"There are parallels between football and music,” says saxophonist Lawson “Buzz” Montsinger, who used to hit the field for the University of Richmond. “It's about hard work, whether it's winning the game or winning over a crowd.”
Montsinger knows quite a bit about both. Today he's ecstatic to share the details of his latest project, the Richmond Heart and Soul Review — a collaborative effort of old-school Richmond musicians — and to reveal a little about what keeps a funky dude going in spite of a few setbacks along the road.
Montsinger's always been the guy with the right moves. He picked up sax at age 11 “to look cool” and ended up playing in bands such as the Escorts, the Midnight Creepers and Dr. Hector and the Groove Injectors, always drawing a crowd. He even shared the studio with greats such as Gregg Allman, Noble “Thin Man” Watts and James Taylor (the latter is a friend and huge inspiration).
As co-captain of the Spiders, Montsinger led his team to the Tangerine Bowl in 1969 and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury at training camp ended his professional football career. This would be nothing compared with the accident in 2006 that would be a lifelong game changer. A fall at a friend's house left Montsinger paralyzed from the neck down. Intensive therapy has enabled him to walk again, but he lost the use of his right hand, the saxophone hand. That didn't stop him.
Enter the ingenuity of friend Mike Lanning. “He's a bass player and had knowledge of the Chapman stick, which allows you to play bass with your left hand and lead guitar with your right,” Montsinger says. “He got inspired when he saw this and thought of me. He said he had a vision one night of me being able to play a keyboard and plugging that into a synthesizer and sampling a saxophone.”
The two spent some time at Buzz's place tinkering with gadgets and ultimately came up with a contraption that helped him to play music again. “He attached that keyboard to my sax so that I could use my good hand, my left one, to play keyboard and get that good sax sound. It's actually therapy to try and teach my hands how to work again. The more I play that little keyboard, the more my fingers learn how to work again,” Montsinger says. “I will be playing my saxophone fully again someday. That's my dream.”
Newly inspired, it's no surprise that Buzz wanted lay down some new tracks, and even less surprising that a host of old longtime friends and musicians wanted to join him. What started out with Montsinger and buddy Bruce Olsen wanting to pay tribute to some good ol' soul evolved into the Richmond Soul Music Review, a veritable who's who of influential Richmond players, including Janet Martin, Page Wilson, Steve Bassett and Robbin Thompson.
“I had the dream team assembled without hardly trying,” Montsinger says. “They were all just suddenly there in Bruce's studio. It was like ‘We Are the World' and I was Quincy Jones. Everybody left their egos at the door and we just went in there and made love to the music. Music just started to flow.”
A recent release party for their groove-chocked disc, “Monumental,” packed Studio 814 despite a torrential downpour; a testament to big love for Montsinger. “I'm like the quarterback that gets too much attention,” Montsinger says, laughing. He thinks the new project is a real gem, he says: “I call it monumental. This just doesn't happen every day. Putting that many great people together and make an album like that with spending a whole lotta money and time. It was a beautiful experience for everybody. I can't top that one, I don't think.”
The Richmond Heart and Soul Review's “Monumental” CD is available at Plan 9 Records and other record retailers, and online at http://buzzmontsingermusic.com.