Gamma Live in California

Gamma with The Butlers
Little Fox Theater
Redwood City, CA

                  By Dan Wall                      

Set List:
Ready For Action, Day of the Eagle, Fight to the Finish, Right the First Time, Thunder and Lightning, Wish I Was, Razor King, Something in the Air, Bridge of Sighs, Mean Streak, Too Rolling Stoned, Voyager. Encore: The Four Horsemen.
90 minutes.

With 2017 marking the 50th anniversary of The Summer of Love in San Francisco, talk often turns to the great bands and guitarists of that era-Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane, Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, John Cippolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Carlos Santana-that are brought up and discussed as influential musicians, which they all were. Neal Schon came out of Santana to form Journey a few years later and is a guitar god as well.

But for my money, the greatest guitarist to ever come out of The City was Ronnie Montrose, the late axe slinger who formed the original Montrose with Sammy Hagar back in 1973 and released one of the greatest hard rock debut albums of all-time later that year.

Montrose’s partnership with Hagar would be short (just two records), so he soldiered on with vocalist Bob James for two more records before he shut the band down in 1977. The next year, he would record the instrumental record “Open Fire” as a solo artist and toured with Journey and Van Halen that summer.

In 1979, Montrose longed for a return to the band format with a singer, this time enlisting Davey Pattison to form Gamma. The band’s debut album was an under-the-radar classic that put Ronnie back on the road and into the spotlight as a great opening act.

His restless heart (he could only stick with a project for 4-5 years because he was always changing his band format and style) caused the breakup of Gamma in 1983. He would return to play with Montrose numerous times and Gamma once in (1990), before his tragic death in 2012.

At a benefit for Ronnie in San Francisco in 2012, Pattison put together a band to honor Gamma and was convinced to stay together with this new version of the band. That act has been together ever since with an entirely new supporting cast that plays the group’s classic material and songs from Pattison’s time with Robin Trower in a true-to-form style that is both muscular and powerful.

Pattison has always been one of those not much for the spotlight guys who turns up on a lot of “could have, should have been bigger” lists. His stellar work with both Gamma and Trower hasn’t changed that opinion of the him, at least in this writer’s opinion. He still has that smoky, bluesy voice that goes down smooth, like a well-aged whiskey.

His supporting cast of guitarist Tommy Merry, bassist Van Spragins, drummer Dan Buch and keyboardist Brad Barth are a capable unit that can play the singer’s slower songs with aplomb, but can really bust it out on the extended version of songs like “Fight To the Finish” and “Voyager.”

Merry is an interesting guy. When not playing with Gamma, he runs his own video production company and is currently filming a movie, “The Van,” a horror flick. On this night, he played the whole show without his pedal board, but still managed to pull off the Montrose and Trower stuff with ease.

My old buddies The Butlers opened the show. Made up of notable Bay Area musicians-they all use the stage name Butler, but bassist Michael Butler (ex-Exodus, Jetboy) is the only true Butler. Guitarist Billy Rowe (Jetboy, American Heartbreak) and Craig Behrhorst (Ruffians) are a couple of the most enduring musicians in the Bay Area, and should have had bigger roles in bigger bands. The drummer, Andy Galeon, did, as he was the original drummer from Death Angel. Vocalist Graham has been seen around, and the quintet does a fine job covering some of the best songs from the 70’s and 80’s, including “I’m Eighteen,” “Shoot Shoot,” “Jet” and “Cowboy Song.” Always a welcome addition to any party.