SHIRLEY — From Muddy Waters to Steven Tyler, James Montgomery and his bandmates have played with some of the greatest names in the history of American music.
The James Montgomery Band is once again playing shows all over New England, and the group’s frontman is excited to be returning to one of their favorite venues, right here in the Nashoba Valley on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m.
“The Bull Run is one of our favorite places to play,” Montgomery said. “We always have an extremely great time there. The band and the audience always hit it off.”
Montgomery, like many of his contemporaries, found himself in a challenging spot during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, Montgomery recorded “A Tribute to Paul Butterfield,” a fellow blues musician he’d come to know quite well.
Butterfield was a musician who Montgomery not only knew, but modeled his live bands after since high school.
“I got a call from a record label and they said, ‘We’ve been saying you wanted to do an album for Paul Butterfield,’ and my bass player and I had been talking about it for a few years. So to have a record label call up and recommend it, that there was like a dream come true for us,” Montgomery said.
Playing on the record were a number of prominent blues players. Saxophonist Grace Kelly, Jimmy Vivino and Uptown Horns were among the artists featured on the album.
In addition to stacking the record with talent, Montgomery also said they paid tribute to Butterfield in another way.
“We rearranged everything. Most of the tunes of Paul’s we rearranged drastically, simply because we thought he would appreciate it. Because he was such an innovator,” Montgomery said. “Probably, if he was alive, he’d say, ‘What the hell are you doing to my songs?’ But we had a great time putting it together, we tried to be really creative with it. For instance, we took his song ‘One More Heartache’ and played it as if it were a James Brown sound.”
As the James Montgomery Band gets back to performing, he has noticed a change in the audience.
“They just want to hear music. They want to dance and feel free and they want to enjoy the music that’s being played,” Montgomery said.
It’s more akin to the earlier years of his career.
“When I first started my band 50 years ago, you didn’t have to have hit records to go over big with the crowd,” Montgomery said. “As a matter of fact, I got taken off of some tours because we were going over better than the headliner and they didn’t like that. Because back then, you just had to get up there and play good music and get the crowd going.”
As time evolved, so did how the audience enjoyed shows.
“Then it kind of morphed into where if you didn’t have a hit record, they couldn’t wait to get you off the stage and have the (headlining) band to come up and play the hits.”
However, the band is still proceeding with caution as they go back on the road. With the winter months upon us, the band still has a preference for venues that provide for a little more space.
Montgomery and his bandmates are vaccinated. It helped them get back to doing what they love without worry and in an effort to encourage others to do the same, they released a new song “Get Vaccinated” earlier this year.
Looking to the future, Montgomery said he is currently working on two documentary films. One is about the life of Chicago blues icon James Cotton, who Montgomery called his “mentor and teacher.”
“Actually, towards the end of his life he called me son and I called him dad … and when I would call his wife, she would go, ‘Hey wait a minute, your father wants to say hello,’ so he was very close.”
Montgomery is also working on a film about his younger brother Jeffrey, who was an activist for LGBTQ rights.
Tickets for The Bull Run show can be found online at: https://tickets.bullrunrestaurant.com/orderticketsarea.asp?p=1835&a=595.
As required by The Bull Run, all audience members must provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the performance.