Music  James Montgomery
James Montgomery returns to Manchester

by Dan J. Szczesny

The philosopher bluesman speaks about the state of his art

The hardest-working bluesman in New England is coming back to Manchester. And hes on a roll.

His last album, Bring it on Home won a Handy Award. For the past three years hes been a member of the legendary Johnny Winter Band. (Winters album, Im a Bluesman, which Montgomery played on, was nominated for a Grammy this year).

Hes played with B.B. King, Steve Miller, Bonnie Raitt and Aerosmith. Hes performed several times at the Manchester Jazz and Blues Fest.

But all that matters to Montgomery is his next gig.

Lucky for Manchester, that will be Saturday, April 2, at Lava Bar and Nightclub.

Montgomery took a few minutes between gigs to chat about the philosophy of the blues.

Q: So, what's the state of blues in New England?

Blues is a cyclical thing. It will rise and have peaks and valleys. It went through a peak a few years ago riding on the Blues Brothers and the House of Blues and then people like Susan Tedeschi crossing over. So, were on the back side of a wave that was good for blues.

But I will say that things have been better. Though You have a relatively new festival like White Mountain Blues. So it's like the Hindu Trinity: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma at the same time its being created its being destroyed. Right now its in the balanced state of some things thriving, some other things not being able to sustain themselves.

Q: How is Johnny Winter doing?

Ive been playing with him for three years now, and its been great. In the last couple years he's taken a lot of steps to address some of the health issues he was having. He's made a point to get on an all natural diet and excercise... His playing has really gotten back to where it was 10 years ago.

This summer were looking at another West Coast tour. In the fall were looking into going to Poland. Hes so popular in Europe, especially in France and Italy.

Q: Whats it like on stage with him?

Hes got a great set of ears and its a lot of fun for me to try to function as a rhythm guitar player with my harmonica. to give him some kind of bed to play off of and it works.

Q: Do you feel the urge to try and upstage him?

I constantly try to upstage everybody Ive always worked with [laughs. With Johnny, though, nobody can upstage him.

Q: Is there still a lot of improv in your shows?

Absolutely. And in my band at this point, I consider this one in terms of musicianship and energy to be one of the premiere units Ive ever lead.

Q: Whats a typical set like when you see the James Montgomery band?

Well, my latest record was nominated for a Handy Award so we do a certain amount of that material. But we have lots of requests for music from the early days. There are three basic areas we cover: old favorites, my current CD and, a bunch of stuff off an upcoming project. In fact, this weekend well debut a song we wrote for upcoming movie called Dixie Storm.

Q: Youve been playing the blues for a long time. What is The Blues?

Its certainly a feeling...Ive interviewed hundreds of people when I had my radio show. Just about every one of them had this story; they could all remember the first time they were sitting there and heard this record or heard this band playing. All of us remember this chord that was struck...That same feeling we all have when you become sorrow or really empathize with that sorrowful element in the universe. Then couple that with feeling of catharsis

You get that feeling and live it, become one with it. Once you experience it on that level, the downside disappears and you become one with the universe [laughs]. Hows that?

Its such a visceral feeling its almost silly to analyze it.

If you go:

Who: James Montgomery Blues Band

When: Saturday, April 2

Where: Lava Bar and Nightclub, 22 Fir Street, Manchester

Call 622-0400 for times and tickets.

- Dan J. Szczesny

 
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