This article was in print in the same month that Lead Vocalist Sammy Hagar quit the band. There is no mention of it in the article, so I guess this happened right after this interview. Hagar, a very capable guitarist himself, never got the chance to play guitar on the two albums that he did for Montrose.
Naming the band after himself, Ronnie Montrose was a very talented guitarist who sadly took his own life on March 3, 2012 after a long battle with clinical depression. He left behind a great musical contribution to the world and for those who never heard any music from Montrose, please check out the self-titled “Montrose” album. It is an absolute classic with great songs like “Bad Motor Scooter”, “Rock Candy” and “Space Station No. 5.”
The star will talk when he`s cleaned his teeth
Montrose rapping with the ring of confidence
By Max Bell
Ronnie Montrose hates doing interviews. When I arrive at Warner`s hideout I`m apologetically informed that Ronnie is too shattered to talk after driving down from Manchester in the early hours. But as if to accentuate the melodrama…”Yes he will speak after he`s cleaned his teeth.”
Meanwhile assorted Californian press-office ladies engage me in idle chit-chat. “Oh I love your countryside, it`s so green. And imagine, we saw a castle, a real live castle, I was so thrilled. And what is it with cabbage? All the English seem to be eating cabbage.
Still, it`s the prerogative of Americans in Europe to act the archetypal ingenues, manifesting wondrous significance and surprise in trivia. And anyway, they did invent the frisbee.
In the end Ronnie turns out not to project the super hero, primadonna image at all. He`s quiet and affable with a tendency to lapse into moments of laconic humour. At the moment there`s a classical guitar tape running while a model 1932 Alfa Romeo lies in semi-completion by the bedside.
If you`ve heard the recent Montrose efforts (frantic heavy rock), it wasn`t always like that. Ronnie first made a name playing sessions, and had either the fortune or sheer taste to take part in a number of the early 70`s most worthwhile ventures.
One of his first outings was on Beaver and Krause`s “Gandharva”, an album of staggering atmosphere and beauty. “Yeah, I really loved that album, especially the second side recorded in Grace Cathedral where you have fabulous natural decay and echo. When I heard it I was disappointed, not with the music but because the three tracks I laid down parts for got submerged; it`s mostly Mike Bloomfield on lead there.”
Nevertheless, an auspicious beginning – followed by a place in the Van Morrison band, both in a touring capacity and as contributor to “Tupelo Honey”.
“With Van I played quieter, arranged parts.”
Maybe I`m wrong but Ronnie`s reluctance to elaborate suggested a certain character incompatability with Morrison.
“He`s strange. I got on as well as can be expected with an introvert. When I`m with people like that I get very extrovert.”
Anyway 1972 found Montrose in Boz Scaggs` touring set up and he hadn`t made a wrong move yet. “Boz needed a concert man and I liked his music. It seems a long while ago now but I`m glad I got to do it, although, as with Van, I had to lay out a little, fill in where it was necessary.”
Playing with Scaggs brought Ronnie into contact with some of Muscle Shoals premier session men, like David Hood and Roger Hawkins.
Montrose is a fine example of the Motor Pool system in San Francisco`s Bay Area where a musician who wins a reputation subsequently gets to contribute to various projects. There`s rarely a commitment involved and artists drift around playing when and where they`re asked.
Having been a relaxed player for some time, he decided to make the move to hard-rock with Edgar Winter, performing before packed houses and pulling in mucho dollars. But that flirtation was brief too. “There wasn`t enough room to do what I wanted; it got uncomfortable. After I left Edgar, Mott the Hoople invited me to join but I would never do that. I have to express myself in my own band.”
Despite all his contacts, Ronnie swears he went through hell forming Montrose.
“It`s impossible to put a thing together now. Britain`s O.K., because it`s so isolated, but America…man, you can`t believe the problems involved in touring there. Doesn`t matter who you are, you`ve got to start off as an opening act – and that`s hard. In the words of Bill Graham, there`s people thinking `Maybe I should take a piss or get a coke`. That`s why we go out and blast them, so they remember us. The first album was `wham` too but we`re expressing ourselves more now. I`m not just into playing heavy.”
Last time over Montrose scored a resounding `live` success as support band to Status Quo, and Ronnie is just coming to terms with the different kind of audience encountered in Britain. “You don`t get the energy exchange that you have in America. I`ve found that here they listen and show appreciation after you finish instead of feedback coming over all the time.
“Actually Scotland was different. In Glasgow we got raped in a lift by a chambermaid.”
Usually, however, Ronnie doesn`t indulge in such customary postgig frolics, preferring the solitude of his room. “I get bored easy. That`s why I made models. A package tour like this can have its disadvantages. (Demonstrates a fairly passable impersonation of an English porter in militaristic mood.) `You will get up at 9 a.m., guv`nor, and bring your baggage to the door.`
“On the other hand you don`t pay for anything, and you get separate salary, expenses, meals, everything.”
Both Montrose albums have benefitted from the guiding hand of producer Ted Templeman, but Ronnie is determined to assist in proceedings, “He likes it real safe and clean. I go to the other extreme so we counterbalance each other.”
Those familiar with his earlier playing must have been a trifle taken aback witnessing the volte face involved in the Montrose band, which has resulted in him becoming cast in the `another good flash guitarist` mould. If that is true then he alone is responsible; the next album will tell exactly how much he`s forsaken the mellow tag – which could conceivably have been a hindrance as well.
I asked him if the proliferation of heavy metal, most of it dull and uninspired didn`t impose its own restrictions.
“It`s gone to the furthest point. It can`t get any louder. But then it`s taken ten years to arrive at this peak. I think it`ll get more interesting. I don`t really like what Todd Rundgren`s doing, but at least he`s taking a chance. We`re progressing now we have the support to do that. The early material was nervous energy…our recent things have a vivid intensity. I concentrate on that energy.”
Despite a blasting wall of sound they remain a three-piece and many of the songs are presented without the rhythm layers present on record. “That can be heartbreaking. Unless you`re someone like Cream, where the bass and drums put on an incredible front, it`s so frustrating.”
“I really do want another guitarist but I just can`t find a suitable one. Free had the same problem. I loved that band but `live` they were boring.
Long term adherence to a set format is becoming increasingly rare in rock bands and Montrose are no exception. They`ve already lost bassist Bill Church between albums and the lynch pin doesn`t envisage this as an end in itself.
“If I ever get into a different context, and I will, I`ll do something more intricate, use two or three instruments. I still intend to make a solo guitar record with lots of styles – not just rock. I don`t see there being solidly established bands again. We`re in a third generation now and everyone has their own cross to bear, musically speaking.
“You have so many localised groups doing something that the only way you`ll break out is to be bizarre like Bowie. I`m not being fatalistic. am I?”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Led Zeppelin, Pete Kleinow, Caravan, Paul Kossoff (Free), Peter Hammill, Blue Öyster Cult, Alice Cooper, Lenny Bruce, Eric Clapton, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Millie Jackson, Richard Digance, Bev Bevan (ELO), Gene Vincent, Charley Pride.
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