Fifth-generation San Francisco native Danny Montana is old enough to remember seeing shows at the original Lion’s Share club in Sausalito, where he first saw legendary folk songwriter Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1968.
Nearly 50 years later, Montana has established himself in the North Bay as an authentic connection to bygone days, living in Woodacre in the San Geronimo Valley and often performing his style of country-western music at Marin watering holes like
the Papermill Creek Saloon and Nick’s Cove.
This week, Montana heads to Guerneville to open for a longtime hero of his, when Ramblin’ Jack Elliott performs at the River Theater on Aug. 18.
As countrified as Montana is today, he almost went in a different direction, growing up a fan of the Beatles and the Kinks. Montana’s love for country music began when the Columbia House record club mistakenly sent him a George Jones record instead of the Kinks when he was 12 years old.
“Eventually, Bob Dylan got me looking into folk and back in time to Woody Guthrie, who had a huge influence on me,” says Montana. “And that’s how I discovered Ramblin’ Jack, and he was always a huge influence as well.”
Born Danny Morrison, Montana got his name after he spent a year living in the state. “It was 1970, I was in Mill Valley at Camino Alto and East Blithedale, at the brand-new four-way traffic light,” remembers Montana. “And I was sitting there, going, ‘Wow, it’s too crowded here. I’m moving to Montana.’ It wasn’t nearly as crowded, of course.”
After experiencing a Montana winter, the musician decided it wasn’t too crowded in Marin after all. Upon his return, a young Mill Valley harmonica player named Huey Lewis insisted he start going by Danny Montana. “What am I going to do?” laughs Montana. “Say no to Huey Lewis?”
Throughout his musical career, Montana has stayed true to the outlaw country and classic folk that he fell in love with way back when that George Jones album made its way to him. Montana’s swinging sound will be on full display for the upcoming show.
To open the evening, banjo and fiddle player Phil Richardson will join Montana for an intimate set. After Ramblin’ Jack’s headlining performance, Montana will return with a full band, including Lagunitas Brewing Company founder and guitarist Tony Magee, and party late into the night. “I’m just loving playing right now,” Montana says. “I just keep plugging along.”