Margo Watkins is pictured playing the guitar during a performance. (Submitted photo)
Margo Watkins is pictured playing the guitar during a performance. (Submitted photo)
“When I was 15 years old I wanted to learn guitar,” relates Margo Watkins. “But my father, maybe worried about the evils of rock ’n’ roll, said no, I should stick to the autoharp, which is a traditional instrument used in old time folk music.

“But I’m a rock ’n’ roll girl at heart, always have been. My parents did let me have the Jesus Christ Superstar album, which is a rock opera, and I flat wore that thing out. But there would be no guitar for me back then. It would have to wait.

“Now I need to back up and explain that I grew up in an extremely musical family. My dad played many instruments, and mother played piano, mandolin and fiddle. She had the voice of an angel. We sang as a family all the time. And we went to lots of concerts and music events. But it was all traditional and old time music, mountain style and early folk.

“And don’t get me wrong, I love that old style music, especially the harmonies. To this day when I hear a song I can hear all the harmony parts in my head, all at once. It’s like I grew up in a home where a second language was being spoken, and that language was music. It’s just natural for me now.

“But no guitar, and almost no popular music. So, life happened, as it does for everybody. Marriage, work, kids. I married Kevin and we moved here to Madison and bought Pets Doc Animal Clinic. But when I turned 50 years old something just clicked.

“I thought to myself, if I’m ever going to play guitar, it’s now or never. So I picked it up and I asked Kevin to start teaching me. Everybody who knows Kevin calls him Guitar George, because ‘he knows all the chords’. He’s a great teacher and he got me started on the right path.

“That was about eight years ago, and I’ve probably put in thousands of hours practicing. The finger picking patterns with my right hand are like second nature now, almost as if God was guiding my hands since I had to wait so long to get started. It’s just important to me. I feel like I’m making up for lost time, for myself.

“Which brings me to my later-in-life music career here in Madison. Even before I picked up the guitar, about 10 years ago, I was at Thomas Family Winery watching Greg Ziesemer and Kriss Luckett play. And they did this song about the L&N Railroad that I grew up singing. I yelled out ‘I know that song!’ And they invited me up to sing with them.

“That was a huge confidence boost, to get up in front of people and sing. It got me thinking. Plus Greg’s guitar playing style was a big inspiration. More singing opportunities came along, like O’ Madison Where Art Thou, Madison Graffiti and a show called This is Jazz which was staged in the building that would later become the Red Bicycle Hall. It was such an honor to be included in those productions.

“Then with Jimmy Davis’ encouragement I started playing the open mic nights at the Legion and ultimately the Taproom. I had about three songs I could pull off, but I kept getting more confident.

“Bill Lancton helped me get to the next level with my guitar playing, and Amy Noel has been a great example and a positive influence. I probably have more than an hour of songs now that I can play and sing out in public.

“So this past year I teamed up with Charlie Rohlfing and we’ve done a few paying gigs together. We call it the Charlie & Margo Show, or maybe Margo and the Scattercats! He plays a few songs, I sing harmony with him and bang the tambourine. Then I play a few and Charlie fills in with electric guitar.

“It’s so fun! I love the banter between songs, and the audience feedback. It’s the highpoint of my career so far. Getting asked to play at the Taproom is a huge honor. It’s like the Carnegie Hall of Madison!

“I just have to say to anybody out there who’s thinking about picking up the guitar, just look at me. I’m a perfect example of what you can do if you set your mind to it. When you live in a town like Madison, it’s never too late.”

In addition to playing lots of popular tunes, Margo also writes original songs. The song ‘Unprecedented’ was inspired by a recent photo she saw of deserted Louisville streets due to the pandemic.


By Margo Watkins

I saw a photograph of a street with no cars,

In a city of one million people strong

I saw an empty cathedral

And a world with no people

Something has gone terribly wrong


What if time stood still for a while

Gave us time to slow down for a while

To remember who we really are inside for a while

Take a breath for a while

Take a pause for a while

Stop the hate, keep it kind, and love our neighbor for a while.


Online Streaming Calendar

(All shows on Facebook at the name noted)


Rusty Bladen Friends & Fans, 8:30 p.m. nightly


Jimmy Davis, 7 p.m. nightly

Joe Perkinson, 8 p.m. nightly (playing requests sent earlier by Messenger)