Coco Montoya, the last guy you should copy

Left-handed guitar with a right-handed neck — "I had no idea"

Montoya was an Icebreaker before he was a Bluesbreaker
  • Montoya was an Icebreaker before he was a Bluesbreaker

Some years ago I was invited to sit in on a masterclass taught by blues guitarist Coco Montoya. I play blues sax. Possibly the organizer thought I’d gain some new insights. “I bet each of you guys can shred,” Montoya said to the 25 or so guitarists gathered. He went around the room and listened to each showcase a minute of their own personal guitar badassery.

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Coco Montoya

“All good,” he concluded. “But that’s not what we’re going to do today. We’re going to learn how to comp.” In other words, the lost art of playing backing chords. “And I’m the last guy you should copy,” the virtuoso offered. “I’m completely self-taught. I don’t know, like, proper technique.” Indeed. He plays a left-handed guitar, but with a right-handed neck, meaning the strings are reversed. “I didn’t have guitar lessons. I had no idea,” he told a reporter once, “from left or right.”

But no matter. Montoya has something in common with major guns like Eric Clapton and Peter Green. Each, at one time or another, held down the lead-guitar slot in the hottest of all Brit-import blues bands, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Montoya had the longest run of the three, beginning some time during the early ’80s. He remained in the employ of Mayall for a decade.

Coco Montoya, "Slow Blues," 2010

Nice work for the guy who was Albert Collins’s drummer for five years prior. That’s right — Coco Montoya was an Icebreaker before he was a Bluesbreaker. He admits that he caught a lot of technique while guitar jamming with Collins in dressing rooms on the road, to the extent that one can hear much Collins drama in a Montoya gig.

That said, Montoya is his own high-energy stylist with infinite ideas root-bound in blues. My takeaway from the masterclass? Good jam-session manners: bring two songs, Montoya tutored, only stay up for a third if asked, and be nice.

Daytona and the Blueside Rockers and Triple Deez also perform.

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