Posted January, 2011
In June of this year, I enjoyed one of those rare dates with my 26 year old daughter, Lacie. One of the things that Lacie and I mutually enjoy is music – especially from icons from “my day”. Ten years earlier, I took her to see Peter Frampton for her birthday and, to this day, my wife wonders if the present wasn’t really for me instead of Lacie.
I’ll never tell.
Anyway, back to my story.
On this particular June father/daughter date, Lacie joined me to catch the legendary Johnny Winter in concert at the Granada Theater (read the review of that show here). Prior to the opening act, this great, intimate venue ran video clips of shows that had either recently graced its stage or were scheduled to appear soon.
One particular clip that commanded my attention was some concert footage of an amazing acoustic guitar player. This guy skillfully and appropriately played licks on his Alvarez acoustic that seemed to defy the laws of speed and sound. I didn’t want the clips to end.
His name? Monte Montgomery and I knew that I wanted to make a point to learn more about this guy.
Over the ensuing months, as I worked through my backlog of scheduled interviews and reviews, I conducted research on Montgomery. I watched countless, flawless performances on YouTube, often posting them on Facebook to gauge what the reaction would be from Boomerocity readers.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege to chat on the phone with Monte. My first impression of the man was, and is, very similar to my impression of Johnny Winter: A confident musician who is really not all that comfortable promoting himself. He lives to play the guitar and entertaining people. He’s comfortable in his own skin but doesn’t really like talking about it. This was evident in his response to my first question where I ask him to describe himself, his history and his work for those of you who aren’t familiar with him.
Chuckling, Montgomery says, “First of all, that would never happen because I hate talking about myself. I let other people figure all of that out. I always get asked from people that aren’t familiar with my work, ‘What kind of music do you do?’ and I’m, like, ‘Well, that’s not for me to say.’ It’s kind of all over the map. I don’t really fit into one specific genre. It’s kind of my own thing. It’s kind of hard to describe.”
That statement was bang on. All one has to do is look at Montgomery’s performances on YouTube or listen to any of his CD’s to get that message loud and clear. In addition to his own creations, you can see the cross-genre approach to his work with his interpretations of Hall and Oates’, Sarah Smile, to Jim Hendrix’s, Little Wing to his Stairway to Freebird (his brilliant combination of Stairway to Heaven and Freebird).
In telling when he became interested in the guitar, he shares that, “I picked up the guitar at thirteen. It was a Gibson J-45. It was one of my mom’s guitars.” How many guitars does he own now? “Oh, my god, probably 30 or more. Most of those were given to me. I’ve had a few endorsements over the years and most of the guitars were given to me. I’ve probably only paid for five of those.”
“Honestly, it’s gotten to a point to where I’ve started giving guitars away to some of my friends that need them. I’ve given a few away to charities to auction off. I don’t need 30 guitars. I’ve just collected them over the years- unintentionally collected. I don’t mean like as a collector. But, yeah, the numbers are dwindling”, he says with a laugh.
Most guitar players envision a “Holy Grail” guitar that they fantasize about owning. I asked Montgomery if there is such a thing as a “Holy Grail” he hopes to own.
“Wow. I don’t really think of them in those terms. I’ve been using the same guitar for 22 years now. So, I’m not one of those guys that goes after a Martin because I want a Martin because it has that distinct Martin sound. I’m just not that guy. I’m more of a guy who found a guitar that works for me and I also had to find a way to make myself work on that guitar.
“I didn’t find the perfect guitar for me but I was able to manipulate my relationship with my guitar and build it. Some people are, like, ‘I’ve got to have that guitar!’ For me, I had to learn to play this guitar a little bit and I think that the guitar had to yield to my demands at the same time. A lot of people call me crazy for traveling all over the world, carrying one guitar. But that’s pretty much the way I’ve made my career – playing the same guitar. It’s a really special guitar that I’ve broken in. People has equated it to Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger. It’s a similar kind of relationship. You’ll rarely see play anything but that guitar.”
Monte’s weapon of choice is his acoustic Alvarez. I asked him if this was because technology can make his guitar sound however he wishes or is it just a preference. His answer didn’t surprise me.
“No. It’s my preference. I’ve done both. When I was younger, I was in bands – kind of a ‘hard’ guy and playing electric. I remember, earlier on, I’d be get hired by a band, playing electric and I’d feel like I was losing my acoustic chops. I would quit that band and would take the acoustic and play that for a year. Then I’d get another offer for a gig on an electric – I kind of bounced around doing that for a few years. Then, when I put my own band together, I did both – I played acoustic and electric. But, over time, I started realizing that all this stuff I was doing on electric, I could do on acoustic. I was running everything through the same pedal board. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just leave the heavy amps and electric at home and just play acoustic?’ That’s basically what I started doing.” And, with another chuckle, adds, “I think that the whole reason was just to cut down on carrying so much equipment all the times. A couple of electrics, an acoustic, two amps and I think, back then, I was carrying around the entire PA system, as well. So, I said, ‘I think I can leave all this stuff behind and just play my acoustic with the band.’ It was basically that simple. I’ve just come to lean on the acoustic.
“I don’t think anybody out there really wants to see me play electric. That’s part of the fascination with what I do is the fact that I playing acoustic. I’m doing what I’m doing but I’m doing it on a beat up acoustic. That’s just not what you see people do.”
I posit that it’s similar to what Australian guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel, does. Montgomery notes some valid differences.
“Well, it goes beyond that. I know Tommy. I take it even further than that. I do a lot of distortion and Eric Johnson-esque during my show and make it sound more like a Les Paul. If you weren’t watching me play that acoustic, at times, you would not know that I was playing an acoustic.”
Anyone who aspires to play guitar has their idols they envision being able to play like. I asked Montgomery who he had burned into his brain as he practiced for hours on end.
“Of course, I listened to anybody that I could get my hands on when I was younger - people like Lindsay Buckingham and Mark Knopfler. I was fascinated with their ability to do all this cool guitar work without a tech. They were two of my earliest influences. I could go on and on from there. Michael Hedges, Bruce Colburn to Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Steve Morse – all the greats, basically - anyone who was good on the guitar.”
Monte knew a year after he started playing guitar that he wanted to pursue a career in music. “I’ve basically known what I was meant to do on this earth at a very young age. Like I said, I started getting hired with bands when I was 14. That’s all I’ve done my whole life is play music.”
If you noodle around YouTube, watching the various Monte Montgomery clips, one of the more captivating ones is his appearance on Daryl Hall’s web show, Live From Daryl’s House. In addition to being a new Monte Montgomery fan, I’m also a 30-plus year Hall and Oates fan so, naturally, I was very interested in the story behind Monte’s appearance on Daryl’s show.
“He saw me on YouTube. I think his manager got wind of the fact that there was this guy doing a song of his on YouTube. So, he checked it out and passed it on to Daryl. ‘Daryl, you’ve got to check this out.’ So, he (Daryl) went on there (YouTube) and watched me do a version of Sara Smile. He was so blown away that he contacted me. I ended up at his house and that show. That was basically it. If it wasn’t for YouTube, that would have never happened.” When asked if he had done any more work with Hall since then, he replied, “No, but I think we will, eventually. We’ve talked about it.”
I was struck by Monte’s low key, unassuming manner in which he answered my question regarding who else he has played with. “Oh, I don’t really have a list of people that I’ve played with like that. I play with all kinds of people. I know Tommy Emmanuel really well and have done a couple of shows together. Delbert McClinton. I’ve sat in with a bunch of different people. I would say that the biggest name I’ve done anything with would be Daryl.”
Monte’s appearance on the PBS nationally broadcasted show, Austin City Limits, was one for the record books, catapulting him to national recognition, commanding the attention of artists, industry insiders and enthusiasts alike. I asked him if there’s been another gig that was as important to him as the ACL telecast.
“Honestly, man, I couldn’t point to an actual gig that was more important than that one. I don’t even think that there’s a close second. That wasn’t just a gig. That was national television exposure to anyone that owns a television. Nothing comes even close to that. That show enabled me to tour nationally and have people show up without any airplay on the radio, which I didn’t have. That was a pivotal point.”
When I asked him who else he would like to jam with that he hasn’t already, he hesitates and then, as if he mentally goes back in time to his early to mid-teens, he said, “Uh, everybody! Ha! Ha! I’ve always dreamed of playing with Lindsay Buckingham – a childhood hero of mine. I think that would be a gas. Fleetwood Mac, that’s all I listened to at a young age. I was pretty much obsessed with them. Other than that, anybody that I respect which are all the people that I mentioned earlier. I played with Tommy (Emmanuel) and that guy and I’ve never seen a better acoustic player than that guy. He’s a super talent and a tremendous guy.”
With Monte’s last CD being his self-titled project released in 2008, I wanted to know if he was working on a new release. “I don’t have one I’m working on currently. But some opportunities are lining up for me for the next year – I’ll definitely start working on something next year.”
While I’m disappointed that he doesn’t have one ready for immediate release in the near future, it’s good to know that Montgomery enjoys a healthy tour schedule around the country and the world. Speaking of: If you’re going to be in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area on
New Year’s Eve, he will be appearing at Love and War In Texas at Grapevine Mills Mall. He’ll also be kicking off the new year with appearances in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth.
Monte Montgomery isn’t an acquired taste. He’s an immediate addiction. You really do need to check this guy out. Trust me. You’ll become a fan for life, as I did. Check out the YouTube clips that are mentioned in this piece. You’ll also want to check out his website, www.montemontgomery.net and, while you’re there, sign up for his newsletter and noodle around in his store and order his impressive roster of work.
If you like great guitar work, you’re going to love Monte Montgomery . . . and you’ll want to own everything he has ever produced so have your credit card ready.