On Saturday night at the Observatory in Santa Ana, Ca a large gathering of fans, friends and some of the greatest musicians of our time, joyfully and passionately joined together to honor and rejoice in the music, memories and spirit of one of Rock and Roll’s favorite guitarists, The late Ronnie Montrose. The players who came to honor and enjoy Ronnie’s music and spirit were all feeling it. It took place during the NAMM convention last weekend (National Association of Music Merchants), where countless professional musicians gather here in LA.
A perfect storm for players who have a mutual love, respect and gratitude for the legendary Ronnie Montrose. The cast players who showed up to honor and celebrate Ronnie was phenomenal . Here is a list. Brad Whitford (Aerosmith) Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses) Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) Tracii Guns (LA Guns) Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge) Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake) Keith St. John (Montrose) Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie/TSO) David Ellefson (Megadeth) Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent) Marc Bonilla (Keith Emerson Band, Glenn Hughes, Toy Matinee) Jimmy Degrasso (Black Star Riders). Travis Davis(Keith Emerson Band) Brad Lang (Y&T)
Each musician was obviously having the time of their lives and it certainly showed. Not an ego in the entire house. Standing in the “mosh pit” (but not moshing), I couldn’t help noticing everyone was standing all around. Even in the balcony, everyone was standing and enjoying this great event. Smiles all around and bobbing heads. Many of us were silently mouthing the lyrics to all those great Montrose songs we all savor so much.After enjoying the pleasure of hanging with Marc and many other friends backstage, I heard the music begin and found my way near the stage where hundreds of happy Montrose fans gathered to witness what we all knew was going to be a night to remember. For me the show began with a thrilling version of a couple songs Ronnie recorded with the Edgar Winter Group. ”Frankenstein” and “Free Ride” featuring Jeff Scott Soto on vocals .
Next up was Marc Bonilla and a rare reunion of a band Marc formed in the early 90’s called “The Dragon Choir” who recorded and toured for Marc’s 2 masterful guitar solo releases “EE Ticket” and “American Matador”. Marc and Ronnie along with Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple) and Keith Emerson (ELP) worked together on these 2 great projects. Joining Marc tonight were guitarist Mike Wallace, drummer Joe Travers (Zappa Plays Zappa), bassist Travis Davis (Keith Emerson Band, CTA ), and keyboard wizard Ed Roth (Annie Lennox, CTA, Bombastic Meatbats).
Ed Roth was tonight’s “go to guy” in the keyboard spot as he played every song this night that had keyboards. Ed gave us an outstanding and soulful performance as tonight’s players revolved and took their adrenalin packed turns jamming to the vast catalog of Ronnie Montrose. Marc and the Dragon Choir played 2 songs.” Starliner” from the 2nd Montrose album Paper Money and from Gamma’s 1st album, “Fight to the Finish.”
The players were all great and they all came to play their hearts and souls out. Keith St John who was the most recent vocalist for the band Montrose was the leader and focal point of the event. He is very impressive singing all of the Montrose material. Playing bass for nearly the entire show was Brad Lang from the band Y&T. Brad played flawlessly and handled backup vocals as well.
One performance that just blew us all away was guitarist Brad Gillis from Night Ranger who just went off and gave us one of the hottest lead guitar performances of the night. He really came to play. He was very animated and very much into sharing his passion for a couple of Ronnie’s instrumental pieces. The guitarists just kept coming one after the other. I apologize for not knowing all the players and all the songs that were all performed with such passion and honor. Notable were Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Gilby Clark (Guns n Roses), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake) who all played great. During one of the player changes, Ronnie’s wife Leighsa Montrose addressed the crowd to announce the 2 winners of a Ronnie Montrose award. Two beautiful sunburst Les Paul guitars were awarded to a couple of very talented teenagers (male and female) who were chosen as 2 of the most promising young guitarists to receive the awards. They joined Keith St John and the band for a song showcasing their young and upcoming talents. The crowd enjoyed these two young players and gave them a roaring ovation.
The long list of players this night covered a vast and in depth number of songs from Ronnie’s ever evolving career. A large number of songs from the legendary first Montrose album were performed. Good Rockin Tonight, Rock the Nation, Space Station # 5, Rock Candy, One Thing On My Mind and Bad Motor Scooter.
Tonight was an experience that certainly will be a memory to always remember. I believe I can speak for everyone who was there at The Observatory tonight, that the music and legacy of Ronnie Montrose should never be left behind. I can only hope that occasionally, similar celebrations of Ronnie’s legacy will take place in the future. Many of us who witnessed Ronnie play live or who knew him personally would agree that his music should be kept alive and performed live by all who loved him and benefitted from his influence on so many great guitarists past, present and future. Tonight we all Rocked the Nation and we all felt the presence and spirit of one of Rock’s greatest guitar legends, Ronnie Montrose.
Review: Darren Bennion