Coco Montoya Photo by Ken Weingart

I have been covering the North Atlantic Blues Festival ever since it began in 1994 so it’s with great pleasure that I can let you know that, after the cancelation of the 2020 festival, it is back to full strength for its 28th season on Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11 (for more information and a complete line-up of performances go to northatlanticbluesfestival.com). This time ‘round, I called San Fernando Valley in Southern California to chat with blues/rocker singer-songwriter-guitarist Coco Montoya about his show on the 11th at 3:15 p.m.

Q: Now you’re coming over to Rockland, ME, for the North Atlantic Blues Festival, I believe.
Montoya: Yes, sir. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that, I mean, after over a year-and-a-half of not touching my guitar.

Q: And in front of an appreciative crowd, too.
Montoya: I’m sure it’s going to be great. I’ve performed there before, too. The one I remember was when me and Walter Trout played on the same bill and I barely got through with my last song when the rains came down.

Q: Oh, no!
Montoya: That messed everything up and Walter didn’t get to go on, it was pretty rough. But I think he came back the following year and it was the highlight of the festival, you know?

Q: Yeah, I do. Now you have a new album out now, “Coming In Hot,” right?
Montoya: Well, actually it was at one time. We were out touring it over a year-and-a-half ago, so it’s not quite new anymore; but at the latest thing from me, anyway.

Q: Are you working on something new?
Montoya: Constantly, we’ve had several writing sessions so I’ve been productive in that way. I’m writing with my keyboard player, Jeff Paris, a multi-talented, incredible guy. He actually co-produced my “I Want It All Back” album with Keb’ Mo’. He’s playing with me now along with Rena Beavers on drums and Mr. Nathan Brown on bass, yeah, we’re having a good time. Me and Jeff and, of course, a guy I’ve been writing with for years, Dave Steen out of Lincoln, Nebraska. Dave is an incredibly talented writer. So the three of us have gotten together and did some Zoom writing, I guess it’s new for me ‘cause I’m old, but these Zoom sessions were really great, it’s really cool to do that.

Q: You know, when you look at the blues, there’s such a rich history in this genre, the depth and breadth of it is just amazing, there’s so many different directions you can go in it.
Montoya: Oh, yeah. Well, I think the blues, at one time, was so ridged to the point where you couldn’t have other influences. But I think it got to the place where there’s New Orleans swampy stuff, second-line things that are just as influential within that genre, then there’s Texas blues and Chicago blues, for sure. I think it’s great that we have all these different feels and different ways of approaching the same genre, ya know?

Q: Well, I think the label you’re on has helped tremendously along those lines.
Montoya: Yeah, and I think that that was probably the best move that Bruce {Iglauer} ever made was to bring out everybody else and let them know that there are lots of inflections, a lot of different flavors (chuckle). We don’t just make the greatest chili, we have these other things that are great, too! I think what’s great, as an artist, is being able to have an extended palette, where in the past of the music business they didn’t like you to diversify. I think it’s great that all these artists are coming up that have a lot of different influences which is giving us a lot to pick from, and still enjoy it and respect the original, as well.

Q: And that, in turn, brings in more listeners and new fans.
Montoya: Yeah, it’s great to have people speak out and speak their mind and, once again, whether it’s conversation or music it’s just like: “If you dig it, great —if you don’t, well, okay, thanks for giving it a shot!” The main important thing for us all to learn is that we need to love and care about each other no matter what, we don’t have to agree with everybody. Especially right now the mood of this country, with a lot of political and religious things happening, I’m coming out to play music, I want you to not worry about all that for a few minutes while I do what I do, ya know, so you can enjoy it. I’m supposed to be entertainment.

Q: Speaking of entertainment, have you started touring yet?
Montoya: It’s just starting. This will be the first show that I’m going to do, I haven’t done any since we had to leave the road. I was on a package tour with me and Ronnie Baker Brooks and we had done two gigs. We had rehearsed together, we were really having fun and decided to do a little tribute to Albert Collins together at the end of the show. It was just fun, it was just loose, it was not us trying to be Albert Collins, we were just paying homage to one of the greatest players, in our opinion, that we know and respected. It was exciting and we were just really disappointed to have to stop, so we’re gonna pick it up again, up in Maine, and we’re gonna get together and play a little at the end and pay tribute to Albert.

Q: Is there anything, sir, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Montoya: Mainly, I’d like to mention my band again, these guys have stuck with me through this whole thing and they’re ready now to go to work, and I’m really proud of that, so their names being mentioned would be very nice. Also, if people aren’t familiar with Ronnie Baker Brooks they are in for a great show from him {Brooks goes on after Montoya to end the Sunday night bill}. And the last time I played down there everybody was wonderful, they treated us so kind, and that’s something you should really tell people about, the folks at that festival are keeping it going and we all need that.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

filed under: