It wasn't exactly Woodstock, but there is one concert that blues guitarist Coco Montoya will never forget.
"In 1969, I was still a teenager playing in garage bands when I got the chance to see blues legend Albert King onstage," said Montoya. "That was the first time I remember my mouth dropping and I immediately knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."
If his attraction to the blues seemed instantaneous, Montoya's subsequent ascent to stardom hasn't come quite as quickly. But after more than 30 years of touring, recording and performing with some of the genre's biggest names, Montoya has assumed his spot as one of the best guitarists and singers in the business and silenced the naysayers who criticized his music's aberrant stylistic tendencies.
"From the very beginning, I've been mixing all kinds of influences into the blues I play," he said. "Whether it be soul, gospel, funk or rock, those elements are the lifeblood of what I'm doing, and I've learned to disregard what most of the critics say."
Despite the blues purists who remain skeptical of his musical forays into other genres, Montoya, who grew up in California listening to the Chicano bands in East Los Angeles, is convinced that blues, like all music, must evolve.
"Growing up, listening to a wide variety of different stuff, has been a blessing and a curse," he said. "I think that it allows me to write songs that are a real hybrid of different styles, but unfortunately, it doesn't leave me with much of an interest in retracing exactly what other people have already done."
Driven to make music after seeing King on stage, Montoya gained proficiency at both the drums and guitar, which he utilized to quickly make a reputation for himself in blues clubs on the West Coast. By the mid '70s, Montoya had begun jamming with Albert Collins, who invited Montoya to play drums on his upcoming national tour. Their relationship developed into a close mentorship, and Montoya credits Collins, already one of the biggest names in the genre, with teaching him "to stop pushin' too hard" and just let the music play itself.
Following his long stint in Collins' band, Montoya moved on to international fame as the lead guitarist in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, a role once filled by such guitar greats as Eric Clapton and Peter Green. After touring the world for 10 years with Mayall, Montoya's desire to create his own music led to him retire from the Bluesbreakers in 1993 and start a solo career. Now, with four solo albums and hundreds of concerts under his belt, Montoya is making the transition from the genre's upstart firebrand to its elder statesman.
"I love what I'm doing, and there is still so much musical ground I hope to cover," Montoya said. "All things in life change with the times and adapt, and blues is certainly one of those. My goal is to see it keep growing into the future."
On Tuesday, Sept. 14, you can catch Montoya at 32 Bleu, performing in support of his latest album, Can't Look Back.
-- Joe Kuzma
Tuesday, Sept. 14
32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.
Doors open at 8 p.m.; showtime 9 p.m.
$15 general admission, $25 reserved seating
For more info, call 955-5664.