On Stage: Coco Montoya remains a blues guitar ace

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Coco Montoya

Coco Montoya has built a reputation as an ace guitarist – a guitarist who spent 10 years in one of the best Anglo-American blues band ever – a guitarist who had a blues icon as a mentor.

Not bad for a drummer from Santa Monica, California.

Montoya, a legendary blues-rock guitarist and vocalist, has just released a new album “Hard Truth” on Alligator Records and is now touring across America in support of his new disc.

On September 28, Montoya’s tour will touch down locally at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

“I come from a bunch of different places musically,” said Montoya, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon on a day off before travelling to Bethesda, Maryland for a show.

“There’s rock, there’s blues, there’s R&B, there’s jazz. I love the blues. That’s the biggest in my career. But, I’ve always been at odds with the music business. I make problems because I like a lot of different things – even country and jazz. If I like it, I might play it.

“But, there is no problem between me and my producer Tony Braunagel. Important things are being challenging and being able to perform to our satisfaction – and that it appeals to me as a player and a singer.”

When he was a kid, Montoya immersed himself in his parents’ record collection. He listened to big band jazz, salsa, doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. His first love was drums and he got his first kit when he was 11.

He got a guitar two years later but guitar was his secondary instrument. Montoya turned his love of drumming into his profession, playing in a number of area rock bands while still in his teens and eventually becoming an in-demand drummer.

Then, at one point in his career, Montoya became a guitar player in the band of a blues icon – Albert Collins. Later, he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and played guitar with them for 10 years.

Both opportunities came by chance,” said Montoya.

In the early 1970s, Albert Collins was booked to play a matinee at the same small club in Culver City, California where Montoya had played the night before.

The club owner gave Collins permission to use Montoya’s drums. A few months later, Collins desperately needed a drummer for a tour of the Northwest and he called Montoya.

“When he called, I figured we’d rehearse for a few weeks before the tour,” said Montoya. “Instead, he told me he’d pick me up in three hours.”

During the tour, Collins took Montoya under his wing, teaching him about blues music and life on the road. After the tour ended, Montoya remained in the band for five more years.

It was during this time that Montoya began doubling on guitar and Collins went out of his way to teach him.

Montoya learned everything he could from the legendary “Master of the Telecaster.” Montoya often pays tribute to his mentor, recording a Collins song on almost every album he’s made.

“It was almost the same thing with Mayall,” said Montoya. “He saw me playing at a jam session. His guitarist Mick Taylor was moving on and he needed a guitarist.

“I wasn’t even in the music business at that point. I was working as a bartender and just playing guitar for fun. It took Mayall to get me back in the music business.”

So, Montoya added his name to the list of internationally-acclaimed Bluesbreaker guitarists – a list that includes Eric Clapton (Cream), Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones).

For the next 10 years, Montoya toured the world and recorded with Mayall — soaking up the experience of life on the road and in the recording studio.

By the early 1990s, Montoya had the urge to move on. He put his own band together, toured and released his debut solo album

“Gotta Mind To Travel” in 1995.

In 1996, he was nominated for four Blues Music Awards and won the award for Best New Blues Artist. His new album “Hard Truth” is his 10th studio album.

“For ‘Hard Truth,’ we started an early process four months before we set up in the studio,” said Montoya. “It was a long process.

“We had to research songs and find what was acceptable to the label and acceptable to me. I wrote a few songs with co-writers and looked at other writers we didn’t know. We listened to 140 songs and ended up with 14.”

Video link for Coco Montoya –https://youtu.be/GaFd5_1Gsqo.

The show at Sellersville, which has Norman Taylor as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $21.50 and $29.50.


On September 29, the Sellersville Theater will host a show by Alfio – a show in which the singer presents music by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Andrea Bocelli, Tom Jones and Michael Bublé .

The ads touting the tour state – “He’s Australian, He Can Sing in Five Languages, He’s Italian, and He’s Hilarious.”

The power of his voice stands alone, but the fact that Alfio is also a talented songwriter and musician sets him apart from most artists in his field. He sings in Italian, Spanish, English, Arabic and Chinese and also does something that few if any other artists can do — sing an Aria while accompanying himself on piano.

“There is always music and music brings people together,” said Alfio, during a phone interview.

“I grew up in a family of music. Both my parents sang. There was always a party at my family’s house – traditional Italian songs. And, my dad loved polka music, waltzes and tangos. So, I grew up loving it.”

Alfio Bonanno was born in Sydney, Australia to Italian-born parents and is the youngest of five children. Born into a musical family where every member sings or plays an instrument, Alfio has always had a passion for music.

His father and his mother, both originally from Southern Italy (mother from Calabria; father from Catanaia), met and married in Sydney. But, their Italian roots remained firmly planted throughout Alfio’s childhood.

“I grew up with music,” said Alfio. “I started off singing at church Mass every Sunday. When I was 16, a guy came up and said he loved my voice and wanted to record me singing church hymns. He offered me $400 to put a tape together so I made a double-sided tape for him.

“Then, I started making music on my own. I got a guitar pedal and a hi-fi speaker and put music through that. I sang in a restaurant and got paid $80 a night when I was 17. I started writing songs when I was in my early 20s but on stage I just sang other people’s songs – Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. I gave the people what they wanted.

“The difficult thing was having faith in my own abilities. I’m very critical of my work. I never pushed my own music out there. But then, people kept requesting my songs.

“My career grew and, after a while, got to a point where people around the world wanted to cover my songs. There’s even a recording of a South African guy singing one of my songs in Afrikaans.”

Alfio is also an incredibly funny and engaging live performer. He taps into something very nostalgic with his stories and repertoire during concerts.

In between the songs, he has the audience in hysterics, not through telling jokes but just via his natural demeanor. An Italian crooner with an Australian accent tends to catch the audience off guard.

“Now, I have fun,” said Alfio. “I trust my voice and I just sing.”

Video link for Alfio — https://youtu.be/Wgo9e1JxIYc.

The show in Sellersville will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $45.

Other upcoming shows at Sellersville are Red Hot Chilli Pipers on September 30, Gabe Dixon and Seth Walker on October 1, Luke Elliot and John Beacher on October 2, andThe Ike Willis Project with Special Guest Micki Free on October 4.

Jesse Cook

Another show on September 28 will feature Jesse Cook at the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents acclaimed guitarist, composer, and producer Jesse Cook.

Cook is now out on the road – touring in support of his new album “Beyond Borders,” which was released on September 15 via Entertainment One Music (eOne Music).

On his new full-length, Cook, a JUNO Award-winning musician, travels across a sonic landscape without regard to geography, ethnicity and musical styles, and, in so doing, has crafted a world music hybrid all his own.

Cook is viewed by many as a top-flight player of flamenco and nuevo flamenco music – but he is much more than that.

“I’m not a flamenco artist,” said Cook, during a phone interview Tuesday from a stop in Annapolis, Maryland.

Gypsy music was like a thread that has run through my life via flamenco, jazz and classical guitar. I’m doing more hybrid – New World, Old World – a fusion of world music.

“It’s always been my thing to put two things together that hadn’t been done before. It’s like a sandbox and I play with whatever is there – sometimes it’s a castle and sometimes it’s a pile of dirt.”

From when he was very young, Cook listened to his parents’ diverse record collection and played guitar.

“I don’t remember it but my parents said I was playing a little play guitar when I was two and we were living in Barcelona,” said Cook, a Canadian who lived a good chunk of his life in Paris before returning to his current home in Toronto.

“I got to the end of high school and I was going to be an artist. But, my music teachers were referring to me as a guitar prodigy. I didn’t take it seriously. I never thought of it as a career. I was going to go to New York to study art. My girlfriend back then said – your music is good, your art not so good.”

So, Cook followed a path to music.

“Throughout my 20s, I was more a composer – TV shows, dance companies, films. I even produced a rap band.

“It wasn’t until the end of my 20s that I put out my first guitar album. I had 1,000 CDs pressed and they were gone within a week. I got another 2,000 and they were gone in a week.

Suddenly, I had record companies from the states calling me. I was already making a living as a composer but they won me over. I signed with Narada Records. It was one of those things that just took off. The album debuted at Number 19 on the Billboard charts.”

According to Cook, “Over the years, I’ve taken my music and tried to cross-pollinate it with music from different parts of the world. For the ‘Nomad’ album, I went to Cairo and recorded with musicians there.

“On my record “The Rumba Foundation,” I went to Colombia — and worked with musicians from Cuba as well. On ‘Vertigo,’ I went down to Lafayette, La., and recorded with Buckwheat Zydeco.”

“Beyond Borders” was recorded over two years in Toronto and is the most sonically diverse and distinctive disc in Cook’s huge catalog which includes 12 albums and four video albums.

Video link for Jesse Cook — https://youtu.be/hOjctd1mNME.

The show at the Keswick will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $39.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Keswick are “My Father’s Dragon” on September 29, “Seu Jorge Presents The Life Aquatic, A Tribute to David Bowie” on September 30, and Ani DiFranco on October 1.

The Brevet

The Brevet, a rock quintet from Southern California, has been around for four years but will be playing Philly for the first time when it performs a show on September 28 at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com)

Formed in 2013, The Brevet — Aric Chase Damm (Vocals/Guitar), John Kingsley (Guitar), Ben Ross (Bass Guitar/Backing Vocals), David Aguiar (Drums/Backing Vocals), Michael Jones (Piano/Backing Vocals) — burst onto the music scene with the release of its debut record “Battle of the Heart.”

Ever since then, the band has landed high-profile placements throughout film and television, including “The Good Lie,” “Ashby,” “90210,” “Growing Up Fisher,” “American Idol,” “The MLB Network,” and more.

Passion brought The Brevet together, and it defines the band’s music. The band’s name represents a Civil War rank awarded to individuals who went above and beyond the call of duty without the expectation of extra monetary compensation.

“Michael and I grew up together,” said Damm, during a phone interview Monday morning during a stop in Maryland.

“We went to elementary school, middle school and high school together in Orange County. We started making music in seventh grade – just trying to mimic bands we liked. That led us to writing our own music. We even self-made CDs and sold them at school.

“After that, I went to college for acting in Nebraska while Michael went to college at Chapman in California. We were still writing together casually in the summer. We didn’t take it seriously until after we graduated from college.”

By college, they had begun scoring short films together, drawing on influences as diverse as composer Thomas Newman, Mumford & Sons, Kings of Leon, Bruce Springsteen, and needtobreathe. Following their graduation, the duo officially formed The Brevet, self-producing and recording “Battle of the Heart.”

“After that, we were still developing our fanbase,” said Damm. “A lot of people found us from TV shows. After college, my main focus was acting but soon music became more prevalent.

“The melodies we were writing were very cinematic. The writing is mostly done by me while Michael does the producing. We record ourselves. We have a studio in a clubhouse in a mobile home park. We use mostly Logic and Ableton.”

The Brevet’s music could best be described as a combination of Americana, rock, sweeping orchestral tracks, gang vocals, unforgettable choruses and connective emotional lyrics.

According to Damm, “We want to take listeners on a journey with American Novel. We have so many stories to tell.”

Video link for The Brevet –https://youtu.be/8mJcTU_kgRA.

The show at MilkBoy Philly, which also features Midnight North and Atlas Road Crew, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Other upcoming shows at MilkBoy are Electric Six, The Phryg, and GROVES on September 29, and Tony Lucca, Derik Hultquist, and Matt Santry on September 30.


Many bands spend months writing songs for their next album followed by months of pre-production. Then, they go on to spending months in the studio recording the album followed by a period of time mixing and mastering the disc.

None of that happened when Spafford, headliner for the September 29 show at The Foundry at the Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150,www.thefillmorephilly.com), made its most recent album.

Spafford is a four-piece funk rock act hailing from Phoenix, Arizona. The band is comprised of Brian Moss (Guitar), Jordan Fairless (Bass), Andrew “Red” Johnson (Keys), and Cameron Laforest (Drums).

Refusing to be restricted to any musical boundaries, Spafford seamlessly blends together an eclectic mixture of all of their collective musical experience. The heart of their sound is rooted in deep sonic exploration with a focus on experimentation.

In August, Spafford released its latest album “Abaculus: An Improvisational Experience.”d

Recorded in a single take at The Pound in Phoenix, AZ, this hour-long cut was entirely improvised, putting on wax what it means to be completely immersed in the moment, without expectation of what will come next.

“We were just rehearsing one day a couple months ago,” said LaForest, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“We had decided to take a day off and just jam. We record everything. When we listened back to that jam, we decided to release it as an album.

“It was an after-the-fact deal – just something for us to do and boost our creativity. There was no set pattern. It was fun. We spent just over an hour jamming – an hour and 10 seconds, I think.

“It was push-and-pull. Everyone had their moments. It was nice. Brian started it and it went from there. We all just went for it. Everybody had their key moments.

“As a drummer, I like to put my spin on it and take it places. I stay in the same tempo and just slowly develop it.”

Spafford fans now might have to wait a while until the band releases its next album.

“We’re always working on new music,” said LaForest. “But, there are no plans for a studio album. Sometimes, it’s nice to sit in a room and record. But, I prefer performing and playing live.”

Video link for Spafford —https://youtu.be/HCdbpQufpRI.

The show at the Foundry will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $16.

Maria Muldaur

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host Maria Muldaur (who is known world-wide for her 1974 mega-hit “Midnight at the Oasis”) on September 29, Dean and Company (A Tribute to The Grateful Dead) & Uzo on September 30, and Open Mic with Matt Sevier on October 1.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Steel City Comedy Night 2 on September 29 with Pat George, Lemaire Lee, Wes Williams, Zack Hammond and Chris Williams and Sean McConnell and Jeff Twardzik on September 30.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Big Mind on September 29 and House Plant and Mama Jones on September 30.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will have Splintered Sunlight with special guest Chestnut Grove on September 28,

Steal You Peach featuring Johnny Neel on September 30, and The Bad Plus with special guest Square Peg Round Hole on October 1.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Charlie Phillips and John Hagel on September 29, and Antje Duvekot with Madeleine Anderson September 30.

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