Saturday, July 14, 2012

Montrose: Bad Motor Scooter

Here’s a song that takes me back to my freshman year of college. Montrose’s debut album was released in 1973, and I first heard our bubbling under hit, “Bad Motor Scooter,” during the spring of 1974. The occasion was the night-time format change of WAMX (the former WCMI-FM; 94.1) in Ashland, KY. While the station was primarily a MOR (Middle of the Road) formatted station during the day, at nights Bob Lee (Bobby Leach) brought in his own record collection and played some of the most amazing album cuts after dark.

I had a chance to briefly work with Lee when he returned to WAMX in 1980, but by then the station was totally formatted as Contemporary Hit Radio and was giving the top station in the market, Huntington, WV’s WKEE-FM, a run for the money; but, I digress.

Lee's mix of music in the early years of WAMX turned me onto quite a few rock bands including Montrose. I was familiar with Ronnie Montrose’s work from The Edgar Winter Group’s “They Only Come out at Night” album – which even today is a classic rock album from the early 70s. Shortly after the release of that LP, Montrose left Edgar Winter (and was replaced by Rick Derringer) to strike out on his own.

The band was named after its lead guitarist, and Ronnie Montrose's guitar sound on this album is credited to the effect box that he used – an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff π – a classic fuzz tone that provided a wide range of guitar distortion. In the 1980s, Electro-Harmonix stopped manufacturing its pedals, but due to guitarists and collectors willing to pay exorbitant prices for used Big Muff πs and other E-H pedals, the company began re-manufacturing a limited inventory of pedals during the 1990s.

Beside the band’s namesake, Montrose included Bill Church on bass, Danny Carmassi on drums, and a voice that should sound familiar – Sammy Hagar. It was Hagar’s recording debut, and his vocals would become a mainstay in the rock arena with his solo work, as a member of Van Halen, and participation in numerous side projects including HSAS. By the way, he is credited as “Sam” Hagar on the album.

The author and Sammy Hagar in 1985

The debut Montrose album, while charting dismally #133 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart, served as an influence for a number of bands including Van Halen. The album was produced by Doobie Brothers’ producer Ted Templeton and only two songs received a modicum of airplay: “Rock Candy” and today’s selection “Bad Motor Scooter.” Hagar penned “Bad Motor Scooter.”

In 1980, I remember talking about this album to Bob Lee and how I remembered the amount of airplay he gave it upon its release. I’ll never forget a comment he made. He said that he always thinks of this album when he passes the I-64 exit for Montrose Avenue in South Charleston, West Virginia. To this day, when I pass or exit to Montrose Avenue, I too think of Ronnie Montrose and the band he created - but mostly today's cut. “So get on your bad motor scooter and ride.”

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