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Little Brother Montgomery

April 18, 1906 – September 6, 1985

A notable influence to the likes of Sunnyland Slim and Otis Spann, pianist “Little Brother” Montgomery’s lengthy career spanned both the earliest years of blues history and the electrified Chicago scene of the 1950s.

By age 11, Montgomery had given up on attending school to instead play in Louisiana juke joints. He came to Chicago as early as 1926 and made his first 78s in 1930 for Paramount (the booty that day in Grafton, Wisconsin, included two of Montgomery’s enduring signature items, “Vicksburg Blues” and “No Special Rider”). Bluebird recorded Montgomery more prolifically in 1935-36 in New Orleans.

In 1942, Little Brother Montgomery settled down to a life of steady club gigs in Chicago, his repertoire alternating between blues and traditional jazz (he played Carnegie Hall with Kid Ory’s Dixieland band in 1949). Otis Rush benefited from his sensitive accompaniment on several of his 1957-58 Cobra dates, while Buddy Guy recruited him for similar duties when he nailed Montgomery’s “First Time I Met the Blues” in a supercharged revival for Chess in 1960. That same year, Montgomery cut a fine album for Bluesville with guitarist Lafayette “Thing” Thomas that remains one of his most satisfying sets.

With his second wife, Janet Floberg, Montgomery formed his own little record company, FM, in 1969. The first 45 on the logo, fittingly enough, was a reprise of “Vicksburg Blues,” with a vocal by Chicago chanteuse Jeanne Carroll (her daughter Karen is following in her footsteps around the Windy City).

After Little Brother’s death, his widow Jan licensed many of their tracks to Earwig Music Company, which released Little Brother Montgomery At Home in 1990.  Little Brother died September 6, 1985, in Chicago.

He left behind his widow Jan and his Chicago proteges Ervin Helfer and “Barrelhouse Chuck” Goering, who carry on his classic traditional blues and jazz style.

-Written by Bill Dahl, updated by Michael Frank