Last year Cherry Red released a ‘Complete Montrose Recordings’ boxset over 6 CD’s with various single edits and two live studio recordings. After four albums with Montrose between 1973 and 1977, plus a solo album in 1978, Ronnie Montrose formed Gamma with Davey Pattison in 1979. So, in the same tradition, comes this 3 CD boxset of the three Gamma albums made for Elektra before Ronnie Montrose called time on the band, (they did return for a fourth outing in 2000 with ‘Gamma 4’, not included here sadly, nor is there the live album that is currently about from a show in Denver in 1979 when the band were promoting their debut album).
What is here is good, although the booklet is a little light in background information, somehow it merely reproduces the various album artworks and details the musicians playing. The music is, however, truly sensational, I bought the first few Gamma albums on vinyl and thoroughly loved them, especially the first and third. For some reason. I never really clicked with ‘Gamma 2’ but certainly do within this boxset, the album being a revelation here, sounding crisp and punchy and rocks like a b*****d!
Gamma existed at a time when rock music was undergoing a dramatic remaking. After punk had done its thing, and before the 80’s got into gear, there was a new wave of rock music emerging on American radio rock, with the likes of Bon Jovi poised to change the airwaves considerably. That process was already happening with the likes of Foreigner and Boston taking over the airwaves.
Gamma were Ronnie Montrose’s own attempt to gain some commercial foothold and offered music that easy on the ear but still had an edge to it. Much of this came about because of his joining up with Glaswegian born Davey Pattison, who had relocated to Los Angeles to further his own career after a sojourn with Robin Trower. He was noticed by Ronnie and invited to join the project that became Gamma.
‘Gamma 1’ was released in 1979, Pattison’s muscular vocals giving restrained power to tracks like Thunder And Lightning and the awesome epic Fight To The Finish, alongside the twisted tale of streetlights in Razor King, a song possibly inspired by the Glasgow Pattinson had left behind, and a freak instrumental in Solar Heat. There was also the distinctly poppy I’m Alive that, despite its lightweight nature and it vocoder vocals, pummelled along at a cracking pace.
Pattison reveals himself to be a fine vocalist who has a great tone to his voice. Ronnie Montrose is very active on guitar throughout with punchy rhythm and fills galore. Razor King is a dark tale of violence and some nefarious behaviour, again this song has lot of guitars in it, it is a good track with a great guitar break from Ronnie that powers it along, especially when the guitars compliment Davey’s vocals. Ready For Action is a solid rocker with atmosphere and muscle, the production is busy and bustling with space for great dynamics and muscular bass from Alan Fitzgerald, another ex Montrose member and, once again, Pattison is in fine voice throughout. There is then a bluesy take on Wish I Was by Mackey Newbury and the final track is the brooding, sprawling epic Fight To The Finish which is full of energy and fire along with an epic guitar solo from Ronnie that peaks and the peaks again. It is a marvellous track that was always a favourite of mine back in the day and rounds out what is a varied yet consistent album, as does the second solo that draws the song to a close, a truly great song.
‘Gamma 2’ came out in 1980 and, straight from the off, it is a harder sounding album, still with lots of keyboard embellishments but also with muscular guitar work, Mean Streak being a particularly powerful opener. Again, Pattison is on cracking form, the months spent touring had definitely helped his vocal prowess develop even further. Here he is confident and assertive, with his voice soaring and floating over everything easily and gracefully and commanding respect in the process. The material he is working with is equally assured and the guitar work is fluid and powerful while also melodic and memorable to boot. Overall it makes for a winning combination.
Dirty City is another gritty number with a strong chorus and excellent keyboard textures that turn into a driving beat amid the lyrics of streetlights tales and the dirt of it all and another blistering solo makes the track fly. Voyager is different again, having, as it does, more of a blues shuffle feel to it. This allows room for lots of blues fills as the song details the loneliness of an astronaut away from earth for a long time. This, of course, was around the time of the initial space shuttle launches when space travel was a distinct possibility once more. The song is hinged on a walking bass line that rumbles throughout in a great manner, it is a great performance that really impresses. I used to have this album on vinyl but never really took to it as well as the debut. Well, the intervening 42 years have now revealed this to be a really strong record, one that has power, muscle, attitude and brawn in spades and makes for a really enjoyable and rewarding listening experience.
Cat On A Leash is the first sign of a track that promises but somehow fails to deliver, although the closing moments have a spark of life to them. Skin And Bone has beef and brawn to it. Great keyboard textures and more moody bass lines, with Ronnie’s sustained guitar lines, sound very effective indeed. The synth keyboard solo is a bit twee really but it is of its time and doesn’t distract to much. When the power chords charge in the song moves style and impresses greatly. A superb solo closes out the track well leading us into the riffing opening chords of Mayday, an instrumental opening section that Gamma do so well, with fiery guitar before Davey’s strong vocals begin, it closes the album in good form.
‘Gamma 3’ come out in 1982 and, this time around, there was more emphasis on keyboard textures and sounds. Although the guitar is still present, it plays a less upfront role, with the fireworks largely saved for solo sections. The sound is a lot more radio friendly and focused, although the solo on opener What’s Gone Is Gone is glorious, as is the long sustained note like in Don’t Fear The Reaper, both most impressive indeed. The album is a lot lighter in tone as a result, although there are undercurrents of power in play. Gamma we’re after a more commercial sound, one that would raise their stature beyond that of a perennial opening act, indeed I saw the band open for Foreigner in Birmingham on the ‘Tooth And Nail’ tour where they were fantastic. Sadly the change of approach failed to deliver any significant benefits with the result that Ronnie Montrose lost interest and split the band up to make more instrumental guitar albums.
The rest of ‘Gamma 3’ is all fairly lightweight, electronic new age pop music with only occasional moments of merit. It’s a pity that the band went off on a tangent that didn’t really work for them for, while Stranger is a solid instrumental, what we really want are more rocky vocal tracks. Still, you can’t have them all I guess?
The boxset is good but a bit of a missed opportunity really as, without ‘Gamma 4’, it feels incomplete but certainly of interest, if only for ‘Gamma 1’ and ‘Gamma 2’, both of which are excellent.
Released 30th June, 2023.
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