|Hagar and Montrose|
By Ray Shasho
MONTROSE invades the Largo Cultural Center on Thursday October 20th with ticket prices set at a mere $25.00 in advance and only $30.00 on the day of the show. Michael Lee Firkins will open this must see show presented by Guitar Player Magazine.
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 “Rock 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.
And now MONTROSE is back with what Ronnie calls “My dream band.”
I caught up with Ronnie Montrose while on the road to his next gig in California.
Here’s my chat with guitar prodigy/songwriter/producer/ Ronnie Montrose.
Ronnie, thank you for spending some time with me today.
“Yea we’re driving in the car and it’s a perfect time to call.”
What’s the current lineup for the MONTROSE tour?
“The lineup is Dan McNay on Bass, Steve Brown on drums, Kevin Casey on vocals and Ronnie Montrose on guitar. But this is my dream band that I’ve finally got to put together and I’m taking this band out for at least a year and we’re going out and it’s working out so well we’re going out and just tearing it up.”
NOTE: After this interview was conducted it was announced that veteran Montrose lead singer Keith St John had rejoined the band for the tour.
I watched a reunion show that Montrose did in 2005 on a You Tube video and you played “Rock the Nation” with your old bandmate Sammy Hagar.
“You know anything anybody does now is on You Tube. If you stop at McDonalds it’s on You Tube.”
I think it’s great though.
“I do too. It’s just a different world nowadays and everybody has to get use to it."
Are you a fan of the cyberspace world?
“I like it because especially all these You Tube things I mean everybody has their iPhone cameras their BlackBerry cameras and I see those cameras pointed up at me all the time now which is actually really good because of what it does for me and my band that we talked about it is that there is no time for us not to be on our toes because they’re on all the time whenever you’re playing and I think it’s very healthy. And you know there’s no monetary gain from it but it’s certainly is something that shows that when you come and play live that you’re going to be delivering one hundred percent and let’s face it there’s no amount of a You Tube video that can ever match coming to see any strong and powerful show live.”
Unfortunately the quality of many of those live You Tube videos are pretty shabby.
“Well you know that’s the nature of cell phones but at least it’s getting out there and when we come to a town and then into a venue and we deliver a super powerful show I like it being out there on these not good quality cell phones but at least it’s getting it around.”
What musicians did you admire while growing up?
“Wait a minute; let’s get this straight I have not grown up yet. I’m 63 and I’m still a big kid. My first experience with music was my father, he was like a stereo buff and he built his own little Hi-Fi center with recorders and everything and I listened to a lot of jazz, I mean he listened to big band and jazz and singers Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Sara Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond a phenomenal instrumental player, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonius Monk he listened to everything on that side of it which gave me a sensibility for melody but when I started reaching teenage years in the 60’s I listened to everything that was on the radio like everyone else did which was Chuck Berry, Beach Boys and then of course Beatles, Stones all of the cool stuff Paul Revere & the Raiders all of the cool stuff that was there and of course in the 60’s I was completely blown away like everyone else by Hendrix and Cream and Deep Purple and Jeff Beck and all of that so those were my influences.”
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.”
Did you learn to read music when you first started to play the guitar?
“I’ve never known how to read music in my life.”
I find that amazing because there are so many legendary artist who in fact did not read music and somehow composed musical masterpieces. (The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix for example)
“Many ethnic musicians who play just from their heart and soul who read and write music they don’t do it. Reading and writing is a wonderful way of getting ideas in your head down to someone else who reads and writes but if you don’t read and write and the other musician you’re playing with are trying to express something to doesn’t read and write than it’s a question of “I wrote” so that you must learn from listening and from understanding where that’s coming from.”
I was always fascinated how brilliant musicians like yourself can play so well and figure out all the numerous hand positions on the guitar fret and play all the various chords by ear. I play guitar by ear and it’s not easy man. I recently sold my 1974 Fender Telecaster to cover the editing costs on my new book.
“Good for you because you can always get another Tele.”
I still find it amazing how you can play by ear the way you do. It’s like you have a musical sixth sense or just really remarkable ears.
“I feel very fortunate to have my ears. I’d share them with everybody but I only have two to go around.”
Do you have a nice collection of guitars? These days it’s a better investment than the stock market.
“My philosophy is honestly never collected anything that I don’t play. I know a lot of people that collect guitars but for me I want instruments that I play. And if I don’t play them I don’t’ want to have them sitting in a closet collecting dust.”
When you played in The Edgar Winter Group you guys released the monster hit album They Only Come Out at Night. And you had joined Edgar Winter after playing with Van Morrison. How did you hook up with Edgar Winter?
“I got a call to go to New York, they had heard about me in California after Van Morrison and got a call to go to New York and try out for his band and the rest is history.”
So you left The Edgar Winter Group at the peak of their success?
“We were all just experiencing growing pains and it was time for me to go back to California and start my rock band. And that’s when I came back and started Montrose.”
What was it like working with Edgar Winter?
“Just incredible, I mean Edgar Winter is one of my heroes one of my favorite musicians and I consider him to be a big brother and a mentor because he’s always helped me throughout the years and it was always such a privilege to play with him. And really I’m just a kid playing with this really talented musician and given tutelage.”
Yea Edgar Winter is still rockin’.
“Big time, I’m going to Jam with him next Sunday.”
I met Rick Derringer and Mark Farner after the Hippiefest show in Clearwater last week.
“ I just toured a few shows with Mark Farner we all used Pat Travers Band and I love Mark he’s a great guy. I just jammed with Pat last week he was on the bill with me and we jammed Bad Motor Scooter together.”
I know this was probably just a rumor but were you ever asked to join Mott the Hoople?
“That’s a myth that’s been around forever and the fact is Ian Hunters management flew out to California and knew about me and was looking for a guitar player they did investigate if I was available and it never went any further than that because I was actually putting Montrose together. In fact I didn’t turn down a job or an audition the fact was I just wasn’t available.
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.”
Ronnie thank you so much and I’ll see you at the Largo Cultural Center on October 20th.
“It’s absolutely my pleasure.”
I want to thank Leighsa Montrose for arranging this interview with guitar hero Ronnie Montrose.
Buy tickets for the MONTROSE concert on October 20th at the Largo Cultural Center right here.
Or call the box office at 727-587-6793.
Ronnie Montrose website- http://www.ronniemontrose.com/
Largo Cultural Center website- http://www.largo.com/department/division.php?fDD=15-105
Order author Ray Shasho’s great new book called Check the Gs -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business. Get your copy today at http://rayshasho.com/
“Normalcy is a myth and anyone who tells you differently isn't very normal. "Check the Gs" is a memoir from Ray Shasho who tells of his own offbeat upbringing working in the family business art gallery, from a young age. Of Cuban and Syrian descent, he tells a very American story of coming from everything, seeing everything, walking the line of the law and much more. A fun and fast paced memoir, "Check the Gs" is a worthwhile addition to many a memoir collection.” ~~ MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Contact Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org