A Few Words With...Ronnie Montrose

Interview and photos by John A. Wilcox

The world recently lost Ronnie Montrose to cancer. Quite a sad loss, indeed. Montrose was an absolute master of the guitar. From his work with Edgar Winter, to Gamma, to his solo albums, Montrose was always taking the guitar to the stratosphere. I caught up with him in October of 2011 on the eve of a tour. Ronnie Montrose generously shared a bit of his time with Progsheet and I dedicate this interview to his unmatched spirit...

PS: What was the first guitar you ever bought & why did you pick that particular one?

RM: The first guitar I remember purchasing was a Gibson Melody Maker from a pawn shop next to where I worked... Why? Because I was working in San Francisco in 1967 (being a somewhat successful hippie) and didn't have any more money than the $65 it cost! I then, of course, modified it by routing out the pickup holes and putting used humbuckers in place... Side note: In those days, one could procure "patent applied for" humbuckers for around $25 each... ;)

PS: What was your first paying gig as a musician?

RM: I recall being in a band in Grand Junction, Colorado in mid/late '60s... Band: The Grim Reapers... (waaaay before silly metal names, don't ask me why we picked that one...) We played for $80 to $100 a night, and I remember speaking to a club owner in Cortez, CO and telling him, "We can't work for less than $120! We've got to buy gas!" (We got the raise...)

PS: How did you first come to meet Edgar Winter & what made you want to work for him?

RM: I received a call from Edgar's management asking me if I wanted to fly to NYC to audition as they had heard about this "young rock guitarist in California"... I accepted, and as far as wanting to be in the band? Who wouldn't???

PS: You've worked with one of my favorite human beings: Denny Carmassi. What about his drumming made you want to have him in your band at the time?

RM: Denny is and was and will always be one of my absolute favorite drummers... My quote? "He digs a freakin' groove so wide and deep that it would take a four-wheel drive and a winch to not be in it..."

PS: Let me ask you about a song or two. What was the inspiration for Rock The Nation?

RM: Simple basic chord structure and simple basic message... "I just want to have fun!"

PS: Tell me the story behind the song Man Of The Hour.

RM: There simply is no story! That record was an "assemblage of silly rock songs" and honestly I have no recollection of most of it! I only remember doing The Game Of Love, Stand, and M For Machine which I wrote to be a track on the first Robocop movie... The character in the film was named Murphy and I originally called it, Murphy's Law... When it wasn't accepted I renamed it... Still a good song as far as I'm concerned...

PS: On the 4th Gamma album, you did a terrific cover of Resurrection Shuffle. What drew you to that tune?

RM: I remember the very first time I heard that one on the radio in San Francisco and had to pull my car over, turn it up and groove... what a fantastic song! Ashton, Gardner and Dyke... No guitar! Who cares! When I was playing with Edgar Winter, I remember being in a hotel room with Johnny and others and mentioning that song... He flipped out, became very animated and told me that was on of his favorite ones as well... 'nuff said...

PS: Who is your band for this tour?

RM: I've settled in on my rhythm section absolutely... I went through many auditions once I realized I wanted to actually commit to a band for the next couple of years and after many players found my core brothers... Steve Brown on drums and Dan McNay on bass... I'm always in a quandary regarding singers as I've got exactly what I want / need in mind and won't settle for anything less... at this stage in my life, at age 63, I honestly don't need to! I'm sure that by the release of this article that things will be resolved...

PS: What's your live rig for this tour?

RM: Well, that keeps changing for many reasons... first and foremost: I fly in to many shows and as such can't fly my "home rig" everywhere... (Bogner Shivas which I love) and my pedals/delays/etc... I've been forced to use Marshall JCM 900 heads with 4x12 bottoms as they are ubiquitous... I really don't like them because they have way to much "tinny" treble and presence which I dial most of the way down... If I don't, they remain "non-testicular" as they say... Gear wise, it's another chapter opening up in my playing and I don't have time to run it down right here but promise you that I will "represent" very well in the coming months!

PS: What's the one song you must play on every tour & why?

RM: Not just one! Rock The Nation, Rock Candy, Good Rockin' Tonight, (Getting the "Rock Theme?" ;)) Space Station # 5, and of course Bad Motor Scooter which is my signature slide riff...

PS: What's next for Ronnie Montrose after this tour?

RM: I'm going to Disneyland!!

PS: Please tell me 6 CDs you never get tired of listening to?

RM: There aren't 6... I have about 2-3 thousand songs in my iPod and they're all in rotation... the one thing missing? My own music... I never listen to it; I play it!


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