Pianist-singer Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery was one of those rare musicians as adept at playing rhythm ‘n’ blues as he was at traditional jazz. A major blues musician who also sang well, he was a strong influence on many blues pianists that followed. Little Brother was adept at blues, jazz, stride, boogie, and more popular material. His high voice and trembling vibrato are unmistakable. His career spanned from the early barrelhouses in the logging camps down south, to the blues and jazz festivals in Europe.
Born in Louisiana as one of ten children, he dropped out of school at the age of 11 to play piano in local juke joints. He worked extensively in Louisiana (including with early jazz bands led by Buddy Petit and Sam Morgan), Mississippi and Chicago as early as 1926. Montgomery made his recording debut during 1930-1931 when he recorded four titles including “Vicksburg Blues” and “No Special Rider.” These two would become his signature tunes.
He was recorded quite extensively during two New Orleans sessions in 1935-1936. These were released as the “Crescent City Blues,” and they were done for Bluebird, and are considered his best work. Settling in Chicago in 1942, Montgomery played blues in local clubs and occasionally appeared with New Orleans jazz bands including those of Kid Ory and Franz Jackson. He toured briefly with bluesman Otis Rush in 1956.
After recording only sparingly as a leader between 1937 and 1959, Little Brother Montgomery recorded the excellent “Tasty Blues” in 1960 for Bluesville in a trio with guitarist Lafayette Thomas and bassist Julian Euell. For that project, he remade “Vicksburg Blues” and “No Special Rider,” adding other blues-oriented material that showed off his piano playing and singing. His entry in the “Chicago: The Living Legends” series for Riverside features Montgomery both solo (including three instrumentals) and with a traditional quartet.
These and other recordings added momentum to Montgomery’s career and he became a world traveler, visiting England and the European continent on several occasions during the 1960s while remaining based in Chicago. Little Brother Montgomery appeared at many blues and folk festivals during the following decade and was considered a living legend, a link to the early days of blues and New Orleans.
He set up a piano studio in his own home and continued to record from the late ‘60’s through the ‘70’s. He was the subject of a book ‘Deep South Piano,’ in which he recalled the history of blues piano from the point of view of a man who lived the life and played the music.