James Montgomery is inspired by something he heard bassist Gordon Edwards say decades ago: “I don’t score many touchdowns, but my team always wins.” It’s the kind of modesty that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from a star like Montgomery — the longtime front man of the James Montgomery Band and a legendary figure in the American music scene himself — and yet it is the defining mindset of his artistry. Montgomery, 73, says it’s crucial to “be content and understand how your part locks in with everyone else’s. When that happens, that’s when you play your best.”
His show at the Elks Music Hall (10 McKoy Road, Eastham) on Nov. 5, produced by the Payomet Performing Arts Center as part of its Road Show series, comes on the heels of a busy October. “I spent almost all of it on the road,” says Montgomery, who also just finished working on two documentary films. His portrait of blues icon James Patton, who was his mentor, came in fifth in the Library of Congress’s Ken Burns Prize for Film competition. It also screened at Nashville’s International Black Film Festival and at the National Museum of African American Music.
His other film is about his younger brother Jeffrey Montgomery, who he says was an “activist warrior in the gay movement in the ’70s and ’80s.” Montgomery attributes the films’ simultaneous success to the teams he worked with and to his adeptness at fundraising. “It’s really gratifying to spend all this time on something and then actually have two films that are doing well,” he says.
Montgomery’s latest musical release is a single called “Get Vaccinated.” According to his website, the song is intended to “help bring the pandemic under control, to bring back live music, social gatherings, and just plain hugging!” He says that a table of four once walked out of a show when he began performing it. But he’s not too concerned about “science deniers” in his fan base. “More and more,” says Montgomery, “I’m starting to write songs that address some of the things that I’m concerned about in terms of our planet and country.”
Montgomery is from Detroit and now spends most of his time in Newport, R.I. His ensemble plays all over New England. He has been coming to Provincetown since he was a child, when he visited with his family. “I fell in love with it,” he says, and thinks his first gig in town was in 1971. His band played in the summer at the Governor Bradford for a few years.
Montgomery will be accompanied by a slew of stars when he takes the Elks Music Hall stage. On bass guitar will be David Hall, who has toured with Buddy Miles, Joe Cocker, and Aerosmith. Drummer Marty Richards has played with Gary Burton and Roomful of Blues. Guitarist George McCann is “considered by many to be the best in the business,” says Montgomery. He’ll also be bringing in Andrew Clark, who played saxophone with the Beach Boys. Montgomery marvels at their talent: “Making music with people is an incredible way to make a living,” he says.
Given Montgomery’s affinity for Provincetown, it’s no surprise that the Outer Cape has become one of the band’s favorite places to perform. “The crowd is always enthusiastic,” he says. “And we show up with the idea that we’re going to kick some ass.”
As far as what to expect at the show, Montgomery says he will pay homage to the musicians who influenced him when he was growing up and who paved the way for him. “But inevitably and invariably,” he adds, “I always rearrange the songs drastically so that they’re like ours.” He says the band will also “throw in some stuff from the early days” for longtime fans.
Singing the Blues
The event: The James Montgomery Band in concert, part of the Payomet Road Show series
The time: Saturday, Nov. 5, 7 p.m.
The place: Elks Music Hall, 10 McKoy Road, Eastham
The cost: $30-$50 at payomet.org