Coco Montoya performs in Lincolnshire
8 p.m. Friday, June 29
Viper Alley, 275 Parkway Drive, Lincolnshire
(847) 499-5000 or www.viper-alley.com
Updated: June 26, 2012 8:18PM
Blues guitarist Coco Montoya, who plays June 29 at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire, says a lot of his career happened by chance.
That unusual way he plays — a left-handed guy holding a right-handed guitar upside-down?
“When I picked the guitar up, there was no one there to tell me I was doing it wrong,” he says by phone from California, where he lives. “It’s very unorthodox. I taught myself. I definitely didn’t take any lessons.”
Montoya more or less fell into his first regular gig as a musician, playing drums in the early ’70s as a drummer for the legendary bluesman Albert Collins. Montoya was happy working as a drummer, but he also picked up some ideas on how to play the guitar by watching Collins.
“We’d sit there and jam together,” he says. “Sometimes on our day off we’d be in a hotel room, sip some whiskey, and I’m playing his spare guitar, just coming up with ideas.”
If you hear a bit of Collins in Montoya’s guitar playing, it’s no coincidence. “A high percentage of it is Albert Collins,” he says. But the gig wasn’t meant to last.
“Albert wasn’t even on a label, so there wasn’t much money to be made,” Montoya says. “And then in came disco and funk. And I couldn’t play any of the funk stuff very well. I didn’t have the feel for it. Well, my career was over. There wasn’t much call for blues drummers. It was passe.”
So Montoya got jobs that had nothing to do with music — selling electronics parts and tending bar. He liked having some money in his wallet for a change. But he didn’t give up on music. Just for fun, he played guitar in the open jam sessions at Los Angeles’ Central Club.
“Rock stars would come in there and get drunk and want to jam,” he recalls. “You’d see Rod Stewart up there with a bunch of nobodies, just playing. All the guys from Little Feat were doing it. It was amazing who’d show up.”
Out of the blue
British blues-rocker John Mayall happened to be at the club one night when Montoya was playing, and he liked what he heard. Out of the blue, he later called up Montoya and hired him to play guitar in his band Bluesbreakers. Montoya was filling the spot once occupied by earlier Bluesbreakers ax men, including Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and Peter Green.
And that’s what made Montoya a star among blues-guitar aficionados.
“It was never a thought-out situation,” Montoya says. “Those were things that just happened, that fell in my lap.”
Montoya has released seven records under his own name since 1995, going beyond his role as a guitar-slinger to sing some soulful tunes. His most recent record, 2010’s “I Want It All Back,” was produced by Keb’ Mo’ and Jeff Paris.
“They were very adamant about concentrating on songs and vocals — which is what that album’s about,” Montoya says. “It’s not so much guitar-oriented rock. It was fun. It was a real good experience. I think it made me grow. It definitely made me stretch.”
And given Montoya’s tendency to fall into things, who knows where his music will lead him next?