As he has been his whole life, Coco Montoya was surrounded by greatness when he recorded his new album, “Hard Truth.”
The liner credits read like a who’s who of blues artists. It was produced by Tony Braunagel, mixed by John Porter and the musicians include Mike Finnigan, Bob Glaub and Johnny Lee Schell.
“You’ve got to come up with a goods when you’ve got these kind of guys because they’re not screwing around,” said Montoya, whose longtime friendships provided a “real comfort zone.”
“It’s easy to get swept up in overwhelmed with these guys and their pedigree. … It’s always wonderful to meet somebody on just a regular level and not really be coming at it from a business angle or anything so we’ve established a good respect for each other’s musical talent.”
The timing was right to collaborate on Montoya’s first studio album since 2010. It might be Montoya’s most pure blues record. By the time Braunagel and Montoya had selected 10 songs from a list of more than 120, they had to work fast, which Montoya appreciates. The songs are played more from the heart then the head.
“We’ve gotten to a place with these formats of recording and photo taking that you can make something absolutely perfect and it looks plastic and it sounds sterile. It’s like Playboy models from the ‘60s and ‘70s when they airbrushed them so much they looked like mannequins. No woman can look that way and it’s the same thing with music.
“The vocals shouldn’t be perfect and that guitar solo is really good and has one little flub. But, you know what, the rest of it is so honest it’s hard to ignore. We were trying to get back to what real music was. I, for one, had forgotten that myself.”
After the 10th track was completed, Finnigan asked if Montoya had another song, which turned out to be “The Moon is Full” by Albert Collins.
“We listened to it, and Mike said, ‘Oh, let’s just knock this out now. We can do it. We’re all here.’ And we did it in one cut. That’s what can happen with these kinds of guys.”
Bassist Bob Glaub is a renowned session player who attended Venice High School with Montoya. At the time, Glaug was far ahead of Montoya musically, so they didn’t play together. However, Montoya went on to share stages studios with the best in the blues.
Montoya plays guitar like Albert King, left-handed and upside down, but his tone sounds like Albert Collins. Montoya played drums and toured with Collins for nearly five years going broke leaving the music profession for a while. “I was quite upset,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave the party but I had to take care of things.”
He returned to music as a guitar player with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. During breaks from that band, Montoya often would connect with Collins. “I’d come back, wash my clothes find out where Albert was and fly out there. I always had an amp on his bus. I played rhythm and would just hang out. Sometimes a the places I had just played.”
Montoya went solo in 1993 and considered a job with band in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“I decided to give that a shot,” he said. “I wasn’t real keen on the idea but I thought I had to start somewhere, I guess. I met them at dinner and it ended up being the Cate Brothers. My jaw hit the floor.”
Montoya said he had seen the band fronted by twin brothers Earl and Ernie Cate numerous times in Los Angeles. They never did form a band but did become good friends. Montoya and The Cate Brothers have played on each other’s records, and Montoya hopes to do more in the future.
After it had rained in the Lake Tahoe Basin on Aug. 15, the weather cooled and Montoya drew perhaps the largest and most enthusiastic Bluesdays crowds of the summer to The Village at Squaw Valley. It was the third time he has appeared at the weekly event. His set included most of the songs from “Hard Truth.”
Montoya said he is impressed by this summer’s lineup and he praised fellow guitarist Anson Funderburgh, who will perform Sept. 5 with Mark Hummel’s Lone Star-Golden State Revue.
“I jokingly call him the Bing Crosby of the blues because he’s so cool up there,” Montoya said. “His playing is classy and it’s always been from the heart. Every note means something with Anson.”