By Ray Shasho
When Ronnie Montrose transposed into his first guitar solo at the Largo Cultural Center back in October, an exhilarated audience scrambled their chairs up against the stage to catch an impassioned glimpse of the legendary guitar virtuoso. Montrose genuinely had fun with the audience while playing their setlist to its perfection. Ronnie was all smiles that evening. It was his first tour in a long while after battling cancer. I was very fortunate to be Ronnie and Leighsa’s guest while I reviewed the show and witnessed the guitar virtuoso from back stage. It was a rare and wonderful experience indeed. Several weeks before the show, I was also fortunate to interview Ronnie by phone as he and wife Leighsa drove to their next gig in California.
Ronnie fought courageously but lost his battle with cancer yesterday. He recently celebrated his 64th birthday during a surprise party. The Ronnie Montrose official website released this statement…During the party, “He gave an impromptu speech, and told us that after a long life, filled with joy and hardship, he didn't take any of our love for granted.”
Guitar virtuoso Ronnie Montrose launched his brilliant career with Irish rocker Van Morrison. Montrose played on the albums Tupelo Honey and Saint Dominic’s Preview. And Ronnie’s guitar riff on Morrison’s huge hit “Wild Night” will forever be cemented as one of the most memorable in classic rock history.
Montrose left Van Morrison to join The Edgar Winter Group and enjoyed commercial success with the release of They Only Come Out at Night. The album climbed up to Number 3 on the Billboard charts and spawned the enormous Top 40 hits “Frankenstein” (# 1 hit) and “Free Ride.” (# 14 hit)
In 1973 Ronnie felt the desire to orchestrate his own band and so he formed the hard rock group that bears his own signature MONTROSE. The combination of Ronnie Montrose on Les Paul and Sammy Hagar on vocals created a hard driving rock and roll machine that churned out monster releases Montrose and Paper Money and Hard Rock Classics like “Hard Candy,” “Bad Motor Scooter,” “Space Station No 5,” “I Got the Fire” and “Rock the Nation.”
After Sammy Hagar left the band, Montrose released several albums before forming Gamma in 1979 with Robin Trower’s current lead vocalist Davey Pattison. The group released four cutting-edge rock albums.
After Gamma, Ronnie Montrose released a string of great albums and a return to the road as Montrose including a triumphant reunion appearance with ex frontman Sammy Hagar in 2005.
Over the years Ronnie Montrose has shared his electrified guitar wizardry with legendary artist like Herbie Hancock, Boz Scaggs, Gary Wright, Nicolette Larson, Paul Kantner and The Neville Brothers.
Here’s a short segment from my interview with Ronnie Montrose September 2011.
What made you pick up a guitar and start playing one day?
“What made me pick up a guitar? It weighed a lot less than a piano.”
“A friend of mine had the instrument when I think I was seventeen and I picked it up and I just resonated with the electric guitar immediately so it was just something where I knew I was going.”
How did you start the band Montrose?
“Put the word out in the Bay area where I lived in the San Francisco Bay area. And Sammy Hagar had seen me play at Winterland with Edgar Winter and Sam got my number from a guy and said I was looking for a singer called me up told me I’m your man and I went to see him at a club he was playing at in San Francisco and realized he’d be the perfect guy for my lead singer in my new ensemble and that’s how that happened.
But I’m having so much fun now simply going around and playing Montrose and Gamma music.”
Any chance of you and Sammy hooking up again in the future?
“Every once in awhile I wouldn’t be surprised if Sammy and I hit the stage again just for fun and play some of our tunes but it all depends on what each one of us is doing.”
You guys are definitely going to blow the roof off the Largo Cultural Center.
“From my mouth to God’s ear.”
Our prayers are with Leighsa and the entire Montrose family.
Contact Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org