Montrose - I Got the Fire

Montrose – I Got The Fire: Complete Recordings 1973-1976

Montrose were formed in 1973 when hot shot American session guitarist Ronnie Montrose quit the Edgar Winter Group and teamed up with Sam Hagar (as he was then known) and drummer Denny Carmassi, who had been playing together in cover bands, and bassist Bill Church who he knew from their days of playing for Van Morrison. They made their debut on a live KSAN radio session on 21st April that year, and that session is included on disc 2 of this box of the band’s ’70s recordings. They hadn’t yet recorded an album, but the power and energy was evident right from the start, as they tore through most of the songs which would appear on their first release later in ’73. The set was recorded pretty much without an audience, and yet the raw excitement is evident all these years later.

Ronnie knew producer Ted Templeman from his time in Van Morrison’s band, so he was persuaded to produce their eponymous debut record, and the choice was crucial as he captured the raw power of their live performance and brilliantly translated it onto vinyl. It’s loud and proud, and he picked their best eight songs to showcase their incendiary hard rock style. Of course, Templeman went on to do a similar job for the much better selling Van Halen debut, but I’d argue that it might not have sounded quite so awesome had he not made the Montrose album. I’d also suggest that Montrose is one of the best hard rock debut albums ever, and it sounds as good here as ever. The first three tracks are simply unimpeachable, starting with the rousing Rock the Nation, followed by their most well known song Bad Motor Scooter, with its stunning guitar solo from Ronnie, and followed by the electrifying riff of Space Station #5. It sounds live, and is the sound of a band who have hit the ground running, and they would never better that record.

Apart from Alan Fitzgerald replacing Bill Church on bass, the follow-up Paper Money featured the same line-up, but it would be the last to feature the vocal talents of Sammy Hagar. Anyone who was hoping for a record even better than the stunning first album was probably disappointed. It’s not a bad album by any means, but it doesn’t generate the same electric excitement. So what went wrong? Well apparently, Ronnie was getting disillusioned with the basic hard rock approach and wanted to widen the musical palette. Nothing wrong with that you might think, but somehow in doing so, some of the spark was lost, the energy watered down, and the material on Paper Money isn’t of the same standard to be honest. It has its moments, notably The Dreamer, I Got The Fire and Spaceage Sacrifice, but generally it’s rather laid-back, and Hagar jumped ship, but not before recording a second KSAN session on 26th December 1974. It’s another superb live show, featured on disc 4, but perhaps unsurprisingly the bulk of the set delves back into their debut with only two cuts from Paper Money. Again it shows what a powerful live act they were, but it was to be fleeting and 1975 saw a change of personnel in the Montrose camp.

Taking over on vocals was Bob James, a perfectly able and talented front man, but without the charisma of Hagar. The band were expanded to a five piece with the addition of keyboard player Jim Alcivar, and this line-up recorded their third album, Warner Bros. Presents Montrose!. Inexplicably, the booklet accompanying this box credits Alcivar as playing bass, which is a blot on an otherwise well presented set. Warner Bros. Presents… is actually not a bad record, somewhat better than Paper Money with a better balance between their hard rock roots and the more adventurous material which Ronnie was after. Matriarch is a good opening track, and Whaler shows a slightly more progressive side to the band. Black Train rounds off the record with style and energy, and the always impressive guitar skills of Montrose himself.

1976’s Jump On It was more adventurous again, and was recorded by the same line-up, except for Randy Jo Hobbs replacing Alan Fitzgerald on bass. It contained some very good material, especially the wonderful ballad Music Man, complete with strings and a memorable solo from Ronnie, and the touchingly confessional Rich Man. Closing song Merry-Go-Round shows how Ronnie’s songwriting had developed in just three years, but this was the end of the road for the band.

This box set collects all four albums Montrose recorded in the ’70s, plus the two live radio sessions, demos from the first album, and also adds single edits as bonus tracks. Although the bulk of this material is available elsewhere on expanded editions of the original albums, it’s nice having the whole history of Montrose in one box set, and a more cost effective way of having the complete recordings, so Cherry Red have done a good job. I’d have liked to have seen interviews with some of the musicians involved, but nevertheless this does showcase a good chunk of the legacy of Ronnie Montrose, and certainly the most essential years of one of the most underrated guitar talents of the time, and if you don’t have the KSAN broadcasts already, this is an essential slice of hard rock history.

CD 1: Montrose (1973)

01. Rock the Nation (3:02)
02. Bad Motor Scooter (3:44)
03. Space Station #5 (5:15)
04. I Don’t Want It (2:56)
05. Good Rockin’ Tonight (2:57)
06. Rock Candy (5:04)
07. One Thing on My Mind (3:39)
08. Make it Last (5:31)
09. Rock the Nation – mono edit (2:55)
10. Rock the Nation – stereo edit (2:55)
11. Space Station #5 – mono edit (3:51)
12. Space Station #5 – starred edit (3:51)

CD 2: 1973 Demos / Live KSAN Radio Session 21/4/1973
01. One Thing on My Mind (demo) (3:41)
02. Shoot Us Down (demo) (4:31)
03. Rock Candy (demo) (3:54)
04. Good Rockin’ Tonight (demo) (3:20)
05. I Don’t Want It (demo) (3:07)
06. Make it Last (demo) (4:05)
07. Live Session Intro (0:54)
08. Good Rockin’ Tonight (3:55)
09. Rock Candy (4:45)
10. Bad Motor Scooter (5:01)
11. Shoot Us Down (4:54)
12. One Thing on My Mind (3:27)
13. Rock the Nation (4:55)
14. Make it Last (6:04)
15. You’re Out of Time (3:35)
16. Roll Over Beethoven (4:53)
17. I Don’t Want It (3:56)

CD 3: Paper Money (1974)
01. Underground (3:38)
02. Connection (5:44)
03. The Dreamer (4:06)
04. Starliner (3:40)
05. I Got the Fire (3:10)
06. Spaceage Sacrifice (4:58)
07. We’re Going Home (4:53)
08. Paper Money (5:00)
09. Paper Money – mono edit (3:40)
10. Paper Money – stereo edit (3:40)
11. Connection – mono edit (4:53)

CD 4: Live KSAN Radio Session 26/12/1974
01. Intro (0:30)
02. I Got the Fire (3:12)
03. Rock Candy (5:59)
04. Bad Motor Scooter (4:44)
05. Spaceage Sacrifice (6:57)
06. One and A Half (4:30)
07. Roll Over Beethoven (3:39)
08. Trouble (4:56)
09. Space Station #5 (11:41)

CD 5: Warner Bros. Presents Montrose! (1975)
01. Matriarch (4:34)
02. All I Need (4:22)
03. Twenty Flight Rock (2:44)
04. Whaler (6:55)
05. Dancin’ Feet (4:06)
06. O Lucky Man (3:11)
07. One and A Half (1:37)
08. Clown Woman (4:22)
09. Black Train (4:37)
10. Matriarch – mono edit (3:27)

CD 6: Jump On It (1976)
01. Let’s Go (4:16)
02. What Are You Waitin’ For? (3:48)
03. Tuft-Sedge (2:49)
04. Music Man (4:17)
05. Jump on It (3:36)
06. Rich Man (4:27)
07. Crazy for You (3:26)
08. Merry-Go-Round (5:40)
09. Music Man – stereo edit (3:49)
10. Music Man – mono edit (3:49)
11. Let’s Go – stereo edit (3:21)
12. Let’s Go – mono edit (3:21)

Ronnie Montrose – Guitars
Denny Carmassi – Drums
Sammy Hagar – Vocals (discs 1-4)
Bill Church – Bass (discs 1 & 2)
Alan Fitzgerald – Bass (discs 3-5)
Bob James – Vocals (discs 5 & 6)
Jim Alcivar – Keyboards (discs 5 & 6)
Randy Jo Hobbs – Bass (disc 6)
~ with:
Mark Jordan – Piano (disc 3, track 2)
Nick DeCaro – Mellotron (disc 3, track 7)
Novi – Viola (disc 5, track 4)

Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: QHNEBOX162
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 29th July 2022

Montrose – Info at Cherry Red Records