Personalities | Wes Montgomery | The Boss Guitar | Guitar Heroes

Wes Montgomery (1925–68) emerged in the Fifties and gained a wide following in the cool jazz movement before turning to pop-jazz in the Sixties.

With his unique use of lead lines played in octaves with his left hand and strummed by his right-hand thumb, Montgomery mixed jazz harmonies with R&B rhythms to gain a pop following and exert broad influence on later pop-jazz guitarists like George Benson.

Montgomery was born in Indianapolis. His brothers, Monk (bass) and Buddy (vibraphone, piano), were also jazz performers. Wes was not skilled at reading music, but he could learn complex melodies and riffs by ear. He started learning guitar at the age of 19, emulating his idol, Charlie Christian. He was known for his ability to play Christian solos note for note.

Montgomery toured and recorded with Lionel Hampton from 1948 to 1950. Cannonball Adderley helped to sign Montgomery to a recording contract and recorded with him on his Poll Winners (1960) album. John Coltrane asked Montgomery to join his band, but Montgomery continued to lead his own band, thus earning his nickname Boss Guitar.

From 1959–63 Montgomery recorded for Riverside Records, creating some of his most influential work. The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery (1960) featured one of Montgomery’s best-known compositions, ‘Four On Six’. In 1964 he moved to Verve Records, and his music started to shift towards pop. He didn’t abandon jazz entirely, however, and the pair of albums he made with jazz-organ titan Jimmy Smith, The Dynamic Duo (1966) and The Further Adventures Of Jimmy And Wes (1966) show his ability to blend R&B and pop elements with jazz. In the late Sixties, Montgomery turned to jazzy versions of pop-rock tunes with orchestral arrangements and enjoyed the greatest success of his career. However, he was felled by a heart attack at home in 1968.

Montgomery generally played a Gibson L-5CES guitar with a Fender tube amp and later a Standel solid-state amp with 15-inch speaker. Montgomery stroked the strings with the fleshy part of his thumb, using downstrokes for single notes and a combination of upstrokes and downstrokes for chords and octaves.

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