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Ronnie Montrose Dead at 64

Montrose influenced a generation of players with his visceral power-trio playing.

Photo by Jim Summaria

The guitar and music community suffered a great loss on March 3 with the passing of rock veteran Ronnie Montrose (November 29, 1947 – March 3, 2012). Over the past few years Ronnie fought a difficult battle with prostate cancer, which he sadly succumbed to late last week. He was 64.

While best known for his 1973 debut album, Montrose, which featured a young Sammy Hagar on vocals, Montrose got his start recording with Van Morrison on Tupelo Honey and Edgar Winter on They Only Come out at Night (the latter of which featured the classics “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride” with Rick Derringer). Montrose’s eponymous band recorded five albums from 1973 to 1987, while Ronnie recorded nine solo albums and four albums with Gamma. His blistering tone, powerful riffs, and fearless approach set the ’70s on fire and inspired a generation of guitarists.

For this writer, Montrose’s music was always in the air when I was growing up in the Bay Area. To this day, the opening riff in “Rock Candy” blows me away with its muscular sound (which came courtesy of a Fender Bandmaster 3x10 and a Les Paul). And Hagar has stated that the tune is still one of the most requested songs whenever he jams with guitarists.

Back in 2006, I had the unique pleasure of sharing the stage with Ronnie at a local benefit concert. The first thing he said to me was, “Hey, grab this guitar and help me carry it in.” He thought I was a stagehand, and for him, I was more than happy to be. In return, we spent a few hours talking gear, music, and life over lunch. He told me he constantly blew out speakers on that Bandmaster and was re-coning or replacing them on the road all the time. Pushing the amp to that level was what got that tone we all loved. Well, that and his incredible fingers and boundless sense of adventure and creativity.

Maybe someday we’ll meet again up there at “Space Station #5.” Until then, thank you Ronnie. We’ll miss you.

Montrose gets down and dirty from 3:20 onward with some one-handed playing, and then turns his guitar upside down and plays it with the headstock to the stage.

Replete with white bell-bottoms and a sunburst Les Paul, Montrose conjures juicy, gorgeously dynamic tones in this 1978 performance in NYC.

Ronnie and a young Sammy Hagar rock the studio audience in this early Montrose performance on a British TV show.

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