There's the world premiere of an awesome "lost" Ronnie Montrose track entitled "Color Blind" a few paragraphs down, so scroll right to it if you're impatient. But if you want to hear a tale about a near miracle, you might want to peruse the back story of how Montrose's final album almost never was...
You see, when the iconic San Francisco Bay Area guitarist passed away on March 3, 2012, he was in the midst of working on an album that would have thrilled fans of his original Montrose (1973-1974) and Gamma (1979-1983) periods. The artistically restless Montrose followed his muse without question, and his frequent stylistic shifts could frustrate audiences who adored his early riff rock. But, in 2003, he called in bassist Ricky Phillips (Styx) and drummer Eric Singer (Kiss) to tackle a power-trio project that would rock harder than anything he had done in years.
"Ronnie was calling up Eric and I for all kinds of festival and club gigs," says Phillips. "It was obvious he was having fun playing rough and tumble rock and roll again."
Soon, Montrose had developed a concept — record rock ten songs and bring in ten different vocalists to sing them. He brought Phillips and Singer to Doug Messenger's studio in North Hollywood, and the three musicians set up to record live — no pre-production rehearsals and no overdubs — and knocked out ten basic tracks in two or three days.
That album is 10x10 [Rhino], and it quite possibly may never have been heard beyond a few Montrose-family friends. Montrose did manage to record some of his chosen vocalists during his lifetime — such as Sammy Hagar and Edgar Winter — but finances, schedules, and a frightening illness conspired to slow progress.
"He found out he had cancer, which halted him physically and mentally," remembers his wife, Leighsa Montrose. "He was so exhausted, and he slept much of the time. I remember him saying that he 'wanted to go down deep for a spell.' The day he said he didn’t want to play guitar any longer, all I said was, 'Okay.' I know from being an artist myself that it's best to ride that wave until you recharge. He stopped playing for two solid years. Living life is what happens between the music."
Once Montrose was fit and healthy again, he jumped back into putting bands together, gigging, and sketching out future musical projects. He reportedly discussed 10x10 frequently, and wanted to finish it, but time ran out in 2012, and the guitar community not only lost a ferociously talented and influential player, it was also denied Montrose's final studio project.
You can thank Phillips, Singer, Leighsa Montrose, and Rhino Records now, because that didn't happen.
"I was talking to Eric about 10x10 after Ronnie died, and I was pretty sure that I wanted to see if I could finish it, but I hadn't been able to move forward on it," says Phillips. "But Eric said, 'It has to be you. You and I were there to record it. We were there when Ronnie was talking about it — what he wanted to do, who he wanted to sing on it, how he wanted it to sound. If someone else gets into this thing, it's going to suck, and you're going to hate it.' That did it. I called Leighsa."
"I really admire and respect what Ricky did with the record," says Singer. "It was a crazy amount of work, and he did the bulk of it."
To get 10x10 completed, Phillips had to finish the vocal tracks with the guest artists — all based on conversations with Montrose before his death, or determined from who Ronnie liked and respected. He also had to bring in guest soloists, as Montrose had passed away before he got a chance to cut the guitar solos on the ten tracks.
"Ronnie was always guiding the proceedings, even though he's no longer here," says Phillips. "This record wasn't about me, or my production sensibilities, and it wasn't about the guest artists. I knew what Ronnie wanted. We had talked about it a lot. So making 10x10 became a process of honoring his wishes. For example, Ronnie wasn't about overly flashy solos, and, as we definitely have some brilliant soloists on the record, we had to have the understanding that they could still play like themselves, just filtered through how Ronnie would approach it.
A labor of love for all who were involved, 10x10 is slated for release on September 29, and will be available on 180-gram vinyl ($21.98), CD ($14.98), and digitally.
And — hey, good things come to those who wait — we have your world premiere track below.
"It’s valuable to have 10x10 be seen as Ronnie’s last work, rather than going and digging up some stuff from his past," says Sammy Hagar. "This was something he truly had a vision for.”
A note from Leighsa about the cover art: "Ronnie loved the use of a double entendre to convey meaning. My inspiration for the cover artwork is a personal nod to him, how he thought, and what would have been aesthetically pleasing to him. This is beautifully illustrated by Peter Grant. What you see is a sound wave from "Head On Straight," which he wrote for 10x10. This was captured by Steve Ledesma with special thanks to Alfred Ruiz. When looking at this sound wave, I wanted the eye and mind to see it as if it was moving and fluid—as if it was him on the cover. Ronnie is music. He had the mindset of an engineer. Math and music was the way he thought. To be able to combine these attributes of Ronnie with depth of meaning, I believe he would have appreciated the thought that went into everyone’s combined efforts to understand and create the cover."
Here is the track listing:
RONNIE MONTROSE 10x10
1.“Heavy Traffic” (Eric Martin, vocals/Dave Meniketti, guest soloist)
2.“Love Is An Art” (Edgar Winter, vocals/Rick Derringer, guest soloist)
3.“Color Blind” (Sammy Hagar, vocals/Steve Lukather, guest soloist)
4.“Still Singin’ With The Band” (Glenn Hughes, vocals/Phil Collen and Jimmy “Z” Zavala, guest soloists)
5.“Strong Enough” (Tommy Shaw, vocals and guest soloist)
6.“Any Minute” (Mark Farner, vocals and guest soloist/Ricky Phillips, organ solo)
7.“The Kingdom’s Come Undone” (Ricky Phillips, vocals/Joe Bonamassa, guest soloist)
8.“One Good Reason” (Bruce Turgon, vocals/Brad Whitford, guest soloist)
9.“Head On Straight” (Davey Pattison, vocals/Marc Bonilla, guest soloist)
10.“I’m Not Lying” (Gregg Rolie, vocals/Tom Gimbel, saxophone solo)
**Please watch for extended interviews with Ricky Phillips, Eric Singer, Leighsa Montrose, and others in a future issue of Guitar Player magazine.