STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Coco Montoya, who released “Songs from the Road” (Ruf Records) last year, returns to Sellersville Theater to once again show why his fans had been asking him to record a live album for years.
“A lot of people (had been) wanting a live album, something to capture the night, that they could take home,” said Montoya in a phone interview from his home in California’s San Fernando Valley.
“I thought I would make too many mistakes to do a live album, so I always avoided it. I think I got caught up in the safety zone of the studio, and as studios got more sophisticated, I think I delved into that way too deeply. I’m finding out that on all the old records I like, all the old doo-wop, and the old soul stuff, and the old blues stuff, it was the imperfections that made the music wonderful… (I came) to the realization that the beauty of a live album is the imperfections, is capturing the night with its flaws, and (that) turned me around to have a little more bravery, a little more personal fortitude, I guess, just to go ahead and go there, bare bones, no makeup.”
Montoya’s love of music began at home.
“My dad had a collection of stuff, and (there was) a lot of music in the house. I had two older sisters and an older brother, so I had all the rock ’n roll records coming into the house and influencing me, so that was the beginning of it all, just hearing music in the house all the time,” he said.
“It’s one of those things where you look back in hindsight — everything was blues-based in my growing up. We used to have the Johnny Otis Show on Channel 5 here in L.A. We watched it all the time. We didn’t have musical definition at a young age; it was just music. And all the time, we were seeing Eddie King, Ed Vincent, Marie Adams, Three Tons of Joy, people like that, who were all playing on the Johnny Otis Show. Mighty Mouth Evans and all these people. They were all blues people, or blues/R&B people, so the influences were vast and coming from all different directions.”
Montoya’s first high-profile gig was with Albert Collins — as a drummer. Montoya actually started out playing drums at age 11, before he was inspired to pick up a guitar.
“You hear the Beatles, and you hear all this other music. Drums are great, but (I wanted to) make noise like actual chords, actual notes.”
Montoya is completely self-taught. He learned to play the guitar upside-down, which he does to this day. What he lacks in proper technique he makes up for with his passion and enthusiasm.
“I was left-handed and I didn’t know there was a difference (between) left-handed (and) right-handed. I just picked up the guitar, what naturally felt normal to me, and just worked at it on my own. I didn’t even think about left-handed or right-handed. I just watched somebody play and looked where their fingers went. I said, ‘yeah, I’ve got to try that out,’ and I’d go back home and, until my fingers got raw, I would try and figure out how to make that sound. It didn’t dawn on me at all that he was right-handed and I was left-handed.”
He added: “I’ve talked with most left-handed players that play the way I do, Otis Rush and many others. It’s the same story. They picked it up and just made it their own way, and I never thought twice about it.”
And that way has certainly worked well for Montoya. After 5 years of playing with Collins and learning from the blues guitar legend, Montoya got his first big gig as a guitarist — with John Mayall. He toured with Mayall in the Bluesbreakers for 10 years. After 10 years with Mayall, Montoya knew that it was time for a change.
“I was ready to do something else. I didn’t know what that something else would be, whether it would be music or go back to being a bartender. I just knew it was time for me to change. I just realized that if I was going to go and do my own band, I definitely couldn’t do it as the alcoholic that I was.”
In addition to becoming sober, Montoya successfully transitioned from being a sideman to becoming a bandleader.
“It was a frightening move, but it was a great move,” he said.
He released “Gotta Mind to Travel” (Blind Pig), his first album under his own name, in 1995. A year later he followed it up with “Ya Think I’d Know Better” (Blind Pig) and he won the Blues Foundation’s Best New Blues Artist award at the 1996 Blues Music Awards.
Montoya released 3 albums on Blind Pig Records and 3 albums on Alligator Records. “Songs from the Road” is his second release on Ruf Records, and it captures the intensity of Montoya’s live performances. And though there may be a few imperfections, his fans don’t seem to be complaining.
The tour that will bring Montoya back to Sellersville Theater features the same band as heard on “Songs from the Road.”
“After you do the shows, people want to take that home… so it’s really a plus for them right now to see the performance and actually be able to take these musicians home with them.”
And Montoya added: “Sellersville is a great place to play. I’m looking forward to it.”
IF YOU GO
What: Coco Montoya
When: Concert is set for 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 30; doors open at 7:30.
Where: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
Tickets: $21.50 –$29.50 at www.st94.com
Artist’s website: www.cocomontoya.com