Ronnie Montrose

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Ronnie Montrose
Ronnie Montrose 4 - Montrose - 1974.jpg
Montrose in 1974
Background information
Birth name Ronald Douglas Montrose
Born (1947-11-29)November 29, 1947
San Francisco, California, US
Died March 3, 2012(2012-03-03) (aged 64)
Brisbane, California, US
Genres Hard rock, heavy metal, instrumental rock, jazz fusion, blues rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, composer, producer
Instruments Guitar, mandolin, mandocello, bass guitar, koto, vocals
Years active 1969–2012
Associated acts Montrose, Gamma, Edgar Winter Group, Van Morrison, Sawbuck
Notable instruments
Gibson Les Paul

Ronald Douglas Montrose[1] (November 29, 1947 – March 3, 2012) was an American rock guitarist, who led the bands Montrose (1973-77 & 1987) and Gamma (1979-83 & 2000) and also performed and did session work with a variety of musicians, including Van Morrison (1971–72), Herbie Hancock (1971), Beaver & Krause (1971), Boz Scaggs (1971), Edgar Winter (1972 & 1996), Gary Wright (1975), The Beau Brummels (1975), Dan Hartman (1976), Tony Williams (1978), The Neville Brothers (1987), Marc Bonilla (1991 & 1993), Sammy Hagar (1997), and Johnny Winter. The first Montrose album was often cited as "America's answer to Led Zeppelin"[2] and Ronnie Montrose was often referred to as one of the most influential guitarists in American hard rock.[3]


Montrose was born in San Francisco, California.[4] When he was a toddler, his parents moved back to his mother's home state of Colorado (his father was from Bertrand, Nebraska, and his mother was from Golden, Colorado). He spent most of his younger years in Denver, Colorado[1] until he ran away at about 16 years old to pursue his musical career. He ultimately spent most of his life in the San Francisco Bay area.[5]

In 1969, he started out in a band called 'Sawbuck' with Bill Church. Montrose had been in the process of recording what would have been his first album with Sawbuck when producer David Rubinson arranged an audition with Van Morrison. Montrose got the job and played on Morrison's 1971 album Tupelo Honey.[6] He also played on the song "Listen to the Lion", which was recorded during the Tupelo Honey sessions but released on Morrison's next album Saint Dominic's Preview (1972).[7]

Montrose played briefly with Boz Scaggs and then joined the Edgar Winter Group in 1972, recording electric guitar, acoustic 12 string, and mandolin on Winter's third album release, They Only Come Out at Night (1972), which included the hit singles "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride".[8]

Montrose formed his own band, Montrose, in 1973, featuring Sammy Hagar on vocals. That incarnation of the band released two albums on Warner Bros. Records, Montrose (1973) and Paper Money (1974), before Hagar left to pursue a solo career. Although the liner notes for the CD edition of Paper Money said that Montrose was offered to play lead guitar for Mott the Hoople, when he left the Edgar Winter Group, Montrose says that it never happened and was just a rumor. He also added his guitar work to Gary Wright's song, "Power of Love" off the 1975 album, The Dream Weaver.

The guitarist released two more Montrose band albums in the rock/vocal format (Warner Brothers Presents... Montrose! (1975) and Jump on It (1976), featuring vocalist Bob James replacing Sammy Hagar), then shifted direction and released his debut solo album, the all-instrumental Open Fire (1978) before returning to the rock-vocal format and forming Gamma in 1979, initially releasing three albums under that name with Davey Pattison singing.

In 1983 he played lead guitar on the song "(She Is a) Telepath" from Paul Kantner's album Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra although he wasn't a member of the original PERRO.

In 1985 he joined Seattle's Rail (winners of MTV's first Basement Tapes video competition) for several months. He was looking for a new band and one of Rail's guitarists, Rick Knotts, had recently left. Billed as 'Rail featuring Montrose' or 'Ronnie & Rail', they played a set of half Rail favorites and half Montrose songs ("Rock Candy". "Rock the Nation". "Matriarch". and Gamma's remake of Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air"). At the end of the tour, there was an amicable split.

He continued to record through the 1980s and 1990s, releasing solo albums including The Speed of Sound (1988), Music from Here (1994), and Bearings (2000), as well as another Montrose album titled Mean (1987) and a fourth Gamma album Gamma 4 (2000).

Montrose appeared on Sammy Hagar's solo album Marching to Mars (1997) along with original Montrose members bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Carmassi on the song "Leaving the Warmth of the Womb". The original Montrose lineup also reformed to play as a special guest at several Sammy Hagar concerts in summer 2004 and 2005. Montrose also performed regularly from 2001 until 2011 with a Montrose lineup featuring Keith St. John on lead vocals and a rotating cast of veteran hard rock players on bass and drums. In 2011, Montrose formed the 'Ronnie Montrose Band' with Randy Scoles on vocals, Dan McNay on bass, and Steve Brown on drums, playing music from his entire career, including both Montrose and Gamma songs. This lineup was captured in his final released work, the concert DVD Ronnie Montrose: Live at the Uptown.[9]

During his 2009 tour, Montrose revealed that he had fought prostate cancer for the previous two years but was healthy once again;[10] he continued to tour until his death in 2012.

Personal life[edit]

Montrose had two children, Jesse and Kira, and five grandchildren. He was also survived by two brothers, Rick and Mike, and his wife, Leighsa.


On March 3, 2012, Montrose died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death was originally assumed to be the result of his prostate cancer returning.[11] However, the San Mateo County Coroner's Office released a report which confirmed the guitarist had taken his own life.[12]

The toxicology reported a blood alcohol content of 0.31 percent at the time of death. In early 2012, the deaths of his uncle and of Lola, his bulldog, worsened what Guitar Player magazine called a “clinical depression that plagued him since he was a toddler.”


Solo albums[edit]

With Montrose[edit]

With Gamma[edit]

Session work[edit]


  • Mitchell FroomKey of Cool (1984)
  • Jeff Berlin / Vox Humana – Champion (1985) background vocals
  • Wrath – Nothing to Fear (1987)
  • Heathen – Breaking the Silence (1987)
  • CJ Hutchins – Out of These Hands (1998) guitar, bass
  • Jerry Jennings – Shortcut to the Center (1999) [Released in 2005]
  • Y&TUnearthed, Vol. 2 (2005) composer


  1. ^ a b Ben Sisario (March 5, 2012). "Ronnie Montrose, Hard-Rock Guitarist, Dies at 64". The New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2012. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Perrone, Pierre (March 13, 2012). "Ronnie Montrose: Hard-rocking and influential guitarist". Retrieved March 13, 2012. 
  5. ^ Grissim, John (January 31, 1976). "Ronnie Montrose: Roar of White Noise". The Morning Record. Rolling Stone. 
  6. ^ VanderBeek, Brian (September 1, 2011). "Ronnie Montrose is back and ready to rock". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  7. ^ "Ronnie Montrose Biography". Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  8. ^ Prown, Pete; Newquist, Harvey P.; Eiche, Jon F. (1997). Legends of Rock Guitar. Hal Leonard. pp. 112–113. ISBN 0-7935-4042-9. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Ronnie Montrose and his guitar are happy to be back in action". The Modesto Bee. 2009-11-27. Retrieved 2010-09-11. [dead link]
  11. ^ "Ronnie Montrose: The 'most fiery' guitar player -- Sammy Hagar". The L.A. Times. 5 March 2012. Retrieved 2014-07-08. 
  12. ^ "Ronnie Montrose Death Ruled a Suicide". Guitar Player. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-10. 

External links[edit]