- - Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Although he never became a household name like Eddie Van Halen, Slash or Jimmy Page, guitarist Ronnie Montrose is a legend in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. As leader of self-named band Montrose, he launched the career of a then-unknown singer named Sammy Hagar. The classic Montrose lineup crafted two albums of genius, including the anthems “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter.”

When Mr. Hagar departed, Montrose released another pair of solid LPs and a slew of solo albums. As part of the Edgar Winter Group, Montrose played lead guitar on the classic rock staples “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein” on solos that remain as inspired as they are epic.

Sadly, Montrose never felt he got the praise and success he deserved, which may have played a part in why he took his own life in March 2012.

At a recent Ronnie Montrose Remembered concert, several dozen ax-wielding luminaries from the world of rock showed up and rocked out in tribute. Two of them, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford and Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis, reflected on what Montrose meant to them and what their own bands have coming up.

Question: What did Ronnie Montrose mean to you?

Brad Whitford: I remember the first time I heard him. I was in my apartment up in Boston one morning, having my coffee or tea, and I heard “Rock the Nation” for the first time. I was floored.  I immediately sought out the record. It had eight tracks on it of nothing but hard rock. I was like, “Where has this guy been all my life?”

Brad Gillis: He had those guitar riffs that were just timeless and very classic. I have said a lot over the years that the band Montrose with Sammy singing should have been a lot bigger than they were. They should have been as big as Van Halen.

Q: Did you ever get to see Ronnie Montrose live or meet him?

BG: As a teenager growing up, and being a Bay Area guy, I would go and watch him play at certain venues. This was with Sammy [Hagar] singing. They had great records, great songs. I’m playing a couple of killer ones tonight.

BW: Got to do a few shows together [when] Aerosmith and Ronnie did a couple of shows. Last time I saw him was at the NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] show a couple years ago, and we got to jam. We just kind of rocked out doing different stuff [like a] blues jam.

I loved the guy.

Q: What songs are you playing at tonight’s tribute concert?

BW: We’re doing “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “One Thing on My Mind.”

BG: I’m doing “Voyageur,” one of the [later Montrose band] Gamma tunes, which I play with The Alameda All Stars in the Bay Area, where I live, when I have time off from Night Ranger. Then I’m doing his version of “Town Without Pity,” the old Gene Pitney tune. It’s great. I love it. Then, of course, doing the old “Bad Motor Scooter” at the end of the night with my whammy bar doing the motorcycle sound. That will be kinda fun. [laughs]

Q: What are your favorite Ronnie Montrose songs?

BG: “I Got the Fire.” There are so many great songs. I played a lot of them in cover bands growing up.

BW: Everything on the first Montrose album. I can’t pick a favorite. I really can’t.

Q: What are you up to musically?

BG: Well I have [bassist/vocalist] Jack [Blades] and [drummer] Kelly [Keagy] coming over to my house this week, and we are starting on a new Night Ranger record. We just got another deal with Frontiers Records, a European label that licenses to America and Japan. We have about 40 of 50 shows already booked. I think we will do about 80 to a hundred shows again this year. We’re heading to Japan at the end of the year. The machine roles on.

We toured so much last year, had a nice run with Def Leppard and Foreigner [and] shows with Boston and REO [Speedwagon]. Every year we’re out with somebody doing something great. Some of the upcoming spot shows are with Pat Benatar, and we start kicking in hard in March and April.

BW: Whitford St. Holmes [a side project with ex-Ted Nugent vocalist Derek St. Holmes]. We just recorded a new album last year. We’re in the process of getting that on iTunes and out at retail and all that kind of stuff. Already working on the next record.

Having a ball with it.

Q: Will Aerosmith ever play again?

BW: Sure. Maybe soon. We’ll see.

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