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James Montgomery at the Magic Bag, 5 Things To Know
James Montgomery made his blues legend outside of Detroit, but he’s still happy to be a Detroit music legend.
The blues singer and harmonica player studied English literature at Boston University, where he started the James Montgomery Band and launched a career that’s included work with Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers Band, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Winter, the Blues Brothers, Kid Rock and scores of others in addition to his own recordings. He’s also played with legends such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, mentor James Cotton and more.
Montgomery’s other credits include hosting a syndicated radio show, “Backstage With The Blues,” for five years and was president of the New England Blues Society...
• Though he’s been gone since he was a teenager, Montgomery, 68, says by phone that he’s proud to call Detroit his home town. “There’s something special about being a musician and coming from Detroit,” he says. “We all kind of get it. We get how lucky we are to have grown up in that city and play music in that town with all the influences we have from there. Detroit musicians, we really have a thing. My first band out (in Boston) was almost all Detroit players. I really love everything there is to love about that city and the proud musical heritage. We all feel it.”
• Montgomery also takes pride in leading the only band to feature both Jimmy McCarty (Detroit Wheels, the Rockets) and Wayne Kramer (the MC5) as guitarists. “Jimmy was in the band as my guitar player for awhile, and when he left a year and a half later I replaced him with Wayne Kramer,” he remembers. “That’s my interesting trivia question; Both Wayne Kramer and Jim McCarty were lead guitar players for the James Montgomery Band. I’m proud of that.”
• So what comprises the Detroit sound in the blues? “Detroit blues is greasier; It’s like a greased-up version of Chicago blues,” Montgomery explains. “It’s got a little more of a ragged feel. Whenever I do a show I say, ‘We’re gonna play Detroit-style blues,’ and that’s how we make it sound, greasy.”
• Montgomery has watched many friends and heroes pass away in recent years, including Gregg Allman and J. Geils during 2017. The on that hit him the hardest, though, was Chicago harmonica ace James Cotton, who died in March at the age of 81. “For me, James Cotton was huge,” Montgomery says. “It wasn’t a surprise, but it was really devastating. He called me ‘son’ and I called him ‘dad.’ He taught me a lot of stuff; Everything I do on stage is stolen from either James Cotton or Paul Butterfield. That’s why my bands have always been high-energy, take-no-prisoners. It’s all about, ‘What kind of energy can we create here?’”
• Montgomery has, in fact, been working on a documentary about Cotton that’s included some filmed all-star concerts, with another one coming up later this winter in Austin, Texas. “We’ve been working on this for the last four, five years,” says Montgomery, who’s also spearheading another film about his brother, the late Detroit-area activist and Triangle Foundation founder Jeffrey Montgomery. “”We’ve got a lot of archival footage and interviews and stuff with (Cotton) playing with Huey Lewis and Kim Wilson, a bunch of folks. Hopefully we’ll get some high rollers to come in and finance it, and once we do we have the footage and everything we need to go ahead and put the thing together.”
If You Go:
• Anti-Freeze Blues Festival
• Friday and Saturday, Jan. 5-6. Doors open at 7 p.m.
• The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.
• Eliza Neals & the Narcotics, Jason Bone and Big Al Grebovic, and Benny Reeves play Friday. James Montgomery & Jim McCarty, Tosha Owens & Bobby Murray and RJ’s Soul Blues play Saturday.
• Tickets are $20 each night, with proceeds benefitting the Detroit Blues Society.
• Call 248-544-1991 or visit themagicbag.com.
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