Bluesman Montgomery salutes legacy of Paul Butterfield




The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But the group formed in the 1960s is hardly a household name in 2016.

However, it’s influence is far-reaching, according to veteran blues musician James Montgomery.


Legendary blues harpist Montgomery, who is coming to Bridge Street Live in Collinsville this weekend for a record release party, recently recorded a new album that pays tribute to Butterfield with recordings of some of the musician’s most popular tracks.

For Montgomery, Butterfield was a revelation that led him to play the blues.

When he was young, explained Montgomery in a phone interview, he played in a jug band, preferring folk music. However, one night he went to a folk concert, looking to catch the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.

When the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was announced on the bill, Montgomery said he expected just another folk band, not some band with an electric harmonica player.

But when Butterfield stepped up on stage, Montgomery was blown away by Butterfield’s expertise on the instrument. “I had never experienced such power before.”

From that moment on, Montgomery followed Butterfield’s career and was especially struck by the band’s first two albums including the seminal “East-West.”

“He took Chicago blues from where Muddy Waters had brought it, expanded it and pushed the envelope,” said Montgomery.

Butterfield’s band also helped change the approach to how musicians played the electric guitar. Before the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, guitarists played chords rhythmically in the background, think of The Beach Boys or Chuck Berry. Maybe the guitarists would step out for a little bit with an eightbar solo. However, Montgomery said, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band—with the use of extended solos— showed guitarists that they could be musicians. He showed them, “I can play and I can make something up.”

For insiders in the 1960s, Montgomery noted Butterfield’s influence was widespread.

When Bob Dylan went electric, Montgomery explained, he turned to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band as his backup. Butterfield also had a huge impact on the San Francisco music scene of the 1960s. His band’s propensity of taking long solos led to the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead to do the same.

“No one was doing that,” said Montgomery of the long solos. “He was responsible for acid rock.”

Montgomery said Butterfield has long been on his mind. But serendipity helped inspire the Butterfield tribute on “The James Montgomery Blues Band.”

Montgomery said he and bandmates— David Hull on bass and George McCann on guitar— always spoke about Butterfield in the studio. They were all fans. In fact, Butterfield was the opener for the Buddy Miles Express (“Them Changes) when Hull was a member of that group. (Montgomery said Miles also admonished Hull and the crew when Butterfield outshined the Buddy Miles Express on stage.)

Montgomery, Hull, and McCann also always played around with the idea of doing a Butterfield tribute but had never followed through.

But when the James Montgomery Band signed with a new record label, the idea to bring attention to Paul Butterfield arose again. And this time, the effort picked up speed.

For the effort, Montgomery said the focus was put on the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first two efforts, the self-titled debut and “East West.” For a couple of the songs, James Montgomery and crew worked with the original arrangements. A few other songs were rearranged, he said. They also recorded a couple of original tracks that already were written but were included because they were in the same spirit as to what Butterfield would have recorded.

When Montgomery comes to Bridge Street Live, he said there will be a portion of the evening dedicated to the Butterfield tracks he recorded on “The James Montgomery Blues Band” as well as whatever else he feels like tossing in there.

When he comes to Connecticut, Montgomery said he will be playing in one of his favorite venues anywhere. He said he finds it so easy to connect to the audiences that come out to Bridge Street Live.

“It’s one of the places I love to see on our schedule,” said Montgomery. “It should be a great time.”

James Montgomery holds a record release party for “The James Montgomery Blues Band” at Bridge Street Live, 41 Bridge St., Collinsville on Friday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $35.

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James Montgomery is coming to Bridge Street Live in Collinsville Friday.
James Montgomery is coming to Bridge Street Live in Collinsville Friday.