Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of a one man show! There’s a lot of moving parts that take a lot of work to put together.
You were the singer in the final version of Montrose, so it must bring back a lot of memories, putting the show together.
Absolutely. At first I was only going to do one of these. Of course everybody was blown away and shocked beyond measure when Ronnie took his own life back in 2012, and there wasn’t a lot of organisation; everybody was too emotional to really get it together. We did a memorial for him a week or two after he passed, and it was thrown together. First of all, it was in the Bay Area [of San Francisco]; a lot of the guys that he worked with were in L.A., or on the road, and a lot of them just couldn’t be there. The way it was put together, not even a lot of the guys who had been in the Montrose band in the last decade were even invited or around.
So you wanted to do something with a bit more organisation to it?
I was kind of disappointed by a lot of the whole thing. It was nice, but it wasn’t everything it could have been. But I didn’t think about it for a few years, and then one of the agents I know in L.A. asked me to put together a show around the NAMM Convention that happens every year in Anaheim, California. He just happened to ask me, and I said; “you know, as a matter of fact I do”. It just hit me at that moment; "let me do a memorial for Ronnie; we’ll get a real one together, and we’ll call all the guys and a whole bunch of other people". And I called, and everybody wanted to do it.
The fact that you had some big names right from that very first one must have been encouraging.
Gilby Clarke was into it from Guns ‘n’ Roses, Brad Whitford from Aerosmith; all these big guys who were influenced by Ronnie were like; “yes, we’d love to do this!”, and that’s how it got born. And then I just worked hard to put the production together, and I learned what I needed to learn, to make a poster, to make an ad for a show; all that stuff! I had an incredible learning curve.
How was that first show for you?
Well, I put that show together and I thought it would be the only one, but the fans who came were beyond happy to hear that music being played, and so were the musicians. The musicians were all playing early Montrose songs, which is what a lot of these guys from L.A. and the west coast of the United States grew up listening to. It’s what they played when they were in junior high school; when they were in fifth grade and they first picked up the guitar, this is the stuff they were playing.
No, ironically not! I’m originally from New York, and Montrose in the US was predominantly a west coast force. Although I saw the albums in the music stores as a kid, I didn’t really hear much on the radio. I’d heard of Montrose, but I didn’t really know who they were, so when I met Ronnie, I met him through a mutual studio musician; a keyboard played by the name of Ed Roth. He said; “hey, you’ve got to hear this guy”, and then Ronnie asked me if I wanted to do some writing together.
So that’s when you joined Montrose as front man?
We were just writing our own tunes, and I still didn’t know his legacy at the time. This was at the end of the ‘90s. But Ronnie was the kind of guy who never wanted to ‘follow’. For example, in his younger career, I would think if Ronnie had listened to what producers and what labels wanted to do with him, he would have followed a different career path. But Ronnie wanted to do his own thing; he didn’t like to be beholden to much. So by the time I met him, he was of the mind-set that he never wanted to play those old Montrose songs anymore.
But Ronnie did eventually bring back the songs, and the band back.
He was done doing it, and he had moved on, but I don’t know, something changed in him. After we were working for six months / a year, he got a call from Steve Miller’s manager who said; “I’m a big fan. I wonder if you could put a Montrose band together? Let’s get this started again!” And for whatever reason, it was the right time for him.
Looking at the show’s line-up it’s clear that Ronnie’s influence was huge; from members of Reo Speedwagon to Machine Head; does that scope surprise you?
No, it doesn’t surprise me anymore. When I first started playing with the band, the response from people was a different kind of response. When we went out playing with the first Montrose line-up we put together, I felt like I was back in the ‘60s or the ‘70s, because the people, they all wanted to be your family, not just your fans. People were just like of a different era of love, and attraction to the music. There was just something a little more magical about that. And for the musicians as well, I think, if you’re a guitar player checking out the guitar players growing up, you found Ronnie and you fell in love with his tone and his dynamic and his approach, and just the way he presented guitar.
The whole thing! The entire event. It just does something different from my normal gigs. I’ll be playing Monsters of Rock this year with Kingdom Come and Burning Rain, and I’ll be doing some festivals - Sweden Rock with Kingdom Come, but this Montrose thing, there’s this group of fans that show up, and they’re not fans of a lot of different music; they just really love their Montrose. So there’s a bunch of people who really look forward to this every year, and when they come, the adoration they have for what happens on that stage, it’s multiplied times ten, of most of the kind of shows that you do. As a singer, you learn to feel the audience, and you get a sense of when they’re glued to you, and when they start milling around a little bit and you need to pull something together. When you’re doing the Ronnie Montrose Remembered show, it seems like a pin could drop, because just about everybody in the room is super, super engaged and they’re not going to take their eyes off you.
There really does seem to be a real sense of family behind it all, between the musicians, and the fans.
I do get that, and it is kind of a club, in a way. There’s sort of a home team nostalgia with some of these fans I notice, and it is very family. When I see Jimmy Di’Grasso each year, who had played drums in Montrose for a number of years, there is a lot of stuff to talk about, as brothers. And there’s always a lot of stories. The Tesla guys have a lot of stories; Ronnie happened to produce Tesla’s first demo; Ronnie was the guy who brought them the song ‘Little Suzi’s On The Up’ [Recorded by Tesla as ‘Little Suzi’], which was a hit for some band in Britain [Ph.D.], that ultimately got them their deal.
Have you asked original Montrose singer Sammy Hagar if he's be interested in getting up for a few numbers?
You know, I haven’t asked Sam, and I was thinking about doing it this year because people keep asking. He keeps really busy, and I haven’t known him to come down to NAMM. I’ve asked his tour manager a couple of times, who I’m pretty close with, and he was just saying that Sam doesn’t come to NAMM; he just has no interest in being down there. But you know, Sam’s aware of what’s going on, and he’s a great guy on keeping an eye on the pulse and what’s happening, and he knows we do this every year. Maybe we’ll organise something to do together at some point.
You’ve hinted that there may be a few surprises in store this year; is there anything you can give away?
Well, I think most of it’s out there. There are a couple of wild cards, and at this stage, I can’t guarantee them, so I’m not going to say, but they are a couple of really nice wild cards. Sammy’s not one of them! But what I’m really looking forward to this year is doing more multiple guitars on a song. We usually only do that at the very end of the night on ‘Bad Motor Scooter’ where we do this giant jam in the middle, and this year, since that seems to go so well, we’re going to extend that to some more songs. And I’m really looking forward to putting George Lynch and Brad Gillis together on some stuff.
That leaves things open from some interesting combinations!
Very interesting combinations! Last year we had Doug Aldridge and Frank Hannon and George together, and some other interesting combinations. If you take a look at the line-up, you might be able to guess what we’re going to do. Carmine Appice did the very first one, and this is the fifth one, so we got him back, and he should do something really interesting – there are some songs, especially one of them that can roll right into an amazing Carmine Appice drum piece. There’s just so many players, who do you name!? Another interesting thing is my good buddy Jon Levin, who has been the guitar player in Dokken since George has been out will be there, and George will be there, so we’ll see what will happen with that!
Ronnie Montrose Remembered takes place on 17th Jan 2020, at M3 Live, Anaheim, California. For tickets, VIP options and more, click here. For the latest information, visit the event's Facebook page.