by Brent Angelo
I woke up early and my wife was on the computer. As I was getting the coffee going my wife was like “Oh my God, Ronnie Montrose passed away yesterday.” My heart just sank. This was no ordinary musician to me and to have him gone seemed like a bad dream. I just couldn’t believe it and still don’t.
When I was growing up, my parents were very influential on me especially with music. They took me to a lot of concerts when I was growing up and in our house there was a lot of (now) classic rock for one. My music appreciation was growing from what I had been listening to at home and I started to find likes of my own.
One band that hit me hard was Montrose. I loved Sammy especially with Van Halen, but Montrose a rock legend. My interests in instruments started about this time so Montrose became in a way like a guitar music teacher to me. I am no expert, mainly a hobby player, but what a feeling cranking an amp and playing along to that first Montrose cd. I would sit there and really listen to those songs, hearing every single note, heard some things I never noticed before and then I would try to figure them out.Then when I became old enough to hit the bars/clubs to see him play in person, that really gave me an even bigger appreciation for the man.
When I grew up in Sacramento, I would see him all the time. Ronnie was a San Francisco Bay Area guy so that played in my favor. I would see all over the area when he played…Sacramento, Tahoe, and I even went to a NAMM show and saw him play there. After the Montrose “band” period, he went on to a solo instrumental career so I saw and heard a lot of that music especially. There was this one magical night at a club called Big Shots in Roseville California that he was doing some solo work when a local musician, who I was unfamiliar with got Ronnie in the jamming mood. He offered his rock vocals and they started blasting through the “classic” Montrose tunes. It was amazing and the people went nuts. You can tell Ronnie was having a blast with a grin from ear to ear. It has to be hard for an artist when they create something massive in scale where so many people love it and are so dedicated to it.
Ronnie was an artist and not some greatest hits kind of guy. He challenged himself as an artist even writing music for video games. He had his solo work, acoustic work, other band projects, but his fans missed “Montrose”. He listened to his audience and began to play those beloved songs again. It was around the same time, Sammy Hagar and Van Halen had gone their separate ways. Sammy had begun writing for his solo album, Marching to Mars and in the process got all the original members back together for the song Leaving the Warmth of the Womb. It was like time stood still….that huge sound was BACK. The reunion of the band gave for speculation of a possible full scale reunion, but that never happened. Montrose did do some shows with Sammy on his solo tour making for some amazing encores.
Soon after Ronnie’s health sidelined him from music and he stepped out of the spotlight.He began to battle Prostate Cancer. He was missed in the rock world and then out of the blue, he was back. Ronnie seemed healthy, happy and ready to retake his rock throne. Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, Portland is now my rock ‘n’ roll home. When I saw Ronnie was to play Portland’s Aladdin Theater, I “jumped on it” getting tickets as soon as they went on sale. As a local music photographer and new to Buko.net, I thought I would try some new ground on this show too. I got a photo pass, and was also offered a chance to interview him as well. What do you ask your guitar hero?
I did my best as it was my first time, but what an experience. He and his awesome wife/manager were so good to me. These people are the real deal kind of folks. They were not the usual “music business” types. As a long time fan, I just really wanted to show my thanks somehow. I knew he had health issues and I was glad to have him back. In my own way, I wanted to help get the info out to help sell this show out. I personally wanted Ronnie to walk out on that stage to a full house of fans and know he had been really, truly missed. When he came to that show, he got just that and for the fans, they got Ronnie at his best. He was simply ON FIRE. He sounded better than ever. His playing was strong and the band as a whole put on an amazing show showcasing the great songs from his career in music. It was truly a special night of music and it was so good seeing my guitar hero play live again.
As part of the performance, he had set up a program to donate a guitar at each show that would benefit a local charity. With my help, I hooked him up with the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, who I thought would be perfect for his guitar donation. When he heard about the music education program they were involved in, he told them the guitar was theirs. He was a giving type and cared about the people around him. He was not a musician to run into the bus after the show and made time for each and every fan, who wanted to see him. He had no ego, only heart. I never thought the Aladdin show would be my last show of his, but what a memorable night it was.
Ronnie Montrose had a long, amazing, storied career in music. He has played with so many people during that time. In his days with Edgar Winter for one, he helped create classics like Frankenstein and Free Ride. It was his own band Montrose with Sammy Hagar that really made him a rock legend in his own. The sound he and the band captured on that first record defined guitar and show what it was capable of. Songs like Rock Candy sounded huge – massive drums and sonic guitar riffs. So many musicians were inspired by Montrose’s work and still credit him. Some musicians that I have gotten to know over the years credit him for a lot of things they now know about the music business. He was a great musician, but also a smart businessman too. He took care of the people around him and treated his fans with respect. I am sad to see him gone and that he lost his battle with cancer. Ronnie did not leave this world on a low note, but a high one. His last tour was a celebration of an amazing musician and a great songwriting legacy. I am thankful of the times I had with him and will miss him greatly. You rocked my world my friend….you may be gone, but the music will live forever.
Ronnie Montrose fan (and friend)
More info on his career
For my Buko.net interview
Brent Angelo Photography gallery from the Aladdin