INTERVIEW: Keith St John Discusses Ronnie Montrose Remembered
Famed California rocker Ronnie Montrose was an inspiration and guitar idol to many of today’s biggest rock stars. With his band Montrose, Ronnie achieved critical acclaim and although the band ultimately saw a revolving door of musicians, Montrose maintains their legacy to this day. In the years prior to Ronnie Montose’s death, Keith St John took over the vocal duties in Montrose and developed a strong relationship with Ronnie.
On Saturday January 23 at The Observatory in Santa Ana (during the annual NAMM show), Keith St John has assembled an all-star cast of musicians (Tracii Guns, Brad Whitford, Steve Stevens, Doug Aldrich and MANY more) to play a tribute to Ronnie Montrose (Ronnie Montrose Remembered) and celebrate his music (with partial procedds going to charity). Dave Safley from SoCalMusicToday.com recently spoke to St John via e-mail about how the show came to reality, the challenges of putting on an all-star show and his personal relationship with Ronnie Montrose. You don’t want to miss this epic event; tickets are still available at www.ronniemontroseremembered.
Tell us a bit about what will make Ronnie Montrose Remembered (RMR) the one show at NAMM you cannot miss.
This show is not only packed with many more stars than any other show going on that weekend, but these great stars are all performing in order to honor a brilliant visionary artist that influenced them all while they were growing up. Ronnie inspired many of them to be in bands in the first place, so when they all perform these songs on January 23rd, it will be with a childhood passion that will release incredible energy in that room all night long. Since Ronnie passed we haven’t done this kind of thing and there’s been no memorial service of any kind in the southern California area. In 2012, the proceedings that followed his death happened so quickly that not too many of my rock star pals in L.A. even knew much about what happened. This show will be a chance for many to finally pay their respects to Ronnie and therefore there will be more heart in the Observatory that Saturday night than all of NAMM put together.
You were a member of Montrose – what was your personal relationship like with Ronnie and how did you end up singing for Montrose?
A mutual friend who worked with both of us in different capacities, Ed Roth introduced us. Ronnie had been looking for a new vocalist to collaborate with, and Ed was doing some session work on a record for me. After meeting and getting to know Ronnie and writing dozens of songs together, Ronnie was approached by Scott Booray (Steve Miller’s Manager) to reform “Montrose.” Ronnie asked me to check out the tunes and we got a temporary rhythm section to jam out a few tunes from Montrose over at Leeds in North Hollywood. By the middle of the first jam we both knew it was kismet and I think only jammed about half of a second song more before Ronnie said “O.K. this is gonna work great!…Let’s get outta here.” …..and it did.
I wasn’t trying to sound like Hagar at all…it just naturally came out of me sounding right I guess. As far as our personal relationship, we started off very close. I don’t think Ronnie socialized much outside his music circles when I first met him. He had recently gone through a divorce and was still maybe a bit emotional so after we met and began writing we’d go to each other’s house and have dinner and whatnot while talking life philosophy and such we were both into.
Ronnie had great insights into the human psyche and so much “life” experience that he could see things coming whenever
I told him about whatever I was going on in my own (tumultuous) personal life, and he was easy going about it…so he came off as a sort of “Big Bro.” In fact sometimes he’d yell out to a monitor guy on my behalf and say things like “The little brother needs some more level in his wedge!” Yeh Ronnie carried a big stick, but he loved like a big ole teddy bear.
What gave you the inspiration to produce Ronnie Montrose Remembered (RMR), besides the amazing talent of Ronnie?
All my friends and band mates over the years including George Lynch, Doug Aldrich, Tracii Guns, Neal Schon , and many more revered Ronnie and held him in such high stature that I knew many would want to do this, and I knew if I didn’t organize it no one would. Secondly, Ronnie’s death being declared a suicide brought a kind of taboo energy to the joint table of those of us left to deal with it at the time. Now I feel in my heart that all that confused energy has finally disappeared from many of us who were close with him and we can celebrate Ronnie together and with each other wholeheartedly.
What challenges arise in an event like this as far as rehearsing and coordinating all the artists on and off stage?
Rehearsing this many folks coming from all over the country is an ongoing challenge that I am still working hard on every day. As far as who plays what song, I check out as many live clips on each guy as I can, and then it hits me what songs
they’d match well with from the Montrose-Edgar Winter-Van Morrison-Gamma catalogues based on their energy
and I try to do the songs the most justice based on player selection.
At this point, most of these guys have been on the road so long that there’s not much resistance put up as far as any politics are concerned. It will be an ongoing challenge organizing all the right tech’s, roadie’s, sound guys, red carpet area, press, video team, the charity organization, press releases, ticket sales, speakers, the MC, the whole running program for the evening, hotels, rides, guitar and bass rigs and drum sets, guest lists, VIP’s, rider requests, and all the usual artist requests times thirty!
The lineup and talent that will be appearing at RMR is phenomenal, can you comment on the reaction and support of RMR from the artists perspective.
Since I first began touring with Ronnie under the “Montrose blanket”, I saw that other bands in general received us differently in a very positive way. For example, the first night opening for Def Leppard, the whole DL band was side stage on the deck for our whole show. Their road manager told me they’d never done that for any other band before and after the tour all of those guys welcomed me in as family.
I kept seeing such a reverence for Ronnie and the music we were playing from other artists that made me realize that the impression Montrose music had made on them was ingrained for life….and so I realize now that a great way to reach some of those magic buttons in all of our hearts is simply by getting together and jamming some of Ronnie’s tunes.
Tell us a bit about the response you have been getting about RMR during NAMM Weekend.
The response has been incredibly positive. I hear about so many folks from very faraway places flying great distances to come to this event. Many of the folks I hadn’t spoken to since shortly after Ronnie’s passing have gotten in touch and I think it feels like this event will be a valid part of an ongoing healing process. The media is receiving it well. Radio stations and rock publications from all over are coming out of the woodwork to offer their support.
Will you be singing at RMR?
Ha Ha!! Well you’re the first interviewer to ask me that question. As it stands let’s leave that one for rumor and speculation kind of like the famous “shark episode” in the Zeppelin media folklore!
Have you produced similar shows to RMR?
Yes sure…only not quite as large.
What are some of your favorite Musicians and bands from the past and present?
Montrose, Led Zep, Stones, Elton, Mozart, Queen, McCartney, Hendrix, Joplin, The Manhattans, Donovan, The Doors, Jordan Smith
What is your most valued material possession?
My ring box and the items in it…though I take those items to be far more transcendent than “material.”
How would you describe your perfect day?
As long as I can create EVERY single day, on the fly, as I go, and in my OWN way….they’re ALL “perfect.”