There are many excellent events going on around NAMM this week, not least a tribute to guitar hero Ronnie Montrose organized by former Montrose singer Keith St. John. We chatted with the frontman about what we can expect…
L.A. WEEKLY: Where did the idea for this Montrose tribute come from, and why now?
KEITH ST. JOHN: Well, it randomly came up more than ten years ago — I used to get asked to come and sing and host at some of these guitar player balls at NAMM, where there’d be multiple guitar players come up and do three or four songs each. I’d learn some of their stuff, and sing and host on the night. The agent that used to hook me up with those things called me in the summer of 2015 and asked me if there’s anything I want to do at the up and coming NAMM, which would have been 2016. A few years before that, in 2012 when Ronnie passed, there was a memorial done for him at the Warfield in San Francisco. Everybody was so emotional and things weren’t organized very well. A lot of people who should have been there to pay homage to Ronnie, who had played in bands with him and good friends with him, couldn’t make it because it was set up so fast after he passed away. People were on tour, people were wherever and they couldn’t get to San Francisco that fast. I was disappointed at the way it came off. When this guy asked me if I wanted to promote an event of my own around the NAMM festival, I thought damn, we gotta do something for Ronnie and do this right. I set it up and the phone calls came in like madness. That’s how it got born. I suddenly became a concert promoter and had a huge learning curve but a lot of help. It was a smash — not because of me but because of Ronnie. It was gonna be a one-off but people want to do it again. They want to hear that music.
Does it help that it’s connected to NAMM?
NAMM is unique in that there’s gonna be a lot of musicians there, and you know they’re gonna be around. For an event like this, it’s a lot more possible to pull it off. These days, once you get past January the tour season starts right away. It used to start maybe around March and April but bands need to work harder these days. NAMM is one of the few opportunities when you can get a lot of great players together at one time.
Who is involved?
There are a few surprise guests. I’ve gt Brad Gillis from Night Ranger, who is a huge Ronnie Montrose fan. He grew up in the Bay Area as well. George Lynch from Dokken and Lynch Mob. Dave Rude from Tesla on guitar. A good friend of mine and Ronnie’s, Derek St. Holmes from the Ted Nugent band, and a whole bunch more guys. The bottom line is, we’ll be going through a little bit of Ronnie Montrose’s history — in his early days he played with Van Morrison so we do some Van Morrison. Ronnie was in the Edgar Winter Group — he played on the They Only Come out at Night record which has “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein” so we’ll be doing some of that stuff. Ronnie had another band called Gamma, which has a specific following to it. A departure from the Montrose sound. We’ve got some of those tunes happening.
What you can expect is a whole bunch of people who helped influence a generation of the ’80s metal era, and those guys grew up in grade school learning the early Montrose stuff. They have this childhood love for this music that comes out on stage.
Tell us something about Ronnie that maybe people don’t know…
Ronnie was an artist and a quirky guy. People over the years saw different sides of him. I would say most people don’t know how gentle of a man Ronnie was in his personal life. If you were lucky enough to get close to him, he loved humanity and what people went through mentaly and emotionally in a relationship. He was into the human psyche. A lot of people don’t know that he was a freal tinkerer. He had this electronics shop in his backyard. Ronnie would take apart his amplifiers and change resistors and capacitors. Very meticulous about these things. He was very intense in those ways. He was a great cook, and he hunted.
What else do you have coming up?
I have the Monsters of Rock Cruise coming up, and I have two bands on it — my band with Doug Aldrich called Burning Rain, and I’m also singing with Kingdom Come. We’re also at the Whisky on the 30th.
The tribute to Ronnie Montrose takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 17 at M3 Live Event Center.