How a dimly lit library room added a new chapter to the musical legacy of Big
Content by Patton Smith
It’s October 2018 and John Montgomery finds himself inside the dark, golden-hued library room of the Nomad Hotel being introduced to the The Struts. Here, in the Flatiron district of New York, the seeds are being laid for John and Big to step in for the iTunes- and Spotify-topping band and helm a music video.
Quite a journey for a boy who, at age 15, just liked vinyl. And music. And desperately wanted to be a part of all of it. So he hustled the phones until he landed a gig working t-shirt security for $25 a show.
That job came from the late Tony Ruffino, a legendary concert promoter who put Birmingham on the map, introducing the Iron City to legendary acts like The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd.
Ruffino and Gary Weinberger, now the President of Red Mountain Entertainment, opened doors for John. And soon he found himself an indie publicist for bands like Shady Politician and Radio Berlin, traveling the world in a blitzkrieg of shows, green rooms, tour buses, late-night parties, and stories deemed too-wild-for-print—even working on a movie set with Keith Richards in New Orleans.
But eventually, all paths led back to Birmingham.
At its most stripped-down essence, the job of an indie publicist in Birmingham was hanging out at The Nick and persuading college papers to commit ink to the bands he represented. And John loved bringing music to his hometown.
Which is exactly what he did with The Struts, a British glam rock band who in 2018 was referred to by Dave Grohl as “the best opening band we’ve ever had.” John, in town for the Clio Awards, saw an opportunity.
At The Bowery Ballroom, the legendary 575-capacity venue declared “America’s Best Club” by Rolling Stone, John convinced the Struts to let us shoot some promo content while they were in Tuscaloosa for a show. The label liked it so much, they asked Big to expand it into the band’s next music video. And another chapter in Big’s long, strange musical journey was written.
Big directors Brian Curtin and Ali Clark would put the finishing touches on the video for “In Love with the Camera” in early 2019, to add to the résumé of work they’ve done for St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
Speaking of, have you ever seen an album cover for St. Paul and the Broken Bones? Odds are it was designed by Big Executive Creative Director Aaron Gresham.
He’s not one to name-drop much himself (without a little arm-twisting at least; and hey, he wasn’t assigned to write this column). But peruse his résumé and you’ll see names such as Interscope Records, Sony Records, and Columbia Records.
He’s designed every album cover in the St. Paul and Broken Bones discography in addition to gig posters for artists like Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Lady Gaga, Vampire Weekend, and The Struts (of course).
Which brings us back to the dimly lit library room of a magical design-hotel in New York, New York. The kind of place you can order a cocktail, start a conversation, get lost in a book—or write a chapter of your own.