REVIEW – This year, Sammy Hagar turned 70. He also has an illustrious musical career spanning well over 45 years which includes a solo career of epic proportions, and bands such as HSAS (Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve), Chickenfoot, The Circle, some little known band called Van Halen, and of course, Montrose. Montrose’s humble beginnings started in 1972. Guitarist Ronnie Montrose, fresh from Edgar Winter’s band, playing guitar on both the top 20 hit “Free Ride” and the #1 hit “Frankenstein”, was looking for a change. His compositions were getting rejected by the band, and frustrations were beginning to surface. The search was on for a new band on Ronnie’s terms.
The first guy to fill the slot was bassist Bill Church, who was already acquainted with Ronnie from their session work with Van Morrison. Sammy (then Sam Hagar) and drummer Denny Carmassi knew each other from the various San Francisco area cover bands they were with during the late 60s and early 70s. Once the lineup was in place, there was no stopping them. Montrose’s first ever public performance was on April 21, 1973 via a forty-five-minute radio broadcast aired on KSAN FM’s Tom Donahue show, billed as “Ronnie Montrose and Friends”, as an official name had not yet been chosen. That first performance was circulated as a bootleg for decades until Rhino Records included it on their Deluxe Edition of the album in 2017.
Finally, a self-titled, debut album was released in late 1973. Hardly an instant classic, it peaked at #133 on the Billboard 200, but over several decades, it would eventually achieve platinum status, selling over one million copies. More importantly, it would influence countless artists, mainly in the hard rock/heavy metal genre, including Motörhead and Iron Maiden. Mötley Crüe even went so far as to blatantly copy “Bad Motor Scooter”’s guitar intro; An effect of a motor revving for their song “Kickstart My Heart”.
Montrose couldn’t have picked a better song to start the album. “Rock The Nation” is a cowbell laden, fast-paced rocker (let’s face it, all the tracks on this album are rockers) that seems to get the band fired up to play to as many people in this great nation as humanly possible. “Bad Motor Scooter”, probably the most recognizable track on the album, is next and features some great slide and tremolo work from Ronnie. A little space exploration and instrument experimentation comes next in the form of “Space Station #5”. The last track on side 1, “I Don’t Want It” changes the beat to a shuffle and contains one of the best lyrics ever written; “Well I gave love a chance and it shit back in my face”. Side 2 starts with the only cover on the album, a version of “Good Rockin’ Tonight”. “Rock Candy” is next and is the only song on the album written by all four members of Montrose. “One Thing On My Mind” follows, and “Make It Last”, a song about growing older, finishes the album at a much-too short 32 minutes. It’s one of those very rarely seen “flawless” albums. Not a bad song, no filler, all killer.
Sadly, Bassist Bill Church left the band shortly after this album was released, and Hagar left after their 2nd album, “Paper Money”, and tour. Ronnie released several albums as “Montrose” throughout the 70s and 80s, and a few were quite good, however, none matched the impact that the debut had. A few reunions took place in 2009, proving that Montrose still had it, but those would be the only reunions that Montrose would see. Ronnie Montrose took his own life in 2012, putting an end to a lifelong battle with clinical depression.
The influence that this album had and continues to have, is astounding. Hagar states that whenever any guests come up on stage to play with him, he asks what song they want to jam together on, and they all say “Rock Candy”. When a 45 year old album can continually influence the younger generations, there’s something to be said for it.