Ronnie Montrose

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Ronnie Montrose
On stage playing guitar in 1974
Montrose in 1974
Background information
Birth nameRonald Douglas Montrose
Born(1947-11-29)November 29, 1947
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedMarch 3, 2012(2012-03-03) (aged 64)
Millbrae, California, U.S.
GenresHard rock, heavy metal, instrumental rock, jazz fusion, blues rock
Years active1969–2012

Ronald Douglas Montrose[1] (November 29, 1947 – March 3, 2012) was an American guitarist who founded and led the rock bands Montrose and Gamma. He also performed and did session work with a variety of musicians, including Van Morrison, Herbie Hancock, Beaver & Krause, Boz Scaggs, Edgar Winter, Gary Wright, The Beau Brummels, Dan Hartman, Tony Williams, The Neville Brothers, Marc Bonilla and Sammy Hagar.

Montrose's 1973 debut album has often been cited as "America's answer to Led Zeppelin".[2] Ronnie Montrose is often recognized as one of the most influential guitarists in early hard rock.[3]


Montrose in 1978

Montrose was born in San Francisco.[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[1] until he ran away at about 16 years old to pursue his musical career. Ultimately he spent most of his life in the San Francisco Bay area.[5]

In 1969, he started out in a band called 'Sawbuck' with Mojo Collins (lead vocals, guitar), Starr Donaldson (guitar, vocals), Chuck Ruff (drums) and Bill Church (bass). They were signed to Fillmore Records, co-owned by producer David Rubinson and promoter Bill Graham, and toured and opened for major acts. At the end of 1970 and beginning of '71, they were recording their first and only album, Sawbuck. During this time, Rubinson had arranged an audition for Montrose with Van Morrison. Morrison, having recently moved from New York to California, needed a new band to record his next album Tupelo Honey. Both Montrose and Church left Sawbuck to join Morrison,[6] but both did appear on two songs on the Sawbuck album which was released in 1972.[7] Montrose and Church also played on the song "Listen to the Lion", recorded during the Tupelo Honey sessions and released on Morrison's next album Saint Dominic's Preview (1972).

Montrose played briefly with Boz Scaggs before joining the Edgar Winter Group in 1972. Montrose then recruited Chuck Ruff, which essentially ended the band Sawbuck. For Winter's third album release, They Only Come Out at Night (1972), which included the hit singles "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride", Montrose recorded electric guitar, acoustic 12-string, and mandolin.[8]

Montrose formed his own band, Montrose, in 1973. It featured 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 invited to play lead guitar for Mott the Hoople after he left the Edgar Winter Group, Montrose said 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 Bros. Presents Montrose! (1975) and Jump on It (1976), featuring vocalist Bob James replacing Sammy Hagar and adding Jim Alcivar on keyboards. Montrose then shifted direction and released a solo album, the all-instrumental Open Fire (1978) with Edgar Winter producing.

In 1979, Montrose formed Gamma with vocalist Davey Pattison at the recommendation of fellow Scotsman James Dewar bassist/vocalist for Robin Trower. Jim Alcivar appears on his fourth Ronnie Montrose project in a row and bassist Alan Fitzgerald returns as well with drummer Skip Gillette. Gamma had more of a progressive rock edge as compared to the Montrose band and initially produced three consecutive albums. The rhythm section was replaced by Montrose drummer Denny Carmassi and bassist Glenn Letsch with Gamma 2. Gamma 3 saw Alcivar replaced by Mitchell Froom on keyboards.

In 1983 Montrose 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.


Montrose died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on March 3, 2012. His death was originally assumed to be the result of his prostate cancer.[11] However, the San Mateo County Coroner's Office released a report that confirmed the guitarist had shot himself.[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."[citation needed]

Montrose was survived by his wife, two children and five grandchildren.


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)
  • C.J. 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. ^ "Never Forget... Ronnie Montrose Remembered 1947–2012 – National Rock Review". Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  3. ^ "Concert Tribute For Rock Guitar Legend RONNIE MONTROSE Heading To DVD". October 24, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  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. ^ "Swampland:Mojo Collins". Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  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. ^ "RONNIE MONTROSE LIVE AT THE UPTOWN – DVD - $26.00 : Ronnie Montrose, Shop". Archived from the original on November 12, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  10. ^ "Ronnie Montrose and his guitar are happy to be back in action". The Modesto Bee. November 27, 2009. Retrieved September 11, 2010.[dead link]
  11. ^ "Ronnie Montrose: The 'most fiery' guitar player -- Sammy Hagar". The L.A. Times. March 5, 2012. Retrieved July 8, 2014.
  12. ^ "Ronnie Montrose Death Ruled a Suicide". Guitar Player. November 15, 2017. Retrieved April 10, 2012.

External links[edit]