S.J. Montalbano, a local legend in the music business and beloved character about town, has died. He was 84.
Montalbano’s achievements in music include producing Dale & Grace’s “I’m Leaving It Up to You,” a national No. 1 hit in 1963. With the backing of Mickey Montalbano, his older brother by 10 years, Montalbano was a major figure in the Baton Rouge music scene from the late 1950s through the early 1970s.
Montalbano founded Montel Records and its sister labels, which included imprints named after his daughters Michelle, Stephanie and Debbie. In addition to “I’m Leaving It Up to You,” Montalbano produced regional hits by John Fred (“Shirley”), James “Sugar Boy” Crawford (“Danny Boy”), as well as recordings by Van Broussard, the Boogie Kings, Lee Tillman, Joe Tex, and the Greek Fountains.
As a promoter, Montalbano staged local concerts and nightclub performances featuring national stars including Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Fats Domino, Herman’s Hermits, the Who, James Brown, Ray Charles and Steppenwolf, and New Orleans talents Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, Huey “Piano” Smith and many more.
Leaving the music business in the 1970s, Montalbano operated the successful Bano Produce for three decades.
In 2018, Montalbano and co-writer Sam Muffoletto published his memoir, “I’m Leaving It Up to Me.” They followed up the book with a two-CD collection of Montalbano’s productions, “You're Never Too Old to Rock ’n’ Roll: The Sam Montel Collection.”
Look for updates on this story with a longer appreciation of Montalbano’s life and career.