OBITUARY: Rocker Ronnie Montrose’ Monetary Policy Prophecy — by NormanB (“Deviations from the Norm”)
Glitter rocker, hard rock guitarist, band leader, and songwriter Ronnie Montrose died of prostate cancer Saturday aged 64. He flourished in the 1970s – he’s already long missed. He was not a leader of his generation, but a man of his generation.
His force was felt from Van Morrison to Van Halen. He played at the first Farm Aid. He even played in Steely Dan’s rare live appearances. Being a poet myself, I see his journey – through the moral dilemmas of our time, in the context of the the poetry he exposited in the songs he performed – as a slice of cultural archaeology. He was a man of his time.
He was extremely audacious and outrageous and over-the-top, but for the glitterglam genre wherein he performed, he was just one of the guys. He was in the background. Other guys he played with had longer hair, louder instruments, shinier clothes, prettier faces. They screamed and jumped around a lot more than he did.
I was lucky enough to see and hear Montrose perform live – the man, not the band – twice in his prime in gigantic concerts. He just hung back both times, didn’t push his agenda. Just one of the guys.
Though he was never a big star, Montrose did head a self-named band with a couple of Top 40 hits. We couldn’t see the glitter on tinny car radios with tiny cracked speakers, but we tried to make out the lyrics. “Rock the/Rock the/Rock the/Rock the/Na-/tion!” I’ll play his big hit in a few minutes, and I’ll link to some much bigger hits he played on, when he was in other people’s bands, below. First dig this.
The centerpiece of Ronnie’s band Montrose’ catalog was his song decrying President Richard Nixon’s decision to have the US leave the Gold Standard in 1971: In 1974, on the band’s second album, Paper Money, using his songwriting partner Sammy Hagar’s powerful singing voice in the title song, Montrose viciously attacked the switch to our current manifestation of the Federal Reserve system.
For the previous 25 years, the US dollar had been tied to the price of gold. Gold was always $35 an ounce. That arrangement had made the US economy strong. Montrose predicted with fierce accuracy the runaway inflation we have faced ever since. He correctly prophesied that the new way would mean that most of that newly minted and printed money would go only to the very, very rich. He yelled it at us. But did we listen?
Ronnie Montrose played for Van Morrison on his brillant St. Dominic’s Preview album, with its iconic song “Jackie Wilson Said.” Montrose launched the career of his frontman Sammy Hagar, who later went on to front Van Halen. Montrose also played on Gary Wright’s number 2 hit “Dream Weaver,” which seems to be (at least partially) about John Lennon, who once sang “I was the dream weaver…”.
In the sixties, men grew their hair long and experienced prejudice as a result. But we were not stopped. We grew it longer and drew more prejudice and discrimination; and then we came to welcome the confrontation, not because we wanted abrasion, but because we knew we were right: Prejudice based on race or religion or culture or sexuality or appearance was just plain wrong and we were not going to put up with it any longer.
In the seventies, gender-bending of the glitter rockers pushed the envelope further. English glitterati admitted they were bisexual: First Elton John, then David Bowie (though for Bowie saying he was bi may have been just part of the show: Artwork on his album Diamond Dogs showed him as a composite creature with a man-woman face and a canine body of indeterminate sex).
Rumors circulated that feminine-looking American glitter rockers like Johnny and Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer were gay too. Now masculine men with long hair had to speak up clearly and say specifically that it was OK to be gay. It was OK for men to dress as women. It was OK. It was part of us. (I don’t know how many of those rumors were true, but Edgar Winter’s and Ronnie Montrose’ bandmate Dan Hartman, who wrote “Free Ride,” died young of AIDS-related brain cancer.)
At concerts down South of one or both of the Winter brothers, glitter punks were accepted, but had to endure some prejudice. At larger concerts, like The Who, they were jeered, pushed, and herded to the worst part of the stadium: Right next to the stage. While the bands that the unusually-dressed fans liked (Joan Jett’s Blackhearts and the B-52s) played excellent sets, drunken hippies pelted bands and fans with expensive sodas.
The Edgar Winter Group epitomized the glitter rock genre in the mid-seventies. They taught eager-to-learn fans how this speed-and-testosterone-driven hard rock was derived from blues and gospel and soul and jazz. Edgar and Ronnie and Rick Derringer put on a spectacular show, as you’ll see below. With the EW Group, Montrose played on the mystic Christian mega-hit “Free Ride” and the amazing “Frankenstein.”
I saw them in a packed house of 35,000 back then. Phenomenal! Styx was the opening act. (As if to prove Andy Warhol’s 15-minutes-of-fame hypothesis, the next time I saw Styx was in an overflowing stadium; but the next time I saw Edgar Winter, he was two feet away from me performing bandless on a one-foot-tall stage in a small country bar.)
“Frankenstein” the song is in fact about the modern Prometheus. Though it’s an instrumental, Montrose and the guys made a clear poetic statement: ‘You oughta let it all hang out. Enjoy yourself. Sex is cool. Smoke Marijuana. Drop some acid. Take ye some hard drugs! Live a little!’
Derringer’s words in “Rock’n'Roll Hoochie Koo” got a little more explicit on the gang’s undying dedication to sex, drugs, and rock’n'roll (though printed versions of the lyrics don’t show quite the way it was sung in concert): “I’m gettin’ high all the time, I hope ya all are too. Ooh! C’mon little pussy, I wanna do it to you.”