I don't remember the first time I ever heard a Montrose song. I worked in radio in the '70s, while I was in high school, but that station played only top 40 so who knows. In 1982 I came to know the name Montrose very well. I bought GAMMA 3 and became a fan.
In 1987 I met Ronnie for the first time when he toured with Alan Holdsworth. It was a great show ( THE SPEED OF SOUND TOUR ). A few years later I contacted Ronnie's manager to get permission to use one of his songs for a film I was making in film school. Then one day, to my surprise, Ronnie called me. We talked about film and then about music. I told him that my band, ANTI-M was doing and album "NO WAVES IN HELL" and he asked to hear the demos. Time passed and we did not talk for a couple of years. It was when I had made demos for the second ANTI-M album, POSITIVELY NEGATIVE, that I contacted Ronnie again. Ronnie found the songs interesting. Fortunately, he was able to work in a recording session with us between his trips to southern california to work on the "mr. BONES"project.
I loved the work Ronnie did for us and tried to return the favor by putting up one of the first RONNIE MONTROSE WEB SITES. That site has continued to bring in email and I have made friends with many Montrose fans over the years. The biggest surprise was after a show when Ronnie walked by and said "Hey Wedge, I'll talk to you in a few minutes" and someone said "You're Wedge?" and I realized just how many people I had reached with this web site.
I would like to thank all the people who gave me input and information for the site. This includes those involved with Sammy Hagar, Davey Pattison, Edgar Winter and Alan Fitzgerald's brother, Mark. And of course no thanks would be complete without mentioning Ronnie.
AND NOW, THE INTERVIEW....(an unedited audio version is available at youtube)
It was a typical, dreary overcast day in Pasadena. Michael Wilcox and I (Wedge) were finishing up a film at the Post Group. We drove over to PooBah records where we met Ronnie. I had not seen him since the Anti-m session 1995. Ronnie was running on very little sleep. A combination of work and a nasty visit to the dentist. We had a casual lunch and then sat down to talk.
WEDGE: When did you get your first guitar?
RONNIE MONTROSE: I don't recall getting a first guitar. I shared guitars before I actually got one of my own and played a guy's Silver tone and played another guys Danelectro 12 string and it was at about age 17 that I actually started playing. I don't recall the specific guitar that was mine. I was too broke to buy a guitar so I more borrowed guitars from friends. I'll tell you what! If you don't think it's rough playing lead on a 12 string...bloody fingers, man!
WEDGE: Was there any particular band or gig you went to that influenced you more than anything else?
RM: I would say seeing the original Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page at the old Fillmore was a pretty powerful influence on me. Seeing Cream at Winterland was very powerful for me. Hendrix obviously was without peer, those early bands, that kind of stuff. I much more liked the Yardbirds with Beck and Page than I did the live Zeppelin things even though, in my opinion, Jimmy Page is the most prolific "guitar riff writer" to have ever lived on this planet. A lot of people have slagged him for not being the greatest live player but no one has written more identifiable guitar riffs! Man!...when you think about all the beautiful riffs that he's written...one of the best.
WEDGE: What was your first big break?
RM: Playing with Van Morrison. Being offered the chance to play in Van's band and do the Tupelo album was a pretty serious break! Then came the offer to play with Edgar Winter! Another break, to say the least!
WEDGE: Considering your success with bands such as Van Morrison and The Edgar Winter Group what was the driving force behind forming MONTROSE?
RM: Growing pains in Edgar's band. There just wasn't quite enough room for the talent and the desire that everyone had. There was Edgar, Dan Hartman, me, Rick Derringer was in producing the group for a while... There were so many influences that I needed a creative vehicle to be something that could drive myself as opposed to being in someone's band and working for someone.
WEDGE: Was there any particular reason why Sammy Hagar departed Montrose?
RM: [pauses and smiles]...We have a long standing joke now, because I did fire him from the Montrose band for some of the same reasons that I left the Edgar Winter Group. He was on to his own thing and had many more things that he wanted to do as a band leader than he could do in our format. Same thing that I did with Edgar. One of the running jokes is that it took Van Halen a lot longer than it took me to fire him! Another one I love is one that Sam told when I was playing on his last album [Marching to Mars]...he [Sammy] said, "People keep asking me, like what happened to Ronnie? And I tell them, shit, Ronnie fired me, fired everybody else, I think he fired himself!". [laughs]
WEDGE: How did this affect the band both musically and emotionally?
RM: The dynamic of the original Montrose band was singular and powerful! It was only after getting together with the four of us in the studio, hanging out and jamming with each other [on "Marching to Mars"] for the first time in about 20 years that I rediscovered and realized how awesome a trio that band was! The band was never the same, not only after Sam was gone, but the band was never the same when Bill [Church-Bass] left, too. It was Sam's friend, Alan Fitzgerald, who came in when we all decided we wanted more from a bass player....Bill's a damn fine bass player, a wonderful rock player, but at that point we wanted keyboards and more harmonic structure...but the band really, in my opinion, was never the same after the first album. Because it was the original 4 guys, and the dynamic of those 4 guys interacting together that had the power.
WEDGE: Open Fire is considered a landmark instrumental album, what was your i inspiration to do and entirely instrumental album?
RM: I had just basically gotten tired of working, touring on the road with a vocalist and the whole process of doing vocal oriented music. Attempting to write vocal oriented songs to me felt like going through the motions and if you are going to go through the motions you might as well just do any gig that caused you to do repetitive motions like banging a hammer or serving fries. I mean it just didn't make sense to me at the time, so it [OPEN FIRE] was what I wanted to do. I was following my muse and I was very fortunate in having good people around me and it turned out to be a pretty good recording in my opinion. A lot of vocal oriented rock fans and fans of the original Montrose band hated that record. There were reviews from people who said that the album sucked and there were reviews from people who said finally he's doing something good. You know, you don't please everybody.
WEDGE: How did the band Gamma come to be?
RM: Gamma was a logical progression after doing the Open Fire record. I was working with Bill Graham management at the time and it was obvious to everyone concerned that albums like Open Fire, while they were good for me creatively, were not going to be commercially successful. So I didn't have any problem, at the time, doing that. Seemed natural. The last 2 Montrose albums [WB presents and Jump On It] .....I felt like I was in a real rut here and so by doing the Open Fire record I was ready to do another vocal album. It was a logical progression. We were actually such fans of Jimmy Dewar [Robin Trower] that I called him up in London and talked to him and he told me about Davey [Pattison] and said he was one of the best undiscovered singers around and he was definitely right. So Davey flew over and we started the band.
WEDGE: Were there any particular reasons why you disbanded?
RM: Gamma disbanded because during the Gamma 3 recording there was such an attempt to manufacture a "hit single" that it was again seeming to me like the music business was again becoming to me, upper case "BUSINESS"and lower case "music" and the "music" was even in parenthesis! I am very aware now that music is a business, but there is also a way to go about making music that is true to yourself as opposed to doing, you know, just going through the motions and making things that would just be commercially successful. I think that Gamma sort of got to that point through management and label and the whole deal and it didn't feel right so I stopped it. Period.
[on TERRITORY] TERRITORY
was a hodgepodge album at best. It was a bunch of demos I had put together. I had just produced Jeff Berlin's "CHAMPION" album, which was on the Passport Jazz label and a person, whose name I forget, at the label asked if I had anything that could be put together for a record. I had some demos I had done with Mitchell Froom that were on there and demos I'd done for other things. It was basically a thrown together album. That is one of my least favorite records, yet I get a lot of people who tell me they really like it!
RM: [on MEAN] I enjoyed doing MEAN. I did that record with Johnny Edwards, who then later went on to sing with Foreigner, and James Kottak, who later drummed with a band called Kingdom Come, and with Glenn Letsch, who as you know, was with Gamma. I just put that record together because it was something I wanted to do. Johnny and James were in a band called Buster Brown and I really enjoyed working with them. I knew we were not going to be able to do a band but I just asked them if they wanted to do a project. Had I known that Buster Brown wouldn't have stayed together I'd have suggested we go out and tour a little bit with that band. Because it was a tight fun band to be in but at that point I was under the assumption I was just borrowing John and James from Buster Brown and they were going to get a big deal and go out and do that so I enjoyed it. A bunch of silly rock songs but I enjoyed it.
WEDGE: In the late 80's you released THE SPEED OF SOUND and THE DIVA STATION. Many have commented that this is some of your finest work. Was there anything about this particular point in time that made these albums special?
RM: THE SPEED OF SOUND is my favorite instrumental album I have done so far. I would probably prefer to remix it but as I told you, [referring to ANTI-M] "It's mixed! Leave it alone!" I did SOS with the well-wishes of Bill Hein and with his encouragement which was great because he really didn't want anything other than a good instrumental guitar album. We had done the MEAN album and the problem with the album, once again, was that the record company didn't have the ability to follow up on the promotion and air play that was gained when we covered Wayne Fontana and the Mind Benders "GAME OF LOVE". So at that point, you know, Bill Hein, kind of as an extension of good will said, "Listen, just go make mea definitive guitar album". I had a budget for it, the timing was right and I got one of my favorite drummers around, Johnny Badanjek who played with the original "Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels" on all of those wonderful hits they did. I had actually played with Johnny a couple of times before. He played on Edgar Winters "Free Ride" also.The basic band was the trio of me, Johnny B. and Glenn [Letsch] I just had such a great time!. It was a really fun album. I was pleased with the work that I did on it and the inspiration was really there for me.
RM: [on the BEST OF GAMMA] I cannot fathom how the best of Gamma could not include Solar Heat and Ready for Action! It's a good compilation butt he absence of those two songs [from GAMMA 1] is beyond me.
WEDGE: Did you ever tour as a band called PHYS ED?
RM: No, I did not tour "as" a band called PHYS ED. I was producing demos for a band that was called Physical Ed. Out of production of demos I went and did a few jam sessions with then in Northern California clubs, but I never actually toured with them.
WEDGE: In 1995 you played on 4 tracks on the independent release of ANTI-M POSITIVELY NEGATIVE.
Was there anything in particular about their music that made you interested in the project?
RM: I liked the quirkiness of the Anti-m project. I know that a lot of people have told me it sounds kind of '80s and after talking to you guys [Wedge and Michael Wilcox] I understand WHY it sounds '80s and I don't have a problem with it sounding '80s! I felt like the logistics were good, coming through Santa Barbara [between the Bay Area and working on "mr. BONES"]. It was very satisfying knowing I could come in not really knowing what I was going to do, and at the end of the session feeling that I'd really done interesting guitar work and knowing that I'd really contributed to the music. It was a good experience because I challenged myself to take music that was kind of sketchy [Ronnie had only heard basic 4 track demos prior to his performance] and part of the beauty of the process was just taking ideas and adding and making it happen and I'm very pleased and satisfied with my contribution.
WEDGE: You recently released the soundtrack to the SEGA GENESIS game mr.BONES. What was it like to work on the soundtrack to a complex video game?
RM: The soundtrack was an absolute pure joy and it was a wonderful experience. "mr. BONES" was a tedious, long, exhausting experience for me. When I first went in there I was told by the producer ,"We want you to do the soundtrack for this game, it's a GUITAR - driven game." Perfect! I actually ended up acting in it, I did a bit part, played a blind, hermit guitar player. I not only composed, but I did all the motion capture moves that were then morphed on "Bones", so it's my moves when he plays! I was told it was going to take 6 months and it ended up taking 2 years!! It was very......just a tedious process of having your music sampled and cut and pasted in such a way. On the "mr. BONES" soundtrack CD, none of the same constraints [sampling and space and time limits of the game] were there. I was able to call in Myron Dove and Billy Johnson [Santana] and a keyboardist named Joe Heinemann. I played them demos and we'd just make music and it was such a release and such a joy after 2 years of tedious work with the game part. Just to go in and play music with world class players! Wow! No midi! I also composed and underscored lots of cinematic pieces which I really enjoyed because I felt I came through even though it was a serious challenge for me.
WEDGE: I hear you are going to put up your own web site.....(ronnieland.com went up and finally Ronnie got RONNIEMONTROSE.COM but at this time (2008) these sites are down)
RM: My son Jesse is a very gifted programmer and is helping me set up my personal page and Michele [Graybeal-Drums and Percussion on "MUSIC FROM HERE"] is not only a great drummer, but is also a very talented, qualified artist and we're going for an organic feel, all hand rendered art, completely away from any computer-generated graphics if we can possibly avoid it. Lots of special features, I can't wait til it's up and running! (this site was replaced with the one linked above) (see photos from the Music From Here Tour)
WEDGE: I hear you have a live album in the works featuring the lineup from"MUSIC FROM HERE"... (Roll Over and Play Live)
RM: Just before the "mr. BONES" Project, we had just finished doing a live, multi track recording, of some dates in Northern California that got put on the shelf. Now that "BONES" is completed, my full attention has been to mixing the live thing that we will be releasing. We're going to offer it on the site first. There were some really magical nights too, nice raw music captured live. I'm also working with a great singer/songwriter, kind of folk, blues, rock-none of the descriptions really fit because he's a unique player. I'm doing a record for him at my studio also, and we're going to put that out on the site too, his name is C J Hutchins.
WEDGE: What can you tell me about your new studio?
RM: It's taken me a year to build and get together. After I finished with the mr. Bones thing I relocated to Southern California, partly because I wanted to and partly because of Michele's work. She works at Warner Bros. Animation. But it has been a long process because I'm kind of a renaissance person. I not only like working in the studio but I'm a "hands on, kind of-build the patch bay-solder the connectors-wire it up"guy. I really enjoy that part of it as much as making the studio work. So it's taken a long time to assemble and put together but it has been rewarding and will be a reliable working full service studio for me and my projects.
WEDGE: What guitars and effects are you currently using?
RM: I don't really know why, but there's a lot of players, including me, who somehow evolve from Les Pauls to Strats and I typically play strats now. I enjoy them and have a couple Telecasters with custom pickups in them. I enjoy the bolt on necks a lot better now for some reason. FX wise I use.....not a lot, some... but now that I'm set up in my home studio I really enjoy experimenting around, so I never know when I may pop up with some strange, interesting sounds.
WEDGE: Is there any particular amplifier that gives you a sound you like more than others?
RM: The two amps that I use the most that I keep coming back to are the Mesa Boogie Maverick and my Black-Face Fender Super Champ which I use for slide guitar. I can't seem to get that tone anywhere else.
WEDGE: What other projects are you currently working on?
RM: I'm pursuing soundtrack work in the southern California area and down the line I plan to make a moody, intense acoustic album. Not all acoustic, but an acoustic - oriented guitar record that I've already written most of the material for. I just have to make time to sit down and do it!( Ronnie Released BEARINGS a while after this interview)
WEDGE: You have done a lot of session work over the last 3 decades, are there any sessions you feel stand out above the rest or that you wish more people knew about?
RM: There's actually a few that I hope people never find out about! [laughs]
WEDGE: Do you think you will ever do another MONTROSE album?
RM: Very possible, you never know. I mean if the circumstances were right and the concerned parties could all agree on basic concept, it could be quite extraordinary. But, hey, life is extraordinary, isn't it?
Wedge would like to thank Ronnie for taking the time to give this MONTROSE SITE a personal touch.
Any reproduction or retransmission of this interview without the express permission of John Wardlaw or Ronnie Montrose is prohibited by law.