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Montrose: I Got The Fire - Complete Recordings 1973-1976, 6CD Box Set

Hailing from the east coast of Scotland as I do, Montrose first and foremost will always be a small coastal town not far away from where I live. However, it’s a travesty that for most people, the band name Montrose means not even that much to them. Formed round guitarist Ronnie Montrose, the outfit, completed by a young Sammy Hagar on vocals, Denny Carmassi on drums and Bill Church on bass would release what can only be described as a near perfect self-titled debut album in 1973, and then quickly set about undoing their own chances of success. Musically the band seemed to be ever evolving and by the time that the last studio album in this set was released a mere three years later, only Montrose and Carmassi remained in the band.

It is, however, no overstatement to suggest that the Montrose album really was and remains, a landmark release in US hard rock. Produced by Ted Templeman, this record has in hindsight been seen as America’s response to Led Zeppelin and while there are elements across the eight songs it possessed where that might be true, the sound was slicker, and yet punchier at the same time. Tracks like “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter” were ripe for radio and really should have seen the band, driven along by the incendiary and innovative guitar work from Ronnie Montrose, land as overnight sensations, but with a label (Warner Bros.) who seemed to have no real idea of what they had on their hands, momentum fizzled out. In Europe things took a different, if very slow trajectory, with this self titled debut eventually going platinum, but it took many years to do so. Listening back now, the rhythm section of Carmassi and Church were locked in tight but groovin’ as all hell, while in Sammy Hagar, Montrose had unearthed an incredible and immediately fully rounded frontman of power, precision and no little character. From “Rock The Nation” to “”Good Rockin’ Tonight” and from “One Thing On My Mind” to “Space Station #5” the debut album from Montrose was utterly superb.

Disc two in this six CD set from Cherry Red/HNE, instead of moving things forward, actually looks back, with six demo tracks from before the debut was released showing just how good the band were right from the off. Five of these songs would go on to make the debut release, while “Shoot Us Down” was destined for album number two, Paper Money. Before we get there, this disc is rounded out by a full live in the studio session for KSAN Radio, CA, USA, where the band, prior to being signed, and without even having decided on their name, were thrown in at the deep end when they were offered the slot at the last minute due to Van Morrison letting the station down when he decided his band were not rehearsed enough. Montrose, as they went on to become, didn’t waste the opportunity, blasting through superb versions of the their early tracks and a cover of “Roll Over Beethoven”. Hagar at one point, so early in his singing career, even mentions just how nervous he is during the performance, but that sure as hell does not come across and the inclusion of this recording in this set is a real boon. The performance is nothing short of blisteringly good and it has to be said that with Hagar and especially Ronnie Montrose rising to the occasion, it’s a must have for serious 70s hard rock fans.

Following up the debut with Paper Money in 1974, with hindsight, feels like a logical move, but in all honesty, good though it is, it’s much easier going attack sets this album out in a different light. Opening proceedings with two cover versions was also an odd move, “Underground” written by Ilene Rappaport a much more subdued introduction than might have been expected. The Jagger/Richards penned “Connection” doesn’t do too much to raise the tempo and while both songs are presented quite wonderfully, compared to the Montrose album, the lack of an in your face wallop was stark. And something all the more apparent when side two (in old (paper) money) opens with “I Got The Fire”, which is still one of the sharpest riffs ever written. Hagar too is utterly enthused and when the guitar solo kicks in with the drums thundering along below, the effect is merely heightened yet further. Hence begging the question, why did this song not open the album proper? Admittedly “Starliner” closes out side one with a prime example of the never heard before guitar effects and sounds that Ronnie Montrose would never quite get the credit for creating, but with it being preceded by the cool groove of “The Drifter”, it really was a case of wondering what might have been. With the final three tracks being the cool instrumental “Spaceage Sacrifice”, the tear-jerking “We’re Going Home” and the excellent rumbling hard rock of “Paper Money”, there’s not a single song here that isn’t excellent, but as an album, things barely hold together - especially when compared to a debut that was simply too hot to handle.

The fourth disc here returns the band to KSAN for another session, this time in December ’74, and the difference in the quartet - now with Alan Fitzgerald on bass, who had replaced Church prior to Paper Money - is palpable. Rather than being nervous, Hagar now makes a joke when he’s mistakenly introduced as ‘Sammy Hagar, lead vacalist’ and indeed the whole band as the set careens through its excellent nine tracks, can be heard having fun and cracking jokes between songs. The singer was also now fully formed behind the mic and it’s maybe only at this stage that it’s possible to hear the growth as a vocalist (not vacalist!) he had been through - we are now hearing the man who would have a successful solo career and go on to front Van Halen. Sadly, Hagar was also beginning to not see eye to eye with Ronnie, and not long after these excellent recordings, he would quit the band. As before, for anyone who does not have this live session, you really should.

Bob James was the singer given the unenviable task of replacing Hagar, with his husky, rich tones taking in everything from a bit of Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale to, of course, Robert Plant. The album that introduced him to the world was the unhelpfully titled Warner Bros. Presents Montrose!, which is not the compilation album its name might suggest. Jim Alcivar was also added to the line-up on keyboards as Ronnie, who was now handling production in place of Templeman, who had also done Paper Money, maybe unwisely looked to expand his band’s sound. Less incendiary than the debut, yet somehow less soulful than the follow up, this third album, while still good, feels like a band searching for a sound and never quite finding it. “All I Need” is a quite beautiful slow bluesy cut, while “Matriarch” and “Dancin’ Feet” between them possess both a punch and a hard rockin’ depth that over time proves rather seductive. However, the cover of Eddie Cochrane’s “Twenty Flight Rock” feels a little perfunctory, while the intricate, short instrumental “One And A Half”, good though it is, has the whiff of ‘filler’ about it. Which is a shame, because “Whaler” is a sophisticated change of pace and “Clown Woman” a strutting slice of blues infused bluster that works a treat.

With Randy Jo Hobbs handling bass on a selection of cuts after Fitzgerald had jumped ship, Montrose continued on at the pace of delivering an album a year, with 1976’s offering being Jump On It, which has, shall we say, rather obvious cover art… Interestingly, as an album, Jump On It continues on from its predecessor as it flits between hard rocking blues, full force rockers and, well something a little slicker and more commercial than maybe the band had offered before. For my taste it was a small step back in the right direction from the good, but listless Warner Bros., but many prefer the former. Ronnie, on tracks like “What Are You Waiting For” (written by Dan Hartmann) sounds excited to be let loose again as he rips out some less expected ideas during the solo while still delivering exactly what you want to hear. Add in the gargantuan “Music Man”, which is a four minute-seventeen second mini-epic full of strings, echoing drums and one of James’ best vocals for the band and there’s a lot here to like. Especially when you also take the energetic title track into account, which almost, but not quite, takes you back to the debut album from the band.

Sadly, not long after, Bob James, who would only go on to be involved with one other album (as far as I know) with a band called Magnet, quit Montrose and they promptly fell apart. Ronnie would release a solo instrumental album the next year before forming the rather magnificent Gamma. Fitzgerald, on keyboards, would help bring Night Ranger to life, while Denny Carmassi would turn up everywhere from Heart to Coverdale/Page in the years to come. Montrose, the band, would reappear over a decade later with the 1978 album Mean, but Ronnie was the only band member with any links to the first era to be present, and as was the way with his career, it wouldn’t take the guitarist long to move on to yet another project.

However, let’s look back at Montrose with the respect they deserve, and it has to be said that this set does that task proud. All four albums - and the demo/live discs - have a lot to recommend, even if the bonus tracks on the individual albums are merely mono or stereo mixes of some main album tracks. With the debut, and to a lesser extent its follow up, it also houses a genuine, stone cold, hard rock classic album. What came after sparkled brightly in places while having more than enough to hold the attention, and all brought together, it is has to be said makes for a hugely impressive body of work that any self respecting hard rock fan simply has to own.

Track Listing
DISC ONE Montrose (1973)
1. Rock The Nation
 2. Bad Motor Scooter
 3. Space Station #5
 4. I Don’t Want It
 5. Good Rockin’ Tonight
 6. Rock Candy
 7. One Thing On My Mind
 8. Make It Last
 Bonus Tracks
 9. Rock The Nation (mono)
 10. Rock The Nation (stereo) 
11. Space Station #5 (mono edit) 
12. Space Station #5 (stereo edit)

DISC TWO Demos (1973)

1. One Thing On My Mind (Demo)
 2. Shoot Us Down (Demo) 
3. Rock Candy (Demo) 
4. Good Rockin’ Tonight (Demo)
 5. I Don’t Want It (Demo) 
6. Make It Last (Demo)
 Live KSAN Radio Session. Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, USA 21st April 1973
 7. Intro
 8. Good Rockin’ Tonight
 9. Rock Candy
 10. Bad Motor Scooter
 11. Shoot Us Down
 12. One Thing On My Mind
 13. Rock The Nation
 14 Make It Last
 15 You’re Out Of Time 
16 Roll Over Beethoven
 17 I Don’t Want It

DISC THREE Paper Money (1974)
1. Underground
 2. Connection 
3. The Dreamer
 4. Starliner
 5. I Got The Fire
 6. Spaceage Sacrifice
 7. We’re Going Home 
8. Paper Money Bonus Tracks
 9. Paper Money (stereo edit)
 10. Paper Money (mono edit) 
11. Connection (mono edit)

DISC FOUR Live KSAN Radio Session, Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, USA 26th December 1974
1. Intro
 2. I Got The Fire 
3. Rock Candy
 4. Bad Motor Scooter
 5. Spaceage Sacrifice
 6. One And A Half
 7. Roll Over Beethoven
 8. Trouble
 9. Space Station #5

DISC FIVE Warner Bros. Presents Montrose! (1975)

1. Matriarch
 2. All I Need
 3. Twenty Flight Rock
 4. Whaler
 5. Dancin’ Feet 
6. O Lucky Man
 7. One And A Half
 8. Clown Woman
 9. Black Train
 Bonus Track
 10. Matriarch (mono edit)

DISC SIX Jump On It (1976)

1. Let’s Go
 2. What Are You Waiting For?
 3. Tuft-Sedge
 4. Music Man 
5. Jump On It
 6. Rich Man
 7. Crazy For You
 8. Merry Go-Round
 Bonus Tracks 
 9. Music Man (stereo edit) 
10. Music Man (mono edit) 
11. Let’s Go (stereo edit) 
12. Let’s Go (mono edit)

Added: July 30th 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Montrose @ Cherry Red
Hits: 722
Language: english

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