Special Report to Guitar Player
Last week, I was traveling down Interstate 5 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, when I heard something on the radio that immediately caught my attention. A radio station was playing a recording captured by NASA of sounds from outer space.
After a few seconds, I knew I had heard these sounds before. I've never been an astronaut or in outer space, so my familiarity with these sounds was unusual and surprising. But I had heard them before, and I knew at once that these sounds from space were virtually identical to the sounds made by Ronnie Montrose on his first, eponymously titled 1973 album, Montrose.
To make sure I wasn't hallucinating, when I got back to my computer, I found the NASA recordings, and I sifted through a number of tracks until I found the exact audio recording I had heard on the radio. The recording was indeed a dead ringer for the intro to Ronnie's song “Space Station #5."
I was a huge fan of the Montrose band, and this particular album was perhaps my favorite rock album of all time. "Space Station #5" always brings me back to the spring of 1974, where virtually every car driven by a teenager had the windows down and that Montrose album blasting.
Years later, Ronnie and I became friends, and I asked him about the genesis of that song. Ronnie was living in Sausalito, California, at the time, and he had an unannounced knock on his door one day in early 1973. The young man introduced himself to the already famous Ronnie Montrose: “Hi, my name is Sammy Hagar, and I want to start a band.”
When Ronnie asked him if he had any songs, Hagar replied, “Yeah, I've got songs.” To prove the point, Hagar showed Ronnie a binder full of songs he had written. With that, Ronnie invited the stranger into his house. By the end of the afternoon, not only had Ronnie and Sammy agreed to start a band together, but they had written and composed "Space Station #5." Not a bad first day’s work. With that, one of America’s great singer/songwriter/rock guitarist teams had been formed.
Less surprising is the fact their first composition was a song about the very cosmos itself. Indeed, the focus of the Baby Boomer generation was to raise their eyes toward the heavens—towards celestial happenings—such as the Sputnik, the ensuing space race, and putting a man on the moon. The manifestations of such preoccupations had become a constant theme on earth: 1959 Cadillac automobiles with spaceship-like “fins” as rear fenders, guitars such as Gibson’s 1958 Flying V and Explorer were shaped like flying machines, and there was even a hugely popular genre of tin spaceship toys made in Japan. As it were, the old confines of our own planet—and even our own universe—were no longer confines at all, and were reflected in the popular culture of the day with songs such as “Tel-Star”, and television shows like Lost in Space. These were clear reminders of the importance of the extra-terrestrial to 1960s and 1970s society.
But none of that explains how Ronnie Montrose captured in a profound way, the sound of outer space years before it had ever been recorded. Using a theremin and a 1958 Fender Bandmaster, Ronnie put tones on vinyl that are so close to the true sounds of outer space as to be astonishing. It is simply beyond explanation.
Compare for yourself!
THE NASA RECORDING FROM THE COSMOS
"SPACE STATION #5" BY MONTROSE
Rhino Records recently released Deluxe editions of Montrose and Paper Money, as well as the "new" album by Ronnie Montrose and friends, 10x10. Get all the info RIGHT HERE!