James Montgomery – Drawing On An Icon

Harpist and singer James leads The James Montgomery Blues Band and he and Pete share the same main inspirational player from their earliest days – Mr Paul Butterfield. However the latest album on Cleopatra Records blues imprint shows that the band has no fear of stepping forward from the Chicago master’s style to channel their own ideas…

John Lappen Enterprises

JLTT: Hi James, we really are both on source recordings here. I must have played the track East West hundreds of times and I still do it live, in the right company

JM: Oh what a great and adventurous recording, with the whole Butterfield Band blazing away. Even then he was striving to do something different, something of their own – even with fairly well-known tunes. It all had such an effect upon me as a young man. To play with that power and sound that confident when you did. Did you ever see Paul?

Unfortunately not. We had Keith Relf, The Pretty Things, Mayall, Cyril Davies and of course the visitors like George Smith, Wolf, James Cotton..  

Well that ain’t a bad bunch of players!! My own enlightening experience was out in Detroit , right near the front of the stage. The Chessmate Club, Maria Muldaur and the jug band guy Jim Kweskin had been mentioning Butterfield and really Pete, I was expecting some sort of folky performance, if I’m honest. The bills often had local rock bands wrapping up the sessions and so seeing amps and stuff didn’t alert me to what was about to occur..haha.. then they announced The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and on they all walk. Not dressed up or anything, you understand – still no real clue.

Well when they played I was like pinned back in my seat! The power, the energy – all the things you dug on the Elektra records – plus the great presence, of course. It felt like something important was being delivered, in the here and now. I’m sure you have experienced that?

Yeah – The MC5…

Power..there you go..but that keen sense of experiment, of not just repeating what they liked. They got to back Dylan, getting stick for it of course. But what an effect they had on the San Francisco scene, with their fiery sound and all! The extended solo’s, the raga influences, the jazz element that enabled them to improvise. My own jug band went electric the very next day, THIS was the future for us, now – propelled forward in the one swoop. No going back after that

Did you not get to know Paul a bit?

That’s correct and this was when I was playing with a group called The Colwell Winfield Band and they were based in Woodstock. At that same time, Butterfield was living in Woodstock and we became friends. Mind you, it wasn’t til 2015, long after Paul passed that the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hame Of Fame. At least it was by Peter Wolf of The J Geils Band. I always enjoyed hanging with him, he had done so much, with so many people. The Last Waltz,  Fathers & Sons..

So, approaching this new record now, when I heard it I thought some of it was pretty much homage to the original recordings and fair enough BUT most of the time you as a band are doing your own thing and with the singers varying..

(Emphatically) Yes! Yes, you get it! Good! we felt we should show respect however we should also strike out with our own ideas and arrangements, include an instrumental, have the singing passed around. Just as he did, that is the point. I think it shows Paul’s positive influence on not just us, I would say but other groups and artists. We thought collectively that taking that stance would make it all more satisfying for us AND make it a better listen. For people like you, I guess

In that sense of adventure, Butterfield is more akin to Miles Davis than many may realise, ever moving on..who’s your key band here?  

Jeff Thompson on drums, David Hull bass, George McCann on guitars, me on the harp and most of us singing

-One More Heartache

Ah, Smokey Robinson! I liked that handclap and bass-led PB version, the guitar is kind of skewed on the solo, makes it unusual and the harp Paul at his most potent. But this is James Brown territory

Absolutely right! All those 45s back in the day just got into your system. Here we made the guitar totally different from Paul’s take and the bassline. I like singing this one!

-Born In Chicago

I wouldn’t have gone near this one! But the slinky Albert King thang works  

Thanks – again it was a deliberate shot to treat the song a bit differently, but keep the edge   -Blues With A Feeling   We kept this fairly close to the original version, Little Walter, y’know

-Young Woman’s Love

Original song, your George singing. I like the swamp blues feel

We were pretty happy with the way this one came out. We did want some originals on the record

-Mary, Mary

I got Peter of The Monkees to put a blues in their last show here and they did this great song, too  

That’s cool! Yeah – the Mike Nesmith song indeed. Plus we had Mark Naftalin from PBBB to play on it! Keyboards, plus Mr Nelson on guitar

-I Got A Mind To Give Up Living

That searing blues workout, just seminal if you ever play that style..the key seems highish for you

  Probably is, just a little. Our version is a little less frantic, maybe more reflective in atmosphere

-Shake Your Moneymaker

The trouble we had here was that Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac used to roll out endless Elmore number exactly the same way..

That’s a shame, cos as you know now most likely, Elmore James had a great songbook  And yes I am singing a bit into the harp mike

-Good Question

This is great! Going To A GoGo pace  

Hmm..you are onto something there, yes…a great tune to play live

-One Plus One

Man – the full-blooded brass on this!   Our bassist David singing on this one, he wrote it

-Mystery Train

Little Junior Parker! and Elvis I guess….but this talking thing and Yardbirds approach, really cooking

(Laughs) Now that just evolved over time, with the story and all..that’s how we bring that one in! I am glad you like that, being from the London scene

The best Mystery Train for me is on Southern Fried by John Hammond, with the Muscle Shoals cats. Duane is on that record as well  

This I ought to hear..

I know Paul Nelson, your producer. When we were talking about his band’s record, he mentioned this project  

My bandmate when on the road in Johnny Winter’s band! Well he brought so much to this record, getting the right sound, the arrangements just so…I credit him with a lot of the impact as he knew and understood the whole concept and what we were aiming at. As you know. He is a really fine player and his own recordings are fantastic. Plus what he achieved with Johnny Winter on that final record

One of my favourite Butterfield Band performances is them backing Chuck Berry on It Wasn’t Me, on the album Fresh Berry’s

(Phased) Is that them?  Really??! I had no idea, it has passed me by

Oh yeah you can hear the harp and the slide guitar, there’s an instrumental as well. I will send it to your email

Please Pete, do just that. I would love to hear it! – and that John Hammond cut? Thanks for the chat, man – fellow enthusiasts!  See you when we are over?

Yes..and let’s do East West!

It’s agreed!

Pete Sargeant

(Thanks James and John Lappen Enterprises)

James Montgomery


Photos Supplied by John Lappen Enterprises.

The James Montgomery Blues Band’s self-titled album is out now on Cleopatra Records.

For more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2uRQEi5

James Montgomery