Interview with Ron Keel
by Celtic Bob and JP
You just released your autobiography; EVEN KEEL this year and in it you mention that you have enough material for another book or two. Is writing something you’d like to do more of in the future?
As I say in the book’s introduction, I’m a storyteller at heart – whether in songs, or on the written page. I’ve always wanted to write fiction and hopefully someday I’ll realize that dream – but in a lot of ways my autobiography is stranger than any fiction.
Have you begun work on another one?
Outlines and ideas for a couple of novels, and leftover from “Even Keel” are huge segments about the voice and songwriting that I feel could be strong foundations for books on those subjects.
What would a second book be comprised of? More of the same or more focused and in depth on certain era’s?
The sequel to “Even Keel” would have to include all of the stuff I left out. Certainly Steeler, IronHorse, and the Country Years could have filled enough pages for books of their own. But for now, I’m forging ahead promoting this book and the new “Metal Cowboy” CD.
Was it difficult writing your first book? Did you have a certain style or routine you followed to get the basic manuscript done? Did you think about shopping it around to publishers or did you want to do it all your own?
Writing the book was a lot of work, and a lot of fun. I had to relive 50 years’ worth of personal history, so that takes time and focus. I wanted to stay true to my own storytelling style, as if I were sitting at a bar telling these stories to my friends. And yes, I considered going through an agent, soliciting publishing offers, but I didn’t to wait any longer and go through that process – it was important that the book was released simultaneously with the new album as a “one two” punch.
In EVEN KEEL the reunion of the band wasn’t talked about in too much depth as many of us KEEL fans would have liked. Is there much more to tell or was that pretty much it?
I thought I covered that pretty well in the first chapter, focusing on the reunion, how and why it happened. The book starts with the KEEL reunion, and ends with our debut reunion show in 2009. It’s a tough call trying to determine how many details to include to keep the story flowing without dragging it down with “we did this, then we did that.” The KEEL reunion certainly could have had a book of its own.
Did you have to censor or edit out much to avoid getting sued or upsetting people involved?
I didn’t have to, but I did. I came clean about what I did – whatever anybody else did is their own business, whether they were band members, ex-wives and girlfriends, whatever. I just wanted to take the high road and not sling trash talk – the more you stomp in shit, the worse it smells.
In regards to the KEEL reunion, we got a new album then it seemed to have dissolved. Is the band working on a follow-up to THE STREETS OF ROCK N ROLL?
The reunion has done anything but dissolve – we remain a strong and solid performing band with shows around the world the past few years, and on April 26th we’ll be celebrating our 30th Anniversary on the main stage at the M3 Festival in Baltimore. We’re ready to rock at all times, with no plans of stopping. STREETS OF ROCK & ROLL is, in my opinion, our best work ever and a tough act to follow, but I got a feeling you’ll be hearing more new music from the boys in the years to come.
Was working with the old band easier the second time around?
In many ways it was easier, because our skills and our friendships have all gotten stronger through the years, but it’s always a challenge trying to keep the music and the performances at such a high level and I think we’ve been able to do that.
Your new album METAL COWBOY came out at the same time as the book. Was it difficult to time it so both would be completed and manufactured at the same time?
You keep asking things like “was it difficult,” – everything we do in this business is difficult; if it was easy everybody would do it. Busting your ass is always difficult, but it’s my job to do things that nobody else can do or will do, to push the limits, to overcome obstacles, that’s part of the journey and the joy of the challenges we face in life, and in music. In regard to the simultaneous release of METAL COWBOY and the book, yes, it was an all-consuming task that demanded every ounce of energy that I had, but we got it done.
What prompted this release at this moment in time vs another KEEL album?
The KEEL reunion in many ways inspired the METAL COWBOY project – once we accomplished what we achieved with “Streets Of Rock & Roll” and all of the great shows we did, I felt the personal need to channel my energy into the next challenge, which was to stake a new claim and plant a rebel flag on the dirt road that begins where “Streets Of Rock & Roll” left off.
What was the inspiration behind “3 Chord Drinkin’ Song?” Sounds like it was a blast to record!
I love to take the road less travelled – and have the balls to cut a song live in the studio which I’d never sang or even practiced, with a bunch of friends – The Sin City Sinners – and record it live, first take, 3 microphones, no overdubs. And have the balls to put that magic moment in time on my album.
The new album is quite good yet difficult to describe. It’s not Metal, nor is it Country. How do you label it for those that require a label?
That’s easy – I label it METAL COWBOY. Metal to me means arena style power riffs with screaming vocals and solos, thunderous drums, loud and reckless rock. The Cowboy side comes from the stories in the lyrics and the wild west instrumentation like dobro and slide guitar.
Do you foresee more albums of similar style in the future?
I’ve just begun to tap this emotional well, and with METAL COWBOY I’ve created a world that feels like home. I’m pretty sure we’re going to see more Metal Cowboy albums in the years to come.
Do you feel there is a separation between the KEEL fans and fans of Ronnie Lee Keel, the solo/country artist?
Look, Ronnie Lee Keel is my name – but METAL COWBOY is a Ron Keel album. I’m very thankful for the KEEL fans that have stuck with me through the twists and turns, as I’m thankful for the new fans I’ve made through the years. A lot of people that met me during the IronHorse years or the country years may not have heard of KEEL and now they are in the front row with their fists in the air screaming “The Right To Rock.” I just create music and entertain people, the fans always have the last word.
I’m sure you have been asked this many times before but where do you find the drive to keep going? You have gone from rags to riches and back again, several times. Most artists would have thrown in the towel long ago when faced with the challenges you have faced. Some of your contemporaries from back in the 80’s just gave up from music and walked away, but you kept going, and re-inventing yourself. Why?
Because I love it, I need it. I wouldn’t know where to throw the towel – this is not what I do, it’s what I am. You can’t hit the ball out of the park if you ain’t swinging. Like the song “The Last Ride” on the new album – “With my last breath, I’ll be screaming loud.” Those aren’t just words, that’s a way of life for me.
Have you ever thought of putting together a touring package of some bands that have that similar bluesy/country Hard Rock/Metal sound, such as Little Caeser, Jackyl or those types of bands?
Man, that’s a great idea. I’d love to do that – have their agent call my agent and let’s bring that music to the people!
On your new Album, your voice sounds as good as ever. Do you have any tips, tricks or techniques you would share with aspiring young vocalist out there?
Thank you for that. I have an entire vocal system that I use, just like any musician that’s mastered their instrument. Training, technique, method, practice, constant use – I teach master class voice lessons and enjoy sharing those techniques. My method works for me, but above all the voice has to come from the heart – it’s a true combination of the skills I’ve learned and the desire to deliver the songs in a way that resonate with the listener. And the right combination of whiskey and cigarettes.
You have done it all, books, shows, music, movies, soundtracks. What’s next?
I am barreling down the streets of rock & roll at a breakneck pace, and I gotta keep my focus on the next curve and keeping it between the lines. If I see a challenge I want to tackle, I’ll go for it. Right now I’m concentrating on delivering the best performances I can, working the promotion with interviews like this one, and entertaining people who enjoy what I’m doing. There’s always a surprise just around the bend…