INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA
Ron Keel is a vocalist, guitarist, and a songwriter for many bands from the 1980s to the modern day, including the hard rock bands Keel and Steeler. He was also very briefly a member of Black Sabbath. After Keel disbanded in 1989, Ron worked on several different projects including fronting the female band Fair Game and released an album with Japan metal band Saber Tiger. In the 90’s, Ron had a successful career as a country musician and he also worked on several tribute projects including the Country Superstars Tribute show in Las Vegas. In 2000 he started another band, called Iron Horse, and Keel reunited in 2008. The group released THE STREETS OF ROCK’N ROLL in 2010. Keel has continued doing select gigs every now and then, but they can hardly be called an active band anymore. Later on, Ron continued working with the Country Superstars. In 2014, he released the autobiography EVEN KEEL and later in the same year, released the solo album METAL COWBOY. In late 2017 it was announced that the Ron Keel Band signed a multi-record deal with David Ellefson’s (Megadeth) label EMP. METAL COWBOY will be re-released in March of 2018, and the brand-new Ron Keel Band album will follow later in the summer. And there’s more. The early Keel albums will finally be re-released and remastered by the UK label Cherry Records, and Ron is also performing on upcoming Black Sabbath tribute album. So, a lot is going on in the world of Ron Keel. I met Ron in Atlanta in January when he was one of the special guests at KISS Expo. So, let the “Metal Cowboy” himself tell all the latest news and some past stuff as well. Read on!
KISS EXPO ATLANTA
It’s the year 2018, and here we are with Ron Keel at the KISS Expo Atlanta. I know the history, but some of our readers might wonder why you are one of the guests here. So, would you tell briefly about your connection with KISS, when and how it all started?
Ron Keel: I have been connected with KISS since Gene Simmons took us under his wing in 1985 and produced the first two Keel albums, THE RIGHT TO ROCK and THE FINAL FRONTIER. Paul Stanley has also been very close; I got to sing with him or with them a few years ago. I have been a very small thread in the KISS fabric, but it has enabled me to do these KISS Expo events for literally a convention, where all the KISS fans and Rock and Roll fans get together, to celebrate their love of KISS and everything related to KISS. I’m glad to be a part of that. I’ve done I think eight or nine of these KISS Expos. This one with Vinnie Vincent was big because Vinnie has been out of the public eye for 20 years or so. So, to have Vinnie come back and do an Expo and interact with the fans, signing autographs, doing Q&A, performing, singing a little bit, playing. He did all that. This is one of those KISS Expos that everybody is going to remember, and I think everybody enjoyed the day. I know that I did.
Did you ever meet Vinnie in back in the day when you worked with Gene Simmons or before?
Ron Keel: I’ve never met Vinnie. I didn’t meet Vinnie even today. I would have loved to have said hello and to meet him. It didn’t work out. I was slammed all day long with my fans, and my people and Keel-aholics kept me very busy, all day long. I did not have the opportunity to meet Vinnie today, but I certainly appreciate his contribution to the KISS history. The CREATURES OF THE NIGHT album and LICK IT UP. That pivotal moment when KISS went from CREATURES to taking up the make-up from LICK IT UP, and he was part of that. Both of those albums are very special to me, and I have been able to do some of those songs, “Lick it Up” and “Rock and Roll Hell” and so forth on some tribute projects. So, I appreciate my connection to that era and being a part of an event like this with Vinnie. I wish him well, and I’m glad that he was here and I’m sorry I didn’t get to say hello, but I’ve been busy. I’m taking care of my fans and my people, and I’m trying to make sure that people enjoy the experience.
You did an excellent performance tonight, and it was refreshing to hear a few KISS tracks in your set. Is it something what you usually do at these events?
Ron Keel: I always include a couple of KISS songs in my acoustic sat when I do an Expo. “Hard Luck Woman” is usually a given. That’s going to happen always. Today I did “A Million to One,” and that was a request from the promoter, Derek Christopher, who asked me to do that song today? I learned it, played it and went well. It was a unique experience, a song that I have never done before. I’m glad that everybody seemed to enjoy it.
It was great to hear and witness that your voice is still in perfect shape. So, the question is, how do you keep your voice in shape after all these years?
Ron Keel: A lot of practice. I believe that the voice comes from the heart. If I don’t sing well, I’m not going to sing. I’ve never canceled a show because of my voice. I’ve never struggled. I’ve had a couple of days, over 40 years, there have probably been two days where I had vocal issues or trouble, but I practice a lot. I’m a firm believer in preparation, and I want people to enjoy what they hear. Especially being an ’80s rock star, those bands are judged upon the singer. Can he still deliver? Does he still sound good? Or has he lost it? If they start saying Ron Keel has lost it. I’m done. I’m going to keep singing as long as I sing well and I’m proud of the tone of my voice and what I’m doing and able to hit the notes. I’m going to keep doing it. But it is a lot of work, preparation and practice. I practice every day.
Singing wise, is there any difference when you’re doing cover songs instead of your material?
Ron Keel: I just sing songs, whether they’re KISS songs or Keel songs or Ron Keel songs or? I just sing the songs I love and do the best I can to entertain people and make them have a good time and enjoy what I’m doing. I appreciate the compliments and the fact that I still have what I think is a nice song. I believe in my voice and my tone. I work hard to do that and its practice every day. A lot of hours of singing and preparation, mental, spiritual, emotionally and vocal preparations to sing. So, I take it very seriously.
I can honestly say that you still sound amazing!
Ron Keel: Thank you.
NEW RECORD DEAL
Let’s next discuss the current things about your career and the most significant news is that you recently signed with Dave Ellefson’s EMP label. That’s amazing!
Ron Keel: It really is. The deal with Dave Ellefson’s EMP Label Group is one of the biggest breaks that I’ve had in many, many years. Dave Ellefson and EMP Label Group are doing everything right. Releasing great products and working it in the right way, with great publicity and PR and marketing and releasing vinyl editions of the albums. When I decided to do a Ron Keel Band album, I didn’t go anywhere else but to Dave. I went to Dave, and I said, I want to do a new album with my band, The Ron Keel Band and I want to do it with your label. I sent him some of the new versions of the Keel songs that we’ve done: “Right to Rock,” “Tears of Fire,” “Because the Night,” “Somebody’s Waiting.” He heard it and he thought it was great and wanted to sign me into the label. We finally met and sat across the table like you and I are sitting now. He didn’t want another Keel album or another ’80s rock album. He wanted me to be myself, to be the Metal Cowboy. He looked at me, and he said, Ron, sing about your life. Just sing about your life. Be who you are and embrace the Metal Cowboy and The Ron Keel Band. Dave Ellefson and EMP Label Group are starting a new imprint called the EMP Outlaw. Just for this outlaw, Southern heavy metal country thing that I do. It’s a huge honor and thrill for me to work with him. I do believe that we’re going to have a huge success with this new Ron Keel Band album, coming out in 2018.
That EMP Label thing might open some new doors for you or what do you think?
Ron Keel: It already has. Just being associated with Dave and his label has given us much traction, momentum, credibility. The opportunity to make a new album and it will chart. You will open up the Billboard chart this summer and see The Ron Keel Band on the Billboard chart.
That could be great and you believe that it will happen?
Ron Keel: Absolutely. All of his albums have been charting. Mark Slaughter record did great, Autograph went to top 20 on the Billboard chart. I expect the same or better from The Ron Keel Band album.
FIGHT TO SURVIVE
Like you mentioned earlier, you’re nowadays doing this “Metal Cowboy” thing. But some old school Keel/metal fans are a bit confused when you’re combining different musical genres and styles in your music. You’re still doing metal, but you also mix elements of a country to your music. So, would you explain that a bit?
Ron Keel: I embrace my roots as an ’80s rocker. That music to me is very special. I am very proud of being a part of it, and that’s half of the Metal Cowboy. I love metal, I’ve done Steeler, Keel, “The Right to Rock.” But for me music is a landscape, it’s everything. It’s a mountain or an ocean, or a desert, or a jungle. Its different places to have those adventures and explore different territory. I grew up in a time when you could hear the Eagles and Black Sabbath from the same radio station. I grew up playing jazz and with the orchestra. You play jazz. Classical music. So, I embrace all forms of music that resonate with me. I’m not a tough guy. I don’t like hip-hop or rap. It’s not my call; it’s not my people. I don’t get it. I don’t listen to it, and I don’t like it. So, you’ll never hear a Ron Keel rap album. But country music comes from the heart. It’s real. You can sit with an acoustic guitar and play and sing a song about real life. About good times, heartaches, chasing women and drinking or whatever you’re doing. The song. The basic approach is the same, and you can take a song like “Because the Night,” and make it a hard rock or a heavy metal song like Keel did. It’s all about the treatment. The songs are the songs, but you can take a ballad and make it a rocker. Or you can take a song from any genre and transfer that song to a different genre by the treatment. The instrumentation, the thunder drums, screaming vocals, loud guitars. That for me has never changed. The desire to, everybody put your fists in the air, raise a beer and have a good time and rock out and have fun. It’s party music, and that’s what I’m all about.
In the 90’s you temporary gave up the rock/metal stuff and started a career as a country artist. Some fans were thinking that Ron Keel had become a sellout and had sold his soul to make some “easy” money with that country stuff. What would you say about that?
Ron Keel: No. I never sold my soul. My soul is my own. I was able in the ’90s to continue creating and writing songs, and make a living, entertain people and have a great time singing country music. Let’s face it. In 1991 the metal fans all were buying Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They weren’t buying us anyway and Bon Jovi, Scorpions, Aerosmith, all those bands were affected by that. I was lucky to have a place where I could go and just sing and play and write and create and do what I felt like doing. Ronnie Lee Keel is my name. I was Ron Keel on the album, credits on the Keel stuff. I am still Ron Keel. It’s the Ron Keel Band, but Ronnie Lee Keel is my name, and I’m proud of that history, that legacy and that music that I made. I have no regrets. Every album that I’ve made has a special place in my life and my heart. Over 50 records, over the last 36 years. I’m very proud of all of it, and they all are very different. I understand that people don’t accept change with their artist but if you look at other entertainers, whether it’s an actor, like Clint Eastwood. He did the Westerns, and he also made Badass and then he did comedy movies. He did dramas. He did other types of movies because he was exploring other aspects of his crap. That’s all I’m doing. I’m just singing music. It’s got to come from the heart. It’s got to be real. It’s got to come from the heart. It’s going to make you feel something. In the end, it’s going to be successful. I was successful in pretty much everything that I tried, whether it was metal or something else. I sold several million records with Keel. With the country project, I did a lot of TV and film work. That stuff put my kids to college. I did songs, TV, and movies. I did a couple of world tours throughout Europe, and so forth with the tribute show which I did in Vegas. We were at the top of our game. I was one of the best in the business, making millions of dollars. I was headlining a Vegas show as a tribute artist. So, most of the stuff that I’ve done, worked up pretty good and I’m really happy and blessed for the success that I’ve had.
So, after all, you’ve done something right!
Ron Keel: You always try. You try and get as many moves right as you can. There have been some mistakes along the way, and I’ll take credit for those. But I’ve had a great life. I’m really, really happy, blessed. Thankful for all the opportunities and still able to do what I love to do for a living and I do it well I think. I sing well and write new good songs, and that’s what I’m doing with the Ron Keel band. For the next ten years, I plan on taking it as far as I can. There is more behind me than there is in front of me. I have 37 years now in the business. I don’t have 37 years left in the business. There is more behind me than there is in front of me. So now I treasure every day, every song, every gig, every show.
None of us are getting any younger, that’s a fact.
Ron Keel: Yeah.
THE THINGS IN LIFE
You have been making music close to forty years. You’ve seen a lot, and you’ve reached success and a good life. So, what motivates you the most and what are your main goals at this point in your career?
Ron Keel: My goals are to entertain people, have a good time, make some money. One day at a time. One song at a time. Where you will find me five years from now, I have no idea. Life is a journey; it’s a destination. I live this journey to… so far; it’s been fantastic. As you said, I have been almost forty years in the business with so many dreams come true, and I have so many wonderful memories, and I’m thankful for my life. I have lived the life that I wanted to live when I was two years old. I saw The Beatles on TV. So, I want to be that guy. I wanted to play Rock and Roll on TV. I want to be a rock star. I want to sing. I want to write songs. It’s been fantastic. I have worked very hard and now at this age, at this time I’m working even harder than ever. All day long, every day. So, I got six albums coming out this year. A lot of shows. The radio career has been fantastic. I loved being on the radio with KBACKradio. I’m able to go on the air, live on the microphone and play great music. Talk to people, entertain people from the radio station and do that. I’m honoring the station as well. So, I’m very proud of that aspect of my life. My radio career is great. I enjoy that a lot and I’ll keep doing that. I’ll keep doing all this, as long as I can do it well. If I can talk, if I can sing, if I can write songs, if I can perform and entertain, I’m going to keep doing it. At some point life, God, time, catches up with all of us. Like Ronnie James Dio. My idol, my friend. A guy who until he was… he rocked until he died. How cool is that? What a great legacy to pass onto his friends or his influencers like myself! Ronnie, even on those last Heaven and Hell records, his voice never stopped. I hope that I can follow in those footsteps and sing until I die.
That doesn’t sound like a bad plan at all. But you mentioned that you’ve many wonderful memories from the road. Would you share some of the highlights, like the best three memories you have?
Ron Keel: There has been a few. I still get them every day as a highlight. Singing, going in the studio and writing a song or delivering a quality master vocal. I treasure those moments. Of my career the Bon Jovi tour, Madison Square Garden, three nights in a row sold out. To have that dream come true and to work with Gene Simmons and to sing a duet with Paul Stanley on “Rock and Roll All Night.” Paul and I were on stage together doing a duet, “Rock and Roll All Night.” I have so many great memories that it’s very tough to choose three. But I would have to count the Monsters of Rock Cruise among those, with singing the Ozzy duet with Lita Ford. Lita called me and asked me to do that on the Cruise, and it was a great honor. A great thrill to sing the “Close My Eyes Forever” song with Lita. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime for sure.
THE SABBATH DAYS
One small but essential piece of your history is the time you spent with Black Sabbath. I have just learned that you’re going to be one of the guests on the forthcoming Sabbath tribute album. So, the Sabbath thing is still a part of your life but would you tell something about that album?
Ron Keel: The Black Sabbath days are still here, and I just finished last week the EMERALD SABBATH tribute record with Vinny Appice on drums and Rudy Sarzo on bass. I got to sing three songs on the EMERALD SABBATH, Black Sabbath tribute. There are lots of ex-members or Black Sabbath family members like Vinny and Bev Bevan on drums, Tony Martin and Dave Walker on some vocals on the record. I got to sing in an Ozzy song, “Hole In The Sky.” I got to sing Ian Gillan song, “Trashed” from BORN AGAIN. I got to sing a Ronnie James Dio song, “Die Young” of the HEAVEN AND HELL album. So, to be able to represent all three of those singers on the Black Sabbath tribute, it was an absolute thrill. I’m really, really happy with the voice and my work on that session. I’m very proud to be a small part of that Black Sabbath history still and can’t wait for that record to come out this summer. EMERALD SABBATH.
I know you’ve been telling the story of your Sabbath story a million times already, but maybe you can share a brief version of it with our readers again?
Ron Keel: I love to tell that story. Tony Iommi gave me a song list. I have a signed contract, and then he gave me a song list to the new tour, on the show. I knew the show. I was ready and rehearsed and ready to… as I said before, I’m a firm believer in rehearsal and practice and preparation. Then I went to work with Tony and Geezer. We sat around for days, and all Tony and Geezer wanted really, they were trying to figure out how they could get Ozzy back. But it is a great memory, a great time in my life. But I’m glad that I can finally now still do those songs “Die Young.” My God! The vocal on that track is priceless for me, great memory and I’ll treasure that song and the opportunity to sing it. Still be a part of that Black Sabbath history and KISS. I’m a little small piece of the Black Sabbath history, and I’m a little small piece of the KISS history. Who could ask for more? To grow up being a rock star. Wanting to be a rock star and loving KISS and Black Sabbath, and having my foot at least planted on both of those pieces of ground. What a great honor for me as a singer and a young guy growing up. Seeing the bands playing and buying KISS albums and Black Sabbath albums, and thinking that those guys were the biggest bands in the world.
Let’s discuss the band Keel briefly. What does that band mean you nowadays?
Ron Keel: Keel has been a great opportunity for me to share the legacy, the music, the memories, the friendship with Marc Ferrari, Brian Jay and Dwain Miller. Those guys that were on THE RIGHT TO ROCK and THE FINAL FRONTIER and that ’97 self-titled Keel album. We’ve done some great shows the last ten years, and we’re going to be the Monsters of Rock Cruise here in a few weeks. We’re now very proud to announce the re-release of THE FINAL FRONTIER and the self-titled KEEL album on Rock Candy records. They’ve just licensed those albums from Universal, and they’re coming out with re-mastered new versions of those two records, which are now pretty rare. They’re hard to get on CD, and people want them, and we’re glad to be able to get that deal done finally. So, I’m proud to announce that the MCA era, FINAL FRONTIER and the self-titled album are going to be re-released this year by Rock Candy Records.
It’s great to hear that there’s FINALLY going to be re-releases of those albums. That’s fantastic news but except the Cruise show, do you have plans to do something more, a full tour, etc.?
Ron Keel: It’s not really a band anymore. I don’t know what you call it. To me, a band goes to work every day. We rehearse, we write. Keel, I don’t see those guys for years. It’s been three years since our last show. We’re a brotherhood, not a band. It’s not about money or career or business. It’s about our friendship and our music. So, it’s a whole different ball game with those guys, and we’ve had this Monsters of Rock Cruise gig booked for a couple of years now. I’m looking forward to it. We’ll see what the future holds with the new albums coming out. With the release of FINAL FRONTIER and the self-titled album on Rock Candy. I’m always up for a killer show. But understand that those cost a lot of money. It’s like going fishing with your friends. We’re going to rent the van; we’re going to rent the boat. We’re going to rent the polls. We’re going to take off work, and we’re all going to go out in the lake for a week. We’re going to spend thousands of dollars hanging around to have a good time together. But that’s not business. Who would take a job that pays $600 a year? My business is Ron Keel and The Ron Keel Band. Keel is a brotherhood and a special relationship that I share, and I’ll spend money to go on a cruise for another gig with my guys in Keel. Because it’s important to me and our fans, but who knows what the future holds with that. My focus now is on The Ron Keel Band and our new album coming out on EMP Label Group.
THE KEEL TOUR WITH DIO AND WRITING WITH JIMMY BAIN
Do you still remember the first tour which Keel did outside of US?
Ron Keel: I remember it well. Helsinki was the first gig in the tour with Dio on Sacred Heart – tour. Amazing memory. I remember the terrible pizza, but otherwise, it was a great time. For us at that age, at that time to be in Helsinki doing our first show with Dio on THE FINAL FRONTIER tour. Apparently, it was a dream come true. I have nothing, but great memories. The problem was we had spent a week shipping the equipment to Finland, and then we got there four days before the first show. So, it would be weeks since we played and we played in ice hockey arena, and it was ice on the floor. They put plywood over the floor, but it was still ice. It was very, very cold. We hadn’t played in two weeks, and all the rehearsal went out the door when we were trying to play the new music. So, it was a challenging show for us. But it’s still a great memory of being just a bunch of kids who thought we could never get out of the hood, and all over sudden we were in Finland on Tour with Dio. That’s a priceless memory, and I’ll treasure it forever.
Ronnie James Dio had a habit to pick some new bands under his wings and help them out. Rough Cutt was one of them, Queensryche was one, and Keel was another one. You were in a good company back then “Laughs.”
Ron Keel: We’re very proud to be a part of that legacy and it was an honor to know Ronnie and have become friends with him. He did make the call; it was his decision. He said: “I want Keel on tour with me on this European tour.” I think it was 14 countries in ’86. Every show was sold out. We did three nights in London. So, to have Ronnie James Dio give you that vote of confidence and wire you on that opening slot. Plus, I loved it so much, so when we were finished with our show, I was the one on the soundboard, watching Dio. Every night. I got to see Dio what? 27 times that year. Every night. I’m at the soundboard watching the show and becoming friends with Jimmy Bain, his bass player, who one night, it was Gothenburg, Sweden, Jimmy comes to me, “Ron, come with me.” I followed him down this long tunnel, underneath the arena. After the show, it was after the show. Jimmy guided me this long tunnel into the depth of this arena and this big room, and there was nothing but a grand piano, sitting in the middle of the room. Jimmy starts to play this piano riff. I had a little portable recording device, and I hooked it out, and I started singing, and Jimmy and I wrote the song called “The Calm Before the Storm” which ended up on the 1987 Keel subtitle album. Jimmy and I wrote that together on that. What an amazing experience here in Gothenburg, Sweden? The bows underground this arena and there is nothing in this big room, but a piano. Why is that piano just sitting there in that room? How does that happen in life? Jimmy Bain, you’re in Sweden, you’re on tour. He finds this room, he got me and asked me to come down there. We’re sitting there in this room and nothing but Jimmy Bain and me and a Piano, and he starts playing, and I start singing “In the calm before the storm, I’ll be there to keep you warm.” It was like magic, absolute magic. That’s how Jimmy Bain and I wrote that song for that ’87 Keel album. I don’t even know how Jimmy found… why we went there? Probably he went down there to get high. Jimmy was probably looking for a place to get high, and he found a piano, then he came and got me. It was all good.
MORE KEEL STUFF
Keel enjoyed great success in the mid-1980s. The albums sell great; you had an image and a big label. Do you still think about why Keel never became as big as Bon Jovi or Ratt, and some others?
Ron Keel: It depends which is big? I mean, 3,000,000 records ain’t that bad? But there are a lot of factors that go into that man. That was out of my control. The fact that is there was a lot of bad business decisions from the people in charge. The head of the label or the release of the single, or the fact that although RIGHT TO ROCK was a huge album, there was only one single released. “Easier Said Than Done” was supposed to be the second single, but it was never released. Yeah, there was one single only, and that was a terrible decision made by the people in charge.
But why it went, and how it went? Didn’t the people around see the full potential of the band?
Ron Keel: The record company made that decision. It was out of our hands. It was their control. I believe that everything happens the way it’s supposed to, and I do not look back on my career with Keel in the ’80s of what might have been. Or what could have been or what should have been. I look back on it as what was. It was one of the best bands of the era; it still is right now. Three weeks from now in the Monsters of Rock Cruise we’ll prove it. We’ll go out on stage, and we’ll deliver the goods. Those sales figures now, my God. We sold 90,000 albums our first week when RIGHT TO ROCK came out. If you sell 90,000 albums now, you are number one on the charts. But that’s the business, that’s the way it is. My job is to sing and create. My opinion is that if 3,000,000 people bought my albums, and billions of people don’t like me, or don’t want what I do, that’s cool. It’s not my job to judge. My work is to create, sing, entertain, perform and have fun and make money. I got to make money. I have been blessed with the ability to write a blog, host a radio show. Sing acoustic gigs, sing pure concerts, sing Ron Keel Band gigs. Tour, perform, try and continue to do what I love to do and make a living doing it. So, I am fortunate, but I work very hard.
THINGS IN LIFE
How old you are now, around 55, I guess?
Ron Keel: 56, yes. I say 57 because I always count a year ahead. So, when my birthday happens I don’t go into shock “Laughs.”
You’ve talked a lot about the importance of making music, singing and performing, but how important is the money?
Ron Keel: Money is everything. It’s everything. If I want to sing or write a song, enjoy myself playing music. I can do that in my basement. The interaction with the fans is going to happen, whether I’m making money or not. I’m going to be out there on the radio, on stage, on tour. Of course, I have no retirement plan, and I have no… I spent what I’d say last year on my wife’s cancer treatment. So, it was $500,000 to get her healthy. So, in that aspect the money is important, but I’ve also come to realize that there are times when I’ll make $10,000 a day, or times when I’ll make nothing. It’s the quality of the day. It’s the experience of the day. The enjoyment. Knowing that I did what I came here to do. I want to take care of my wife. I want to take care of my children and leave my kids something when I’m dead.
That’s 100% understandable and the right way to care for things. But for sure it’s sometimes challenging to find enough those quality days and make enough money?
Ron Keel: So, you got to find a way to justify it. I figure 5,000 fans can spend $5 a month, $5 a month on what I do. That’s $500,000 a year. That’s cool man. I’m good with that. That’s why I’m building a new web platform online where I will share audio, video. All kinds of great content on my website, ronkeel.com. You pay ten bucks a month. You’re going to get the old Keel stuff, the Steeler stuff from the ’80s. My books. I’ll be able to perform. I’ll do some special chats online, interactions, voice lessons. All that on my website for ten bucks a month. 5,000 people paying ten bucks a month, is $500,000 a year. So, it’s cool. That’s my plan. I plan to deliver the product and entertain people and just keep doing what I do.
During the last few years, the world has lost many great musicians, and it is evident that the trend won’t slow down in the future. You mentioned Ronnie’s passing earlier, but how do those things touch you?
Ron Keel: I have friends dying every day. I could make an entire agenda of going to my friend’s funerals. They’re dying every day. My idols, my friends. There is nothing guaranteed for any of us. This day might be my last day on the planet. That might be my last song and my last show. You don’t know. We have to live. While we’re here, we have to live. We have to enjoy our days. Every day is precious, every day is important. Every song, every line. Everything we do. So, I’ve buried: my parents, my first wife, bandmates, friends. Death is part of life, and if tomorrow is my last day, then I’m going to have a good time today. We’re not guaranteed. There are no guarantees here.
But are you scared what the future holds?
Ron Keel: No, I’m not scared. Absolutely not. I’ve never been afraid of anything, maybe that’s a part of my problem. But I’ve never been afraid. Never been afraid to fail, never been afraid to succeed. I’ve never been afraid to live, and I’ve never been afraid to die. This is the truth, and this is how I feel. I tell you one of my favorite stories. I was in a band, and I was 19 years old in Nashville, Tennessee. I was very young, very inexperienced. It was in a black band. The drummer was white, but the bass player, the lead singer and the keyboard player were all black guys. The keyboard player, his name is Kevin. He was the musical director. He was the musical genius of the band and orchestrated everything. I auditioned for the group as a teenager. A young white guy auditioning for this and the keyboard player said this guy is going to be a star someday. We need this guy in the band. He’s the one who got me into the band. So, we played for nine months in Nashville in a house. No gigs, but we did a seven songs demo, which was a fantastic recording. Anybody in the band wrote a song. We learned it; we played it. Metal, punk, funk, motown kind of stuff. Everything. These guys, these black guys were singing these beautiful harmonies. They taught me so much. Nine months experience made me who I am. These guys, a little older than me, beautiful harmony vocals and singers. Orchestrating the parts. It was fantastic. One night in Nashville. This is Nashville, 1979. It was snowing. It was a blizzard, and not everybody could even make it to rehearsal. So, when you couldn’t make it, I have two friends over with me when we jam. Kevin, the keyboard player, 23 years old. Brilliant musician. Sweet, sweet man. Sitting there playing and I have this on cassette still. Playing “Funk #49” by James Gang and we were jamming, and he starts missing notes, and Kevin never missed a note. Then he dies right in front of me in rehearsal. I started playing guitar, and the guy died, he’ was 23 years old. No drugs, no overdose, hereditary disease, heart attack or cerebral hemorrhage. He died right in front of me, and I’m playing with him, and I got it on cassette. He just died. I watched the guy die on the Hammond B3 organs. You know what Kevin taught me that day, this might be your last song. Play it like it’s your last song. Live every moment like it is your last moment. You never know. Nobody had any idea. I watched the guy die, right in front of me, in rehearsal. My best friend, a guy who believed in me and got me in the band. We called 911, and the ambulance came. He was dead.
I’ve watched several people die right in front of me. I was playing in a club in Phoenix, Arizona. I was in the house band there for a year and a half. Five days a week, a year and a half. Good money, good time, good music. It was a fantastic time. The place had the greatest vibe, a dirt for a parking lot, a real hitching post out front where local cowboys could tie up their horses and there were rows of cowboy boots lining the ceiling inside. This was the real west, and the patrons drank hard and danced hard. There was an old cowboy named DJ who had a big curly white beard and the trusty dog always at his side, everybody loved him. I’m up on stage one night, and he’s out there dancing. He’s got a beer in one hand and he’s got one of the cute local girls dancing with him. A hot young girl and he starts to grab his fucking chest and he dies right in front of me on the dance floor. I’m on stage; he’s out there dancing. I watched the man fucking die right there. Everybody was in shock, and they called 911 and the police cleared the bar while the paramedics tried to save him, with no success. While DJ was dying on that dance floor, I was out in my truck writing a song about it entitled “Last Call.” Rather than sadness, I chose to think, how cool is that? The guy died with a beer in one hand and he’s got a hot chick on the other hand. He’s listening to music, he’s dancing. What a way to go? Let me die on the dance floor with a hot girl and a beer. That’s a victory. To me, that’s a victory. So those experiences, watching Kevin die, the keyboard player. He’s with me; he’s on my shoulder every day because any song might be your last one and you might not make it through the song. You might die during the guitar solo. You never know. So why not just enjoy the moment, live the day. Do the best you can, sing, have fun and just enjoy life.
THE LAST WORDS
The last time we did an interview, we went through a full detailed history of Steeler, Keel and things like that, but now we covered a lot of other newer stuff including the EMP deal. I’m repeating myself a bit, but I’m saying it once again, that deal is a big thing, and it’s another huge possibility for you.
Ron Keel: I have another chance, another opportunity to create, to write, to release a new album and to do it right. I have great admiration and respect for the last couple of big albums I’ve done, the Keel STREETS OF ROCK’N ROLL album. I’m very proud of that. What a great record it was, released by Frontiers in 2010. The METAL COWBOY album. If that’s the last record I ever did, I’d be happy. That’s an amazing, great album and EMP is going to re-release that as the re-loaded edition. It’s going to be re-mastered, remixed with some bonus tracks and the new mixes sound incredible.
Is there going to be vinyl release as well?
Ron Keel: And vinyl, absolutely. We’re going to have vinyl for both these releases. So that’s six albums this year coming out. The METAL COWBOY -reloaded, March 2nd. The Ron Keel band album, FIGHT LIKE A BAND, coming out this summer. The two Keel album re-issues, FINAL FRONTIER and the self-titled album from ’87 and the EMERALD SABBATH, Black Sabbath tribute album. That’s six albums straight there coming out this year. So, I’m just extremely thankful for the opportunities to keep doing what I love to do, and stay busy and make music and for people to enjoy it. I know that it’s a different business these days. How you get your music. How you buy your music if you buy music because a lot of people get it for free. But my job, as I said before, is to create. My job is just to create and put stuff out and to be who I am and to be true to myself, and the rest is up to you. The listeners, the audience, the media and to do interviews like these with people like you and Metal Rules. That helps me get the word out to people that maybe aren’t interested in hearing what I’m doing.
Thank you, Ron. I think this was enough for now.
Ron Keel: Thank you. I appreciate you, man. I appreciate your support, your friendship through the years. All that.
Yeah. I’ve always done my best.
Ron Keel: I know. You’ve always been there for me man. I know that. I appreciate it more than you know. Sorry, it took so long, but that was a great discussion. That was a pleasant conversation and some good stuff between the two of us. I hope you enjoyed it and that’s stuff you could use.