin’ Her,’” a sad song about a man that keeps loving a woman even though she doesn’t love him.

Wesolowski started playing harmonica over 30 years ago after starting out on guitar and realizing that wasn’t the instrument for him. The harp soon became fascinating to him and he listened to records for hours on end trying to learn the licks of old-timers like Little Walter and Rice Miller, and the more modern styles of Paul Butterfield, George ‘Harp’ Smith and John Sebastian.

‘“There are a lot of harp players out there who are unsung heroes,’” Wesolowski said as he referred to obscure players who have great talent but no fame or fortune.

One of the most fulfilling things about playing the harp for Wesolowski is being able to help someone else learn to play it well. It’s a hard instrument to teach, he said, because you can’t see what’s going on inside the mouth with the positioning of the tongue and teeth. And note bending is one of the most difficult skills to learn.

‘“It’s like opening a secret door,’” he said of learning to bend notes. ‘“When somebody gets it its like ‘Yeah!’ That’s the best feeling in the damn world.’”

At the end of the workshop the two were joined by a band and gave a short four song show. And then the weekly blues jam began with musicians eager to take the stage and try their own hand at the blues.

To comment on this story, e-mail Lee Adams at lee@yesweekly.com.

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