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A Toast To My Late Comrades and Friends, Tawn Mastrey and Ronnie Montrose

The LobsterThere are two people in the left of this photo who have left the building. They were close, and close to me. They were equally talented and bright, Tawn Mastrey as one of the best DJs I’ve ever worked with, and Ronnie Montrose as a master guitarist.

Tawn Mastrey passed away in October 2007, a result of complications (liver failure) from Hepatitus C virus. She had contracted it from a boyfriend in high school and didn’t know until she was in her 50s. About that same time, Ronnie Montrose was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the complications of this disease have taken him away, way too soon, as well. We all should be tested. Early detection can save lives.

L-R Tawn Mastrey, Ronnie Montrose, Lobster,
Drummer Steve Smith, Eileen Duhne at KSJO, San Jose 1978

I’ve saved a backstage pass in a beautifully engraved leather notebook binder given to me by a KSJO listener. The backstage pass is from Journey’s 1978 Infinity tour. The pass reads: "Journey, Ronnie Montrose, and special guest Van Halen." During that tour (and at the visit to KSJO’s old studio at 3003 Moorpark Avenue, where this photo was taken), Ronnie Montrose was touring in support of his vocal-less Open Fire album. Steve Smith was his drummer (Aynsley Dunbar was still behind the drumkit for Journey) -- and Van Halen was the opening act. What a moment in rock & roll history!

I had first seen Montrose, the original band, in December 1973 at Bill Graham’s Winterland. They were the opening act for headliner Joe Walsh & Barnstorm; and Sons of Champlin were the middle act. I'd driven up from the mid-Peninsula with a friend from Stanford's KZSU, where I was Music Director while part-time DJ and restaurant reviewer for KSJO. What I saw was the American version of The Who. Ronnie had the guitar chops of Pete Townshend, Sammy Hagar had the vocal gravitas of Roger Daltrey; and the rhythm section of Bill Church on bass and Denny Carmassi on drums was as tight as John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Their songs were just as solid. Pete and Roger always had a rocky relationship, but managed to stay together far beyond their first two albums. It was not to be for Ronnie and Sammy. Ronnie was mercurial, and Sammy had a bright future in front of him. After the Montrose album (1973) and Paper Money (1974), each went on to other music projects. Sammy told BAM that he and Ronnie had planned a Montrose reunion for October 2012, but sadly, that won't happen now.

A few years back, BAM Publisher Dennis Erokan and I went to the Concord Pavilion to see Sammy Hagar & The Wabos, with the original Montrose band opening. Clearly, many in the sold-out crowd had come just to see the legendary Montrose. Without the flash of Sammy's Cabo Wabo Cantina floor show, and by strength of pure musicianship, the original quartet blew away the headline act.

I hope you’ll be able to see the three surviving members of Montrose, with Sammy’s Chickenfoot bandmate Joe Satriani on guitar, at "A Concert for Ronnie Montrose" on Friday, April 27, at the Regency Ballroom. The night will be a celebration of Ronnie Montrose's life and music, but moreover, it’s a celebration of the San Francisco Bay Area music community, no matter which side of the Bay you're on.

Paul “Lobster” Wells
Tune into 97.7 The River in Santa Rosa or
Catch the live stream on the Internet,
Sundays 10a-3p Pacific. Go to:
Click the 97.7 The River logo to listen


Thursday, April 24, 2014

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