Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ronnie Montrose R.I.P.

Ronnie Montrose 1947 -2012
It seems like hardly a week goes by without news of the passing of yet another musical legend. My definition of a legend may well differ from yours. They don't necessarily have to be a household name or to have spent their life being scrutinized by the media. I unapologetically use the term 'legend' to describe someone whose music has colonised my soul and helped to shape the person I am. A bit over the top, you think? Consider this: during my lifetime music has gained me friends, lost me jobs, mended my broken heart, opened old wounds, dressed me, cut my hair, fucked up my hearing, made me dance like a man possessed, won me the girl and given me more joy than anything without a heartbeat could ever reasonably be expected to do. But, of course, music does have a pulse, a lifeforce that is breathed into it by the sorcerers who pick up their instruments and conjure up new and exciting ways to present the same old notes and rhythms. Recently we've lost Gerry Rafferty, Ronnie James Dio, John Martyn, John Barry, Phil Kennemore, Mike Edwards, Dobie Gray, Mike Starr, Kelly Groucutt, Gary Moore, Michael "Würzel" Burston, John Du Cann, Billy Powell, Mick Karn, Larry Reinhardt and Davy Jones to name just a handful of those whose music has enriched my life.

I clearly remember a typically hysterical Daily Mail headline reporting the death of Led Zeppelin's drummer John Bonham back in September 1980 (of course I remember it, I still have the yellowing newspaper cutting in a box in the loft). It screams, 

"Rock: The Great Destroyer"

and goes on, in characteristic poor taste, to criticise the lifestyles of Bonham, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, when perhaps an even-handed, respectful obituary would have been more appropriate. Of course, what the sanctimonious cretins at the Daily Mail chose to ignore is that alcohol and drug abuse are not the sole preserve of rock stars. Indeed, the journalist responsible probably wrote his copy over a liquid lunch in some Fleet Street watering hole full of hacks well on their way to cirrhosis. The Daily Mail aside, perhaps we fetishise the rock stars who die young and fast because their demise seems comfortably removed from how we expect to meet our own ends. Perhaps what is most depressing about the recent glut of rock star deaths is the sheer mundanity of the cause of death in most of these cases, heart disease and cancer being the commonest culprits. It is all too easy to imagine that our own lives will one day be snuffed out, not by one too many speedballs and a spot of sexual over-exertion in a jacuzzi full of hookers, but by a banal, indiscriminately savage, yet common disease. To die at 28 from a heroin overdose is to have lived too quickly. To die at 64 from cancer is to have died far too young.

Despite having played incendiary guitar in his own bands, Montrose and Gamma, and having contributed his six string skills to classic albums by Van Morrison and Edgar Winter, Ronnie Montrose's name and his guitar playing don't seem to be as familiar to rock fans as they ought to be. If you loved Ronnie's playing you have no doubt already dug out Montrose's debut LP and given it a spin since hearing of his death.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ronnie, or who just need a reminder of the magic he produced, here are a couple of my personal favourites. Rest In Peace, Ronnie.

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