Bluesman Montgomery pays homage to Butterfield, ‘East-West’

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Ultimate Classic Rock magazine, in a retrospective article, described the 1966 album “East-West” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band “as a swift kick to the doors of convention.”

Contemporary blues artist James Montgomery agrees. And, as the artist tells it, Butterfield changed his own musical direction forever.

Montgomery is so enamored with the legacy of Butterfield, who died at 44 way before his group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, his most recent album is “The James Montgomery Blues Band:  A Tribute to Paul Butterfield.”

Montgomery performs July 10 at the Great American Hemp and Blues Festival inside the Mohegan Sun Earth Ballroom.

Until the Paul Butterfield Blues Band arrived on the scene, said Montgomery, nobody had heard anything like the 20 minute jam on the title track on “East-West.” Forget about the length of the jam, said Montgomery, no one had ever heard a musical jam based on an Indian modal scale.

Before the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Montgomery said rock guitarists would just play rhythm chords and take the occasional eight bar solo. But Butterfield, and his guitarists Elvin Bishop and the late Mike Bloomfield, showed that the guitarists could create what they play as the song moves forward. The group showed guitarists, said the blues harpist, “I don’t have to play what’s on the record. I can be inventive.”

“‘East-West’ really kicked off a whole new genre of music – acid rock,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery said the record truly was a product of its era.

“It was right during that time, FM radio was really starting to take off,” said Montgomery. “Young people in college and university didn’t want to hear ‘Yummy, yummy, yummy, I got love in my tummy.’”

1966 also was a time when musicians started being viewed as players, who were given permission to be inventive, and who people would listen to as they followed their muse, said Montgomery.

Butterfield also had an influence on Montgomery.

A Paul Butterfield Blues Band concert inspired Montgomery to abandon folk music and pick up Butterfield’s chosen instrument, the harmonica.

When he was younger, Montgomery said he had been in a jug band (a group that played folk music on instruments like washboards and, well, jugs.)

At a concert he attended, folk singer Maria Muldaur offered high praise for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Montgomery said his interest was piqued. Considering the source of the compliment, and the band’s name, Montgomery said he figured the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were an acoustic act.

When Butterfield and crew came to his home base of Detroit, Montgomery decided to check them out.

Since this was during the days pre-internet, Montgomery didn’t know what to expect when he got to the show.

When Montgomery arrived for the performance, he said he saw a bunch of scruffy guys with electric instruments standing on stage. He figured it was just one of the local bands that clubs would allow to use the stage once the headliners went home. Montgomery thought these were just kids like himself doing a sound check to get ahead of the game for their gig later on that night.

But when the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was introduced by an announcer, Montgomery realized these scruffy guys he had mentally dismissed were the headliners.

Before it registered that he was watching the band he came to see, Montgomery said they started to play. The sound of their electric instruments was so loud, Montgomery said, he was “pinned to the back of my chair.” The performance was more intense and more energetic than any rock group, said Montgomery.

“Our jug band went electric the next day,” said Montgomery.

For a young musician today, Montgomery said “East-West” is a perfect aural textbook. He said it shows young bands all the elements necessary to play as an ensemble, where the different pieces mesh rather than collide.

“East-West” also shows young musicians, said Montgomery, “The sky’s the limit when it’s the time do your solo.”

Young musicians should “pay attention to the energy these guys are able to create (on record),” said Montgomery.

When Montgomery plays Connecticut July 10, he will be part of the entertainment bill for the Great American Hemp and Blues Festival. Other acts performing at the fest are Keats and Company, Mystic Dead, Muddy Ruckus, Chris McKay and the Toneshifters, and The Scruffy Aristocrats.

“It’s the first of its kind of the area,” said Montgomery of the event that also will feature a slew of hemp-centric vendors.

“It should be a great event,” said Montgomery. He said it will be especially appealing to the fans of Phish, which will be playing at the Mohegan Sun Arena that day as well.

The Great American Hemp and Blues Festival, featuring a performance by the James Montgomery Band, will be held Wednesday, July 10 from 1 to 6 p.m. in the Earth Ballroom at the Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville.

For more information, visit thegreatamericanhempandbluesfest.com or MoheganSun.com.

The James Montgomery Band plays the Great American Hemp and Blues Festival on July 10 at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville.