Rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose, who played on recordings from a wide variety of rock artists over a 40-year career, died on Saturday at age 64 after a long battle with prostate cancer.
A tribute posted on his official website read, “A few months ago, we held a surprise party for Ronnie Montrose’s 64th birthday. He gave an impromptu speech, and told us that after a long life, filled with joy and hardship, he didn’t take any of our love for granted. He passed today. He’d battled cancer, and staved off old age for long enough. And true to form, he chose his own exit the way he chose his own life. We miss him already, but we’re glad to have shared with him while we could.”
Born in San Francisco on November 29, 1947, Montrose picked up the guitar in his late teens and formed his first band, Sawbuck, in 1969.
He quickly established a reputation as a reliably fiery guitar hero sideman, beginning with his first major gig at age 23 when he was tapped to play on Van Morrison’s legendary 1971 album, Tupelo Honey. Montrose went on to play with such rock acts as Boz Scaggs and the Edgar Winter Group, including the latter’s stand-out hits, “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride.” In addition to appearing on two more albums by Van Morrison, he recorded tracks with Herbie Hancock, Gary Wright, Dan Hartman and the Beau Brummels.
Once he’d established his name, in 1973 Montrose formed a power trio with the then-unknown singer Sammy Hagar, who would go on to his own solo success and worldwide fame as the second lead singer of Van Halen. They recoded two major-label albums before Hagar took off to become a solo act. To this day, Hagar continues to play some of Montrose’s most beloved tunes in his live show, including songs such as “Bad Motor Scooter,” and “Rock Candy” and “Make It Last.”
Montrose was initially diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and took two years off to recover from surgery, but hit the road again with his band after that, playing nearly 50 shows last year and continuing to appear on other artist’s recordings throughout his second cancer fight.