Born Raymond Eustis Montrell, 27 February 1928, New Orleans, Louisiana
Roy Montrell was in great demand as a New Orleans session guitarist during the second half of the 1950s and much of the 1960s. He was born just one day after Fats Domino, in whose band he would serve for seventeen years. Montrell also cut a great double-sided rocker as a vocalist.
An all-round guitarist, equally at home with blues, jazz (his real passion) and rock and roll, Montrell started with Roy Milton’s band after his discharge from the Army in 1951 and played on some of Milton’s sessions in 1952-53. Next he toured with Lloyd Price’s band, until Price in his turn was called up by Uncle Sam. Montrell started doing session work in 1955, especially for Specialty Records. He played guitar on several Little Richard sessions in 1956, including those that produced “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly”. Also in 1956 (on August 18, to be exact) he recorded his only single as a vocalist : “ (Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone”/“Oooh - Wow” (Specialty 583). Both sides are absolute classics, although the record didn’t chart. “That Mellow Saxophone” (co-written by Montrell, John Marascalco and Bumps Blackwell, who also produced the session) has an unusual rhumba rhythm and has been revived (from the 1980s onwards) by the Stray Cats (on their first LP, under the title “Wild Saxophone"), the Big Town Playboys, Imelda May and Supercharge. “Oooh - Wow” is at least as good ; in fact, it is the side that I prefer. Both sides feature exceptionally strong accompaniment. The musicians are : Roy Montrell (vocals / guitar) ; Lee Allen (tenor sax) ; Red Tyler (baritone sax) ; Clemont Tervalon (bass) ; Edward Frank (piano) ; Earl Palmer (drums). A third track from this session, “Go For Yourself”, has never been released.
Montrell recorded just one other single, containing two guitar instrumentals, “Mudd” and “The Montrell” (Minit 619, 1960). Not nearly as good as the Specialty single. By that time he was a member of Allen Toussaint’s house band and played on virtually every session for Joe Banashak’s Minit label. But more important is his work with Fats Domino. From “Be My Guest”/“I’ve Been Around” (1959) onwards, Montrell played on all Domino recordings (on Imperial, ABC-Paramount and Mercury) until 1967. In 1962 he took over from Walter “Papoose” Nelson (who died of a drug overdose in New York City on 28 February 1962) as guitarist in Fats Domino’s road band. Five years later he succeeded Herb Hardesty as the band’s leader, which he would remain until his untimely death.
There was a devilish side to Montrell. In his excellent biography of Fats Domino (“Blue Monday”, 2006), Rick Coleman writes : “Montrell was Papoose’s successor as both a fine musician and a troublemaker, but he also possessed a wicked streak. The musicians considered him a genius musically and intellectually, but they learned to watch their backs around him. He took malicious joy in tricking people, especially Domino, taking Papoose’s old con game - pawning guitars and then extorting money from his boss - to an extreme. And Montrell not only had a heroin habit, he apparently also dealt the drugs to other musicians. Still, Domino was impressed by his musicianship, his knowledge and his persuasive words.” On the next page (253), Coleman describes how the band travelled : “One station wagon carried the drug users in Domino’s band and the other ferried the drinkers. After running out of dope, the druggers pawned their instruments upon arriving in Vegas.”
Domino’s band undertook many European tours during the 1970s. On May 16, 1979, they arrived at the Sonesta Hotel in Amsterdam. Roy Montrell and others met with a man from the local drug trade. Nearing showtime, saxophonist Roger Lewis called Montrell’s room but got no answer. The hotel manager let a few band members into his room. Montrell was lying dead on the floor of the bathroom with a syringe nearby. A scene eerily like the one seventeen years earlier with Walter Nelson, the man whom Roy had replaced. But the show (and the tour) had to go on. Starting two hours late, Domino numbly played the gig at the Concertgebouw that night.
The burial took place at Providence Memorial Park in Metairie, Louisiana. Other facts about Roy Montrell : he was Mac Rebennack’s guitar teacher (along with “Papoose” Nelson) and also a founding member (in 1961) of A.F.O. (All For One), a musician’s collective (and record label) intended to make money for New Orleans musicians, not for the out-of-town companies that came to N.O. to record.
More info :
Acknowledgements : Rick Coleman, John Broven, Dan Phillips.
Dik, September 2015
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