Interview by Lord of The Wasteland
Transcription by Sara "Speed Demon" Robbins
In what can only be described as a reunion that came entirely from out of left field, Keel announced on November 18th, 2008 that they would be reforming and were planning a series of shows in 2009 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their landmark album, THE RIGHT TO ROCK. Keel is not a band whose name is the first thought when recollecting on the eighties. Bands like Poison, Dokken, Warrant and others typically get discussed even though their own success was right on par with that of Keel. Forming in 1984 from the ashes of Steeler (featuring the soon-to-be neo-classical guitar god, Yngwie J. Malmsteen), Ron Keel led the band through a series of four quick releases that culminated with the self-titled album in 1987. Personnel changes forced an early breakup but the Keel legacy remained strong as a devout following kept the band’s name alive for over twenty years.
Speaking with Ron Keel from his home in Las Vegas, I got the impression that this career musician has a lot riding on Keel in 2009. This is, after all, something that fans have been asking for for two decades and the singer has carved out a comfortable lifestyle for himself in Sin City, so getting back on the Keel horse again is a risky move but if his passion, enthusiasm and positive outlook are worth anything, success surely lies ahead.
Let’s talk about the big issue today, which is the reunion of Keel.
That’s correct. We just made the announcement a week ago that Keel is going to be doing a 25th anniversary reunion in 2009 to celebrate 25 years since the release of THE RIGHT TO ROCK album and 20 years since the band has actually performed together onstage, so we’re all really excited about it. This is something that’s been discussed through the years. Every year, me and the guys get together. We still remain good friends, so unlike some of the other acts that have reunited, there’s no bad blood or no hatchets to bury. We just wanted to do it right, and the opportunity to do that has not arisen until now. We want to celebrate 25 years’ worth of good times and good friendship and good music, and do it right, as I said. One of the big forces behind this reunion is our agent Sullivan Bigg with Bigg Time Entertainment, Inc.. He came on board a few months back, really excited about helping us put this together, and getting us out there on the right stages in the right format, and I can’t thank him enough for his belief and enthusiasm in the project. So far it’s been great, man. Just getting back together with the guys, the smiles and the high-fives and hugs and the handshakes, and talking about our plans for the coming year, it’s a real exciting time. We’ve been very overwhelmed since we made the announcement with the incredible response from the fans, and it seems like people are excited to experience this with us and we’re looking forward to having a good time with it throughout the next year.
KEEL – 2008 (L to R: Bryan Jay, Geno Arce, Ron Keel, Dwain Miller, Marc Ferrari)
It must be pretty exciting to know that there’s still that much demand for Keel out there.
Well, that wasn’t a surprise because we’ve all been very active in this industry. I’ve continued to be performing, singing and travelling and the responses I’ve gotten through the years has always been strong. People have a soft spot in their hearts for Keel. They remember us, they grew up listening to that music, and they’ve been encouraging us to do this for a long time. One of the most frequently-asked questions, whether it’s a Myspace message or an email or an interview is, “Will there ever be a Keel reunion?” For a long time, I thought, “Yeah, there might be” and, you know, “Never say never.” In the last few years, as time kept ticking by, I started to think maybe it’s not gonna happen. And if it didn’t happen this year maybe it never would, but the fans have wanted it for a long time and we’re ready to give it to them.
Now the “classic” Keel lineup has reformed except for bassist Kenny Chaisson. Why is Kenny not back in the lineup? Is he not doing music anymore?
I’m not sure if Kenny’s been active in music for a number of years. Kenny’s been a little distant the last few years with us. On the other hand, Dwain [Miller, drums], Marc [Ferrari, guitar] and Bryan [Jay, guitar] and I have remained very close. We just felt that due to personal differences, it would be better to just have a good time with this and bring on board a bass player that’s been working with me for ten years, Geno Arce from Iron Horse. Nobody except myself has played the Keel songs onstage for the last ten years and Geno, he’s certainly qualified for the gig.
KEEL – 1986 (L to R: Marc Ferrari, Kenny Chaisson, Dwain Miller, Ron Keel, Bryan Jay)
You mentioned you have plans lined up for next year. The only thing I could see that’s been posted is that you’re doing the kick-off show at The Knitting Factory in Los Angeles in January. Is there anything else you can tell us that hasn’t been made official yet?
We’re planning to hit as many major festivals as possible. Those events are still offers pending and in the works and nothing’s confirmed yet. Until we have an exact date pinned down, we don’t want to make any announcements before their time. I know we’re going to do some of the big outdoor festivals that have become quite prominent over the last few years. We’re going to make those announcements as soon as they’re confirmed.
I’m up in Canada, are there any plans to head up this way?
Well, our agents asked us today to make sure our passports are in order and we can travel out of the country and there’s no problem. We’d love to do that and hopefully that opportunity will materialize. We’d like to hit Canada. We would like to consider Europe and Japan also. If we’re gonna do it, we’d like to do it right, as I said. I know we have a lot of fans up there and we’d like to get up there and play for them, if possible.
I guess the inevitable question is, are there plans to do a new album?
We’d like to. We have some material that we’re pretty excited about. Brian and I have been writing together the last couple of months and we have some songs that I’m real happy with. We have a deal actually on the table that we’re negotiating and I’d like to see it happen. Once again we’re not gonna do it unless we do it right. We’d like to record six of the classic Keel songs over again—new versions of some of the Keel classics—and six new songs and put it out as a 25th anniversary commemorative CD, and I hope that it happens. We’re still trying to put that deal together.
LAY DOWN THE LAW (1984) / THE RIGHT TO ROCK (1985)
You mentioned that your manager was sort of the catalyst for getting the reunion together, but was there any event or any sort of single thing that really sort of sealed the deal with this?
No, not really. Like I said, it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and every year about this time, the guys and I get together and we talk about it, and we explore the possibilities. Up until now there’s been no infrastructure, no team behind us that was able to help us get it done and get it done right. I’ve continued to perform non-stop throughout my entire career. The last ten, twenty years, I’ve done two to three hundred shows a year. I’ve played a lot of the major rock clubs in the States with my band Iron Horse or as Ron Keel or as an opening act for bands like Quiet Riot and several others I’ve toured with. Y&T…I did a lot of shows with them the last few years. Really, it was Sullivan Bigg coming on board. We’re musicians, really. At the core of it, we’re players, singers, songwriters and performers. It takes someone in the business of Sullivan’s capacity to actually push the button and get the deals done, and with someone like him on board we’re very optimistic we can do this the way we want it done.
There’ve been a lot of bands from the eighties that have been active on the touring circuit doing Rocklahoma and that sort of thing. What was it that kept you guys away from performing under the Keel name and doing these same types of shows over the years?
Well, the Rocklahoma phenomenon is a couple years old. We had the second one this past summer, which I attended and performed at with my band, K2. Everybody in the band has been busy getting a life. Mark and Brian are very successful on the business side of things with their music side of things and their businesses. I developed a business for myself in Las Vegas, NV, where I’m producing acts and producing shows, and steering myself into the business side of things even though I have continued to perform heavily nonstop. We didn’t want to go out and play clubs or bars. If we could have been on a tour or doing the festivals that now exist, these things now are viable for acts like us to go out there and be able to play for ten to fifty thousand people, but we weren’t interested in abandoning our lives and our homes and our families to just go out and play rock star in front of 200 people in a club. Even though those 200 people, we love to death, and we want to play for them, and I have been out there playing for them, but this is something that would warrant putting the band back together. Like I said, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. It’s not about the money, it’s not about going out and playing rock star, getting on a bus and traveling from town to town. It’s about the music, the friendship and the fans that have kept the dreams and the music alive for us…and the new fans, too! This past week, one of the things that’s most amazed me about the reunion is that there are so many young people that weren’t even alive when we were last performing. Today, I got emails from kids that are 15 years old, one as young as 12 years old that’s a huge Keel fan.
When we launched the new Myspace page, we looked to see if somebody out there was using the name Keel, and there were a couple of them. These are fan sites that people have put together on our behalf to help promote our music without our knowledge. I, of course, got in touch with them and one of them is a young guy, he’s 15 years old and is a huge Keelaholic and this kid was not even alive the last time Keel performed onstage together, so that’s really exciting to be able to bring the music to the people who never got a chance to see it in the first place and then a chance to bring it to the people who did live it the first time around and we can kind of revisit the old times and celebrate the music again together and enjoy the chaos all over again of a Keel reunion. We’re doing this for ourselves just because we want to celebrate our friendship and the music. We want to play for the fans that have demanded this for a long time, and to hopefully turn on some younger people that never got the chance to see us the first time around.
LARGER THAN LIVE (1989) / VI: BACK IN ACTION (1998)
Now Keel reappeared in 1998 with the BACK IN ACTION album then you guys disbanded again. Was that planned as a comeback at all, or was that just a one-off thing?
Well, we had an offer from a record company to re-release LARGER THAN LIVE which was the final Keel album in 1989. They wanted to re-release the album and they asked if we had any bonus tracks, anything sitting in the vaults that hadn’t been released that perhaps they could add as an extra incentive to the record. So we started listening to stuff that we had, some outtakes from the ‘87 sessions from doing the self-titled album, some demos, and it ended up being some pretty cool stuff. I thought, “We’ve got enough for a new album here.” We’ve got one song, “Reason to Rock,” which I wrote the lyrics for and we finished that song off and it just felt right. It wasn’t anything that we planned or orchestrated or tried to make a “comeback.” We didn’t do any shows to support it. We just came together in Phoenix to have a good time together. Kind of like a class reunion. Let’s get together, put a finish on this record. We added the background vocals and the solos, the lead vocals for “Reason To Rock.” It took a while putting on the finishing touches and remixing it and it was just because it was there. Like I said, it wasn’t any orchestrated effort or comeback, so to speak. We actually had a song called Back In Action” that was cut for the self-titled album but didn’t make it to the record and it seemed like an appropriate title for that record that came out in 1998. So yeah, it was a good time, man. It was really cool. We hadn’t been together in ten years at the time, and to all of us, just to sit in a room, just us five guys and reminisce about old times and catch up, have a cocktail or two and kind of rehash the memories. It was a wonderful experience, a lot of fun for us. Hopefully the fans enjoyed that record. We just had a good time putting that together.
Keel released four studio albums in four years. Were you guys that prolific or were the labels really cracking the whip just to get as much product out as possible?
It was actually at least a year or more between albums. Things happened very fast in the initial stages of the band. We put the band together in March of 1984 and did our first gig on April 7, 1984. By summertime, we were in the studio recording LAY DOWN THE LAW, which was our initial studio effort. By the time those sessions weren’t even completed, our management company called us back to L.A. to showcase for some major labels that were interested. We showcased and immediately got a record deal. In a matter of days we went from being unsigned to having a major deal. When we got signed, the record company wanted to move quickly. They wanted a January release because that was a good time to get a new product out, at the beginning of 1985. Plus, they handed me a list of potential producers that would be interested in working with Keel on this album. I don’t remember who else was on the list but I know it was some heavyweights. It was like all the hot acts that were producing the monster hits in the mid-eighties but one name on the list really stood out at me, and that was Gene Simmons. I don’t remember who else was on the list but I saw Gene’s name and pointed to it and said, “Yes, I want Gene!” I’m a huge KISS fan and really just wanted to have the opportunity to work with someone of Gene’s stature. It was a dream come true. They set up a meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Gene and I. Literally, we were still in the studio finishing LAY DOWN THE LAW, so we didn’t have hardly any new material except this one jam that we’d done in the studio while I was basically just getting a level and getting a feel for the instruments. Marc Ferrari starts off playing the riff from “The Right To Rock.” I had no idea what it was, I just thought it was great, so I told the engineer to hit record and we recorded it right on the spot. That’s the cassette tape I took into Gene Simmons’s hotel room. There was no vocal on it, so I hit play on the boom box and sat there in his face, screaming this song right in front of him and about halfway through the song he hit stop on the boom box and he looked at me and said, “I’m going to produce this record, and we’re going to start Tuesday.” He was about to go back on a tour with KISS and he had a movie schedule that he had to adhere to. His time was limited, so he was in a hurry to get on with it. We were really caught up in a whirlwind at the time. We had three new songs: “The Right To Rock,” “Electric Love” and “Back To The City. We recorded those three, re-did three songs from LAY DOWN THE LAW and recorded three songs which Gene had written for KISS that they hadn’t recorded. It happened really quick. By the time LAY DOWN THE LAW came out in November of 1984, THE RIGHT TO ROCK came out just a couple months later in January of 1985. THE FINAL FRONTIER came out in February or March of 1986, and then about twelve or fourteen months later, the self-titled album in 1987. It was two years of contractual difficulties and various other business snags that kept us at bay until 1989 when LARGER THAN LIFE came out. There were four major label albums in between 1985 and 1989.
Gene Simmons & Ron Keel
You mentioned working with Gene Simmons who produced both THE RIGHT TO ROCK and THE FINAL FRONTIER albums. What was it like working in the studio with him? Being a KISS fan myself, I can’t imagine what was going through your head as you’re singing for him one day and a week later you’re in the studio and he’s producing your record!
Well, it was incredible. Luckily, we were so young and cocky that we weren’t blown away by it as much as we probably should have been. Gene was an incredible help in the studio and out of the studio. In terms of the business, he really took us under his wing. He helped us in so many ways. Just being an advocate of Keel and helping with all aspects of our business, he was great in the studio. Working with him behind the glass…he was in the control room producing and I’m in the studio room singing was a great experience. He’s great with songs and harmonies. He knows what the fans want. He knows what people will buy. He knows what gets people going and what gets them off. He tries to capture that in the studio and on record and he did a great job of it. Those two records, the recording of them and the whole experience surrounding working with Gene, was something that I’ll always treasure and appreciate.
For me anyway, even without the songwriting credits, it’s pretty obvious the songs that Gene Simmons brought to the band just because of the sound of them. I know he produced The Plasmatics album [1984’s W.O.W.] and he played bass under a fake name, and that sort of thing and did little bits. Did he play anything on the Keel records or did he just contribute the actual songs?
No, he didn’t play. He did do some background vocals with us. He’d come in there and we were doing the big shouting vocals and he’d join in on some of that action.
The versions that you guys did, were they reworked quite a bit from the original versions that he brought?
They were. The demos back then, our home demos as well as Gene’s, were pretty primitive. You just use a drum machine, a little four-track cassette recorder and you try and capture ideas basically in primitive notebook form. They weren’t very produced or overproduced. Nobody did that back then. Now you can get a demo that people do in their home studios that sounds like an album. Back then we didn’t have the technology to do that, but we Keeled them up a little bit. We pretty much kept the riffs the same. I remember changing some lyrics. "Easier Said Than Done" was originally called "Sooner Said Than Done" and just didn’t sing as well for me. I said, “Gene, being a fairly common colloquialism, can we change this to ‘Easier Said Than Done’?” Gene was all for it. I said, “Since I thought of it, can I have songwriting credit?” and he said, “No” (laughs). I actually did change the title of one of his songs. We had some lyrical adjustments here and there on some of the songs. I remember sitting in the control room kind of reworking the lyrics to "So Many Girls, So Little Time" and getting to work with him on that. It was a team effort but those were Gene’s songs and we tried to do them justice and make him proud.
THE FINAL FRONTIER (1986) / KEEL (1987)
I’m almost 37, so I was around in the Keel heyday. I was fifteen when THE RIGHT TO ROCK came out and I actually remember buying that record and the two following that when they first came out. THE FINAL FRONTIER and the self-titled album were, in my opinion, just as good as THE RIGHT TO ROCK but that seems to be the album that has become synonymous with the band. Why do you suppose the two follow-ups didn’t make quite as big of a splash as THE RIGHT TO ROCK?
Well, they both actually sold more and charted higher. THE RIGHT TO ROCK itself, I don’t know if it was the album or not, but it’s the song. That’s a lifetime career song right there. You could try, and I’ve been trying for 25 years to top it. It’s one of those magic titles and lyrics, the music and the lyrics are joined so perfectly. I do that song in all my shows to this day and people that never heard of Keel or never bought that album, by the end of the song, they’re singing and their fists are in the air. The message and the lyric talks about the energy and the enthusiasm and the attitude behind that song. It is a true rock anthem. That is our signature song and there’s no way around that. We’re certainly proud of that. I don’t know if the album itself is as popular as THE FINAL FRONTIER. I know that when you ask most Keel fans what their favorite album is, I think it will be THE FINAL FRONTIER and I get asked that question a lot myself. The one that I listen to the most is the self-titled album, just because I think the songs are the best, I think we were at our creative peak. Those songs, I think are great. The vocals are probably the best I ever did in Keel and the production by Michael Wagener was incredible. Really, we were firing on all cylinders at that point. We were coming off the strength of an eight-month headlining tour. We sold out a headlining tour of Japan and came right back into the studio and captured that energy when we hit the studio for that self-titled album, so that’s my personal favorite, I guess. THE FINAL FRONTIER is a treasure to me. It has a very special place in my heart because it was my moment of creative fulfillment when I really had the power to do what I wanted to do and Gene was there to support that vision. I wanted to show our diversity. I wanted to stretch out musically and talk about some other subject matter in the lyrics other than girls and partying and it got a little bit more serious. We stretched out musically and did stuff like "Because The Night," which is still a timeless classic. I had no idea that it was going to be the first single. I had no idea that it would really represent us on that album. I just thought it was a cool song. Gene and I thought, “Man, this is a good song, we gotta cut this.” It wasn’t like any type of orchestrated decision, let’s cut this and release it as a first single. In fact, if we’d known it was going to be the first single, we probably wouldn’t have done it. It didn’t represent Keel. It represented one aspect of what we wanted to do. Songs like “Rock and Roll Animal” and “Raised On Rock,” those kinds of songs were probably much better-suited as a first single from THE FINAL FRONTIER. That decision wasn’t up to us, though. It was up to the people at MCA Records, who, god bless ‘em, they spent a ton of money on Keel, but I don’t think they really knew what they were doing and we kind of got mixed up in the shuffle after that deal was done. I’m proud of all those records. Each one has its own personality, its own sound, and each one’s got a special place in Keel history.
Keel – 1985
I’m sure you get asked this all the time: Will the Keel albums get proper reissues on CD? I bought THE RIGHT TO ROCK on CD about eight years ago when it came out on Metal Mayhem Music and I just read LAY DOWN THE LAW came out earlier this year on Shrapnel Records, so are there plans to release THE FINAL FRONTIER and KEEL on CD, as well?
I hope so. We’ve been working on that for a long time, man. We’ve spent a lot of time and money to not only get the rights to those albums, but the red tape is endless. The trail has grown cold, so to speak, because MCA sold the rights to Universal. I’ve got a signed document from 1992 that says the rights that Universal had were expired, and we probably could release them on our own if we wanted to, but now we’re actually speaking to the folks at Universal about trying to get those records re-released. I don’t want to promise anything. I’d love to see it happen. I know the fans would love to see it happen. I’d like to put a double CD out with THE FINAL FRONTIER and the self-titled album as a two CD set…the MCA Years. That’s a really important part of the Keel history that is very difficult to find.
As a matter of fact, I’m putting together the Keel show. We’re having fun putting together the songs and the show. I have one copy of the self-titled CD, somehow it turned up missing, and I’m looking frantically through my CD collection trying to find the third album. I ended up buying one on eBay just so I could have it in the catalog, and so they are hard to find, they’re hard to get. If I can’t get it, then I know the fans are having a hard time getting it. I’d certainly like to make those records available, and we’re doing everything we can to do that. You just got to do it right and do it legal and make sure that we’re not infringing on anybody else’s rights. It’s uncharted territory for us. I’d love to see those records come out and hopefully we can make that happen this year.
Keel – 1997
There were a lot of metal bands who had popularity in the eighties and carried on to the nineties but when the climate changed for metal, they were caught treading water. But Keel actually quit a little bit earlier. Did you see that tidal change coming or what was it that made you decide to fold the band sooner rather than later?
No, that broadsided all of us, man. That slapped us right upside the head. We had no idea that was coming. Who could have foreseen that one? We were in our heyday and we thought it would last forever. We thought that we were invincible. Obviously, that proved not to be the case. Keel had run its course in 1989. LARGER THAN LIVE was our last opportunity to get the band up off the ground. We’d already had some personnel changes that were detrimental to the band. Bryan and Marc were no longer with us and it was never the same after Marc left. There’s no way you can replace someone of his caliber. We had the choice to trudge on and keep going. Marc went off to form his own band, which became Cold Sweat, which released one monster killer album [1990’s BREAK OUT] and got signed to MCA, as well. At that point, Keel was done, but we still had a contract to fulfill, so we released LARGER THAN LIVE. I love that record, too. I’m real proud of that album and I enjoy listening to it still and still love singing some of those songs off that record, but Keel was done by then. Obviously, since it’s my last name, I could have just replaced all the guys and kept going. I could have had a band called Keel all these years because it’s my name, but to me that just didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem fair or appropriate. I went off and formed a new band called Fair Game, which attempted to combine an all-female backing band with my voice and my songs. It was a great band and I’m really proud of that record, too. I gave that three years…1989 to 1991. By 1991, it was obvious nobody was going to sign bands like us anymore. There were a couple acts that still managed to survive that initial grunge surge of the early nineties…XYZ, a great band that had a gold record at the time. But it was done, man. It was nothing we could foresee, nobody could foresee that happening. We thought it would last forever. In a way it has, but the nineties were tough on everybody. Luckily, I had other avenues where I could still play and sing and be creatively fulfilled and enjoy myself, make a living singing and playing music and writing songs. I was real fortunate that I didn’t end up painting houses or dying of a drug overdose.
You started playing country music later through the mid-nineties. Were you always a country fan or was this something that came to you later in life?
No. Country music…you gotta be born with that, man. You don’t just put on a hat and say, “I’m country.” That audience will chew you up and spit you out. Country music is the song of the working class. I grew up with it. My dad played country music. In my house, there was no prejudice between styles of music. I grew up playing classical music, jazz, country, rock, hard rock, you name it. I ate it up and loved it. Country music was a place to go, a soft place to land when the shit hit the fan and all of our careers were basically over. At least I could sit with a guitar, express myself and sing songs that meant something to me. There’s a lot of common ground with what Keel did and what I did in the nineties with my country career. We were still singing about girls, drinking, partying, wild and crazy stuff. I mean, country music’s got all of those same elements, as well, and good musicians. It’s something you couldn’t find anywhere else in the nineties. You couldn’t find a good strong groove or a nice guitar solo anywhere else. I kind of dove into country music and explored that territory and have enjoyed doing that ever since. I do a lot of TV and film work in the country music field. It’s fun, it’s something that you don’t need any bells and whistles to do. You need a guitar, your voice, a story to tell, and it’s all built around the vocal and the story. It’s nice to add the smoke and the lights and the sweat and the leopard skin guitars and get up there and scream and have a good time, too. That’s what rock and roll is about. I love both. I’ve got one foot on either side of the fence. I enjoy playing both roles.
Like I said, we interviewed you back in the spring of 2004. You were with Iron Horse at the time. Are you still active with that band or is that finished?
Iron Horse has been done for awhile now. We actually did a reunion a few months back in Ohio. The music and the people still remain very, very dear to my heart. It was a project that I gave six years. We did eight hundred shows nationwide. Wonderful memories, great experience, and two great albums but it’s run its course. We’ll probably get back together every year maybe, like a family reunion. My focus now is entirely on Keel. I’m not doing any other rock gigs in 2009 except Keel shows.
You mentioned you’ve got another band called K2. Is that metal, country or straightforward rock?
K2 is my project here in Vegas this last summer. We were doing songs throughout my career. It was playing all the Keel songs and Iron Horse songs, Black Sabbath songs. Stuff that was relevant to my career. We did just a handful of really strong shows, and something that I was really proud of and had a great time with. Now that the Keel reunion has materialized, I have to focus on that. The guys in K2 have been very supportive and gave me a high-five and a pat on the back and wished me well, and they’re some great guys and great musicians. They’re the best hard rock band in the history of Las Vegas, as far as I’m concerned. We really tore it up when we did those gigs. I was extremely proud of what we did and had a great time with those shows.
You mentioned you guys were doing Black Sabbath songs. I’m hoping you can put some truth to the rumor that you actually auditioned for the vocalist position in Black Sabbath but then went on to form Keel.
It wasn’t a rumor…it’s fairly well documented in book form and on the Black Sabbath website. I’m listed in their history and all that. It’s three days that will live in infamy in 1984 when I was first putting Keel together. I was officially in. I have the signed contract hanging on the wall in my office for Black Sabbath. It was cool for three days, man, but I never actually got to perform with them or tour with them or record. A lot’s been made out of it, and it’s a fun story to tell, but that’s about it.
What that have been for the BORN AGAIN album?
It was after BORN AGAIN. I replaced Ian Gillan.
So that would have been SEVENTH STAR, I guess?
You sang in another group, a Japanese band called Saber Tiger, back in the nineties and did one album with them, called PROJECT ONE. How did that collaboration come about?
That’s a great story. I could write a book about the Saber Tiger experience. Basically, they were looking for a singer. Akahito Kinoshita was like the Yngwie Malmsteen in Japan. He had a new big record deal with Fandango Records. They were looking for an American singer to come over and do the album, so it could cross over to Europe. They wanted an American with a track record and who also had a good reputation in Japan. That was one good thing about not beating a dead horse. Once Keel was done and Fair Game was done, I pretty much disappeared. Even though I was still active singing and performing in the southwestern U.S. doing country music, I’d pretty much fallen off the map as far as the rock and roll world was concerned. So there was sort of an aura of mystery in Japan surrounding Ron Keel. The fans there have still, to this day, remained loyal. There has been a lot of wonderful support from Japan and a good reputation there. I ended up getting the deal done with Saber Tiger, went to Japan and recorded the album with them. Have you heard the record?
No, I’ve never heard it.
Oh, my god, you’d love it. It’s the heaviest record I’ve ever done in my life. Really exciting, progressive, hardcore metal. I don’t know how else to describe it. Very musical, very progressive and some of my best vocals, by far the heaviest album of my career. It was a great experience, too. This was right in the middle of my country phase. All of a sudden, getting on a plane and going to Japan and belting out this bone-crushing metal was an incredible experience. Great record, I’m very proud of it. That was another small chapter in my wandering that I’m very proud of. I consider myself a musical nomad. I’ve travelled the face of the earth, and the landscape of music in general just looking for another mountain to climb, just trying to have a good time with my life. Do things that are challenging and fun and hopefully profitable at the same time. I’ve never been motivated by anything other than my search for adventure. I want to experience stuff. I want to live my life. I want to do stuff that nobody else can do or will do. That’s why this has let me experience so many things nobody ever gets to do. I’ve had a lot of dreams come true and experienced some things in this business and I wouldn’t trade anything for them. So I have done a lot of different stuff. Up until Iron Horse, I didn’t even do two consecutive albums with a project. I did Fair Game and then I did The Rat’lers, Saber Tiger and Iron Horse actually had two albums that I was on. So yeah, I’ve been a wandering musical nomad, and the Keel reunion is kind of like coming home.
I understand you used to be a drummer, do you still play?
Yeah, I do still play.
Do you play within a band setting or is it just something that you do for fun?
I produce a show in Las Vegas, the only country music show in town. It’s been very successful now for a year and a half. I actually did the drum gig once last summer. Circumstances were we needed a drummer for the night. I did the show since I was producing it for a year and a half. I like playing drums because it’s fun. You get to beat on stuff. It’s going back to my roots. I started playing drums when I was nine years old. It’s a lot of fun. It’s one of those skills that I’ve enjoyed. I kept my chops up through the years and it’s easier to relate to the drummers I’m working with, too. No matter what project it is, I can talk to the drummer or the guitar player or the bass player and they’ll understand. They know that they can listen to me and kind of respect where I’m coming from because I know the instrument somewhat. I try and keep my chops up on the drums, but I’m a little too busy now to devote too much time to it. Every chance I get I beat the skins a little bit.
Ron & Marc
Last time you spoke to Metal Rules in 2004, you mentioned you were working on a book. Is that still in the works?
Wow, man…I have written it, torn it up and started over again so many times. I’d like to do it, I really would. The problem is is that I can’t lie and If I tell the truth a lot of people are going to hate me (laughs). I do have a lot of stuff documented and written down in book form. If I actually were to release it, there’d be hell to pay (laughs). I don’t know, I mean, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a great creative release. I do have a lot of stories to tell. I do that when I’m at a party or an interview like this. I would like to kind of put my life down on paper for posterity’s sake. Man, I hope nobody reads it until after I’m dead (laughs). We’ll see. I’ll keep working on it and keep you posted.
So, 2009, obviously is gonna be a big year for Keel. Is there anything else that’s gonna be happening next year besides hitting the road and getting Keel’s name out there again?
No, we’re just gonna focus on Keel, man, and see what happens. I can’t tell you how many shows we’re going to do, but I can tell you it’s going to be a quality, kickass performance. The guys in the band still have as much energy and as much musical ability as they ever had. I’m in good shape, I’m in good voice. I haven’t stopped singing or performing or traveling ever. It’s not like I have to learn how to ride the bike again. I’ve been on the bike all these years and I’ve been singing the Keel songs on my rock shows nonstop. So the material is very comfortable for me. I can promise you that the other guys in the band are ready to rock, too, so it’s not going to be like having to kick-start the engine again. This thing’s ready to go and the shows are gonna be very entertaining, we’re going to have a lot of fun. Hopefully everybody will stay in touch with us online at the new website we’ve just launched. We have a new Myspace page, too, and hopefully the fans that read this can get online and hang out with us and kind of be a part of this reunion. We plan to document everything as much as possible. The news page is a blog setup where I can update from the road and keep fans in the loop. We’re filming everything that we do. We filmed the reunion photo session and we’re going to film the rehearsals. We’re going to try and give fans a sneak peak behind the scenes. We have our own Youtube channel, where we’re going to put up little clips of everything along the way, whether it’s interviews, backstage, rehearsals. We really want the fans to enjoy the reunion with us. Stay in touch with us online and enjoy the ride!
Thanks to Nancy B. Sayle at VQ PR for setting up the interview.