James Montgomery

James Montgomery's
Devi Blue Foundation Aids Ailing Musicians

By Karen Nugent
October 2006

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James Montgomery walked the streets for several nights before he found the ailing musician living in an alley. The aging bluesman would return to this makeshift “home” after gigs for which he was not even paid enough to get an apartment, let alone proper medical care.

But within a week, Montgomery, through his Devi Blue Foundation, had the man placed in an eldercare facility where he received the medical care he needed.

Another musician received aqua therapy treatment for tendonitis (“physical therapy is one of our strong suits,” Montgomery said), while others have had minor eye surgery, cardiac testing and treatments, and treatment and therapy of everything from bipolar disorder to carpel-tunnel syndrome to drug dependency.

Devi is a Sanskrit word meaning goddess or caregiver. Montgomery, who besides being a New England harmonica legend, and putting on some of the best shows for years, also practices yoga and tries to lead a kind and caring life. He has participated in several benefit shows recently for causes such as domestic violence and drug abuse prevention.

He first got the notion to set up a foundation to provide money for much-needed medical care to aging, or ill, blues musicians several years ago after attending a meeting of the New England Blues Society, of which he is now the president. Society members had the initial idea of getting free care to sick musicians, but, recently, the plan has emerged as a nonprofit foundation headed by Montgomery.

“At the time, they were trying something new to actually make a difference in the lives of musicians,” he said. “It first started when doctors, nurses, and other medical people would come up to me at gigs, and asked if they could help these guys. They urged them to come see them for help,” Montgomery said.

“It has always been a little frustrating for me to have a big fundraiser for a musician, and raise $6,000 to $7,000 - that would be gone in two weeks. Health care has always been frustrating to me,” he said.

Eventually, he said, certain doctors and clinics throughout New England readily agreed to see the musicians.

“They were huge blues fans happy to see our people,” Montgomery said.

Now, the foundation has grown to a network of clinics, medical practitioners, and other facilities to which musicians are referred. And, amazingly, rather than a waiting list of patients, there is a waiting list of doctors to see the musicians.

The foundation donates a few thousand dollars to clinics in return for treating the musicians. But Montgomery said soon, there will be two full- time employees - a social worker and a nurse - running the program.

“Getting a social worker is key, so they could figure out eligibility for benefits, he said.

He stressed that free care through the foundation is the last step for trying to get medical care to the musicians. There are initial lines of defense, he said, such as ascertaining if the musician is eligible for veterans’ benefits, Medicare or Medicaid. And sometimes, there are free neighborhood clinics to be looked into first.

“We donate money to the free clinics that our musicians go to, and the people really get blown away when we do that,” Montgomery said.

“A plus is that our people are always overseen by one of our doctors, even if they are sent to the VA (Veteran’s Administration). So they are getting followed,” he added.

“The treating physicians are expected to call back and share reports.”

Several big fundraising events to supplement the foundation are planned for next year, including what will become an annual fundraiser concert early in the year (with some big name acts).

Also next year, there will be a fundraising concert on Aug. 24 at Cape Cod Community College, featuring Montgomery with Johnny Winter and K.K. Bell. It will be hosted by Lenny Clarke. On Sept. 22 a show at the Indian Ranch in Webster will feature James with another James: Cotton.

The public will soon be able to donate on Montgomery’s Web site as well.



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