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October 18, 2017

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Coco Montoya pays homage to Koko Taylor

Blues guitarist recalls how blues singer helped him out of a jam


AP Photo/Sun-Times, Bob Black, File

In this Jan. 16, 2005, file photo Koko Taylor sings at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Chicago. Taylor, the Grammy-winning “Queen of the Blues,” died Wednesday, June 3, 2009, after complications from surgery. She was 80.

Click to enlarge photo

Guitarist Coco Montoya, who played for 10 years with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, considers himself more than just a blues musician.

Coco honored Koko Thursday night.

Coco Montoya, who always draws a full house when he’s playing blues night at the Railhead at Boulder Station, stopped two songs into his set to say he was dedicating the night’s performance to Koko Taylor.

Taylor, the Queen of the Blues, died Wednesday at the age of 80.

She earned her crown with raw, gritty vocals that made her one of the few female stars who came out of the Chicago blues scene dominated by such larger than life figures as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and Willie Dixon. She’s best known for “Wang Dang Doodle,” which appeared on her first album and later won her a Grammy. Poor health slowed her in the last decade, but she returned with a vengeance with the album “Old School” two years ago.

Montoya recalled a night 20 years ago when he was performing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and sharing a bill with Taylor and her band.

“Just before the show, I knocked over my amp and broke all the tubes. Koko put her arm around me and said, 'Don’t worry. Let Koko take care of it.’”

Taylor called to her lead guitar player Eddie King, Montoya recalled. “She said, 'Help Koko out,’ and he brought out his amp for me to use. Then she said to me, 'We have to help each other.’

“That’s just the kind of woman she was. I’ll never forget that.”

Montoya gave a nod to the sky and played the blues with a burning passion.

His band was caught up in the moment. Brant Leeper tore it up with swelling organ rides and a touch of Professor Longhair piano. Bassist Nathan Brown and drummer Randy Hayes locked down the rhythm.

And Montoya poured his soul through his purple Strat, growling, crying, roaring and coaxing out a couple’s arguments.

It was a fitting tribute to Koko’s memory.

Details: Montoya plays again at 9 tonight in the South Padre lounge at Texas Station. It’s free.

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