Coco Montoya is the Sherman Tank of blues guitar. Powerful. Explosive. Maybe he thunders so much from starting out as a drummer. One of his first gigs was (after a chance encounter) playing drums for blues master Albert Collins. He spent five years on the road with Collins, who taught him to be a guitarist.
“We’d sit for hours in hotel rooms and play guitar,” Montoya said. "He’d play that beautiful rhythm of his and just have me play along. He was always saying 'Don’t think about it, Just feel it.’ He taught me to tap into an inner strength. What a great gift he gave me.”
John Mayall became a second mentor: Montoya toured the world with Mayall's Bluesbreakers for a decade, until finally, almost 25 years ago, he became a bandleader himself, immediately thrilling the blues world with his ballistic guitar and his gutsy voice.
Montoya's new album, Hard Truth, marks a return to Alligator Records. “The Moon Is Full” is his remembrance of Collins — and an album highlight, as his guitar rockingly romps. Lee Roy Parnell adds his slide to a song about booze, while long-time MVP at the keyboards, Mike Finnigan, is all over the album. Montoya's voice is — to borrow a phrase from one of the album’s best songs — “Hard As Hell” throughout. Singing through the basics of the blues. The ups of love (“I Want to Shout About It”). The downs of love (“'Bout to Make Me Leave Home”). The dangers of love (“Before the Bullets Fly”). And, well, life. “The trouble with sainthood, it’s tough coming down,” Montoya sings on John Hiatt’s “Old Habits Are Hard To Break.” Hard Truth, for real.