This writer was lucky enough to see legendary guitarist Ronnie Montrose play live three times: with his band Montrose at Charlton FC’s stadium in 1974, opening for The Who; at London’s Rainbow Theatre in 1975 on the Warner Brothers Music Show tour, supporting the Doobie Brothers; and with his post-Montrose band Gamma, at the old Hammy Odeon in 1981.
But I’d be lying if I said any of these shows was a life-changing experience. Ronnie may have been a giant talent but he had a capricious demeanour and an understated stage presence. Indeed, he soon became frustrated by the limitations of traditional hard rock music and explored different avenues.
Open Fire, his jazz-infused solo album, was inspired by Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow; the third Gamma record was largely influenced by Kraftwerk. Ronnie began to feel more comfortable in his axe-slinger skin later in life but clearly not comfortable enough: he shot himself dead in 2012.
This posthumous release has good times, bad times. Ronnie had been working on songs with Styx bassist Ricky Phillips and Kiss drummer Eric Singer before his demise. Phillips completed work on the project, enlisting friends and collaborators to flesh out the basics, and it’s the contributions of Ronnie’s closest associates that make the most sense. Standout track Color Blind, with an outstanding performance by original Montrose vocalist Sammy ‘Sam’ Hagar, fair brings a tear to the eye. It’s low-key, sparse but triumphant, and includes the bittersweet words ‘live forever, never get old’.
Similarly, Love Is An Art, with Edgar Winter on vocals and saxophone, has a wacky 1970s vibe, Winter’s croaking proving only a minor distraction. And as for the rollicking Any Minute, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad pulls off a vocal performance that almost defies belief.
But there are problems. You’re never too sure whether Ronnie is playing or whether guests such as Steve Lukather or Rick Derringer are involved. Our guess is that the essential guitar parts are by Mr Montrose, with the solos added later.
And then there are the hangers-on, the guys whose connection with Ronnie lack that umbilical-cord vibe. Still Singin’ With The Band is the worst culprit – you can’t help but feel that Glenn Hughes and Phil Collen were only there for the kudos. The same goes for Joe Bonamassa on The Kingdom’s Come Undone.
This could have been a better testament to Ronnie Montrose’s legacy but, equally, it could have been a helluva lot worse.