Understanding blues the Butterfield way

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

When you talk about the blues with the casual listener, Paul Butterfield’s name doesn’t typically come up.

But it should, according to James Montgomery, who is bringing his group the James Montgomery Blues Band to Bridge Street Live in Collinsville Friday night.

Montgomery recently released “The James Montgomery Band: A Tribute to Paul Butterfield.”

Montgomery, in a phone interview, spoke about how he and his bandmates used to talk about what an innovator Paul Butterfield was.

The first two albums put out by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s was very much rooted in the Chicago blues, said Montgomery. But sometime between the second and third albums, Butterfield—who played the harmonica— started adding complex horn lines into the tracks. This was long before any other rock band thought to do so.

When Butterfield played the Newport Folk festival, the group attracted the attention of a slew of artists, including Bob Dylan. Dylan was so impressed, he asked the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to back him up.

The long form songs Butterfield explored on the album, “East-West” also set the stage for groups such as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, said Montgomery. The Indian influences on the album also helped invent acid rock.

“He was one of the most influential figures in American music,” said Montgomery. “Each record he put out, he explored different permutations of the blues.”

Montgomery, who plays the harmonica like Butterfield, has long been a staple on the blues circuit. For younger listeners looking to learn the basics of the blues, the Boston-based musicians saidthe first stop should be Muddy Waters.

“Everyone in Chicago modeled themselves afer Muddy,” said Montgomery. “Muddy was an inventor.”

Montgomery said John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry also were inventors within the blues and should be sought out. Taj Mahal, like Butterfield, was an artist who liked to explore all the different areas of the blues.

Although many will gravitate toward B.B. King for the blues, Montgomery said King was more of a stylist rather than an innovator. He didn’t write his own material. However, Montgomery said King has long served as a worthy ambassador for the blues.

For budding rock musicians, Montgomery said a foundation in the blues is a must. Most of the best bands of the past few decades such as Aerosmith, the Steve Miller Band, and the Rolling Stones are built on the foundation of the blues. “The greatest players in rock and roll can understand and play the blues,” said Montgomery.

And you can hear the difference between those bands and bands that don’t have those fundamentals.

“You have to know the rules before you break them,” said Montgomery.

When Montgomery comes to Collinsville, his band will be performing with “Saturday Night Live’s” Beehive Queen Christine Ohlman. With Ohlman, he said they will perform a lot of old soul music, such as Sam and Dave and tracks from the Stax/ Volt catalogue.

Without Ohlman, Montgomery will perform a variety of tracks including some new ones from the Butterfield album.

Montgomery said the evening will be a showcase of the blues and its many permutations.

The James Montgomery Blues Band will be at Bridge Street Live, 41 Bridge St., Collinsville on Friday, March 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $35.

For more information, go to 41BridgeStreet.com or www.JamesMontgomery.com

The James Montgomer Blues Band is coming to Connecticut, touring behind its latest album ‘The James Montgomery Band: A Tribute to Paul Butterfield.’