During his November 19 appearance at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, veteran rock vocalist Sammy Hagar (VAN HALEN, THE CIRCLE, CHICKENFOOT) discussed his years fronting MONTROSE, the 1970s rock group in which he performed alongside late guitarist Ronnie Montrose. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On meeting and subsequently joining forces with Montrose:
Sammy: "I saw Edgar Winter at The Winterland when he had a big hit, 'Frankenstein'. I walked in and saw Ronnie Montrose in that band, who was like a firecracker. He was all over the place. He had this whole thing — he used to spin and play guitar. He just had the sound. He was so exciting, I thought, 'Man, I've got to have a guitar player like that.' I was telling my guitar player, 'You've got to start acting like that.' Long story short, I was bragging about it to a guy, and he goes, 'Oh, that's Ronnie Montrose. He lives, like, two miles from you.' [I said,] 'You've got to be kidding. You got his phone number? You got his address?' I went and knocked on his door. He said he just quit the band, [and] that was his last show. I said, ' Hey, I heard you need a singer.' He's looking at me and goes, 'Come on in.' I walked in with a guitar, set out and played him 'Make It Last' [and] 'Bad Motor Scooter', because I'd just wrote those songs, like, a week before that. He said, 'You got any lyrics?' I pulled out a notebook that was in my guitar case [with] 'Space Station #5', 'I Don't Want It', 'One Thing On My Mind'. I had these lyrics I hadn't written music to yet, because I was just starting to write. He shook my hand and said, 'You've got a deal. Do you know any drummers?' It was a miracle — the lottery."
On nodding to MONTROSE's "I Got The Fire" in "Trust Fund Baby", a song on THE CIRCLE's debut album "Space Between":
Sammy: "[In] THE CIRCLE, we touch on my whole career, from MONTROSE to VAN HALEN to solo to CHICKENFOOT, so I tried to make our first record touch on all that stuff. When I wrote that riff, which was [drummer] Jason's [Bonham] idea — he was singing some other riff, and I went, 'Oh, that's kind of like 'I Got The Fire',' and then I changed it. Then I said, 'You know what? I'm going to give Ronnie [credit as a] co-writer on this, because on 'I Got The Fire', Ronnie wrote this guitar riff and I sing the lyrics, and Ronnie didn't give me [songwriting credit]. Him and I were the co-writers in the band, but we weren't getting along then, so he didn't put my name on the record. I said, 'Hey, man. I wrote the lyrics and melody to that song.' [He said,] 'The record company messed up.' I'm a brand new guy... then when the paycheck came, I didn't get paid for the publishing, so I brought it up, and he said, 'All you care about is the money,' and he fired me. He was trying to get rid of me. I got thrown out of the band for trying to get my songwriting [royalties]. When I wrote ['Trust Fund Baby'], the first thing out of my head was [raises middle finger] — 'Ronnie, you ripped me off, so I'm going to rip a little bit of that riff off and I'm not going to [credit you],' but then my heart got in the way and I gave his estate [songwriting credit] on that song for using half of a riff. I just thought I should do the right thing."
On what he learned from his years in MONTROSE:
Sammy: "I learned how to perform on stage and not be inhibited, because Ronnie was a total recluse. He was the most shy guy. He would stand in a room and stand against the wall and just look at people. He was so unsociable, [but when] you cut him loose on stage... Van Morrison is the same way. He's all shut down, gets on stage and does all this weird stuff. I'm going, 'Wow, I've got to not be embarrassed.' It's embarrassing to perform sometimes. It's embarrassing to sing. It's embarrassing to be sitting here right now, but you've got to just do it. [With] Ronnie, I learned, really, how to sing. 'You know what? People out there, I'm going to entertain them.' I learned from other people too, but Ronnie was the first guy that I saw it firsthand. And I learned how to play that style of guitar, which is not like Eddie Van Halen plays, not like Joe Satriani. You've got a hard-bodied Les Paul with a cord into a Marshall stack, and it's pure tone. I still play the same way. I do not have a cordless guitar setup, because I hear the difference. I also learned how to treat bandmembers, because he wasn't good at it. When I left MONTROSE — when I got thrown out of MONTROSE — I said, 'I don't want to play in a band with people I don't like.' Friends first that can play. That's kind of my motto, because you've got to live with these people. That was a good lesson for me."
Hagar fronted MONTROSE from 1973 until 1975 and recorded two albums with the group — "Montrose" and "Paper Money". Both records were produced by Ted Templeman, who would go on to produce a number of albums by VAN HALEN, as well as Hagar's 1984 solo album "VOA".