One of the late Ronnie Montrose’s off-the-radar joys was teaching children about music. He didn’t publicize it much— it obviously wasn’t something he wished to exploit for media exposure—but he loved playing guitar for and with kids, and he enjoyed the exchange of ideas, the youthful exuberance, and, in some, the beginnings of a desire and a commitment to achieve amazing things.
I could think of no better way to honor Ronnie’s memory than to establish a Guitar Player award in his name that recognizes stunning young talent on the guitar. This year, along with Ronnie’s widow Leighsa and his best friend CJ Hutchins, GP established the Ronnie Montrose Rock the Nation Award, Honoring Young Guitarists Who Aspire to Greatness.
After getting his award at the 2014 All-Star Guitar Night, Lazarus played an instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” with bassist Stu Hamm and drummer Danny Gottlieb.
We debuted the award at the 2014 Winter NAMM Show in January—during Muriel Anderson’s All-Star Guitar Night— by bestowing it upon 15-year-old Max Lazarus of the San Francisco Bay Area band Haunted By Heroes. Max already has the look and charisma of a rock star, and he backs it up with fiery technique, a sweet yet edgy tone, and the phrasing and taste of someone many years older.
In her congratulatory letter to Max, Leighsa said, “Ronnie derived great joy from doing what he could to help cultivate, contribute, and make a difference in a young artist’s playing. He loved great playing and craftsmanship, but he wasn’t a technical player. What he wanted to hear was a player’s personality. Paramount to him was spontaneity and expression. He loved to say to me, ‘My dear, I never practice. I play.’ He would be so proud of you, Max.”
For 2015, the Guitar Player editors, Leighsa Montrose, and CJ Hutchins will select two players for the Rock the Nation Award—one girl and one boy—between the ages of ten and 18. Our choices will be made solely by evaluating YouTube videos of hopefuls playing their best licks on guitar. These can be solo or band performances. To be considered, send an email with YouTube links to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the young guitarist’s name and a short bio. Deadline for entries is October 31, 2014.