Good Rockin' Tonight With Montrose!

By David Iozzia
Photos by Phil Laskowski and Dave Iozzia

The 1970’s hard rock band Montrose made its triumphant return to the East Coast, kicking ass and taking names, at B.B. King’s in midtown Manhattan on May 18, 2006. It’s been at least 10 years since Montrose rocked New York City, and that’s at least nine years too long.

The latest re-incarnation of the band was led by guitarist extraordinaire Ronnie Montrose, and it featured ex-Megadeth alumni Jimmy DeGrasso on drums and Dave Ellefson on bass guitar, with Burning Rain’s singer Keith St. John on lead vocals. West Coast music fans have had a few chances to see this lineup perform, but the rockin’ New York City show was their East Coast debut.

At their New York City performance, Montrose played the 1973 self-titled debut album in its entirety. They rounded out the set list with material from subsequent Montrose albums, including the songs “I Got The Fire” and Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock.” Montrose was one of my favorite bands during the 70’s. As fate would have it, they were never critically acclaimed, nor did they receive the international fan support they deserved, but Montrose influenced so many of the rock bands that followed in their footsteps. Their debut album would have to be on my all-time Top Ten list. It was awesome hearing classics like “Bad Motor Scooter,” “Rock Candy,” and “Rock The Nation,” which they opened the show with, being performed live again after all of these years. If I was forced to pick a favorite song from the concert, it would have to be “Space Station #5.”

Keith St. John is a real energetic front man, with a great voice and an on-stage persona. He nailed every one of the songs, stepping aside whenever he needed to let the band have some room to rock. Dave Ellefson and Jimmy DeGrasso smiled all night, and they both were given enough space to flex their musical muscles with extended solos. Ronnie Montrose’s solos were minimal, and they were all played in the context of the songs. His classic riffs from those often-overlooked songs were played to perfection. It was refreshing to hear Ronnie’s playing style, with his emphasis on tone and riffs, and not on the solo. In the past few weeks, I’ve attended concerts by two excellent guitarists: Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. Not to take away anything from their performances, but their countless guitar solos were often over-extended.

Ronnie Montrose was introduced to rock and roll audiences as the guitarist on Van Morrison’s album “Tupelo Honey” and Edgar Winter’s album “They Only Come Out At Night,” which included the rock classics “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein.” The original Montrose did the same with vocalist Sammy Hagar, who departed after the first two albums. After four albums, Montrose disbanded, and Ronnie released his first solo album, the all-instrumental “Open Fire.” One of the most memorable concerts I attended in the late 70’s was at the now defunct Palladium in New York City. The rock band Journey headlined, Van Halen opened the show, and Ronnie Montrose’s solo band was sandwiched in between. In my opinion, and in the opinion of most of the concert-goers that night, Ronnie was the best guitarist to perform. Not Journey’s Neal Schon. Not Eddie Van Halen!

Ronnie Montrose would go on to form the rock band Gamma, which disbanded after three albums. A re-formed Montrose released a one-off record in 1988 called “Mean,” which featured vocalist Johnny Edwards and current Scorpions drummer James Kottak. During the 1990’s, Ronnie released a few solo albums, and he played an all-instrumental concert in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1999. That was the last time I heard him play until the show at B.B. King’s.

Ronnie and I chatted after the show about his upcoming record, “Ronnie Montrose & Friends – 10 x 10.” Guest performers include Peter Frampton, Edgar Winter, Sammy Hagar, Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Tommy Shaw (Styx), and Eric Singer (KISS). Ronnie promised not to make the East Coast wait another 10 years for a tour, and he expressed a lot of gratitude for the fans that remembered him and came out for the show. Anybody who heard those classic songs in the 70’s would never forget them. Anybody who attended the B.B. King’s gig was blessed with the chance to hear those songs played again live. I hope the next time out, Montrose doesn’t just rock a few cities on the East Coast. I hope they “rock the nation.” When it happens, Dave’s On will be there to tell you all about it. So stay tuned in, stop back often, and keep rockin’.

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