Rock guitarist and God Ronnie Montrose died Saturday, March 3 at age 64 at his home in Millbrae, Calif. Known for his self-named band Montrose and tunes such as Rock the Nation, Bad Motor Scooter and Rock Candy, Montrose is being mourned throughout the rock community on radio stations and online as hundreds of fans are posting personal concert pictures and tributes on his Facebook site.
Montrose had been fighting prostate cancer, but was supposedly cancer-free at the time of his passing. An official statement about the cause of his death has not been released.The first inklings of Montrose’s death were posted on his web site Saturday: “He passed today. He’d battled cancer, and staved off old age for long enough. And true to form, he chose his own exit the way he chose his own life. We miss him already, but we’re glad to have shared with him while we could.”
Survived by his wife Leighsa Montrose, she said Monday: “He was the kindest man I ever met. He loved his family and spending time in nature.” Montrose also leaves behind a daughter and five grand children. Services have not been set.
The band Montrose recorded four albums: Montrose, Paper Money, Warner Brothers Presents and Jump On It. They were released from 1973 to 1976 and launched rocker Sammy Hagar’s career as a lead singer and rock star. Hagar chronicled the fiery relationship between him and Montrose in his recent biography Red.
A tribute can be found on the Red Rocker’s website: “Ronnie Montrose gave me my first break as a songwriter, as a front man, as a recording artist, as a touring artist, and for that I will always be grateful. I was looking forward to a reunion for my birthday bash in Cabo with Denny, Bill and Ronnie… It’s a shame to lose Ronnie and I’m sorry for his loved ones.”
In 1978, Montrose recorded a new album entitled Open Fire without his early band and then reorganized as Gamma with albums numbered one to three.
In a 2002 interview I had with Montrose for the Press Democrat, he said the band disbanded when the business was no longer fun, but then he recorded seven solo albums (mainly instrumental) from 1988 to 1999. The Very Best of Montrose was released in 2000 with a fourth Gamma recording in 2001.
During his intense battle with prostate cancer, Montrose had vowed to never pick up a guitar again, but he did, recreating many of the classic tunes at their original intensity and touring with a variety of musicians since 2002, including lead singer Keith St. John, who said today he was mourning the loss of his mentor, although he and Montrose split ways in December. (St. John recently became the lead for Quiet Riot.)
According to St. John, he met Montrose in 2000 when they were both enduring major relationship losses and had their “soft white underbellies on the table.” After the pair started touring Montrose referred to St. John as “the little brother.”
In reflection, the singer said: “There was an immediate ‘other-worldly’ kindred relationship between us and a magically heavy creative flow. While channeling new songs together we endured through the 9-11 catastrophe and carried on about all aspects of human existence and potential band plans. He has been at times closer to me than any other friend or family I have known. He has taught me and shown me a great deal about life, love, business, and everything about how to be human. His fans, many of which I have met along the way, are an amazingly loyal group of loving rock-and rollers who keep Ronnie’s music as their Bible and have been an absolute pleasure and an inspiration to me as we shared our ‘Ronnie-Time’ together. All of us who were touched by his wonderfully strong presence will always have some of Ronnie Montrose as part of who we are.”
When I got the call the morning after Montrose’s death I went into shock. Somehow he seemed bigger than life to me and it didn’t seem possible the guitar wizard could be gone. That first interview was the beginning of a decade-long relationship I have had with him, his wife, and many of his friends, who have been calling me the last few days to express their dismay. I had the good fortune to see him perform a multitude of times during the years and have never left a show not feeling full of the best that rock and roll had to offer. Montrose loved Tony Bennett (his favorite song was Snowfall) and one year I got him back stage passes so he could meet his idol.
Although the rock star was not always the easiest person to get a long with, he had the intensity of all true creative genius and artistic people, who share the planet with us for a short time. He wanted his art, music, and talent to be the best. Sometimes being perfect is not always possible, but Montrose had a heart of gold. At one moment he would ask me to leave the back stage area so he could be alone and the next minute he would hug me as strongly as a father would hug their daughter.
I am going to finish this piece with a quote from Montrose from my 2002 story: “It is a good time to be alive. I love playing the guitar and have gained much respect from my new fans. At the end of the day, I did what I want to do.”