”Montoya is a show-stopper…heartfelt singing and merciless guitar with a wicked icy burn. He is one of the truly gifted blues artists of his generation.” –Living Blues
“’Just play what you feel, be real about it, and enjoy yourself.’ That’s what Albert Collins taught me,” says the award-winning guitar virtuoso and soul-deep singer Coco Montoya. The self-taught, left-handed Montoya mastered his craft under Collins’ tutelage. Incorporating lessons learned from his mentors, the iconic Collins (for whom he originally drummed), and UK legend John Mayall, Montoya puts his own stamp onto every song he performs. Since his first solo album in 1995 (which won him the Blues Music Award for Best New Artist), Montoya’s endlessly inventive guitar work and passionate, hard-hitting vocals have kept him at the top of the blues world. With his new Alligator Records album, Writing On The Wall (his sixth for the label), Montoya delivers what he is already calling one of the best records he’s ever made.
Henry “Coco” Montoya was born in Santa Monica, California, on October 2, 1951, and raised in a working-class family. Growing up, Coco immersed himself in his parents’ record collection. He listened to big band jazz, salsa, doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. His first love was drums; he acquired a kit at age 11. He got a guitar two years later. Montoya turned his love of drumming into his profession, playing in a number of area rock bands while still in his teens. In 1969, Montoya saw Albert King opening a Creedence Clearwater Revival/Iron Butterfly concert. He was transformed. “After King got done playing,” says Montoya, “my life was changed. When he played, the music went right into my soul. It grabbed me so emotionally that I had tears welling up in my eyes. Nothing had ever affected me to this level. He showed me what music and playing the blues were all about.
I knew that was what I wanted to do.” The next chapter of Montoya’s story was kick-started by a chance meeting in the mid-1970s with legendary bluesman Albert Collins. Montoya says, “Albert was coming through Los Angeles and needed to borrow my drum set. I went down to see his show that night and it just tore my head off. The thing that I had seen and felt with Albert King came pouring back on me when I saw Albert Collins.” A short time later, Collins hired Montoya as his band’s drummer. With Albert mentoring Coco on the guitar during the band’s downtime, Coco soon became Collins’ second guitarist. “We’d sit in hotel rooms for hours and play guitar,” remembers Montoya. “He’d play that beautiful rhythm of his and just have me play along. He was always saying, ‘Don’t think about it, just feel it.’ He was like a father to me,” says Coco. When Collins declared Montoya his “son,” it was the highest praise and affection he could offer. In return, Montoya learned everything he could from the legendary Master of the Telecaster. Needing a regular paycheck, Montoya left Collins’ band after two years and took a job tending bar, jamming on weekends at Los Angeles clubs. One day, legendary British musician John Mayall heard Coco playing onstage. Soon after, Mayall called on Montoya to join his famous Bluesbreakers. For the next ten years he toured the world and recorded with Mayall on seven albums. In 2000, Montoya’s Alligator debut, Suspicion, quickly became the best-selling album of his career, earning regular radio airplay on over 120 stations nationwide. “Montoya unleashes one career-topping performance after another,” declared the UK’s Blues Matters. Still an indefatigable road warrior, Montoya continues to tour virtually nonstop,