MONTROSE (1973–77; 2002–PRESENT). Ronnie Montrose (guitar), Sammy Hagar (vocals), Bill Church (bass), Denny Carmassi (drums).
Perhaps one of the most criminally overlooked American bands of the seventies, Montrose was nonetheless also one of the most influential when it came to informing how American hard rock and bands would adapt the heavy blues-based rock of Led Zeppelin to the U.S. scene. Formed in 1973 by guitarist Ronnie Montrose, who had just left the Edgar Winter Group, the band also featured drummer Denny Carmassi, bassist Bill Church, and newcomer Sammy Hagar on vocals. Their first album, Montrose, released in 1973, was (and remains) a bona fide hard rock classic. Produced by Ted Templeton, who would go on to produce Van Halen, the album presented a distinctly American take on Zeppelin’s primal stomp—eliminating the acoustic and Celtic forays yet retaining the heavy blues-based riffs and spinning them into an even more refined, power-chord driven roar. Combining Montrose’s clever and precise guitar riffs with Carmassi’s John Bonham-influenced drumming, and arguably the best singing of Hagar’s career, the album is a masterpiece of American hard rock. Songs like “Bad Motor Scooter,” “Space Station #5,” and especially the Zep-like stomp “Rock Candy” took mystery and sophistication out of the lyrics, and distilled the remaining musical content into a powerhouse of rock performance. By the time the band went out on tour, bassist Church had left, to be replaced by Alan Fitzgerald, a future member of Night Ranger.
For their second outing, Paper Money, the band attempted to branch out more musically, yet the power of their debut was largely lacking, and vocalist Hagar soon left to embark on his subsequently successful solo career.
Nonetheless, Ronnie Montrose soldiered on, replacing Hagar with vocalist Bob James, and adding keyboardist Jim Alcivar. Although James was a talented vocalist, Hagar’s shoes were big ones to fill, and Ronnie Montrose had lost the magic of his songwriting foil, and the album ultimately failed to stir much interest in what was left of its fan base.
1976’s Jump on It, with its inimitable cover design of a woman’s crotch, was something of a last-ditch effort to recapture the magic of the band’s debut. However, despite a rocking title track and excellent production from famed Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas, the album was not the commercial success that the band had hoped for, and the group disbanded after touring for the album.
Ronnie Montrose would go on to form a new band, Gamma, and to release a solo album (Open Fire). In 1987 he released the album Mean under the Montrose name, with a group featuring future Foreigner vocalist Johnny Edwards, drummer James Kottak, and bassist Glenn Letsch.
2002 saw the assembly of yet another lineup featuring vocalist Keith St. John, bassist Chuck Wright, and drummer Pat Torpey who toured in support of the Rhino greatest hits package that had been released.
Discography: Montrose (Warner Bros., 1973); Paper Money (Warner Bros., 1974); Warner Brothers Presents … Montrose (Warner Bros., 1975); Jump on It (Warner Bros., 1976); Open Fire (Warner Bros., 1978); Mean (Enigma, 1987); The Very Best of Montrose (Rhino, 2000).