Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Minor Legend Passes

Oh, we were all so sophisticated and cool in those days, all out of college and law school, some getting other advanced degrees, some real money in out pockets for the first time, living in the big city -- Chicago, in this particular case -- girls even showing some interest from time to time, for awhile.  Young men out on the town, oh, we were something to see.  Men of the world.

But being mid-twenties males, there would come times -- rather more frequent than some of us would like to admit -- that we would settle in some private place with our drug of our choice (alcohol, in that particular group), put on the headphones, and listen to some screaming-guitar, heavy-chord, metal rock, and, roll.

And even though we're talking about the late Seventies and early Eighties here, one of the choicest slabs of vinyl we would spin -- and it was an early CD purchase when that technology took over -- was an album released in 1973:

"Montrose" featured guitarist Ronnie Montrose, who played for the Edgar Winter Group on the smash album "They Only Come Out at Night" ("Free Ride," "Frankenstein").   "Montrose" was also notable as the vocal debut of Sammy (then Sam) Hagar, later of Van Halen and a solo career ("I Can't Drive 55").  Drummer Denny Carmassi is still a fixture on the music scene. 

Ronnie Montrose
But it's Ronnie Montrose's guitar that cuts through the phlegm, even after all these years.  He was not extremely "fast," that most prized of guitar-playing qualities in those days, but he got this big, fat, searing, soaring solo tone out of his Les Paul, and an extremely satisfying industrial crunch out of his power chords.  And there wasn't a weak cut or sudsy ballad on the whole album.  The lyrics (many by Hagar) aren't going to make you forget Johnny Mercer or even Kurt Cobain, but spinning those tracks still puts a big smile on my face.  Sometimes, you simply had to hear "Rock Candy" or especially "Bad Motor Scooter," and nothing else would do.

Come to think of it, nothing else will do these days, either.  I'm going to go listen to them right now.

Ah.  Most satisfying. 

Ronnie Montrose died a few days ago at 64.  He had continued to play, but after "Montrose" he lost interest in hard-rockin' metal rock-and-roll and his subsequent albums under the "Montrose" band name ("Paper Money," "Jump On It") weren't very good.  He had one more moment in the sun:  He recorded a luscious solo guitar version of Gene Pitney's "Town Without Pity" from the old Kirk Douglas movie.   You can find it on You Tube.

He was an influence not only on guitarists, most notably Eddie Van Halen, but on record producers who worked to get the sound of that first "Montrose" album.  Van Halen's first album (1) was named after the band, just like "Monstrose," and (2) laid out its tracks in the same way, the same number, and approximately the same length. 

Somewhere along the line, he seems to have turned into another person altogether:

There were rumors that he and Sammy Hagar were going to get the band back together and tour, but it didn't happen before he died on March 3 at his home in Brisbane, California. 

Ronnie, thanks for the tunes and the memories, and rest in peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment