I can’t count how many years ago it was that my older brother came home with a debut album from a band called Montrose.
The band, headed by session musician and guitar wiz Ronnie Montrose, featured a young Sammy Hagar on vocals and Bill Church – who later backed Hagar in his solo career – on bass. It was rocking stuff from Montrose, who had emerged as a legit axe man from his work with Edgar Winter and Van Morrison.
So it was a sad day at the Listening Room when Montrose died on Saturday at age 64. Rolling Stone did a good piece on his death.
There’s a strange dynamic involved in something like this. We had all essentially forgotten Davey Jones until he died last week. Then the Monkees are all over the place. It’s a sort of nostalgic rediscovery. For me, Montrose’s death has brought some of those tunes back. Montrose still played gigs in recent years, and some of the band’s material got some stage time from Hagar after he went solo. Heck, Van Halen played a few during Hagar’s time with them.
But Montrose was a pretty unique talent who didn’t always get the acclaim he deserved. A few years ago, when we started profiling underrated guitar players, Montrose was the second musician we featured.
I’m afraid he won’t get the fanfare that Davey Jones got – only because Montrose never got the acclaim.
Well, he did in my house.
Here’s our earlier profile of Montrose. Rest in peace, Ronnie.
“Ronnie’s got some appetite,” Smith wrote. “He’ll play forever. The kid is no da Vinci. He’s no jack of all trades. He’s complete guitar.”
Although he didn’t actually start playing until he was 17, Montrose has indeed been all guitar since. By his mid-20s he was playing with Van Morrison on St. Dominic’s Preview and the classic 1971 release, Tupelo Honey. Then he joined Winter’s band, and was with the group for their 1972 hit album, They Only Come Out At Night, which featured the ageless tracks “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein.”
Ronnie Montrose had arrived. He never left.
“I shared guitars before I actually got one of my own and played a guy’s Silver tone and played another guys Danelectro 12 string and it was at about age 17 that I actually started playing,” Montrose told Wardlaw. “I don’t recall the specific guitar that was mine. I was too broke to buy a guitar so I more borrowed guitars from friends. I’ll tell you what, if you don’t think it’s rough playing lead on a 12 string… bloody fingers, man!”
Montrose’s early session work also included Gary Wright’s hit, “Dream Weaver.” But it was his solo work that defined his career. His first album, a self-titled debut put out in 1973, featured a young unknown singer named Sammy Hagar, who also sang on the follow-up album, Paper Money, before striking out on his own.
In all, Montrose went on to release six albums with the band Montrose, most recently 1987’s Mean. In 1979, he formed a new band, Gamma, which disbanded after three albums but reunited for a 2000 release, Gamma 4, and also put out a “best of” album.
Over the years, Montrose also put out 11 solo albums, including some acoustic work. Now 61, he continues to work with other artists as a musician and a producer while enjoying family life.
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