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Death of rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose ruled a suicide

April 11, 2012 |  8:45 am

Ronnie Montrose

The death of guitarist Ronnie Montrose has been ruled a suicide, the San Mateo County Coroner's office said this week.

Montrose, 64, died in the living room of his home in Millbrae on March 3, and even though he was found holding a .38-caliber revolver, his death was under investigation, said a spokesperson for the Brisbane Police Department. 

The autopsy revealed that Montrose's blood-alcohol level was at 0.31% when he died, nearly four times the legal limit in California.

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According to his widow, Leighsa Montrose, the musician had been clinically depressed most of his life.

"He was very hard on himself," she told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He would play shows where there would be three standing ovations, and all he would talk about on the drive home is what he didn't do right."

He didn't leave a suicide note, Leighsa said.

"He didn't give any indication," she said. "When his mind is made up you can't reason with him with logic. I guess he just let it get the better of him. He was tormented."

Montrose got his start as a session musician, playing acoustic guitar on Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” (1971) and “St. Dominic Preview” (1972). He also worked as a sideman for Boz Scaggs, the Pointer Sisters and Herbie Hancock. Perhaps his most memorable work was with Edgar Winter on the superjam instrumental classic "Frankenstein."

In 1973, Montrose formed his band featuring Sammy Hagar on lead vocals. The group's debut album yielded hits in "Rock Candy" and "Bad Motor Scooter."

They opened for The Who at Wembley Stadium in 1974. Montrose broke up in 1976, and the guitarist went on to record albums on his own and with a new band, Gamma.

In 2007, he received a diagnosis of prostate cancer, leading some fans to speculate he had died from complications from the disease, but in 2009, he announced the disease was in remission. He played nearly 50 shows last year.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sammy Hagar called Montrose's passing the end of an era. He was “one of the pioneers of American heavy/hard rock, and certainly one of the great hard-rock guitar players. But he was more than that -– he was really versatile.”

In a statement on Montrose’s website, the family wrote, “By now, the devastating truth of Ronnie’s death is public knowledge.... We can only hope that you will choose to celebrate Ronnie’s life, and what his music meant to you, rather than mourn his passing. Ronnie would have wanted it that way. He loved being a guitarist, a composer, a producer, and a creator of magic.”


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Photo: Rock guitarist Ronnie Montrose. Credit: Prime Time Entertainment Inc.