Music, Why Not! Had the chance to talk to Grammy Nominated Blues Legend James Montgomery. It was a pleasure to interview such an iconic artist that set the foreground for many others to come. Read on as we discuss his music collaborations with artist such as Aerosmith, B.B King, The Rolling Stones, his musical background, and his latest album.
MWN: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. It is a pleasure. I guess I will start off by going back to the roots. I love learning about the past of iconic musicians and why they decided to get involved in music. Was there anything in your youth that influenced you to pick up and instrument?
James Montgomery: I was a huge rock and roll fan growing up. My brother and I spent most of our time in the basement with a record player and had all the current hit singles. Then, when I was about 15 years old I heard live blues for the first time. It was a jug band and two of the guys played harmonica. When I heard blues harmonica – I was blown away and thought to myself that that was something I wanted to learn how to play. The guy who was playing was Cris Cioe who now leads the Uptown Horns and we still play together many time each year and I have used him on almost all my records.
MWN: Many components of blues tie into all sort of music such as pop and rock needless to say it is a pretty important genre. Why did you decided to focus your music in this genre?
James Montgomery: Blues permutated into almost all forms of real American music including jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop, and even a large part of country/western. When I had my radio show I interviewed around 100 blues musicians. Almost 100% of them had a defining moment that compelled them to play blues the first time they experienced it. Same thing happened to me when I heard the jug band. You don’t really focus on becoming a blues artist, it just happens!
MWN: With all this mind- you have collaborated with great musicians among them B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Aerosmith, and the Rolling Stones. How were this experiences like? Can you tell me a little bit about this amazing musical journey you have been on?
James Montgomery: As a blues artist, I was lucky to grow up when I did. Detroit had several blues clubs two of which had all ages shows. In those days you could just walk into Muddy’s dressing room, or Buddy and Junior’s dressing room and say “hello.” I met a lot of my blues “idols” when I was still in my teens. My high school band opened for Iggy and the MC 5 and my college band signed a big record deal and we toured with everyone. The night I met Bruce Springsteen he sold 75 tickets. Over the years I’ve had the chance to play with almost all of my boyhood musical heros and jam with The Allman’s, Bonnie, Aerosmith, B.B., Buddy and Junior, Mick, Steve Miller, Huey Lewis, John Lee Hooker, Les Paul, Billy Squier, and literally dozens more. My musical “Father” is James Cotton so learning from him and playing with him is still at the top of my list.
MWN: You have done so much with your career one of them is you hosted your own syndicated radio show for five years called “Backstage With the Blues?” How was that like?
James Montgomery: Hosting my radio show Backstage With The Blues, produced by Lori Urso, was definitely one of the best things I have done in my career. Not only did I get a chance to sit down with dozens of friends and talk to them about their love of blues and their career paths, but also I got a chance to meet other blues artists that I may never have had the chance to meet. One result is that I can tell stories about blues musicians for hours and some of them are classic!
MWN: Your new album- The James Montgomery Blues Band: A Tribute to Paul Butterfield was released. Can you tell me how the production process was like that for this record? Where there any particular instruments you used in the process?
James Montgomery: I met Paul Nelson when we were both working in the Johnny Winter Band (one of the most amazing experiences – ask anyone who had the gig!). He is now helping to manage me and other artists. He got me a record deal with Cleopatra and said “How about a Butterfield record?” It floored me because me and my band had always talked about Paul Butterfield and how important a figure he was in blues and rock and roll. Paull was one of my biggest influences and, along with Cotton, I have always modeled my live show around the intensity he brought to blues. Butterfield and Cotton made the blues hit you like a sledgehammer.
MWN: Speaking of the new record. I know it was produced by Grammy-winning producer Paul Nelson. How was it like working with Paul?
James Montgomery: Paul Nelson did a great job recording our new CD dedicated to Paul Butterfield. He got great sounds and kept the energy fresh. We did it as close to “live” as you can get and in fact some of the stuff is first take. Paul also played a little guitar on the record as did Jimmy Vivino from the Conan O’Brien Band, Mark Naftalin, an original member of the Paul Butterfield Band, Grace Kelly, and the Uptown Horns featuring Cris Cioe the guy from the hug band who I started playing with 50 years ago!
MWN: I obviously lied- this interview was more than five questions! But I promise this is the last one, and I usually like to end on what the future holds. So how does your schedule look like in the upcoming months? What can we expect?
James Montgomery: My future plans include touring to support the new CD – I love performing still – and putting together SuperBands for charity. One of these will include Brad Whitford, Rick Derringer, former Boston member Barry Goudreau, Eliot Easton from the Cars, Grace Kelly, members of Foghat, the Uptowm Horns and several other big stars. I’m currently making a documentary about Blues Legend James Cotton and I am in a documentary about Paul Butterfield. I’ve been asked about putting out a book of my poetry which I will probably do. I’m also active in a film being produced by my brother John about my younger brother Jeff Montgomery who was a big activist in the Gay movement for many years and was instrumental in the fight for hate crime legislation. I am president of a 501C-3, The Reel Blues Fest, and through that organization we are able to plan events that raise money for musician health care and to assist film makers via The Woods Hole Film Festival.
MWN: Lastly, I just wanted to take the time and tell you this has been such an honor for Music, Why Not! To get to ask you a few questions. We are so thrilled for all your future projects! Thank you so much for chatting with us.