“Nothing goes through my head when I’m playing on stage,” said self-taught guitarist Cory Bellucci, 15, who is set to perform with Grammy-nominated blues vocalist and harmonica player James Montgomery and his band at the Warwick Elks Club Friday night at 9. “You just black out.”
Montgomery agreed and said he knows the feeling well, as he has more than 40 years of experience in the music industry.
“When you’re in the zone you just play and that’s really what you strive for as a musician,” said Montgomery. “You get to be someone else on stage and I’ve been encouraging him to let his persona out rather than internalizing it. Don’t put any barriers in the way – just go for it.”
The two recently met when mutual friend and NBC reporter Jim Taricani introduced them. Taricani interviewed Montgomery nearly 10 times and knows he likes assisting young musicians in kicking off their careers.
In fact, Montgomery worked with artists like singer/songwriter Norah Jones; vocalist and guitarist Susan Tedeschi; guitarist, songwriter and producer Derek Trucks; and jazz saxophone player Grace Kelly before they became established.
He said he loves every minute of it and feels proud he can do what blues greats Buddy Guy; Muddy Waters; Johnny Lee Hooker; Junior Wells and James Cotton did for him.
“I remember what it was like for me when I was young,” said Montgomery. “Wells and Cotton really went out of their way to make sure I was in the loop, so when I hear young musicians who are really good I search them out and enjoy watching them grow. I always like to see what young players are up to and put them in situations that will be helpful to them later on.”
Cory’s father, Paul, is thrilled Montgomery has taken an interest in his son. He believes he has aided Cory in advancing his skills.
“For him to take Cory under his wing like that is a big help,” said Paul. “It’s really nice.”
Cory is excited about it, too, and thinks highly of Montgomery. He said he views Montgomery as the greatest harmonica player and values the lessons the veteran musician has shared.
“I’ve learned stage presence just by watching him,” Cory said. “He told me one time to find a person in the crowd and play to them.”
Montgomery has the same sentiments. He was stunned when he initially watched Cory perform. By the first eight bars, Montgomery’s jaw dropped.
“He may be the best young guitar player I’ve ever seen,” Montgomery said. “There are a lot of young musicians that have a lot of chops but Cory knows when to use them and when to lay back. That’s what I really like about his playing.”
Following the performance, Montgomery spent a half-hour talking with Cory. He gave him advice and they chatted about their musical interests.
“He didn’t have to do that but it shows he’s someone who cares,” Paul said. “It really impressed me.”
Montogmery is excided for the show because it’s the first time Cory will be on stage for more than just a few songs. In the past, Cory joined him on a hit or two, but he feels this will really give him a change to shine.
Eventually, he’d like to have Cory perform with him alongside other well-known musicians, such as Cotton; guitarist J. Geils; singer and harmonica player Huey Lewis; Kim Wilson, who is also a vocalist and harmonica player; as well as Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer, members of the rock band Aerosmith.
“We’re going to let him cut loose; we just want him to do a few of these shows first,” Montgomery said. “The guys Corey is going to be playing with are the best in the business.”
On Friday, Cory will get the chance to jam with another talented musician, Aerosmith alum bassist David Hull, who filled in for Tom Hamilton in 2006, and now plays in the Joe Perry Project.
Cory is grateful for the opportunity and support. As for his biggest influence, he sites watching a YouTube video of the legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan for getting him into blues.
In addition to Montgomery, Cory has also played with Gary Guitar and the Grinders; Fly Amero; Black and White; Young Neal and the Vipers; Dave Howard and the High Rollers; and Kenny Lyon.
Montgomery has toured with Aerosmith; Bonnie Raitt; Bruce Springsteen; B.B. King; Steve Miller; and the Allman Brothers Band, among others. Originally, he planned on being an English teacher before he became a musician, but the Allman Brothers asked him to join them on the road in the early 1970s and he couldn’t resist.
Further, Montgomery has sat in with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones; Charlie Daniels; Patti LaBelle; and the Ramones, just to name a handful.
He’s also played behind the scenes with James Taylor and the late guitarist of the Beatles, George Harrision. In the future, he said he hopes to join another former Beatle on tour.
“I would love to perform with Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band,” Montgomery said. “And I’d like to perform with Prince, too.”
Next year, Montgomery plans to release a new CD that features Cotton; Whitford; Kramer; plus guitarist, singer and producer Johnny Winter; and even Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, of the hip-hop group Run-D.M.C.
“I’m a rapper too now,” Montgomery said with a laugh.
For now, he’s focused on the upcoming show with Cory. He hopes to encourage the budding musician to become a singer/songwriter, while Corey plans on doing one simple thing to prepare for the show.
“Relax,” he said.
The Warwick Elks Club is located at 1919 West Shore Road. Tickets are $15 per person and $25 per couple and can be purchased in advance by calling 401-737-9510 or 401-486-1929. Three-quarters of the tickets have already been sold, so get them fast.