Born in San Francisco, CA, c. 1947; married Michele Graybeal, November 8, 1997.

Ronnie Montrose never considered himself a very apt businessman. From the moment he started playing guitar at the age of 17, he always put his music first and the business somewhere at the end. As a result, his career ranged from guitar contributions for other artists to bandleader of a heavy metal band to experimental instrumental albums and a soundtrack for a video game. He became recognized for his talent and style by a sort of underground following, yet remained virtually unknown in the mainstream commercial realm.

Ronnie Montrose was born in San Francisco, California, in 1947. His family moved to Denver, Colorado, when Ronnie was just two years old. Although his father played drums for jazz bands in college, Ronnie Montrose didn't play more than his stereo until he was 17 years old. From the first moment he held a guitar in his hands, his fate was sealed. He fell in love with the feel and sound of the instrument. He taught himself to play on a guitar he had borrowed from a friend. Then, when he felt ready, he joined his first band: the Grim Reapers.

In the early years of playing, Montrose was influenced by other guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, Johnny Smith, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and Jimmy Hendrix. Spurred by the "San Francisco sound" that was gaining popularity all over the country, Montrose decided to return to the city of his birth in 1968. He took jobs doing minor repair and carpentry work during the day and played his guitar at night.

In 1970, Montrose joined the San Francisco band Sawbuck. On an office remodeling job, he met promoter Bill Graham, who introduced him to his partner, producer David Rubinson. Graham and Rubinson owned a small record label called Fillmore Records, and signed a recording contract with Sawbuck. Rubinson was especially impressed by Montrose--s talent and ambition. He set the guitarist up for session work with the Pointer Sisters and keyboardist Herbie Hancock before he arranged for Montrose's big break.

In 1971, Van Morrison had moved to San Francisco. Rubinson heard that he was putting together a new band and arranged for Montrose to audition. He landed the job and played mostly acoustic guitar on Van Morrison's two subsequent albums, Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic's Preview. When Van Morrison moved on to another band after the second record, Montrose played a three-month tour as the guitarist for Boz Scaggs.

Montrose's career took a major turn in 1972 when he joined the Edgar Winter Group. He played on the album They Only Come Out at Night, released on Epic Records, and the tour that followed. "Playing with Edgar was an extreme learning experience because he truly lives and breathes music," Montrose told Jon Sievert in Guitar Player.

Montrose's work with Edgar Winter gave him the freedom to express himself both musically and on stage. Soon, Montrose had gained some notoriety for being a wild rock guitarist. In the summer of 1973, he decided it was time for him to move on to his own career as a bandleader and left Edgar Winter. He recruited a young, unknown singer named Sammy Hagar, along with drummer Denny Carmassi and bassist Bill Church. The foursome formed the band Montrose and signed a record deal with Warner Bros.

Before the end of the year, the band released Montrose, which would become Ronnie Montrose's most successful record. The album included long-lasting tracks, such as "Rock Candy" and "Bad Motor Scooter," which would still receive sporadic airplay on radio stations decades later.

In 1974, Montrose released Paper Money, which boosted the band's popularity even higher. Barry Taylor wrote in Billboard, "As a high-energy quartet, Montrose succeeded where others have failed due to the acessibility of their material and their razor-sharp arrangements." A few months after their second release, Ronnie Montrose fired singer Sammy Hagar, saying he was "too limited." Hagar went on to his own successful solo career, and sang with the rock band Van Halen for 11 years. "We have a long-standing joke now, because I did fire him from the Montrose band for some of the same reasons that I left the Edgar Winter Group," Montrose told John "Wedge" Wardlaw. "He was on to his own thing."

Vocalist Bob James replaced Hagar, and Montrose released two more albums--Warner Bros. Presents Montrose and Jump On It. The band had also added keyboardist Jim Alcivar to the line-up. However, the latter two albums never matched the success of the first two. Rolling Stone reviewer Andy McKaie described Warner Bros. Presents Montrose as "slick and spiritless" and "utterly pedestrian." He wrote, "For a band that started with so much promise, this is a sad situation."

Ronnie Montrose dissolved the Montrose band in 1976 and began experimenting with his own music. In 1978, he emerged with his first solo album, Open Fire, produced by Edgar Winter. The album included a reworking of Gene Pitney's "Town Without Pity," which would later change the guitarist's direction once again. According to Jon Sievert in Guitar Player, "The all-instrumental album disappointed, even angered, hardcore Montrose metal fans."

In response to criticism about Open Fire's lack of marketability, Montrose formed another hard rock band called Gamma in the fall of 1979. This time, he recruited singer Davey Pattison, bassist Alan Fitzgerald, drummer Skip Gillette, and keyboardist Jim Alcivar. The group signed a record contract with Elektra records. They released three albums--Gamma 1, Gamma 2, and Gamma 3--over the next three years.

By 1981, Gamma had replaced Jim Alcivar with Mitchell Froom on keyboards. At the Bay Area Music Awards, Montrose and Froom played a critically acclaimed version of "Town Without Pity." The performance laid the groundwork for Montrose's next project as a duo with Froom. Gamma disbanded the following year, when Montrose felt the group was falling into the same rut as the Montrose band had.

In 1983, Montrose and Froom played a club tour showcasing their new music, an all-instrumental hard rock style combined with jazz and progressive rock. He also performed a piece written for electric guitar and orchestra with the Berkeley Symphony. The orchestra had previously performed one of Ronnie Montrose's own songs called "My Little Mystery." During the same year, he contributed to Paul Kantner's solo album Planet Earth Rock & Roll Orchestra. Montrose continued to combine different styles of music on his next solo album Territory, released in 1986. One reviewer wrote in Down Beat, "Ronnie Montrose offers a varied menu on Territory. From pop to disco to grinding rock and fusion to New Age, it's an ambitious undertaking."

A year later, Ronnie Montrose resurrected the Montrose band name with singer Johnny Edwards, bassis Glenn Letsch, and drummer James Kottak. The new group only released one album on Enigma Records called Mean. By 1988, Ronnie Montrose had returned to his solo career with the album The Speed of Sound. "This all-instrumental effort tends to focus more on his crunching, power side coupled with ethereal lyricism," wrote Jon Sievert in Guitar Player.

Two years later, Montrose rejoined with singer Davey Pattison for a few songs on his The Diva Station album. Then after another two-year break, Montrose released Mutatis Mutandis on I.R.S. Records. "Ronnie Montrose is back as the thinking blue-collar man's guitar hero," Robin Tolleson wrote in his Down Beat review, "playing with authority and--on tracks like "Heavy Agenda" and "Velox"-- with a lot of soul." During the same year, Montrose contributed to guitarist Marc Bonilla's album EE Ticket.

In 1994, Montrose released Music From Here on Fearless Urge Records. The album featured his future wife, Michele Graybeal, on drums and percussion. He also continued to play on recordings for other artists. In 1995, he performed on four songs for Anti-M's Positively Negative album.

The following year, Montrose entered another world of music endeavors with a soundtrack for the Sega Genesis video game Mr. Bones. The game featured a wandering blues guitarist, and Montrose contributed all of the background music for the game. "It's the first time a soundtrack CD is selling one-for-one with the game itself," Montrose told Gregory Isola in Guitar Player. "Last summer was the first in years that I didn--t have to spend pounding the pavement and playing clubs to pay the rent."

After recording Mr. Bones, Montrose moved to Southern California. His fiancee, Michele Graybeal (whom he married in November of 1997), had a job working for Warner Bros. Animation, and Montrose decided it was time for a change of location. In early 1997, Montrose regrouped with the original members of the Montrose band--Sammy Hagar, Denny Carmassi, and Bill Church--for the song "Leaving the Warmth of the Womb" on Hagar's Marching to Mars album.

Montrose recalled his experience with his former bandmates in an interview with John "Wedge" Wardlaw. "It was only after getting together with the four of us in the studio, hanging out and jamming with each other for the first time in about 20 years, that I rediscovered and realized how awesome a trio that was," said Montrose.

"Obviously, if I had cared about making a tremendous amount of money, I would have stuck with the first Montrose album," Montrose told Jon Sievert in Guitar Player. After decades of staying true to his musical muse, Montrose planned to spend the rest of his career pursuing work on soundtracks, contributing to the work of other artists, and following his own solo style of music in whatever direction it would take him.

by Sonya Shelton

Ronnie Montrose's Career

Began playing guitar in the San Francisco band Sawbuck, 1970; recorded with Van Morrison, 1971-72; member, Edgar Winter Group, 1972-73; formed band, Montrose, and released self-titled debut album on Warner Bros., 1973; recorded debut solo record, Open Fire, 1978; formed Gamma, 1979; released solo LP Territory on Enigma, 1986; with Montrose band, released Mean on Enigma, 1987; released three solo albums on various labels, 1988-94; released first video game soundtrack, Mr. Bones, Sega Music Group, 1996.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 12 years ago

I was lucky enough to meet Ronnie,play the same shows as him,then actually play a show with him. He was an amazing guitar player/musician and a rare individual. R.I.P. Ronnie Montrose

over 12 years ago

He died.

over 12 years ago

I worked with Ronnie Montrose brother Mike in Denver for 7 yrs. Mike showed me the platinum albums and gold albums in his house. Mike and I worked at Johns-Manville in Denver. Kind a cool to learn of a brothers enlightenment in music. Something to be proud of!