Why Montrose’s ‘Paper Money’ Ended the Sammy Hagar Era
Montrose's sophomore album was, quite simply, the work of a band coming apart at the seams.
Just one year prior to the arrival of Paper Money on Oct. 11, 1974, things had been much different. The exciting new group, led by hot shot guitarist Ronnie Montrose, was quickly building on the reputation of a leader who who had diligently paid his dues as sideman to Van Morrison, Edgar Winter and others, before earning the chance to see his own name in lights.
Montrose – which was a band, at first, no matter whose name showed on the album cover – consisted of bassist Bill Church (Ronnie’s former Van Morrison cohort), drummer Denny Carmassi (whose future credits would include Heart, Joe Walsh, and countless others) and Sammy Hagar, an unproven but innately talented and charismatic young singer.
Together, they packed their self-titled, Ted Templeman-produced debut with future classic-rock mainstays like "Rock Candy," "Bad Motor Scooter" and "Space Station No. 5." Then they steadily grew their fanbase on the road, before returning to the studio for what was expected to be an even stronger follow-up. But, somehow, Montrose failed to capitalize on that predecessor album’s rock-solid foundation.
Instead, the songs written and recorded for Paper Money would reflect the fractious state of band relations, caused in part by Ronnie’s desire to broaden Montrose’s sound beyond the debut’s dedicated hard-rock focus. That led to bassist Church being replaced by Alan Fitzgerald, later the keyboardist with Night Ranger. There was also some festering resentment with his chosen frontman’s burgeoning fame and confidence.
“The first album was a band and it was open to writing," Sammy Hagar told Ultimate Classic Rock's Matt Wardlaw, "[but] the second record, Ronnie wouldn’t even listen to my songs. He was going to other people to write and I’m going, ‘Wait, I’ve got all of these songs.’ So, we only co-wrote four songs on the album [and] he called one of them his own, which was ‘I Got the Fire.’ I wrote the lyrics and he said he forgot to put my name on the record. [Laughs.]"
Listen to Montrose Perform 'The Dreamer'
The Montrose/Hagar co-writes included "The Dreamer," a mega-riffed doom stomp that was laden with both a trippy mid-section and lyrics; "Spaceage Sacrifice," which in many ways felt like a pale reprise of the debut’s "Space Station No. 5"; and the eye-opening title track, which locked into a hypnotic groove backed by unorthodox tribal percussion, capped by a stellar slide guitar solo from Ronnie Montrose.
As for Ronnie’s solo credits, they included the engaging instrumental "Starliner," which convincingly imagined outer space adventures; and the surprisingly ambitious, heavily orchestrated "We’re Going Home."
A set of two cover tunes chosen to open Paper Money, however, left most listeners scratching their heads. The first was an obscure tune named "Underground" by Chunky, Novi & Ernie that was given a soft-rock arrangement ill-suited to Montrose’s collective talents. The second was far more impressive (though still shockingly mellow) reworking of the Rolling Stones’ "Connection," a track originally found on 1967's Between the Buttons that sparks fond memories from Hagar.
“I can remember singing that song the first time and Ted Templeman came running into the vocal booth [while] the glass door was shut," he told us. "He got so excited with my first take [that] he ran right into the fuckin’ glass and almost knocked himself out. [Laughs.]"
"I Got the Fire" – which was later covered by Iron Maiden and others – would go down as the most enduring cut from Paper Money. A wholehearted throwback to the fierce hard rock of Montrose’s first album, it most directly recalled "the original dynamic of those four guys interacting together that [gave Montrose] power," Ronnie admitted in a 1997 interview with Anti-M.
Sammy Hagar, for his part, says he recalls little else about the album sessions – “other than begging Ted Templeman to listen to my solo songs and [being told], ‘Ronnie’s the co-producer and he doesn’t want to hear this material,'" Hagar said. "It broke my heart, man. I understand now what an ego is but, at that time, I didn’t. ... You know, I hate to talk about Ronnie like that, but it wasn’t a happy ending and that record was the end of the road. It’s not a happy thing for me.”
Listen to Montrose Perform 'Paper Money'
Tensions reached a breaking point on the subsequent tour. Ronnie Montrose — who sadly passed away in March 2012, at the age of 64 — replaced Hagar with Bob James just as Montrose’s career profile was really starting to take off. Paper Money rose to No. 65, building on the platinum achievement of their first album. But Warner Bros. Presents … Montrose!, the 1975 follow-up, only reached No. 79. Montrose limped away after 1976’s Jump on It struggled to No. 118.
A respectable, if hardly world-conquering, career followed for Ronnie Montrose, while Sammy Hagar steadily rose within the hard-rock marketplace until achieving his well-deserved, star-level name recognition — all before replacing David Lee Roth in Van Halen.
In retrospect, the move seemed destined. Could it have been mere coincidence that Van Halen finally landed on Warner Bros. under Ted Templeman’s watch after being rejected by countless other labels, nor that they subsequently dropped the name Mammoth in exchange for the surname of their singularly talented lead guitarist (and his sibling drummer)?
Then there are the separate occasions on which both Van Halen brothers and original bassist Michael Anthony claimed that Templeman himself floated Sammy Hagar’s name as a possible replacement for Roth before the recording of 1978’s Van Halen, knowing full well by then that the boys held both Hagar-fronted Montrose LPs in the highest regard.
“You know, the first time I met Eddie," Hagar told UCR, "[he] comes running into my dressing room and he’s shaking my hand and going, ‘Oh God, man, Montrose. You know, we used to play ‘Make it Last’ and ‘Rock Candy.’ Man, I’m a huge fan.’ So they were definitely Montrose freaks. I’m sure that somebody in that band probably wouldn’t ever admit it, but you know, they used to sing Montrose songs.”