Origin: San Francisco, California
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Though born in San Francisco, little Ronnie Montrose moved with his family back to the gold rush mining town of Golden, Colorado, his mother’s birthplace.
Young Montrose spent lots of his younger years in that other Colorado mining town, Denver, until the lure of a music career enticed him to pack it up and run away to San Francisco at the age of 16.
1969 was the year he started in a band called Sawbuck, but producer David Rubinson arranged an audition with Van Morrison. Ronnie got the gig and you hear him playing on Morrison’s 1971 Tupelo Honey album. He also played on the song “Listen to the Lion” recorded during the Tupelo sessions but released on Van’s next album.
After a brief gig with Boz Scaggs, Ronnie joined the Edgar Winter Group in ’72 and played electric guitar, acoustic 12-string and mandolin for the album They Only Come Out At Night.
By this time Montrose formed his own band in 1973 with Sammy Hagar on vocals. Two albums, Montrose and Paper Money (1974) were cut with Sammy before Hagar left on his solo career.
Ronnie denies he was then offered the lead guitar gig for Mott the Hoople, but did play guitar on Gary Wright’s song “Power of Love” on the Dream Weaver album.
Two more Montrose albums, Warner Brothers Presents…Montrose! (1975) and Jump On It (1976) with another vocalist followed before Ronnie’s first solo album, the all-instrumental Open Fire in 1978.
When 1979 rolled into view, he organized another band, Gamma, with lead vocalist and Scotsman Davey Pattison for three more albums. He played guitar for Paul Kantner on the song “(She is a) Telepath” when 1983 rolled around.
MTV was the new media sensation in 1985 and Seattle’s Rail won MTV’s first Basement Tapes video contest. Ronnie was looking for a new band and toured with them, but split at the end of the tour.
He kept recording solo albums through the 80’s and 90’s and a fourth Gamma disc in 2000. Montrose had reformed the band at various times and played as a special guest at some Sammy Hagar concerts in the mid-2000’s.
During his 2009 tour, Montrose revealed that he had fought prostate cancer for the previous two years but was healthy once again. Montrose continued his production and session work, and would tour regularly over the last dozen years of his life.
On March 3, 2012, Montrose died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death was originally assumed to be the result of his prostate cancer returning. However, the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office released a report which confirmed the guitarist had taken his own life.
The toxicology reported a blood alcohol content of 0.31 percent at the time of death. In early 2012, the deaths of his uncle and of Lola, his bulldog, worsened what Guitar Player magazine called a “clinical depression that plagued him since he was a toddler.”
The artistically restless Montrose followed his muse without question, but, in 2003, he called in bassist Ricky Phillips (Styx, Bad English) and drummer Eric Singer (Kiss, Alice Cooper) to tackle a power-trio project that would rock harder than anything he had done in years.
The idea was to record 10 songs with 10 different singers and call the album 10×10. He brought Phillips and Singer to Doug Messenger’s studio in North Hollywood, and the three musicians set up to record live–no pre-production rehearsals and no overdubs — and knocked out ten basic tracks in two or three days. Sadly, Montrose was unable to see the album through during his lifetime and it quite possibly may never have been heard beyond a few Montrose-family friends. Montrose did manage to record some of his chosen vocalists–such as Sammy Hagar and Edgar Winter–but finances, schedules and a frightening illness conspired to slow and eventually stop progress.
We can all thank Phillips, Singer, Leighsa Montrose (Ronnie’s wife) and Rhino Records now, because the album that appeared destined to be lost to time will now available.
“I was talking to Eric Singer about 10×10 after Ronnie died, and I was pretty sure that I wanted to see if I could finish it, but I hadn’t been able to move forward on it,” says Phillips. “But Eric said, ‘It has to be you. You and I were there to record it. We were there when Ronnie was talking about it — what he wanted to do, who he wanted to sing on it, how he wanted it to sound. If someone else gets into this thing, it’s going to suck, and you’re going to hate it.’ That did it. I called Leighsa Montrose.”
Phillips made it his mission to finish the songs by enlisting a small army of Ronnie’s musician friends to record the vocals and the guitar solos for each song, completing the album over the course of recent years.
K-ZAP 93.3 FM is playing the song, “Color Blind,” from the forthcoming (and nearly lost!) album 10×10 set for release September 29, 2017. Hear our K-ZAP stream on your digital device, click K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/
Open Fire (1978)
The Speed of Sound (1988)
The Diva Station (1990)
Mutatis Mutandis (1991)
Music from Here (1994)
Mr. Bones (1996)
Roll Over and Play Live (1999)
10 x 10 (2017)
Paper Money (1974)
Warner Brothers Presents… Montrose! (1975)
Jump On It (1976)
The Very Best of Montrose (2000)
Gamma 1 (1979)
Gamma 2 (1980)
Gamma 3 (1982)
The Best of Gamma (1992)
Gamma 4 (2000)