Wed Mar 14th, 2012 at 11:54:32 AM EST
[This diary began as a comment first published 4 years ago. On hearing of Ronnie Montrose' death recently, I felt it was appropriate to re-visit it in his memory. Parts of it have been re-written to correct inaccuracies.]
America may have invented rock and roll, but for 15 years after the Beatles came on the scene it had more or less belonged to the British. Even the great American Guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, had to come to the UK to be recognised as a god and conferred with honorary "Englishness". With Cream and Jimi showing the way, psychedelia evolved into heavy rock, allowing such creatures as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath to emerge from the primeval swamps of the English midlands and begin their reign over the 70s (and the rain of televisions from hotel windows).
Heavy Rock was British : Nobody was as loud, nobody was as rowdy and nobody rocked as hard for longer. American rockers just didn't have a clue. Or maybe it was just a case that they were there, but nobody was paying attention.
Such was the case of Montrose. Ronnie Montrose had been a succesful jobbing session man in the California recording industry, touring with and featuring on albums by artists such as Van Morrison and Edgar Winter. But he got together with the then unknown Sammy Hagar on vocals and the pair of them unleashed a tide of creativity resulting in their masterwork. Sadly, their record company didn't seem to know how to market them and the album sank without trace in the USA, whilst in the UK they only attracted attention at the very moment when the tensions within the band were tearing it apart. The album was released in 1973, but within a year the band had exploded.
The album itself starts with "Rock the Nation", as bold and cocky a declaration of intent as any rocker could want; the delivery itself is shocking in its bludgeoning violence. Lean metal chord-riffs searing off a monstrous bootboy beat, as Sammy Hagar's vocals leave us in no doubt as to what he's about. Short as the punk rock songs of the Ramones, yet much more deadly in effect, this is a the rallying cry that tells you about exactly what is gonna happen for the next 40 minutes. Wham !! Bam !! Blammo !!!
I think anybody who has attempted to play slide guitar has discovered the possibilities of imitating a motor bike's acceleration, but it has rarely been attempted on record since Montrose did it to such effect on the next track, "Bad Motor Scooter". It's the definitive take and, once that's been done, everybody else is second best and who wants that. The lyrics seem to encapsulate everything about mid-70s teenage rebellion "If you get lonely on your daddy's farm, just remember I don't live too far", followed by ..."I'd come over, but I'm afraid of your Dad". Put that track on and everything in the room is on fire.
Space Station #5 starts with a nod to the fascination with sci-fi, a heavily reverb-ed ethereal slide guitar refrain that makes one long to reach up and make shapes in laser beams. Then, before you have time to wonder where this goes, the track slams into one of the greatest headbanging riffs in the history of the world ever. No workaday corporal's riff, this is a riff that has very other leaping to its feet and shouting out a loud "Sir ! Yes, Sir !". As Ordell Robbie might have said "Space Station Number 5. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively gots to rock every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes."
Rock Candy is just the classic rock track, two ton drums powering an invading mongol horde of a riff, it manages to encapsulate the entirety of Bad Company's career in 4 minutes, top it, tail it and deliver it back to you tied up neatly with a hissing boa-constrictor. Sometimes less is more.
Sure that's just half the album and the other tracks are nearly as good. You certainly don't hit the skip button on the CD, but when you've got the 4 of the 10 classic American heavy rock tracks of all time in one place, you don't waste time on the also-rans. Yet America ignored it !!!!
Friends I've met who saw them in the early days say that Montrose were destined for stardom, that they had the essential "eye-tee IT". They had great songs, an inspired guitarist in Ronnie Montrose and a charismatic lead vocalist/second guitar in Sammy Hagar. Yet within a year they were history. Hagar began his long history of fractious band bust-ups by becoming obviously jealous of Montrose' dominance of the group. I'm told that towards the end his contempt and dislike for Montrose radiated throughout the concert hall.
The second album was a disappointing half-hearted mess and the band split and went their separate ways. Montrose went on to form other bands and achieve respect and a small measure of success, but 30 years later, neither he nor Hagar ever got close to replicating the inspiration that the tensions between them sparked to create that first Montrose album.
Rest in Peace Ronnie. Those who know will remember and honour you forever.