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Live in Largo, it's guitar legend Ronnie Montrose with opener Michael Lee Firkins

Fans of Ronnie Montrose can expect “old school Montrose’’ at Thursday night’s show at the Largo Cultural Center.

Courtesy of Leighsa Montrose

Fans of Ronnie Montrose can expect “old school Montrose’’ at Thursday night’s show at the Largo Cultural Center.

He might be 63, a grandfather and cancer survivor, but don't expect to see Ronnie Montrose, a pioneer in American-bred hard rock guitar, performing Kumbaya at the Largo Cultural Center on Thursday night.

"We're going to be playing bare bones and loud and proud,'' said Montrose, whose 2011 tour is being sponsored by a national publication, Guitar Player magazine.

Fans of the San Francisco guitar legend can expect "old school Montrose,'' he said. This means come Thursday night, Montrose classics including Rock Candy, Bad Motor Scooter and Space Station No. 5 will be vibrating through the Tonne Playhouse.

In the late 1960s, Montrose got his start as a studio musician performing on Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey and St. Dominic's Preview as well as Edgar Winter's classic They Only Come Out at Night, and yep, that includes arguably one of the best instrumental rock guitar songs of all time, Frankenstein.

In 1973, Montrose with unknown singer Sammy Hagar formed the band Montrose. Before Hagar left for a solo career and later became front man for Van Halen, the Montrose-Hagar team produced two albums, the top-selling Montrose and the follow-up, Paper Money.

Beginning in 1979, Montrose began performing under the band name Gamma, another hard rock outfit that included the use of keyboards and synthesizers.

Montrose continued performing under the name Gamma for many years. However, his last studio album, Gamma 4, was released in 2000.

During a phone interview Saturday, the day after he performed to a full house at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York, Montrose stressed he does not spend a lot of time talking about his illness. However, he does concede that "after I wasn't able to pick up a guitar for 2 1/2 years while I was going through treatment, my passion came back.''

"When you have a life-threatening illness like cancer, and you're faced with the alternative, it gives doing whatever it is you do a much sweeter taste.''

Rob Mondora, artistic director of the Largo Cultural Center, describes Montrose's stop in Largo as a "rare treat."

"When I heard that there was a possibility that we could get this guitar legend, I tried to remember when he was last here,'' said Mondora. "I've been seeing shows in the area since about 1986, and I haven't come up with any memory of him in Tampa Bay.''

Montrose acknowledges that his two stops in the Sunshine State, the Largo Cultural Center and Lou's Blues Upstairs in Indialantic near Melbourne, mark the first time in many years he has visited Florida.

"Honestly, over the years I've been throughout the U.S. — Chicago, New York, and of course all over the West Coast, but I just haven't made it down to the southeastern quadrant of the U.S. very often,'' he said. "But I will tell you this, what I do remember of Tampa Bay is that I had the best Cuban food of my life in Ybor City. That was years ago.''

Mondora added that the opening act, Michael Lee Firkins, "is another perk to the show."

Firkins, who grew up learning the electric guitar in Omaha through his two musician parents, first began touring in the mid 1980s. He is known by electric guitar enthusiasts for his use of hybrid picking, the picking style that incorporates the use of a guitar pick and one or more fingers simultaneously.

"When we were in the process of booking Ronnie Montrose and were notified that the tour came with the opening performer Michael Lee Firkins, I got even more excited,'' Mondora said. There are circles of people that would jump at the chance to see this show, and here it is here in Largo.''

IF YOU GO

Ronnie Montrose

Guitar Player magazine presents Montrose Live in Concert with special guest Michael Lee Firkins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive. Tickets cost $25 in advance and $30 at the door. For more information, call (727) 587-6793.

Live in Largo, it's guitar legend Ronnie Montrose with opener Michael Lee Firkins 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 4:21pm]
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