Coco Montoya releases his double CD set on RUF Records, Songs From The Road, a next best thing to being there version of the great white knuckle rock and roll of this great guitarist and his crushing band. Push play and your front room transforms into the front row. Shut your eyes and you almost feel the crush of the crowd, the heat of the tube amps and the security barrier at your chest. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Triple Door. Please welcome… Coco Montoya!”
By now, you’ll doubtless be familiar with Ruf Records’ Songs From The Road concept. The blues scene’s best-loved live series is driven by the philosophy of placing a world-class artist in a real-world venue with an up-for-it crowd, then catching the sparks with premium recording equipment and a heavyweight producer. In 2014, this latest release sticks to the winning formula, showcasing a classic Coco Montoya show at Seattle’s famous Triple Door venue on August 17, 2012 and August 18, 2013 with producer Jim Gaines taking charge of a mix that’s as potent as the performance.
There’s nothing like a live recording. With no smoke, mirrors or safety nets, this is a world that separates the men from the boys, and while Coco is rightly celebrated for his studio cuts, the cheers that introduce “I Got A Mind To Travel” and the hysteria that signs off “My Side Of The Fence” proves the bandleader can patently deliver the goods live.
Alongside Jim Gaines, Coco had a dream-team of compadres flanking him that night in Seattle, with Brant Leeper swirling it up on keys, Nathan Brown holding it down on bass and Rena Beavers driving these 14 songs from the drum throne. For the fans, needless to say, the star of the show was the man at the mic with the iconic ‘upside-down’ electric guitar, streaking through a solid-gold setlist of originals that left the Washington crowd breathless. Coco has rarely sounded better.
Look back over his glittering career and you’ll note that a live solo album was one of the few things Coco Montoya had left to achieve. Born October 2nd, 1951 in Santa Monica, California, his first major appearance on the radar was in the mid-’70s lineup of Texas-blues great Albert Collins. “He would grab his guitar and I would pick up one and we’d play,” recalls Coco of absorbing the secrets of Collins’ ‘icy-hot’ guitar style. “I just learned by listening, all by ear. I just play it the way I hear it. He was always saying, ‘Don’t think about it, just feel it’. He taught me to tap into an inner strength.”
The guitarist would need that inner strength in the early-’80s, when he lost his mojo for music and spent a tough period working as a bartender in LA to make ends meet. Luckily, fate had other plans, and in 1984, Brit-blues godfather, John Mayall, spotted Coco performing in a bar and quickly drafted him to partner Walter Trout in a rejuvenated Bluesbreakers, where he stayed for ten triumphant years. “I would never be doing what I’m doing now,” says Coco, modestly, “if I hadn’t gotten the phone call from John Mayall.”
Needless to say, his band work from those early years is exemplary, but in 2014, Songs From The Road mines the material that Coco has written since striking out on his own in the mid-’90s, rocket-fuelling 14 of his best solo songs. From 1995’s Gotta Mind To Travel album, you’ll find a live reading of the grooving title track, alongside the irrepressible “Love Jail” and the poignant “Too Much Water”. From 1996’s “Ya Think I’d Know Better”, there’s the reflective groove of “You’d Think I’d Know Better By Now”, while from the following year’s “Just Let Go”, you’ll find stinging finale “My Side Of The Fence”.
Signing with the Alligator label in the post-millennium, Coco’s solo stock continued to rise, and those albums are also well-represented on Songs From The Road. From 2000’s Suspicion, listen out for the choppy, Stones-flavoured riffing of “I Need Your Love In My Life”, alongside a tough-but-tender take on “I Wish I Could Be That Strong”. From 2002’s Can’t Look Back album, there’s the funk-edged “I Won’t Beg”, while sprinkled through the tracklisting, you’ll also find a hat-trick from 2010’s Ruf debut, I Want It All Back, with the mellow “The One Who Really Loves You”, the walking blues of “Fannie Mae” and the sunkissed rhythms of “Hey Senorita”.
If you dig the studio cuts, then you’ll love these live readings. And if you’re yet to discover the genius of Coco Montoya, Songs From The Road’s cherrypicked setlist is a great place to kick-start your collection. Play it loud.
01 I Got A Mind To Travel
02 Hey Senorita
03 Too Much Water
04 The One Who Really Loves You
05 Love Jail
06 Don't Go Makin' Plans
07 I Wish I Could Be That Strong
01 Fannie Mae
02 I Need Your Love In My Life
03 Good Days, Bad Days
04 I Want It All Back
05 I Won't Beg
06 You'd Think I'd Know Better By Now
07 My Side Of The Fence