8 p.m. Thursday
Oklahoma City Limits
4801 S. Eastern
Monte Montgomery is a guitarist of rare skill, blending the delicacy of an acoustic songwriter with the grit of electric blues for a powerful, dynamic sound that at times recalls the work of Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham.
Montgomery's secret lies in his use of an acoustic guitar to create both sounds, giving him the versatility to touch on several musical styles. He's built his career during the last 20 years, deserting high school to follow in his mother's footsteps, chasing a dream he's turned into reality.
His mom, Maggie Montgomery, was a folksinger in Luckenbach, Texas; their travels sealed his fate.
"I was just living this kind of gypsy life with my mom, living out of our pickup truck," he said. "I skipped a year of school doing that and getting my chops on guitar. I was 12 to 13, and at one point, I tried to re-enter school after living like that for a year, and I just couldn't do it. My life and mind-set had changed to the point where it didn't make any sense to me."
Around the same time, Montgomery witnessed Buckingham playing guitar, forever shaping his approach to the instrument.
"His command of an entire arena full of people with a guitar just made me weep. I learned early on that dynamics are ultimately important to delivering a really simple melody. He's even said it's not about the words you say as much as how you say them," said Montgomery, who plays Thursday at Oklahoma City Limits. "Growing up on pop radio and having this kind of melodic mind-set for songwriting, it's really rubbed off on me."
He spent the next decade learning his way around the fretboard, playing largely as a hired gun in other people's bands. When it came time to make his own music " beginning with a self-titled EP in 1990 " he started out playing the electric before embracing his current acoustic approach.
"Eventually, (I) went, 'You know, I think I can do everything on acoustic.' It beats carrying around an extra guitar and these extra heavy amps," he said. "The main thing is the compression. Without it, I wouldn't have my sound. Everything else is built to it, to enhance the compression, because that's what makes the guitar sound a lot bigger and gives it the ability to sustain and do more electric-sounding stuff."
This mix of traditional guitar crunch and effervescent light-touch leads characterizes Montgomery's sound. It can be quite guttural and raw at one moment, quite harmonic and sweet the next. His stunning fluidity and sonic agility prompted Guitar Player magazine to name him one of its "Top 50 All-Time Greatest Guitarists." There's no denying he can shred, but he also possesses a singer/songwriter's sensibilities, as strong melodies and canny writing figure prominently " elements every bit as important as his guitar pyrotechnics.
Both get plenty of play on his 2008 self-titled album, recorded live in a Nashville studio. The disc bursts with vibrancy.
"I wanted to go in and do a record and try to capture the live vibe, but in the confines of a studio where it could be more controlled," he said. "I hadn't really done a record like that since 'Mirror,' which was the album we were supporting when we did 'Austin City Limits' in '99. I thought it might be cool to revisit that idea."
That "ACL" appearance was a watershed moment for him after a decade of hard work, and his career trajectory has headed upward ever since.
Unfortunately, it's been a tough couple years from a personal standpoint. He was going through a divorce during the writing of the last album, and last year, his 21-year old daughter was killed in an accidental shooting.
"Your perspective changes when you go through a loss like that, and I guess at the end of the day, priorities shift," Montgomery said. "I just don't think I was just put here to play guitar and entertain people. I think I was sent here to impact other people in other ways. For once in my life, I decide to slow down for a little while. I didn't realize how badly I needed to until I did it."
Don't worry: He's spent the down time going through old notebooks and old tunes, and suspects he'll get back on the songwriting horse in 2011.
"I'm just moving at my own pace that's comfortable for me, and I like where I'm at," he said. "Chris Parker