How Ronnie Montrose's final album came to life after his death

A shot of ronnie montrose playing live

When Ronnie Montrose died on March 3, 2012 he hadn‘t released a new studio album in 13 years. But that didn’t mean the man who revolutionised hard rock in the 70s with his band Montrose had been idle. For a decade, the guitarist had been working on an ambitious project that remained unfinished at the time of his death.

“Ronnie called me up with an idea one day: ‘I’m calling the record 10x10 – ten songs, ten different singers’,” says bassist Ricky Phillips, who first played with Ronnie Montrose in the 1990s. “He said: ‘I’m going to call Edgar Winter, Sammy Hagar, Eric Martin…’ People he knew and people he worked with.”

Phillips says that laying down the basic instrumental tracks with Ronnie and drummer Eric Singer in a studio in North Hollywood was the easy part.

“We only had a few days to cut these tracks. Ronnie spent two days setting his amps up, making sure the chords were perfectly straight, the microphones were exactly the same distance from one cabinet to the next. He took two hours to go and find the proper rug he wanted. But when it came to recording the tracks, it was: blam! ‘Okay, we’re done, let’s do the next one.’ His way of looking at it was if the spirit
of the song was exactly what he wanted, why do it again?”

Finding singers was a harder task. Ronnie had struggled to find the right vocalist to work with for years, so locking in 10 of them was a big ask indeed. Things were further complicated when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the 00s. “He came out the other side after a couple of years of not touching his guitar,” says Phillips. “He and I talked and he said: ‘I really want 10x10 to be finished. But he passed before we managed it.”

Montrose died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 64. He had suffered from depression for many years. “Ronnie was a very up, happy guy. Most people would scratch their heads and go: ‘Ronnie? Depressed? No, there’s no way.’ But that’s why he did what he did. If he’d have just gotten through that day or that night, these things might have passed.”

Six vocals had been finished by the time of Montrose’s death, and Phillips willingly took on the task of finishing 10x10, bringing in the remaining singers and an equally stellar array of guitarists to complete the unfinished guitar work. The million-dollar cast includes Hagar, Martin, Winter, Glenn Hughes, Mark Farner and Gamma singer Davey Pattison on vocals, while other guitarists on the album include Joe Bonamassa, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, Steve Lukather of Toto and Def Leppard’s Phil Collen.

“Everybody came on board – they knew the stuff was good. Ronnie is held in high regard,” says Phillips. “They wanted to see his last work finished.”

10x10 stands as a fitting legacy for someone who was hugely acclaimed by his fellow musicians, although Phillips acknowledges that Montrose never truly had the commercial success he deserved.

“I never heard him talk about being disappointed that he wasn’t more successful or better known, but I could tell he was,” says Phillips. “That’s why Eric and I tried to do everything we could to clear our plates for Ronnie. We felt he wasn’t getting what he was due.

“Ronnie was odd and quirky and crazy and wonderful.”

Montrose’s 10x10 is out now.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.