Photo by Jim Summaria, courtesy of Wikipedia
With another heavy sigh to be cast amongst us survivors, another music legend leaves this plane for the great rock hall perpetua. Ronnie Montrose, a grossly-underrated axe slinger responsible for some of rock music's most gargantuan riffs and slides, has succumbed to his five year battle against prostate cancer.
I suppose my generation and those within us must be feeling shades of our mortality right about now. First Davy Jones, the daydream believin' frontman of The Monkees passed away last week at age 66. Over the weekend, Ronnie Montrose, 64, follows Jones through the final earthbound turnstile, hopefully to take his place next to an always-warm amp where he can plug in and wail away to his soul's content. Though there's virtually nothing in common between Jones and Montrose, that's two heavy blows my generation has to sustain in terms of our identity and to however extent you read it, components of our popular culture. Before Jones and Montrose, we recently lost Whitney Houston and Don Cornelius. For crying out loud, this sucks.
I'm personally not over the loss of Ronnie James Dio. The memory of my interview with Dio still ranks high amongst my professional accomplishments, but more so, my ear canals feel just a shade hollow without Dio's imprint upon them. Fortunately, he left behind a heck of a recorded catalog, as did Ronnie Montrose.
Problem is, Montrose never really achieved the level of recognition he should have. It's almost to the point of crusade where writers and deep rock aficianados have had to take it upon themselves to educate others about Ronnie Montrose's contributions. If we're lucky, folks know Montrose's self-titled band as the launching pad for Sammy Hagar. The Van Halen sect are the ones most in the know about this tidbit and depending on what era of Van Halen they grew up with, the anecdote of Sammy Hagar residing in Montrose is met warmly or with revulsion.
Seriously, though? Hagar and Ronnie Montrose were a lethal combination, especially on the 1973 debut Montrose album, one any rock fan worth his salt ought to own. That's not bravado speaking, it's gospel. "Bad Motor Scoooter," "Rock the Nations," "Space Station #5" and "Rock Candy" are all foundation blocks of hard rock and heavy metal, birthed from a love of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, but going one step further. If there's any real connection between Montrose and Van Halen, it's not quite the Hagar bonding agent between them. Montrose was fundamental to the outrageous heaviness of Van Halen in their early years, long before Hagar ever stepped into the latter's realm. Eddie Van Halen owes as much to Ronnie Montrose as he does to Paganini, Bach, Jimmy Page, Link Wray, Ritchie Blackmore and John Lee Hooker. Just as Mick Mars of Motley Crue owes Montrose more than due royalties for liberally borrowing Montrose's grinding outro to "Bad Motor Scootor" as the intro to Motley's "Kickstart My Heart." Tribute may have been Mars' intent, but "Kickstart" became such a massive hit there's an understated angst to be cast against casual rock fans attributing that well-known riff to the wrong originator.
Montrose may not have enjoyed the overt success between his namesake band and nine solo albums, but he was all over the place in the music scene, backing up or laying down contributions to Van Morrison, Edgar Winters, Boz Scaggs, Gary Wright, Kathi McDonald, Kevin Crider, even Herbie Hancock. Let's not overlook his work in the obscure Gamma nor his production achievements with fun in the sun hard rockers Y&T and more extreme metallers Heathen and Wrath. A prime example of Montrose's dexterity, Montrose also produced Mitchell Froom and Jerry Jennings.
Troll through Twitter this very second and you will see an outpouring from seventies and eighties-based rock and metal musicians who are all paying tribute to Montrose and commenting on their time spent around the guy. Cavalier would be the word I'd use to sum up the unified emotions in remembrance by Montrose's past associates. For me, it's just been damned maddening listening to people rave all over Mick Mars for "Kickstart My Heart" ever since the Crue's Dr. Feelgood came out in 1989. Being a rock journalist, you come across like an elitist nobody wants to hear when you set the record straight that orgasmic riff was engineered by Ronnie Montrose first, but it's a statistic worth fighting for, in my opinion. Okay, a number of blues guitarists had a hand in evolving that wailing titania, but Montrose intuitively played it like a growling engine, much like Link Wray figured out that a hard, vibrating twang was the appropriate sound to a street fight in "Rumble."
Even sadder, though, will be the collective question mark dotting people's heads when they see the headline over the web about Ronnie Montrose's passing. That's criminal, but it's also a case of poor marketing and being out of one's place and time. Van Halen made the most of their explosive capabilities and brash stage theatrics and were rewarded for it. Motley were rewarded for the same, plus they gain from the mysticism of how they still manage to walk the earth given the debauchery they've set precedence for. Ronnie Montrose, a mean mutha wielding a savvy collection of distorted cacophony he stitched together to create rock 'n roll heaven. If justice hasn't been served in this world for Ronnie, may the Lord welcome him home with proper fanfare. God is a bigger headbanger than Satan, I guarantee you that.