KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Compilation Or Catalog? – MONTROSE

[KamerTunesBlog presents Compilation Or Catalog?. Sometimes the only album I own by an artist is a compilation, which can be a stepping-stone to exploring more of their work, but occasionally a “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits” is all I’ve heard. With this series I’ll be asking my readers to let me know if the compilation I have is sufficient or if there are specific albums I should check out. Normally I revisit the entire recorded output of a particular artist over numerous posts, which is the main purpose of this blog, but this will give me an opportunity to learn more about some lesser-known artists in my collection. I look forward to your input]

Montrose was one of those bands I had heard about over the years, mainly because they were known as the launching pad for Sammy Hagar’s career, but none of the rock stations I listened to during my teenage years (the late-‘70s and early-‘80s) played their music. In 1981, I was a big fan of Hagar’s Standing Hampton LP (an underrated album that’s worth checking out if you’ve never heard it), and I thought he was a great choice to replace David Lee Roth as Van Halen’s lead vocalist in 1986, but I never went back to hear where he started. It wasn’t until 2008, when Rhino Records reissued The Very Best Of Montrose (2000) on CD, that I finally decided it was time to check out the music Hagar made with guitarist, and fellow Californian, Ronnie Montrose in the early- to mid-‘70s. What I heard was some solid ‘70s hard rock with clear influences from British bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and although I enjoyed a lot of the songs, after a couple of listens I filed away the CD and hadn’t thought about it until recently. The last couple of days I played it several times and found more to love with each listen. One of the things I hadn’t realized is that Hagar left the band after only two albums: 1973’s Montrose and 1974’s Paper Money. He was replaced by the less distinctive Bob James (not the jazz pianist) on 1975’s Warner Bros. Presents Montrose! and 1976’s Jump On It, after which the band dissolved before being resurrected by Ronnie with a completely fresh lineup for 1987’s Mean. The unsung weapon in this band was drummer Denny Carmassi, who played like a cross between Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and Deep Purple’s Ian Paice. He later gained fame as the drummer for Heart during their ‘80s MTV era, and also played on one of my favorite overlooked albums, 1993’s Coverdale-Page.

All four songs from the debut album are classic hard rockers. “Rock The Nation” has fuzzy guitar, a straight-ahead rhythm and wailing vocals, and sounds like a blend of ‘60s garage rock, Stooges-like energy and ‘70s stadium rock. “Bad Motor Scooter” features proto-Eddie Van Halen guitar pyrotechnics in the intro & outro and the driving rhythm has a similar feel to Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes’ “Journey To The Center Of The Mind.” I love the shifts from half time to driving 4/4 groove and the searing guitar solo.

The intro to “Space Station #5” features crazy sound effects & acoustic guitar before giving way to a staccato guitar riff and a steady beat. It’s not as immediate as the first two songs but it’s a slow grower. I really enjoy the psychedelic phased effect during the middle section. “Rock Candy” is the most Zeppelin-sounding song, with a huge Bonham-esque drum sound and a killer Jimmy Page-inspired riff. Even Hagar’s “Looooord” intro recalls Robert Plant on “Whole Lotta Love.” This is a monster track that might be better known by the lyrics “hard, sweet and sticky.” You have to love ‘70s hard rock lyrics.

Four songs are featured from their second album. “I Got The Fire” is a driving rocker with an extended melodic riff and a big fat guitar solo that recalls the best of Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore. “Spaceage Sacrifice” is more dynamic and subtle, with a subdued production and sparse rhythm section. It also has a bluesier vibe and a more melancholy feel than anything else here. “We’re Going Home” features Ronnie on lead vocals. Like the previous track, it’s moody and sparse, and the faux strings of the mellotron add a new flavor. Late guitar great Gary Moore was surely inspired by the blistering guitar solo here during his ‘80s hard rock period. The tribal drums on “Paper Money” recall Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice, with Carmassi’s percussion work really shining. The lyrical/melodic hook here is “Take away all my silver, take away all my gold.” Not sure if it’s just me, but Rush’s mid-‘80s song “The Big Money” bears a slight resemblance to this track.

[Montrose – “Paper Money”]

For their third album, and first with singer Bob James, the music is still stomping hard rock…at least based on the four songs included here. James’s vocal style is more raw & raspy than Hagar’s, and less distinctive…but I still enjoy a lot of the songs he appears on. “All I Need” starts off soft & pretty with fingerpicked guitar, but gets into a killer groove after James wails “Ohh, ohhh, baby.” Ronnie’s guitar tone in the solo is fantastic. Their version of the Eddie Cochran classic “Twenty Flight Rock” has a lot of energy but is inessential. “Clown Woman” is a typical stomping mid-‘70s rocker. I like it but it’s a bit too generic. “Dancin’ Feet” is my favorite of these four. It has a nice driving groove & speedy guitar licks during the verses, and I like the way the chorus shifts gears: it’s less riff-based with cool funky bass, and I especially enjoy the harmonies on “dancin’ feeeeet.”

Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas came on board for the fourth album and gave it (or at least the three songs included on this collection) a punchier production than the first three. “Let’s Go” has a driving tom-tom intro giving it a tribal feel similar to “Paper Money,” and Ronnie introduces some tasty slide guitar. “Jump On It” is a fast-driving song with uplifting, inspirational lyrics. It sounds like a combination of so many other bands that I couldn’t put my finger on a particular reference point, so maybe that means this sound is truly their own. There’s a great “washy” sound during the guitar solo and a cool voice box effect (made famous by Peter Frampton) when they sing “jump on it.” “Music Man” is the quietest, most subtle song on this compilation, yet features a guitar solo that’s equal parts Page & Blackmore.

[Montrose – “Jump On It”]

Ronnie resurrected the Montrose band name once last time in ’87, but the songs included here from that album don’t do much to enhance their legacy. “M For Machine,” which was originally submitted as a song for the film Robocop, could be any number of ‘80s rock bands. “Stand” is a midtempo rocker with an inspirational feel. It’s a little too generic, but does have a strong, melodic guitar solo. Ronnie obviously still had his chops. This collection closes with “Ready Willing And Able,” which appropriately sounds like a ‘70s rock band trying to recreate their original magic years later but sounding out of place in the new decade. None of these songs are terrible, but there’s nothing to distinguish them from any number of faceless bands of that era.

Unfortunately, Ronnie Montrose died earlier this year. Looking at his session discography, it’s amazing to see all the great musicians he played with, including Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs, Herbie Hancock, Gary Wright, The Edgar Winter Band (he played on “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein,” enough to earn him “legend” status) and so many others. Between the last two Montrose albums, Ronnie released some solo albums and formed another short-lived band called Gamma. I’ve never heard anything from those records, but knowing now what a talented & diverse guitar player and songwriter he was, I have to imagine there’s some great music to be found there. I’d love to hear from anyone who can confirm that, and possibly recommend where to begin. Also, is The Very Best Of Montrose all I need from that band, or are any of their individual albums worth listening to in their entirety? Based on reviews I’ve read, their self-titled debut is a classic, so I’m expecting some hearty recommendations for that one. Thanks for your help. I hope you enjoyed this summary of a great compilation.

UPDATE, DECEMBER 14, 2013: Since I posted this “Compilation Or Catalog?” entry in November 2012, I heard from a lot of passionate Montrose fans. The consensus was that their self-titled debut album is an all-time classic and an essential purchase. Some recommended their other albums to a lesser extent, and a number of fans suggested I explore Ronnie Montrose’s work outside of the band that bore his last name. Based on that feedback, I’ve already gotten two of Ronnie’s solo albums (Open Fire and The Speed Of Sound) as well as all four records by Gamma (simply titled 1, 2, 3 and 4). Both solo albums are excellent, with Open Fire being a particular favorite, and even though the Gamma albums are hit-and-miss, there are some spectacular songs on all of them (along with consistently brilliant guitar work from Ronnie). I’ve been seeking out the first Montrose album on vinyl for over a year but have been unable to find a copy at a reasonable price. So recently I ordered the 5-CD Original Album Series mini box set, which includes the four original Montrose albums along with Ronnie’s Open Fire, all in CD-sized replica LP sleeves. Needless to say I’m excited to finally hear their debut album in its entirety, and I’m sure the others will be enjoyable too. Thanks so much to everyone who shared their opinions & helped me to decide that, when it comes to Montrose, it’s Catalog rather than Compilation.

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23 comments on “Compilation Or Catalog? – MONTROSE

  1. Heavy Metal Overload
    November 7, 2012

    Great post and review. This is a great compilation but I’d say you definitely have to get the S/T debut too. Only 8 tracks on that but they’re all classic, it’s a great album. I own that one (the excellent reissue on the Rock Candy label) and I also own this compilation to cover the highlights of the rest of their career. Can’t help you with Gamma I’m afraid although I’ve heard some good things. And kudos for standing up for Coverdale/Page! I love that album.

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    • Thanks. I have a feeling a lot of people will recommend the self-titled debut. I’ll have to find it for a good price, since it’s hard to justify paying a lot for just four additional songs.

      As for Coverdale-Page, I’ve never understood why it didn’t get any recognition. I guess it’s because they only did a brief tour and then Page reunited with Plant. Also, by then David Coverdale & Whitesnake were considered past their prime by the rock press. In my opinion, that album is the best work Page has done since Zeppelin ended, and it captures so much of what made Zeppelin great. I attribute a lot of that to Carmassi’s drumming, which channeled John Bonham not just in the heaviness of the drum sound but also the swing & groove in his playing.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        November 7, 2012

        Fair enough. It’s not that pricey an album to get a hold of over here but I don’t know about the US. It is worth having though, one of the all-time best US Hard Rock albums easily.

        I think there was a lot of derision aimed at Coverdale/Page. Jibes about “David Cover-version” and he was seen as being a Hair Metal guy which is ridiculous… I think many people just wanted a Plant/Page reunion and weren’t going to settle for anything less! Carmassi’s playing is fantastic.And it’s aged really well too!

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      • Optimally, I’d like to get a used vinyl copy of the debut album. I will be searching for that at yard sales and record fairs. Hopefully I can find it at the right price.

        You’re right about the derision toward Coverdale-Page. If people listen to it with an open mind they’ll find an amazing record. As for Coverdale being hair-metal, that view is for people who only know Whitesnake’s MTV hits and have little knowledge of his history. His work with Purple is amazing, as is much of the early Whitesnake material (facts you’re already well aware of, naturally).

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        November 7, 2012

        Naturally! 🙂 I’m seem to remember Plant sticking the boot in at that point as well. He had Fate of Nations (a superb album) out at around the same time so I dare say he got asked about it more than he might have liked!

        Hope you can find a good vinyl copy, it’s well worth having in your collection! Myself, I think if I ever come across a good copy of the 2nd album on vinyl I’d be inclined to pick that up too.

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      • I had mixed feelings about Plant’s “Fate Of Nations.” I had been a huge fan of his first four solo albums, but felt he lost the plot with “Manic Nirvana.” I didn’t start loving his music again until 2002’s “Dreamland” and everything since then has been stellar. I saw the “Fate Of Nations” tour and my big problem was that he was still trying to be the ’70s rock god, but didn’t quite have the pipes for it anymore. At that point, Coverdale could still blow the roof off with his voice, so it was nice to hear an album that evoked the early Zeppelin material while still sounding modern. I wonder if Plant secretly enjoyed Coverdale-Page.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        November 8, 2012

        I really enjoy the first two Plant albums but I’m not that familiar with the next few. I really love “Fate of Nations” and really liked “Dreamland”. Couldn’t quite get into “Mighty Rearranger” though for some reason. I didn’t see the “Fate of Nations” tour so maybe that helped! I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say “Fate…” is the best thing he’s ever done! Just a gorgeous album with great singles and you’ve got some Richard Thompson on that too which is a great combination.

        I think Plant is probably just secretly jealous of Coverdale. As we all are. 😉

        Sorry if I’ve taken things off-topic a bit!

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      • We’ll have to agree to disagree about Fate Of Nations. It’s certainly very good (and anything with Richard Thompson…and Francis Dunnery…has to be worth listening to), but my favorites would be his first two, Mighty Rearranger and Raising Sand.

        Plant might be jealous about Coverdale keeping his voice for so long, but Plant gets a lot more respect from the press and his peers. A friend of mine had a theory that Plant made a deal with the devil in the early ’70s: keep your voice or your hair. It’s not a bad theory, although I think he’s finally grown comfortable with his reduced vocal range so the songs he writes and sings now are much better suited for him than when he was still trying to be a “Golden God” in the ’90s.

        No problem with getting off-topic. One of the main reasons I created my blog was to start conversations with fellow music lovers.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        November 8, 2012

        They are all great albums so it’s fair enough. The only one I couldn’t really get into was Mighty Rearranger and Raising Sand sounded good for what it was but just not my kind of thing. Mighty Rearranger probably needs more listens because I did really like Dreamland.

        Plant still has a great voice and feel for the kind of material he chooses not but obviously he’s came a long way from his Golden God days. Coverdale’s has held out longer but he’s having some bother with it now I think. The last tour I saw him on he was pretty wretched and he makes sure he has a backing band that can all sing.

        Plant definitely gets more respect… I think possibly too much from the press sometimes!

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      • I think the bottom line here is that we both love Plant’s music, and Coverdale’s as well. Yep, Coverdale’s voice is definitely starting to go, but maybe he just needs to stop going for all those high notes. He always had a great, bluesy Paul Rodgers-esque midrange that he should use more often. Not that I want to hear him croon his way through “Still Of The Night,” of course.

        I’m glad you can distinguish when something may not be your taste but is still well done. Too many people see things as black & white, but sometimes a particular song/album/artist may not be your thing but you can admire it and understand why people like it. Adele’s not my thing but she has a very good voice and she deserves the success she’s earned. I’ve never liked Pearl Jam (just can’t get past Eddie Vedder’s voice and stage persona), but I acknowledge that they’re a talented and influential band…just not for me.

        By the same token, I love U2 (although the last few albums weren’t among their best) and think Bono in his prime was one of the best rock vocalists everm but I also understand why a lot of people hate his holier-than-thou shtick and think he’s pretentious & overrated.

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      • Heavy Metal Overload
        November 9, 2012

        I agree with you on all those acts you mentioned… although I’ve only got a couple of the older U2 albums. Could never get into Pearl Jam for the same reason. It’s almost like I want to like them but just can’t!

        Plant has been really sensible since leaving Zep. He seems to be able to make the music he wants to make, make music fitting for his age and still achieve success. More power to him. Coverdale, on the other hand, seems to feel that doing the style of ’87 era Whitesnake is his only chance for maintaining commercial success and, at this point in his life, I can’t blame him for that. He seems to enjoy what he does even if the Tarzan vocals are wearing his voice out. It was a shame he didn’t enjoy more success with “Into the Light” or he may have continued in the more bluesy vein that might have suited his ageing voice better. I did really enjoy the last couple of ‘snake albums, though!

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  2. Lewis Johnston
    November 13, 2012

    I have only known of Montrose through his session work for Edgar Winter etc. I do not think as an artist he really broke through in the UK. However, this article has got me pretty curious so I will certainly be giving his catalogue a perusal. Nice to find something new to listen to. Certainly there is enough information in the article and in the comments to point me in the right direction.

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    • Thanks, Lewis. Until revisiting this Montrose compilation, I wasn’t aware that Ronnie had played with Edgar Winter, but I did know about his work with Van Morrison in the early ’70s. He was obviously a very talented guitar player and songwriter, and based on comments here and from huge Montrose fans on Facebook, not only is the first Montrose album an essential purchase, but so are a few of his later albums: Speed Of Sound, Bearings, Open Fire and the Gamma LPs. I already have a backlog of music to listen to, but these have been added to my list of music to check out. All that from one compilation of music that’s nearly 40 years old. Not bad.

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  3. Phillip Helbig
    November 13, 2012

    “A friend of mine had a theory that Plant made a deal with the devil in the early ’70s: keep your voice or your hair.”

    I was going to ask which one you would choose but a) I am looking at your bald mug shot and b) you’re a drummer. 🙂

    23 years ago(!) in the tour programme for Rock Island, there were interviews with the members of Jethro Tull and one question was “Which would you prefer to lose, if you had to make a choice: leg, penis, memory, taste, hearing, musical ability.” No-one chose penis which is a good start. Ian Anderson opted for losing a leg, since he has been standing on one leg for decades anyway. Martin Barre said that since he couldn’t remember all the categories, he must have lost his memory already. Doane Perry mentioned that he had probably lost his hearing already anyway. Martin Alcock gave an honest, as opposed to humorous, answer: taste (even though he is a trained chef). Dave Pegg’s answer was both humorous and honest: “It’s got to be musical ability”. 🙂

    Unfortunately, hair and voice weren’t options. In the Crest of a Knave tour programme from 1987, where Don Airey played keyboards, it was mentioned that he was hired since his hairline was receding at an acceptable rate.

    Putting the lists together, I would definitely choose “hair” or “voice”. Probably voice since I’m not a singer anyway.

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    • Hmm, losing a leg, penis, memory, taste, hearing or musical ability? That’s a tough choice, but I would probably opt for “leg” (although that would make drumming a chore). I’ve heard that losing the sense of taste is incredibly difficult to adjust to, and I seem to recall that INXS’ Michael Hutchence was dealing with that, and the anti-depressants he was taking to treat it might have contributed to his death. My biggest fear is losing my hearing, since I don’t know what I would do without being able to hear music.

      Thanks for sharing the responses to this question from the Tull guys. I don’t think I realized that Don Airey had played with them. Was he on any of the albums, or just the tour?

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      • Phillip Helbig
        November 13, 2012

        He was just on the tour. I’m not sure if he was signed up before or after Tull beat Metallica out of the Grammy. 🙂 I think he would have been good as a Tull keyboarder had he stayed on. Tull combine so many good types of music—and still sound like Tull—including hard rock, but none of their keyboard players was really a hardrock-style keyboard player. On the other hand, Tull often change their style, and I don’t know to what extent Airey could have adapted to that. (I’m sure that technically he can play anything, but I don’t know what he likes.) By the way, I recently saw him in a small club. Sadly, it wasn’t even sold out, but a few people had travelled from other countries to be there. His bass player is in Tom Jones’s band, and his guitar player plays with Jamiroqai. I’m not sure which gigs they do for money and which out of pleasure. During one song, the bass player opened up some sheet music and read through it while playing.

        I don’t know why he left. Maybe Dave Pegg’s old joke: Musical differences. He was musical; we were different. I think it was Martin Barre who said that he somehow didn’t gel with the band, perhaps because he thought of Tull as more or a folk band. Of course, Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses are certainly in that vein. Apparently Ritchie Blackmore is a huge Tull fan (Ian Anderson guests on the first Blackmore’s Night CD) and ordered his band to go see them if their tour paths crossed. I think Airey was in Rainbow during Tull’s folk phase.

        His replacement was Martin Alcock who, at the time, like Pegg, was in Fairport Convention. Apparently Dave Pegg told him “Ian wants you in the band on keyboards” to which he replied “I don’t have any keyboards and even if I did I don’t know how to play them”. But he learned quickly. When he talked to Ian, Ian said “keyboards and guitar”. He was mainly the keyboard player with Tull, but also played other things (at this point, Tull had 4 mandolin players in the band: Anderson, Barre, Pegg and Alcock) while with Fairport Convention he played mainly string instruments but also keyboards.

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      • I always got the sense that Don Airey was a guy who liked moving from band to band, and not being a full-time member. Or maybe that’s just the way his career worked out. I think I first came across his name on Rainbow and Gary Moore albums, but I know he also played with a lot of other artists, and had a pretty long stint with Deep Purple. Based on your comments, I’m thinking he likes to play with artists whose music he really likes, and he was never much of a Tull fan (hard to imagine, right?).

        I love Fairport Convention, although my knowledge of their music consists of the Richard Thompson years and a handful of later albums. I came to them through knowing Sandy Denny’s name from Zeppelin IV, and was excited to find out that there was a lot of mutual admiration between those two bands. The same goes for Tull. It’s amazing how many incredible musicians have passed through the ranks off Fairport & Tull, and how they created great music over the years with so many different lineups.

        Not sure how we got here from Montrose, but who cares? Was there any connection between Montrose & Zeppelin? Tull? Fairport? Deep Purple?

        You mentioned Blackmore’s Night. I’ve read a lot about them over the years but never anything that made me think I needed to hear their music. Are you a fan? If so, what’s a good entry point into their catalog?

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      • Phillip Helbig
        November 14, 2012

        Actually, Airey is still with Deep Purple, and has been since Jon Lord retired. An obvious choice, since he had been playing in related bands for a long time.

        Blackmore’s Night? Some of the stuff is quite good though some borders on “Kitsch”. Many of their songs are based on medieval and Renaissance tunes I’ve heard in a more traditional context, but one doesn’t need that to appreciate them. In the end, it’s a question of whether one likes the music. 🙂 Live they are quite funny; a good example of being serious about what they do without taking themselves seriously. They have quite a few albums, but a rather uniform style, so any album probably gives a good taste. I’m generally not a fan of live albums, but in their case maybe a live album would be a good entry point.

        Montrose—70s hard rock—Plant and his pact with the devil—Tull—{Fairport|Airey—Purple}.

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      • I forgot that Airey is still with Purple. I’m guessing this is his longest stint with one band in his entire career.

        All of your comments about Blackmore’s Night confirm my suspicions about their music. Ono occasion I do enjoy that style of music, so I’ll be interested to hear their take on it, but maybe I’ll check YouTube for some clips before delving into one of their albums.

        Thanks for pointing out the trajectory of our conversation from Montrose to Airey & beyond.

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  4. Victim of the Fury
    April 8, 2013

    I’m late to the game, and it looks like you might have already been convinced to seek out the full Montrose S/T debut (a no-brainer for me), so I’ll set that aside. Ronnie Montrose’s guitar playing is always unquestionably amazing, but song quality in his solo output can be a bit of a mixed bag. That said, I’d argue for 1978’s Open Fire and 1988’s Speed of Sound as complete triumphs and would recommend them without qualm. As for Gamma, I’m a big fan but that’s likely somewhat due to nostalgia on my part as Gamma was the soundtrack to many great moments in my teen years. The Gamma albums are clearly of their time — much more than the Montrose LPs — and the production sheen can make them sound dated. Nevertheless, 1980’s Gamma 2 is a riff fest for the ages. Give it a shot!

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    • It’s never too late to join the conversation, although in this case I have already checked out a number of Ronnie’s albums from the post-Montrose era. I completely agree about “Open Fire” and “Speed Of Sound.” Both are outstanding. I also heard all four Gamma albums and found them to be really enjoyable if not as inspiring as his earlier work. I plan on going back to them soon. For some reason I still haven’t gotten the first Montrose album. I think I decided that a vinyl LP is the way to go, and I haven’t been to a record store in a while. Next time I go shopping, it will be at or near the top of my list. I could buy the 5-CD mini box of all the Montrose albums in replica LP sleeves, since the price (under $20) is a bargain, but I would probably get more out of the LP whenever I find it.

      Thanks so much for your input. It’s greatly appreciated.

      Cheers!
      Rich

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  5. Pingback: “Compilation Or Catalog?” Updates | KamerTunesBlog

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