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NJBS Interviews Coco Montoya


Coco Montoya Writing on the Wall

Coco Montoya's latest album, WRITING ON THE WALL. is being released September 1, 2023, by Alligator Records "a career-defining album bursting with Montoya’s fierce guitar and passion-laden vocals, and the first to feature his long-time road band. Thirteen tracks of searing blues, soulful R&B and high-energy rock & roll include ten originals, five co-written by Coco, and guest appearances by Ronnie Baker Brooks and Lee Roy Parnell. Co-produced by Grammy Award-winner Tony Braunagel (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal) and Jeff Paris (Keb’ Mo’, Bill Withers)"


Cristy Benvenutti, President of the North Jersey Blues Society, interviewed Coco Montoya on August 3, 2023. Below is their conversation.


NJBS: Your first album in four years, WRITING ON THE WALL, is being released next month. The recording includes a solid band with Jeff Paris on keyboards, Nathan Brown on bass, and Rena Beavers on drums. What makes this band so special?


COCO: Well, those guys have been playing with me quite a while now so it is comfortable. Jeff Paris is the latest addition to everything and he has been just fantastic. The man is so incredibly talented, as are my other two guys Nathan and Renee. It has just been the added plus we were looking for and it has been just a joy to work with these guys.


NJBS: Talk about how you put the concept together for this recording


Jeff Paris

COCO: The concept was me and Jeff. He has a studio in his backyard in his garage back there and it is a cool studio. We were rehearsing back there and we just started doing some co-writing. He is an incredibly achieved songwriter. I mean he is well-known in the business and has worked with some incredible people. Jeff Paris and of course Dave Steen is a guy I write with all the time. So, we did a Zoom writing session - a couple of them - and came up with some very cool tunes. The concept was just to try and take that comfortable thing we have on the road because we played so long and put so many hours together with each other and take that into the studio and put it up against some brand-new material to see how it comes out and it was a great idea to do and I am proud of it – my guys stepped up to the plate and took care of plenty of business. So that is how we did it and we just decided to go in there, write, and get an arrangement going, and of course, when it was time to record, we were already ahead of the game.


NJBS: So, you have two very special guests on this album, in addition to Dave, you have got Lee Roy Parnell and Ronnie Baker Brooks?

Coco Montoya Ronnie Baker Brooks

COCO: Absolutely two of my dearest friends. Ronnie is somebody I have known since he was a teenager, and I know his dad and his brother Wayne. His father Lonnie is a legend, I know no longer with us, but absolutely one of my teachers, one of the people I have known for a lot of years. So, me and Ronnie go way, way back and it has just been a lot of fun lately working together on some live shows and it was just a no-brainer to bring him in and do some work with him and do two songs on the album. And Lee Roy - he has

Lee Roy Parnell

been on several of my albums. It was one of those amazing times in this business, where it does not always work out this way, but I had become a big fan of Lee Roy Parnell’s playing. He is more of a country thing, but very bluesy, very soulful guy. I wrote a song that I thought would be great to have him play guitar on. I did not know him so I never made the move until a mutual friend of ours said to call him - he would love to hear from you. So, I took a chance and I called him and left him a message and he said immediately “Yes, I'd love to play on it.” And we have been best buddies for a long time now.


NJBS: Do you have a favorite song on this album?


COCO: At this point, I do not. They are all so new, and I am still listening to them. It is still brand new for me and everything has a great meaning. I mean I went all the way around on the songs I wrote with Dave Steen and Jeff Paris. I have done several of their tunes and so all the way around it is hard to find one that is your favorite because they all bring something.


NJBS: The album is being released on 9/1 digitally, on CD and vinyl. Do you like to play vinyl yourself?


COCO: I have a turn table here and everything. I have my albums, but they are all kind of out of the way. But yeah, I come from that. In my youth, there were a lot of albums. I am kind of glad that it is coming around again. The only thing is just to make sure you take care of them. That is going to be the challenge. Going on the road, if I were to take some vinyl out there to sell, you must watch out for heat and keep them cool.


NJBS: What is your favorite album?

Coco Montoya Writing on the Wall

COCO: Right now, this one! All the other albums have their moments, and their great places, and some were a little more problematic than others, but that comes and goes with the business. But this one just seemed to flow nicely – us musically putting things into it and writing these songs. It just seemed to flow. And when we presented these thirteen songs to the record company, we were prepared for the usual battle… they like this, they do not like that… would you change this…would you change that? Oddly enough, we went into the office, and Bruce Iglauer

Bruce Iglauer Alligator Records

was listening to it from down, and we just stared him in the face and said “Okay, where are we at now?” and he goes “I like them all!” Bruce was very enthusiastic, which was just brilliant. I thought it was wonderful that he opened his ears and his mind. He already had ideas going forward. He was behind it. We are very lucky and very grateful that everything is flowing very openly and freely right now. We are going to ride the ride.


NJBS: You have a jam-packed tour over the next few months. Do you have any funny or interesting stories from prior tours that you care to share?


COCO: The wonderful stuff of just being places, seeing your friends, and becoming friends with people that you never thought you would ever be friends with. Some of the stars and some of the great players that go before you…always have respect for those that go before you, that is my motto. Those are wonderful times. It is just being in front of a live audience. Whether it is 50 people or 50,000 people. I do not care. It is all rewarding and I am grateful. They are having a great time. You feel good they are having a great time, which is making you have a great time. You are feeding off each other. That is the best thing in the world. There is no greater reward than going on stage and playing a set for people who want to really hear your music.


NJBS: Any words of wisdom for up-and-coming bands out there trying to make it in the music business?

Coco Montoya

COCO: I think, for me, is to always be aware of why you are out there in the first place. Always check yourself. When I was young, I wanted the brass ring as I went around on the horse on the carousel but it is really, you will realize, that more often than not, you are not gonna become filthy rich doing this. You are just not, and you have to remember that a big piece of it is the love for playing, the love for music. Because the other stuff, there is only a chosen few that you end up being millionaires. So young people, just take your time. Like Albert Collins used to tell me, I pass it along. “Take your time, son, do not be in a hurry. Play from the heart. Do not use brain cells as much as you use your heart. Feel it.” Albert Collins always used to say “Don't think about it, feel it.” And it is absolutely true. Whenever anybody would interview him, they would try and get that out of him and he says “I do not know how to analyze what I do, I just do it, and I do not question it. I got another day and I am on stage and I just do what I do and it comes out.” And young people just have faith in yourself and enjoy it. And stay away from drugs and drink - you do not need it. The music will take you way higher than that can. And you get to live from it afterward. That is important to me. I am not gonna rag about the sobriety and all that, but it is just true. Do not waste your time on that. I wasted way too much time on that.


NJBS: So, I see that you are left-handed but you play a left-handed guitar with a right-handed neck. I am just curious how that happened.

Albert Collins Coco Montoya

COCO: That's where all the therapy comes in. Montoya could have done it easier, but he just could not seem to get it. [laughter] Yeah, I am a self-taught musician. I think that to actually criticize myself on that is important because it would have helped me a lot more if I had learned theory or the technical side of playing and reading music and stuff. I never did any of that. It is about feeling and sense of your hearing and just the sense of your feelings, which can be a double-edged sword. You could go out there and be having a rough time emotionally and you do not quite perform like you think you should. Then, there are other times, when I am more on a cloud than they are out there. But I always encourage young people to take from everywhere. Learn, learn, learn. You learn the instrument. Learn how it really works. I could be doing a lot more if I learned the technical side of those. It is important to learn as much as you can and just believe in yourself. Like I said, there is an old story I will tell you. There is a little short story from Albert Collins, he once told me. He is in a music store in Texas and in those days, they would blast music, you know, sample music, music blasting. He said this. One time he had happened to walk into the store and this guy had just put on a Frosty by Albert Collins. And out of the in the middle of the whole music store, this one guy jumps up and says “Oh hell, that is that damned Albert Collins. I can't stand that guy!” And I said “God pops. Weren’t you mad? Weren’t you pissed off?” And he looked at me and grinned and he said “No. He knew who it was, didn’t he?” And I thought that was the most profound thing to say. It did not matter whether he liked it or not, but as soon as the music hit, the guy knew just who that was. Not everybody's gonna love you, you got to toughen up to that.


NJBS: Do you have any hobbies outside of music?


COCO: Nope. [laughter] I try and think about that. Well, what do I do? I do not garden, my wife does that.


NJBS: How is your wife? I know she had medical issues a few years back.

Coco and Lenora Montoya

COCO: Yeah, she is doing fantastic. Thank you for asking. Lenora is doing so great. Once again, I am grateful to the people who helped us with that whole thing. We did two wonderful benefit concerts. One of them with Little Feet. They came out, we played a club out in Simi Valley here in southern California. They came out and just played and we had the place packed and it helped us with a lot with the bills and stuff. And B.B. King also put something on up in Santa Cruz California. We played with B.B. and my band. He signed some guitars for the silent auction. The blue societies were involved and that is another thing. The blue societies are very wonderful people. They do help the music. They help us get around. I was in Utah one time and I broke

Utah Blues Society

down. The Utah Blues Society got me up and running. I see all the value and the real people that really get behind us out here trying to make a living at this. You know we are not driving giant buses and semi-trailers. We are just in a van and a small five-by-eight trailer or whatever, doing the best that we can.


The blues societies keep the shows going. You people are very powerful. You do well. You guys execute fantastically.




NJBS: Well, those are all the questions I had for you. I really thank you for your time. I appreciate that.


COCO: Thank you so very much and I cannot wait to get out there and play for you guys in October.


Coco Montoya will be performing at The Newton Theatre on October 7th - use discount code NJBLUES23 for tickets.


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