March 4, 2012 at 1:31 PM ET
Ronnie Montrose, who is best known for his fiery guitar work as a member of the band Montrose, died Saturday. It is believed that the cause of death was prostate cancer, which he had been battling for the past few years.
"A few months ago, we held a surprise party for Ronnie Montrose's 64th birthday," a statement said on Montrose's official website. "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 Denver, Colorado, Montrose got his first break when he was invited to play on Van Morrison's 1971 album, "Tupelo Honey." Additional appearances on recordings by Herbie Hancock, Boz Scaggs, and the Edgar Winter Group soon followed before he formed his own band, Montrose, in 1973. In addition to the guitarist, the band consisted of a then-unknown Sammy Hagar on vocals, as well as bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Carmassi.
The quartet issued one of rock's all-time great debuts that year, their Zeppelin-esque album, "Montrose," which spawned such soon-to-be hard rock standards as "Rock the Nation," "Bad Motor Scooter," "Space Station #5," "Rock Candy" and "Make It Last," all of which featured Montrose's tasty guitar playing. Hagar, however, would only remain with the band for one more release (1974's Paper Money) before exiting the group.
Still, the two Hagar/Montrose albums proved influential to subsequent bands, as evidenced by all the rock acts covering Montrose tunes, including Iron Maiden, who covered "I've Got the Fire" and "Space Station #5." Interestingly, Van Halen (the group Hagar would eventually front for two separate stints) would cover the songs "Rock Candy" and "Make It Last" during their early club days.
Montrose the group (with singer Bob James filling Hagar's spot) would soldier on for a few more releases in the Seventies before the guitarist issued an all-instrumental solo album, 1978's "Open Fire." He went on to form Gamma, which issued three albums between 1980 and 1983. From the Eighties onward, Montrose would alternate between issuing additional recordings from Montrose, Gamma, and as a solo artist.
Ronnie Montrose and Sammy Hagar appeared to eventually bury the hatchet, as the original Montrose line-up appeared on the singer's 1997 solo effort, "Marching to Mars," for the song "Leaving the Warmth of the Womb," and even played together again on stage several times afterwards. For the past few years, Montrose had played solo shows throughout the U.S.