Monte Montgomery got his musical start as a teenager hanging out at Luckenbach. This weekend the guitar legend returns there for an after-Christmas show for all his fans. Photo by Phil Houseal
Monte Montgomery: Playing with passion
by Phil Houseal
I wish I could say I recognized the musical brilliance of the 14-year-old boy hanging out at Luckenbach in the 1980s.
When we wannabe musicians gathered under the spreading oak tree to do the traditional “guitar pull,” there was often a slight, shy, shaggy-mopped boy sitting just outside the picking circle, playing endless runs up and down his battered acoustic guitar.
I wish I could say he was always welcome. But - truth be known - some of the seasoned pickers groused about the kid who “played too much” when they were trying to sing their precious songs.
Today, Monte Montgomery is a guitar god. Those who grumbled are still playing at Luckenbach for free, and now have to pay to see the kid they wished would go away.
I assume everyone knows Monte Montgomery. He has been named one of The Top 50 All-Time Greatest Guitarists, appeared on Austin City Limits, performed for 200,000 at international music festivals, and has a guitar designed and named for him by Alvarez.
All these years after those afternoons in Luckenbach, I had one question for Monte: Where did he get his style? He created a sound that did not exist before, that is unlike any I’ve heard. Not pop, not blues, not rock, not country, not Americana - it’s blazing, blistering Monte. Over Thanksgiving weekend as he prepared to play at The Auslander, I asked him that question.
He smiled, then replied slyly, “Maybe I just copy people and disguise it better.”
He went on. “I have influences like everybody - I just try to get them across in a way that is not so apparent. I soak up everything that appeals to me. It’s not something I set out to do, it is just an evolution of music over the years, it’s just the way it came out.”
Turns out we pickers in the 1980s did influence the young Montgomery, but not in the way we imagined.
“I remember playing picking up my first chords and watching you guys and saying what chord was that?” he said. “There was a time I moved up to the level you guys were at, and kind of kept moving.”
“Yeah,” I interrupted, “like at age 12.”
He laughed, but didn’t disagree. “I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had the ability to pick it up quick.”
It was around that time that he realized playing the guitar was what he was meant to do.
“I think I was predestined to do what I do, I really do,” he said. “I believe that God touched me and chose me to do what I do.”
Even the fact that Monte did not attend high school played a part in pointing him to where he is today.
“There’s a reason I didn’t go to high school and haven’t really needed high school. That allowed me all the extra time to play and work on my craft. I think all those factors played an integral part in getting me where I’m at.”
Even with divine guidance, the arc of Monte’s life has not been all harmony and light. His most recent and painful tragedy was the violent loss of his daughter in March. Like everything in his life, he found a way to use that as part of his passion.
“I don’t see a point in trying to avoid letting those things inspire me, even though they might be dark things,” he said. “It is really my therapy, it’s my release. It doesn’t matter what is going on in my life, when I get up on stage it all melts away. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s never occurred to me to not do what I do; it’s a part of me.”
Then he said something we all should have recognized back when he was 14.“To me, I’m not performing. I do what I do because I love what I do.”