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Big James & The Chicago Playboys
Bandleader, arranger, vocalist, songwriter, and trombonist Big James Montgomery and his band are a breath of fresh air on the contemporary blues scene, as so many blues bands follow the guitar-harmonica-bass-drums format. The Chicago Playboys' horn-heavy sound makes for some compelling dance music and intricate arrangements, and their live shows are generally intense affairs. Montgomery had a revelation when he first saw James Brown in concert at the Capitol Theater in Chicago, thanks to his father, who had taken him. The owner of the theater arranged for the young Montgomery and his father to watch the concert from the side of the stage, and Montgomery, seven-years-old at the time, knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He began his music studies with guitar, but switched to trombone in his freshman year of high school, heavily influenced by the sounds of New Jersey-raised George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Fred Wesley, then the band's trombone player, was a major source of inspiration for the teenaged Montgomery, because Wesley had also played with James Brown for many years. Montgomery attended many of the band's performances in Chicago and got to meet his idols. Later in high school, he learned about jazz from recordings by trombonist J.J. Johnson and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, and since one can't play very good jazz without knowing the blues, Montgomery eventually settled on a style that mixed blues, funk, and jazz. Also as a teen, he began sitting in at a local blues club with the likes of harmonica player Billy Branch and guitarist Carl Weathersby. His first big break came about in college, where he was playing big-band jazz. One day some musicians came by his father's tavern and asked if he wanted to join Little Milton Campbell on the road. After a rehearsal with the band during which Montgomery passed the audition, he left with Campbell's band the next day, despite opposition from his mother and father about leaving college behind. Fortunately, both of Montgomery's parents lived to see his success, performing with the likes of Buddy Guy, Lou Rawls, Campbell, and other nationally prominent musicians.
Montgomery & the Chicago Playboys released Funkin' Blues in 1998 on his own Jamot Music label, and followed it up with If It Wasn't 4 the Blues in 2001. He and his band became frequent performers at Koko Taylor's club, as well as Buddy Guy's Legends. After releasing Now You Know, in 2005, and Thank God I Got the Blues in 2007, Big James & the Chicago Playboys signed with Blind Pig Records. Blind Pig released Right Here Right Now in 2008, an album that features eight of Montgomery's original compositions as well as songs by the O'Jays, Bobby Bland, and Tyrone Davis. The international distribution and marketing of Blind Pig helped the band gain a wider following around the U.S., Canada, and Europe. They won the 2008 Prix Blues award from the Academie du Jazz in Paris. The band continues to tour, playing an eclectic mix of funk, blues, soul, and classic R&B. ~ Richard Skelly