Blesok no. 29, November-December, 2002
Interview with Coco Montoya
– Do you recall your musical beginnings and how did it all happen?
My musical beginnings go back to my childhood when I was very young, I had two older sisters and an older brother, who listen to rock 'n' roll, doo-wop and music of the day and early, early rock 'n' roll. My mother and father who were into everything from big band jazz, to Latin and Mexican singers. Pretty much that started it all off and having all the T.V. shows we had when we were kids, all the teen show and so on really got me off to a start and early on I knew music is where I wanted to be.
– Suppose some of your fans are not aware of the fact that you started out as a drummer?
Well its been known quite a bit that I started out as a drummer. I figured a lot of people that are fans know about that fact. I started out as a drummer in my early years, guitar was a secondary instrument but I ended up playing drums for Albert Collins. As most people have known was in the end of 1972. I played with him for 4 years. After that is when the transition came and I switched over to guitar which we will talk about later I imagine.
– Do you remember your first band and when was that?
Do I remember my first band? Wow. Its hard to remember times and dates. I was in my early teens when I was in my first band and we were really terrible all playing out of two amplifiers at most and we had more than most bands had. I would say back when I was about 14 or 15 years old. The name of the band was L.A. Smog, as we were just a bunch of kids trying to learn how to play all at the same time and we were all awful!
– Who were your earliest influences in music?
My early influences in music were Johnny Otis and the Beatles obviously and the music of the day. But mostly early rock 'n' roll and doo-wop because that’s what I heard in the house a lot as my two older sisters and brother would be listing to. My Mom and Dad also influenced me because I did gravitate towards the grooves and things like big bands like Artie Shaw people like that which were really wonderful; even the Latin grooves and stuff were interesting to me. The first concert I ever went to was a Mexican artist Miguel Aceves Mejia, which I attended and I really enjoyed that a lot.
I guess I was being influenced by blues artist simply because Johnny Otis had a television
show when I was a child. I was listing to a lot of old blues on there which I loved but I did not know what it was called. Anyhow, I knew I loved it and of course like I said the rest of it is all rock 'n' roll and that’s all babies of blues.
– Do you consider meeting and working with Albert Collins as a major breakthrough in your career?
Yes, I do consider that an incredible chance meeting. Not only for my career but my life, which he helped steer a young man toward the right things, Albert was a very instrumental on a personal level and on a music working level. So getting together with Albert Collins was a major breakthrough. Without him I don’t think I would have ever gotten together with John Mayall or would have ever been the musician that I am at this point.
– You have changed your drum kit for a guitar!
It wasn’t something I thought about; it just seemed to happen. When there was really no demand for blues drummers in the late 70’s I figured my musical career was over. I went and got a day job and made a living for the first time, actually making money and playing guitar was just fun and little did I know that it would lead to a career.
– Can you give more details about your times with Albert?
There are so many wonderful, scary and education times with Albert. I did learn a lot from him. What it was like to be a blues musician and to be treated in a different way due to the color of your skin. Which was something I experienced when I was younger as boy but was too young to understand prejudice. I learned so much musically and on a personal level with Albert. It’s hard to put a finger on all the things cause they're ALL so important.
– Another important stage in your career was period with John Mayall, can you tell more about those days?
Well, that was also true a wonderful time and an accident that happened. It was purely by chance that John Mayall heard me play in a club. It was purely by chance that he decided to give me all call after Mick Taylor left the band; it was wonderful as he brought me back into the music business and I stayed with him a few months shy 10 years.
– While with Mayall you have shared guitar duties with Walter Trout: what can you say about that?
Wow, what can I say about that. An incredible experience. A wonderful but difficult time… we had a hard time with our selves as Walter Trout and I were going through a lot of problems with alcohol and drug abuse. I consider Water Trout one of the finest guitar players I have ever heard.
– Who influenced your guitar style and how?
There are so many that have influenced my guitar style and continue to do so. See that’s the way I learned how to play – by hearing somebody playing and picking up things. I liked pretty much trying to take what they’ve done and put my own little twist to it. Everybody from B.B King to Albert Collins. Definitely the highest influence is Albert Collins, Eric Clapton people like that, Guitar Slim, Freddy King there are just way too many to mention here.
– What's your opinion on the current state of the blues and what can be expected in years to come?
The current state of the blues in America is going along pretty much with the current state of music and recorded music. On that level that we are having trouble making the change here with the internet and the mp3 downloading. Musician and record companies not getting paid so we're having a little bit of a problem here with that. What’s expected? Gee, I don’t know. All I know is that the on an emotional level the blues will always be here. Blues is a music that doesn’t worry about trends, it just seems to curve and move along and it just keeps doing it. People will pick up on it all the time; maybe somebody will put it down for a while and pick it back up in a couple years from now but it’s a wonder in its history its always had a pretty straight line as far as staying current. I don’t know what will happen to the blues in the years to come. Who knows?
– You have played all over the world, how do blues fans in various parts of our planet react to your music?
Well mostly, people are very enthusiastic. Given the chance to play for people in other countries, has always been a positive thing for me. So far we played Spain last year and Brazil this year… it was wonderful, enjoyed it want to do it again. The more places I can reach the better. It’s wonderful to play for all different kinds of crowds and countries.
– You have worked with many well-known blues people, could you point out some interesting experiences?
Working with Big Joe Turner, was a wonderful experience. In his last years I can remember an interesting experience. One of the funniest things was Big Joe yelling at me to get him shot of whisky and a beer without his wife knowing about it. As she watched him very carefully to make sure he did not drink. Since Big Joe was terminally ill he would say “What’s a shot of whisky and a beer gonna do kill me?”
– After your latest and I would say the best album for “Alligator” what are your future plans?
My future plans are to continue playing music I like. I think I will always come from a blues feel and blues vain but there are many, many genres of music that I’ve listen to, that I have liked and I see no boarders. I see no reason for me not play out something that I want to play out. If it should be something that bothers purist or radio stations cause they don’t know what kind of official tag to put on what it is I do, that is their problem, not mine. My thing for me on this earth is to play what I wish to play and if I play what I like that is the best chance for my fans to like what I do.
I’ve been asked this question many times. A lot of people I know do live albums. I’m not sure with me its something that would be very economical because when I play live I’m not a great technician so I make a lot of mistakes. But who knows – if we can get the money up and capture enough good live cuts than that’s something to be considered.
– Your fans in Macedonia would like to see you perform here at our Annual Blues & Soul Festival, would you like to come and play?
You bet I would. I would love to be in Macedonia, playing for you as soon as possible – that would be wonderful. I never played Macedonia. For me I would love to have the chance to entertain you and hopefully you would enjoy that.
– At the end, would you have a message for our blues fans?
Yes, the message would probably be that is the one thing about the blues, is that we want to go everywhere and let everybody experience. That all the blues players all over the portions of the world would love to get to Macedonia as much as I would and those already been there can’t wait to get back. That’s the one thing I know about the blues: once we come in there its like just playing in some bodies backyard barbecue. We're just out here to have fun and play music that has emotion and feeling. So if this is what you want, I’m working my way to you.