Big James – A Dose Of The Blues
After several decades of billing as Big James & the Chicago Playboys, trombonist James “Chief” Montgomery now gets the headline attention on his own. It would be hard to deny him the top billing as he handles all of the vocals, wrote eight of the disc’s eleven tracks, served as the Executive Producer along with his mother, Yvonne Montgomery, and his brother, David Montgomery Esq., and released the project on his own label, Jamot Music. With the Playboys backing, Montgomery has four other releases on his label plus two critically acclaimed albums on Blind Pig Records, with The Big Payback, a live recording, coming out seven years ago.
Montgomery’s initial interest in music stems from a concert his father took him to at the age of seven, seeing James Brown in all of his glory. The youngster took a liking to Fred Wesley, the star trombonist in Brown’s renowned band. Originally a guitarist, he switched to trombone in high school, playing in the jazz band. While in college, the horn player was offered a chance to go go on the road as a member of Little Milton Campbell’s band. To the dismay of his parents, Montgomery jumped at the chance to tour with a legendary blues artist. He later worked a short stint with Albert King. Over the last two decades, he and the Playboys have made regular appearances at Buddy Guy’s Legends and other Chicago blues clubs.
While his music is firmly rooted in the blues traditions, Montgomery has always mixed in liberal doses of soul and classic R&B sounds, infusing his originals with a contemporary sound that extends his appeal to a wider audience. The deep, funky groove on the title track underscores the leader’s rugged exclamations about the lack of blues programming on the radio airwaves. Joined by Kenny “Amazing” Anderson on trumpet, and Ronnie “G” Graham on saxophone, the horns add some mighty blasts around a gritty trombone solo from Montgomery, then long-time Chicago Playboy Mike “Money” Wheeler wraps it up with a fiery guitar workout. “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” is a like a tender caress, albeit with a sturdy back-beat compliments of Phillip “Dante” Burgess on drums. Burgess also appears on “I Am…,” as Montgomery shares details of his upbringing, the people and places that made him the man he is today. The fine keyboard work of Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy percolates underneath the the mighty horn declarations, with the leader blowing another memorable solo sequence.
“Friends And Family” is a driving shuffle dominated by the horn section, with Wheeler, Brian Lupo on rhythm guitar, and Purifoy locking in to give the cut a compelling sense of urgency. It wouldn’t be the blues if there wasn’t any woman trouble, and Montgomery has plenty on “Problems…,” with two women in his life, each offering something that speaks to his soul. The vibrant horn accents lighten the mood a bit but the singer is at wits end over what to do. “Bingo Blues” sports another horn-centric arrangement, including a fine solo from Montgomery, who is hoping to finally break a long losing streak, needing to here a “B7” call. The following track, “Giving Me The Blues (Wake Up Call),” finds the singer ruminating over mistreatment at the hands of a younger woman. Once again, the band delivers energetic accompaniment, especially when they shift gears at the end for a rousing coda, making the cut a worthwhile listen in spite of generic lyrics. Another highlight is the autobiographical “Terror Town,” a minor key, slow blues classic full of pistol shots, evil women, and mean times. Wheeler unleashes a noteworthy solo, then Purifoy closes things out with an intricate piano excursion.
A cover of George Jackson’s “All Because Of Your Love” features one of Montgomery’s strongest vocal turns, engaging in a lively call & response with the horns. “2 Much Heaven Last Night” is a song that Little Milton cut for Malaco Records thirty years ago. Montgomery’s gritty rendition doesn’t stray too far from the original, adding an extra layer of emotional weight for a man in the middle of a “cheating in the next room” scenario. Since O.V Wright was one of the finest soul singers of all time, covering one of his tunes is a true challenge. Montgomery once again comes through on “I’m Into Something I Can’t Shake Loose,” the band matching him every step of the way with an electrifying performance, with Paige “Bam Bam” Murry setting the pace on drums.
If you love horns, you must buy this disc. If you have a hankering for blues with a contemporary sound, played by an cast of outstanding musicians, buy this disc. If you are looking for music with real passion and unrelenting drive, buy this disc. Big James and his band of merry men give you all that and more on a disc that will undoubtedly get played time and time again.