The Road Ahead
He has a fabulous band, a scorching and soulful live album out, he is on tour and finds time to talkbackstage to us about his music and composing….
JLTT: This sounds as though you really mean business when you kick into this live record set because you’ve got this really cool Albert Collins vibe to the first tracks. Some lovely Hammond, too…
CM : (Calls over to keys man ) Do ya hear that Brad?! ‘Lovely Hammond’ !!. That’s the keyboard player. All of these guys are on this album
Yeah. It’s a great starter for the record. What made you choose that song to kick the record off?
It was just what we were doing with our set. At that time, we were starting off our set with the Albert Collins song ‘I Got A Mind To Travel’. It was just the way the set went. Our method is to pick out the first three songs and see where we go, we don’t really have a set list. We know the first three, four songs at the most and then it’s whatever comes up after that
I was talking to John Mayall last week in Los Angeles. He says about his guitarist Rocky Athas ‘Rocky loves to know the first song and once he knows that he’s perfectly ok from that moment on’. That’s John for you!
(Laughs) John used to write, in my time with the band, he had setlists every night. He had written them out what he was gonna play.
And different every time?
Yeah. You had to have your setlist and it was pretty amazing. I tried to do that but as a band we feel we get to a point and go ‘This is the right song for right now’. So every night we kind of have an idea
I recognised you straight away. It’s hard to pick a track from a 2-CD set isn’t?
It’s kind of hard because it’s a live album so the songs tend to run kind of long. It was a concern of the record company, it really was. But, I figured for me, if we’re gonna do our show this is what we do. They tend to be a little long so it’s gonna be hard for airplay.
‘Too Much Water’ is a favourite of mine because it’s got that great moody sort of sound to it. That’s the sound I go for, that moody Trower type stuff. Very fluid guitar on there, what guitar are you using on it ?
I just use my Strats. Ones I’ve been using for years
Do you customise them at all?
They have to be custom-made because I play left-handed upside down
My mate Arthur’s got a Jimi guitar that Jimi gave him. You can see the hole in the horn where he’s had to put it back over for right-handed. That’s a white Strat…now the tone on ‘The One.’
‘The One That Really Loves You’?
Yes. Such warmth.
Thank you. I owe a lot of that arrangement to Kevin Morris whose a good friend of mine. He produced the last album and he came up with that arrangement.
I thought it rang a bell with me and the Staple singers, Pop Staples it’s got that warmth about it. I congratulate you on that because a lot of guys in the field at the moment don’t go into that sort of warmer area. I don’t know why, maybe they don’t feel it like you might
It’s hard to say. I love him, Pops. He said so much with very little.
Is it autobiographical?
Actually no – it’s a song I loved as a kid. It’s done by Mary Wells and written by Smokey Robinson. I was a big Mary Wells fan when I was a kid and I still love her. This was an opportunity for me to get to some material that some people would be criticised for doing. It’s ok with me because these were songs from my times
Us specialist writers don’t criticise in the main, we might comment. I love it when someone does that and there’s a song you should maybe do called ‘You Beat Me to the Punch’.
Oh yeah!!!. That’s another great one !.
You could tear the back off that
I love that song. That was one of the reasons why we put a lot of these out on the last album so that we can do a lot of them on the setlist.
‘Love Jail’ that has the guitar bursts as well. Again, it has that pent-up Albert Collins-y kind of vibe
That’s exactly what song was about because I wrote that song with Albert in mind and he was gonna record it. He loved the tune and he had plans of recording it, but he fell ill and it never happened. That to me is his tune. That belongs to him
I saw him play on a bill with George Thorogood in Camden, London. He got a long lead and he walked outside during the set, still playing and he was chatting with the taxi cab drivers. He said ‘I’ve gotta go back in now’ and he walked back in with the lead. The band carried on playing and thought ‘Albert’s gone for a walk’.
Oh yeah. He was incredible !
He had some weird tuning
Open F minor
I’ve played Open D minor for slide but never Open F Minor. ‘Don’t Go Makin Plans’ has a nice Uni-vibe tone in there. It’s probably my favourite and I’ll tell you why, I like that pit-a-pata rhythm to it and that seems absolutely natural to you
That was a song I wrote with Paul Barrere of Little Feat…
Yeah we wrote that together when we were working on the ‘Dirty Deal’ album. Yeah it was just a natural thing, I had the guitar riff and we went from there. Sat down and started doing lyrics and it was just one of those ones that just fell together within a day or so
‘I Wish I Could Be That Strong’.
Yeah a Gary Nicholson song.
(Laughs, imitates my voice) It’s deep stuff. You’re right, you know, some of the stuff that Gary writes which is wonderful stuff from Nashville. Gary’s a great writer. You really have to dig deep in there and really figure out where he is coming from as a writer. Then interpret and you can’t get to far away from where it was going. It had to have a little bit of a good soul groove to it
‘Fannie Mae’s’ got that shuffle feeling. That’s the most Texas sounding track on the album
Yeah well we just tried to go a little different from the Buster Brown original version which is another song from when I was growing up that I always liked. Doing these tunes live is just so natural for us.
‘I Need Your Love In My Life’. I wrote maybe the best song in the set as the voice is just so fine on this. What do you connect with on this song? What’s in your head when you do it?
It’s just a song that me and Dave Stein wrote. We just had a great feeling about the guitar riff which actually if you listen to the album with Dave playing the riff, it’s more like a Rolling Stones riff. That’s where we were coming from on that and Dave came up with the theme. That’s what’s great about writing with him, back and forth you feed each other and just start making it work. It’s amazing. I don’t really know how the process works, it’s just at the end of the day you’ve got something.
If you spoke to Gerry Goffin and Carole King they’d tell you the same thing. It’s where a conversation shapes into a poem which is a song
Yeah. (Laughs) I really find its better for me t bounce stuff off because I can be a bit lazy when it comes to writing….it’s not my strong forte. I’m proud of what I have written but with good guys I have written with Dave Stein, Doug McCloud and Jack Paris is another guy I’ve written with
Oh yeah. ‘Good Day’ is interesting. The reason it’s interesting is because the way you sing sounds the most personal song on the album. As well as the eerie strings. They make that and these are the things that you don’t get on every blues rock record that comes in. I’m looking for different moods so something like that is gonna stick out to me
Well once again, that’s a Gary Nicholson song. That’s one of his tunes
That’s a fruitful feel for you
Well I think Clapton said it best – ‘Take everything you want to play with. Every genre I wants to play with and puts the blues into it’. Which is kind of where I’m coming from in a lot of ways. I took the Nicholson song, and if you hear the original it’s completely straight and we came up with that arrangement and it’s really nice. It’s been a main staple for a few years now
If you talk to Tony Joe White he’ll tell you the same thing. You’ll hear the blues moods and bends in a tune. That’s probably why to me, is stuff is exceptionally good.
Oh I’m a big Tony Joe White fan.
I think that kind of shows sometimes. ‘I Want It All Back’ aren’t you tempted to open with this?
‘My Side of the Fence’, there’s a great spring to this. It’s probably the best guitar playing on that set. I’m assuming that you are warmed up by then
Yeah we usually do that one towards the end if we are doing it. That’s a song written by me and Dave Stein and I had the thought of ‘grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ kind of thing. That’s where the theme came up and me a Dave knocked that one out in about a day
How did you work the dynamic of the guitar arrangements with Walter?
What do you mean?
Did you sit down and work it out or was it just absolutely natural out of the air?
Oh no there was absolutely nothing worked out in that situation. Me and Walter our time in the Bluesbreakers would have been better for us emotionally and done our friendship a lot of good if we had some structure. We really didn’t have any and at that time we were just… the attraction at the time for John Mayall was to have two fat guitar players battle it out. It was exciting for the audience sometimes but not very healthy for me and Walter. Egos being what they are.
If I am in a room and it’s people trying to outplay each other, I go
It’s never served any purpose for me but… we got caught up in that
I imagine if you two got back in a room together now…
It’s musical. Me and Walter have done some shows together and it’s brought us to tears sometimes because we were mourning the fact that we never did that. We just played till our fingers bled as loud as we could get it. It was not what we were looking for. Why didn’t we ever sit down and come up with some arrangements? Not that it wasn’t fun, but it had its purpose for a time. I’m talking more live than doing a studio album. Me and Walter never worked out things and Walter is a very emotional feeling player. It’s what moves us to play and we would know how to move each other
You’re known as a firebrand guitar player and people come to see you because of that. But you’re a song man really
Yeah. I’m getting older and I don’t see myself as all that flashy a guitar player. There are some people who can really wail like Walter and this young kid whose opening for us. Laurence Jones is an exceptional kid
But what’s soaked into you is Little Feat and things like that. Your average blues hotshot could never come up with a song like ‘All That You Dream’
Yeah it’s definitely other influences in my life that brought that to me. Everybody knows about the John Mayall time and my time with Albert Collins was a whole other thing as a drummer and guitar player with him. At sixty-two years old you start saying ‘Why would I wanna got to my grave saying they wouldn’t let me do this’. Like Walter said in an interview a while back ‘I am not ashamed of anything that I love to listen to.’
All I can tell you is, this record communicates and it’s not how good can we play. Yes the band are great on this but these are stories
This whole live album thing is something I‘ve avoided for many years because I don’t like the sound of me live. But the guys I’ve got playing with me now are really the most important ingredient in me doing a live album because they put me in a secure place
That’s why we’re talking because this deserves this feature to actually talk about it so people know that’s it’s not just a snapshot of people who play well
It’s a band playing together which is really the important thing. It is not one individual carrying the whole thing. They bring it every night for me
I wanted to talk about this current release and not delve into the past too much
No that’s great thanks man
By Pete Sargeant
Coco Montoya’s new 2-CD set ‘Songs from the Road’ is out now on Ruf Records
For more information visit www.cocomontoyaband.com