By ERIC SCHELKOPF
In making the switch from being a drummer to a guitarist, Coco Montoya turned to the best teacher he knew – legendary blues guitarist Albert Collins.
Collins would always tell Montoya, "don’t think about it, just feel it." Montoya continues to follow that advice to this day.
Montoya will perform as part of the 23rd annual Blues on the Fox festival taking place June 14 and 15 at RiverEdge Park in downtown Aurora.
Gates open at 6 p.m. June 14 at 360 N. Broadway (Route 25). At 7 p.m., blues guitarist and singer Ana Popovic will take the stage, followed by the legendary Taj Mahal at 9 p.m.
Gates open at 2 p.m. for the second day of Blues on the Fox on June 15. Up-and-coming Chicago blues guitarist Jamiah Rogers will perform at 3 p.m., followed by Chicago-born musician Ronnie Baker Brooks at 5 p.m., Montoya at 7 p.m., and Robert Randolph and the Family Band at 9 p.m.
General admission tickets cost $20 per day. Children 12 and younger are admitted free to Blues on the Fox, but must be accompanied by an adult age 18 or older.
For tickets and information, visit RiverEdgeAurora.com, call the box office at 630-896-6666, or stop by in person at RiverEdge's satellite box office, the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
I had the chance to talk to Montoya about the upcoming show.
Q – I was trying to remember the last time we talked. I know it's been a while. You used to be a regular at Chord on Blues in St. Charles, correct?
Yeah, I haven't heard that name in a while. That was a really cool place.
Q – It was a cool place. It's been closed for several years now.
Q – You are playing at several blues festivals this year, including at the WC Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival the day before Blues on the Fox. I see that Ronnie Baker Brooks will be part of the Chicago Plays The Stones show at that festival, so you will be seeing him two days in a row since he will also be at Blues on the Fox.
As far as playing festivals, is that one of the things you find enjoyable, performing with people you might not play with as part of a club date?
Yeah, it's always nice seeing other players that you know and respect. Ronnie is definitely one of those. I've known him for many, many years and I was pretty close to his father as well.
It's going to be wonderful to see Ronnie and watch him perform. Hopefully we'll be able to get together ourselves and maybe do something [together] if time allows.
Q – So you guys might jump on stage together?
You never know. It's always better when you don't have to plan too much. It's just something that you take advantage of if the opportunity presents itself.
Q – I know you have a new record coming out on Chicago-based Alligator Records, "Coming in Hot," on Aug. 23. During Blues on the Fox, will you be playing any songs from the new album?
I think we're going to do one. We do have one that we want to feature and show everybody.
Q – The album is going to be called "Coming in Hot." Does the album's title express the tone of the record?
You know, I don't know if it really does. It's still kind of new to everybody.
The album comes from an emotional place as opposed to really thinking it out too much.
Q – Your latest record on Alligator Records, 2017's "Hard Truth," received a lot of acclaim. What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?
Once again, I never approach a project with any kinds of goals in mind. It's just honest music that can stand on its own merits.
That's the main agenda for me – to go out and play the music that I like and let it stand for itself. I just want to feel it. I just want to feel it and enjoy the music that I play.
If the audience is going to like it, great. I would love that. You just kind of have to be true to yourself. The fans will embrace it or not embrace it.
Q – Because isn't that one of the things that Albert Collins kind of taught you? He would always say, "Don't think about it. Just feel it."
That is absolutely true. There were no borders, no gates, no fences for him. He played what he felt like playing.
It's definitely something I live by. I'm going to play the music I enjoy playing and hopefully the people will like it.
Q – "Hard Truth" marked your return to Alligator Records. Why did you want to return to Alligator Records?
Everything just kind of fell into place. Alligator is a really great label. It has a great promotional team.
The amazing part of that label is the people that work there. They work hard to promote an album. They really do.
Q – And of course, you also played in John Mayall’s band for 10 years. When he picked you to play with him as part of the reformed Bluesbreakers, what were your thoughts and did you feel any pressure at the time?
Well, yeah. It was quite exhilarating but there was a lot of pressure because I held Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor and Peter Green in high esteem.
I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now if it wasn't for John.
Q – I saw a photo posted on your Facebook page showing you standing with Charlie Musselwhite, B.B. King, John Mayall, Deacon Jones and Water Trout.
To look at this picture today and see yourself standing with these blues greats, does it still boggle your mind that you were able to stand with these people?
Oh, yeah. You are just covered in gratitude. Me and Charlie are good friends. And Walter and I are very close.
B.B. King was always wonderful to me. I first met him back in the '70s.
He was always very kind. We used to have some great conversations. I miss him a lot.
Q – It is sad that we are losing more and more blues legends. What do you think of the blues music scene today? Do you think it's thriving?
I'm not so sure that it's thriving like it once was. It's evolving.
I think that's pretty much a better word for it. It's evolving. We're getting many different kinds of players.
There's so many bands and not enough venues to go around. But yeah, the blues is still alive.
Q – You fell in love with the blues after seeing Albert King opening up a Creedence Clearwater Revival/Iron Butterfly concert in 1969 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. What was it that made you want to become a blues musician?
I said, ah, this is something that I can feel. It was a totally emotional event.
Everything that I ever liked was all about emotion. The blues brought me everything I wanted.
I gravitated to that after seeing Albert King play live. I realized that was something I wanted to know more about.
Q – What keeps you going?
Paying the bills and making sure my wife has a room over her head. This is the only thing I know how to do. This is the best thing I know how to do, anyway.
And I love playing. As I get older, it gets harder. My hands get stiffer.
I'm still enjoying it. I have some great musicians with me on this tour. I'm very grateful to have them.
Q – Just looking at your schedule, you've been busy all year. As far as playing live, is that the best part of what you do?
It's the ultimate best part of what I do. I'm out there playing live in front of an audience. There's no other reward that even comes close, in my opinion.
I'm not into awards. That's not my thing. My thing is being out in front of an audience that's enjoying the show and going out and shaking a few hands.
I'd rather being doing that than anything else.
Q – It seems like you have a lot of diehard fans. I've been scrolling through your Facebook page and there's picture after picture of fans with you. Is it a great feeling to be able to meet your fans and find out what they like about your music?
It always feels good to be that close to your fan base, to be able to give them a few minutes here and there. At every show, I like to shake a few hands, sign a few posters and take some pictures.
I really have no problem in doing that, because if it wasn't for them, I'd have no work.