Thursday, February 7, 2013


A couple of weeks ago, Ron Keel (KEEL/Steeler/Iron Horse) took the time to chat with me about all things KEEL related...not telling me he was actually at a soundcheck for a KEEL show that night! Talk about a cool guy looking to connect with his fans! In our lengthy conversation, Ron touched on everything from KEEL and Steeler to his side projects, his country music releases, and his scheduled appearance at Skull Fest in October! If you have a few minutes, enjoy your chance to catch up with Ron Keel here on Glitter2Gutter!

G2G:  Ron, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.  I have to tell you, I am so very excited that you are going to be one of the acts that comes here to Central Nebraska to our new event, Skull Fest.  You are one of the acts from the 80’s that I always wanted to see but never got the chance, so I’m really happy you will be joining us…

Ron:  Man, that goes both ways.  I’m really excited to do it, so thanks for the opportunity.

G2G:  Ron, let’s go back and start from as close to the beginning as possible, at least as far as your musical past goes.  A lot of people know you from KEEL, obviously, but a lot of people don’t necessarily realize you were with Steeler first.  What was that experience like?

Ron:  Well, um, Steeler was originally formed in Nashville in 1981.  We were like the Motley Crue of Nashville.  I mean, we got a lot of attention because we were really loud and we dressed really crazy, um…you know, I screamed really loud and high…and, so, we ended up relocating the band to Hollywood in 1981 because that was the place to be.  It was, obviously, a very exciting scene in LA and Hollywood, and Southern California in general, at the time, you know, when you bands like Quiet Riot and Ratt and Motley Crue, all really making some serious noise in a lot of ways.  We were just really glad to be a part of that.  You know, it was really a cultural revolution at the time, yet the people in the business really didn’t take things very seriously.  It was interesting that they were all digging our own graves, that we would never get played on the radio, that no one wanted to hear what we were doing, and this kind of stuff…you know, you guys are just pissin’ into the wind…and, um, nobody stopped to take a look around and see just how popular and how powerful the scene was becoming.  Then, all of a sudden, in just a matter of a couple of short years, bands like Steeler and Motley Crue, Ratt, Poison, and such had created a cultural revolution that not only changed the musical scene but that also generated, literally, trillions of dollars of revenue.  But, getting back specifically to Steeler, that album was released in 1983 and was the first album to feature myself and a certain guitar player from Sweden named Yngwie Malmsteen.  So, with our first album, you know his first album and my first album, and the only real Steeler album to ever see the light of day, it was an amazing experience.  In fact, it went on to be the biggest selling independent record of all time and really got my career, and Yngwie’s career, started.  And, just to be a part of that, to have been included in that revolution, was a great accomplishment and something that I am very proud of. 

G2G:  Did the breakup of Steeler lead you directly into forming what would become KEEL, or did you go through some down time, or some sort of hiatus?

Early KEEL promo ad
Ron:  No, no…um…I’ve never had a hiatus.  I wouldn’t even know the meaning of the word.  I can’t sit still for too long.  Steeler’s last gig was…it was March 4 of 1984 and KEEL’s first gig was the following month on April 7, so there was just about four weeks between the last Steeler gig and the first KEEL gig.  I had come to realize that I wanted to…well, it was really a business decision.  Steeler was my baby, you know.  I had moved to LA with that band, and had a fierce determination to succeed, but after a number of personnel changes, with Yngwie leaving to join Alcatrazz being among those changes, even though the band continued to progress not only musically but also in terms of our draw, I mean we were still packing the clubs and the venues in Southern California, but there came a point where people wouldn’t take us seriously because of the revolving lineup changes.  Record labels wouldn’t take us seriously or didn’t want to take a chance on a band that seemingly never had the same lineup toward the end.  So, I wanted to build something around myself so that I wouldn’t be dependent upon any one particular musician.  It was actually a solo project with these four young, hungry guys behind me, but it became a band by default.  The guys that I got in the band, Marc Ferrari, Brian Jay, and so forth, we became not only friends, but we shared the same work ethic, we shared the same goals, we were all hungry and were willing to do whatever it took to succeed, and we became a true band in every sense of the word.  And it still is that way today, 29 years later. 

G2G:  Now, when you recruited a guy like a Marc Ferrari, were you looking for another Yngwie?  I mean, Marc has the skills, there’s no doubt about it, so was that a conscious thing on your part?

Ron:  Well, I was not looking for another Yngwie, no.  I wanted a combination…I wanted a twin-guitar team that could emulate some of the bands I was really excited about at the time, you know, like Judas Priest or Thin Lizzy, where they would have these amazing guitar solos bouncing back and forth between guitar players, and I wanted KEEL to be able to be like that.  So, KEEL was pretty much built around that twin-axe attack, although we were actually a three-guitar band, because I played guitar as well, and still do.  Even today, if you come to a full KEEL show you will still see all three of us up there, wielding our axes together.  Now, in terms of chops, like Yngwie had, yeah, you’re right, they have the skills.  In fact, they are even better now than they were then.  But, uh, what I liked about Marc was the fact that he played real, American, hard rock and metal-styled guitar with very melodic and memorable solos that you could sing along with.  That’s why he ended up doing most of the solos in the more commercial stuff that KEEL did, you know, the songs that ended up being hits like “The Right To Rock” or “Because The Night”, stuff like that.  But, actually, Brian’s the real shredder.  He’s not necessarily like Yngwie, but he has these fast, fluid, sweeping, um, lightning speed type of players, where Ferrari is more the grinding, melodic solo kind of guy, and a great songwriter as well.  So, I ended up with the best of both worlds and, in my opinion, one of the most underrated twin-guitar teams of the 80’s.

G2G:  That’s interesting.  I think most people think that Marc did most of the soloing, but Brian’s every bit “the man” too, huh?

Ron:  Absolutely.  You know, people think that because…that perception about Marc was because he was the one doing the solos in most of the videos.  But, if you watch “Somebody’s Waiting” or “Rock N Roll Outlaw”, you will see Brian Jay taking his share of duties on the solos.  It was really split pretty much down the middle.  It was pretty much whatever guy’s style fit the song.  We were writing songs for both of them together where they could go back and forth, too, so there would be a lot of that interplay bouncing back and forth between the two of them, both on the records and on stage.

G2G:  One thing that I always stood out about KEEL in the 80’s was that you guys, especially early on, were definitely more on the metal side of the scene as opposed to the poppier, glam side of the scene.  Was that by design?  Were you trying to stand out in some way?

Ron:  You know, each album has its own identity, really.  The Right To Rock, for example, really is a metal album.  That was a very focused, energy-driven album that was all headed in one direction.  Big, fast, hard, and crunchy, and a lot of that had to do with Gene Simmons’ production.  Once we had some success with The Right To Rock, we had established a strong enough relationship with Simmons that he allowed us to stretch out a bit on the follow-up album, The Final Frontier.  This allowed us to do a bit more commercial-type music, more radio-friendly, I guess,  you know like “Because The Night” or “Tears Of Fire”.  You know, there are no ballads on The Right To Rock, but we were able to stretch out on The Final Frontier.  Diversity has become one of my trademarks, and I’m proud of that, not only in my KEEL projects but in my other projects as well.  I like to take on the challenges of writing, creating, and recording different types of music, as many people know.  You know, on The Final Frontier, we even had a classical piece that Marc Ferrari composed, we had some poppier stuff like “Just Another Girl” and the remake of “Because The Night”, and then we had some more bone-crushing, metal-like stuff like “No Pain, No Gain”, “Rock N Roll Animal”, and so forth.  So, The Final Frontier was a really diverse record, but there wasn’t really a whole lot of intentional design to it then…or now, really.  We play what we feel, write what’s in our hearts and hopefully the audience will relate to it.  We just enjoy the good, you know, fist pumping, guitar driven rock n roll, the anthems that really get people going and pumping their fists in the air and screaming along.

G2G:  You brought him up so I have to take the opportunity to ask the question:  is Gene Simmons the megalomaniac that everyone makes him out to be, or how was he to work with?

Ron: (chuckles)  Gene, you know…Gene was amazing to work with.  Obviously, he’s huge in the industry, there’s no doubt about that.  He was a huge help to our career and, uh, in terms of a human being, Gene is not what he appears to be.  I’m sure there’s that side to him, but to us he was one of the guys.  Really.  He would do anything for us, he was like a sixth member of the band, and was an incredible help.  And, you know, still to this day, when I see him or we hang out, he’s just Gene.  He’s a nice, super nice guy, we talk about our moms and our kids and our lives and…it’s…he’s just Gene to us, just a super-sweet, down-to-earth, nice guy.  Now, the guy on the television show, I’m sure there’s that side to him as well, but he’s been very driven and very successful, and I think he’s still learning and growing, like we are.  It was really nice to see him and Shannon get married, and I know that Shannon is just absolutely over the moon about him, and Gene and Shannon and my wife, Virginia, and I got to hang out together at an event a while back, and it was a really nice time.  It feels like family, it really does.  And, you know, I get star-struck, even with a guy like Gene.  You know, I have this radio show now, and I get to interview stars…not big stars, you know I haven’t had anyone like Gene on my show yet…but I’m doing the radio show and I’m interviewing people like Jack Blades from Night Ranger, or Lita Ford, and these guys have a lot of platinum and gold on the wall, and I get a little star-struck, a little nervous, when I’m meeting people like this.  Like tomorrow I’m meeting Roger Daltry from The Who, and I’m like shaking in my boots, you know?  But whenever it’s Gene, it’s like, “it’s Gene!” you know, like just any other old friend even though he’s this mega-popular member of one of the biggest rock bands ever.  So, it really is a strange relationship in that way, but I’m really proud and happy that we’ve been able to make it last for so long, and to know that Ron Keel and KEEL are a very small thread in the tapestry that is the history of KISS…that’s pretty cool, to me anyway.

G2G:  Well, now you know how I feel when I get to do these interviews with guys like you or Jack Russell or CJ Snare from know, guys I grew up listening to all the time.  I get nervous when I make the phone call, trust me, so I know what you’re saying, at least to a degree.

Ron:  I know, dude…right before you make that call and you get them on the air or the recorder is going and…for me, it’s like walking on stage.  Even now, I’m getting ready for a show at Planet Hollywood tonight, and I know that I’m going to get those nerves when I walk out there, those jitters when I first walk on, but then you hit the first verse of that first song and you’re home.  It’s a great feeling.

G2G:  Was there a point after the self-titled KEEL album that you knew it wasn’t going to probably happen on the big scale that you hoped things would break open for the band?

Ron:  Well, you always hold out that hope, you know.  If you’ve given up hope then you might as well pack it up.  But, we did realize after the self-titled album that it was going to be an uphill climb.  With our record company, MCA, we had not achieved the level of success that we were hoping for, and a lot of that was just due to some decisions that were made that were really out of our hands.  The choice of singles, for example, or the fact that we never had a follow-up single.  Back in the day, it used to take a band two or three songs to establish an album, with your radio hit and your power ballad and then maybe another follow-up or two, and by that time you likely had a gold or platinum album on the wall.  We never got that, we never had that shot.  After “Somebody’s Waiting” was released in 87, they decided not to release a follow-up single even though the album was climbing the charts and we were on tour with Bon Jovi.  So those are things we didn’t have any control over; we had to roll with the punches and just do what we do.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason those decisions are critical and when you’re in a big situation like we were, where you’ve got producers and mangers and labels and record company exec’s calling the shots, and they’re holding the purse strings that fund those critical decisions, sometimes they’re going to make the wrong call.  They’re only human, you know.  They’re wrong but obviously they don’t want to be wrong, but still a band like KEEL is on the bad end of the deal.  But like I said, all we could do was roll with the punches.

G2G:  I was surprised, personally, that “United Nations” didn’t get released as a single.  I thought that song had “hit” written all over it and that it’s just a monster of a song.

Ron:  Yeah, it should have been, and thank you.  That was my intention in writing the song and putting it first on the record.  It was a song that I think really could have crossed over worldwide and brought the fans together under that powerful, anthem-styled song.  I agree with you wholeheartedly that that was the money song.  For whatever reason, the people at MCA chose “Somebody’s Waiting”, and, you know, looking back, it’s happened to some other bands as well, where people released the wrong single.  Black N Blue was a prime example.  These guys were one of my favorite bands of that era and we are still really good friends to this day.  But, their first single was “Hold On To 18”, but most of their fan base at the time was 15, 16 years old.  They couldn’t relate to a song called “Hold On To 18” because that’s years away for them.  It’s just simple logic that someone who is 13, 14, 15 years old isn’t going to grasp the urgency of “Hold On To 18”.  Same thing with “Somebody’s Waiting”.  That’s a song about cheating on your wife, or your wife cheating on you…and the kids, they can’t relate to that.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either song, but they didn’t hit with the core audience at that time.  The kids, from us at least, they wanted “United Nations”, they wanted “Rock N Roll Animal”, “The Right To Rock”…they didn’t relate to the subject matter of “Somebody’s Waiting” or “Hold On To 18”, and as a result the songs did not succeed.  “Rock N Roll Outlaw” and “United Nations”, though, even though they weren’t singles, we still play them at the show and get great results every time.  People still yell for them, still put their fists in the air, and those are songs that will live on.  But like I said, those choices of singles are not up to the artist at that point.  You have a lot of other people making those decisions and the artist has to hope that things work out.

G2G:  How did you get pulled into the Dudes movie soundtrack?  I always thought KEEL was an interesting band to be selected for that album.

Ron:  We were chosen by the producer of the film.  It was one of those deals where we were in the right place at the right time, and we just happened to have a great relationship with the people who were making the film.  For instance, our song “Speed Demon” appeared in Men In Black II and it’s because one of the people on the film was a KEEL fan and wanted that song in that scene.  So sometimes you get lucky, man, and you never know what the next phone call will bring.

G2G:  You actually kinda stole my thunder a bit there because I was going to ask you about Men In Black II.  I remember seeing that movie in the theater and I broke out laughing and I was like, “That’s KEEL!” when I was watching the movie, and I knew that nobody sitting around me knew what I was talking about but I thought it was very cool to hear that song on there.

Ron:  Yeah, me too.  Those things are always a thrill and we will take ‘em when we can get ‘em.

G2G:  One thing that surprised me was when the Larger Than Live album came out after you had seemingly disappeared from the scene.  I really liked a lot of the songs on that album, including a couple of them that you only recorded live for that disc.  Is there any chance we will ever get to hear studio versions of those?  (For reference, “Private Lies” and “Hard As Hell” are the songs being spoken of.)

Ron:  There is a studio album of “Private Lies” that I released on my acoustic album in 2004, which I’m very proud of, but that’s a good observation and a good call.  We had always intended on perhaps doing full band studio versions of those songs at some point, but as of yet they haven’t made it out.  It’s something we’ve talked about also for our upcoming 30th anniversary album which will be released in 2014.  You never know, man, those are good songs and like I said, that’s a good call and I’m glad you like that record.

G2G:  Streets Of Rock N Roll kind of brought you full circle as a band when it came out a couple years ago.  Marc was back in the band and…you didn’t have all original members, but all but one, right?

Ron:  Yeah, our new bass player…well, he’s not really new because he’s been with me since 1998…Geno Arce replaced Kenny Chaisson, joined myself, Marc Ferrari and Brian Jay on guitars, and Dwain Miller on drums.  But without these guys, there is no band.  Despite the fact that it’s my last name…and I had many opportunities through the years to go out and perform as KEEL without the rest of the guys…I wouldn’t go out any other way than with Marc, Brian, and Dwain, that’s for sure.  Like I said earlier, it’s a family situation as much as a band situation for me.

G2G:  Ron, can you tell me a bit about some of your side projects?  You were in Saber Tiger for the one album, you’ve had a couple of Iron Horse albums, you sang with Liberty N Justice, you did the Fair Game project.  Was there a method to your madness, if you will, with those projects or was it, again, more right place, right time?

Beauties and the Beast, Ron Keel,in Fair Game
Ron:  There’s always…obviously, it’s a business…and these are calculated moves to either generate some revenue or a helluva good time! (chuckles)  So, those were all…there were business reasons for all of those projects, and I’m very proud of all of those records you just mentioned.  The Saber Tiger record that I did in Japan was the heaviest record of my entire career.  It was a session that I was literally hired for.  They wanted an American singer that had a good reputation in Japan, and so...literally, I had just gotten done with a country gig that night, I think I made like $50 for that gig busting my ass in some honky tonk bar, and so there’s this fax for me at home…we did things by fax back then…and it says we are working for this label in Japan and we want you to sing on this album with Akihito Kinoshita, a famous Japanese guitarist, how much do you charge to make contract with us?  So, you know, I’m half drunk, so I called this guy in Japan, and I said, “I’ll do it for $75,000”.  They said, “we call you back!”  And so I put the phone down, I was laughing, and I had another drink, and they call back not five minutes later and they say, “we give you $30,000”, and I was like “that’s it, I’m there!”  (laughing)  It was a cool negotiation!  (laughing)  But, no, it was a cool experience to get to go to Japan and work with these really great musicians.  And they really pushed me, vocally, to the limit because that was some really heavy, screaming type of music that the producer was pushing me for, and he was very demanding and knew what he wanted, and luckily I was able to deliver the goods.  I’m still very proud of that record.  The Iron Horse stuff was a labor of love really…there was no $30,000 for those.  I SPENT more than that on those records, but that was my attempt at combining my love of country music with my love of arena rock.  I tried to combine the loud, aggressive rock style with the big drums and big guitars with the melody and songwriting sense that country tends to bring.  People ended up calling it southern rock, which is fine, but…  Anyway, all of those records had their special place in my life and my career and my timeline, and there’s going to be more where that came from.  I’m working now on my first full-blown, full band solo album called Metal Cowboy, which is a heavy metal cowboy record and I hope to play you guys a couple of those new songs when I come out to Skull Fest in October.

G2G:  Very cool!  I wanted to tell you when you mentioned your love of country music, I was actually working as the music director for a country music station about a hundred miles from here and all of a sudden, across my desk comes this CD by Ronnie Lee Keel, and I’m like “wait a second, there’s no way…”  I remember it was a promo album, so it just had a black and white cover of you standing there in the desert or something…

Ron:  Yep, yep, that was it…

G2G:  So I picked that thing up and started reading through the credits and thank yous and, sure enough, it was you!  I was like, “What the heck?!”  So, I held onto it and since then, I’ve seen a couple of other country releases come out from you and I’ve got to say that you while it’s not overly commercial country music by today’s standards, you pull it off and I dig what you’re doing.  You sound like you enjoy it.

Ron:  Thanks, man.  Whatever I do it’s coming from the heart.  It’s real.  And it has to be for people to buy it.  Whether it’s a heavy metal record or a country record, the fans of those styles are in tune with what they like and they’re not going to buy what you’re doing if it’s not real to them and it doesn’t come from the heart.  The two styles are a lot alike in that way.  You can’t get up in an arena full of metalheads and scream and shout with your fist in the air and be fake; they will throw shit at you! (laughs) 

G2G:  (laughter)

Ron:  Same thing…you can’t get up in a rodeo arena full of cowboys and cowgirls and sing country music and be fake about it.  You don’t just put on a hat and do it, they will kill you, they will eat you alive.  So, both of these styles of music that I love and I love to play, they both come from the heart.  I’m also very proud of my accomplishments from my younger days with jazz music and classical music and playing in the orchestra.  To me, music is one huge landscape and I want to explore it.  Now, there’s some stuff I’m not interested in; I don’t like hip-hop or rap, it’s not my cup of tea.  I don’t get it, I don’t relate to it, but after being broke, homeless, divorced a few times, and thrown in jail, you start realizing country music’s got something to it, man! (laughs)  There’s really a lot of common ground between country and rock and it’s all party music built to have a good time, it’s all entertainment and escapism.  Songs about drinking beer and chasing girls, it doesn’t matter if there’s a fiddle or a screaming electric guitar, if it’s good it’s good and it’s all party music.

G2G: I’ve been telling people for several years now that I think modern country music stole the power ballad from the 80’s hair bands, added some steel guitar to it and then marketed to it basically the same crowd that had just gotten older and had some kids.

Ron:  Yeah, you’re exactly right, man.  You hit the nail right on the head.  They are very similar.

G2G:  Now, when people come to Nebraska to see you at Skull Fest, what are we going to hear from Ron Keel?

Ron:  Well, for these solo shows like this, I like to mix it up with stuff from throughout my career.  You’re going to hear all the KEEL hits, you know, “Because The Night”, “Right To Rock”, “Tears Of Fire”, all that stuff, man.  You’re going to hear some of my favorites from some of the other records that you mentioned, and hopefully a couple of new songs from the Metal Cowboy album as well.

G2G:  Do you ever break out “Cold Day In Hell” from Steeler?

Ron:  We still do that song, yes.  We do it at the KEEL shows, also, and this is the 30th anniversary of the release of that Steeler album, so we’re hoping to celebrate that in a number of ways, one of which is including it in our shows, including on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise coming up in March.

G2G:  That Monsters Of Rock Cruise has exploded into a pretty big deal…

Ron:  It is, it’s a very big deal and we’re glad to be a part of it for the second year in a row.  It’s, to me, one of the signature hard rock events of the year in terms of getting people together from all over the…excuse the noise, man, sound check just started…umm, getting people together from all over the world together on that ship.  It’s just a brotherhood of hard rock and metal and the relationship that we have with all the other bands on the ship, or with the fans that you run into at the bar or the meet-and-greets, that’s something that’s so special to us as a band.  The camaraderie is an amazing experience and I think it brings out the best in the performers, because when I’m up there on stage, I know that, you know, Night Ranger and Tesla and Kix and all these other bands are also out there in the crowd, watching us do what we do, and we’re watching them during their gigs, so everyone brings their “A games” to events like this.  The Cruise is sold out already, which I expected it to be, no surprise there.

G2G:  Is there anybody from today’s scene that you listen to that you would consider yourself a fan of?  You mentioned watching each other play at these festivals and on this cruise, so who else do you listen to or watch besides your peers?  I listened to the podcast of your show and you feature several of what I like to call the New Wave of European Glam and Sleaze bands like Crashdiet and that, so I’m curious who Ron Keel is a fan of now.

Lizzy Hale
Ron:  If their on my show, I’m a big fan of theirs, and one band that I really like is this band called Halestorm.  They just…their songs, their production, and that girl’s voice…it’s all money.  They’re amazing.  There’s a band from Columbus, Ohio called Full Tilt that I’m really high on.  And, truth is, many of these kids grew up on me and bands like KEEL, and when I was in central Ohio about ten years ago doing some rock shows, these kids who were about 13 years old came out, the lead singer was especially young.  His parents are actually friends of mine and they would play my music and come to my shows and when he got older they would bring him to my shows, and now that he’s 23 years old, he is bringing it man.  To me, he’s like Paul Rodgers for a new generation, man.   Some others that I really enjoy listening to…Daughtry is number one.  I think Daughtry has a great package overall and…(phone cuts out)…Did I lose you?  Marc Ferrari’s calling on the other line.  He can wait…  (laughs). 

G2G:  Ron, you are obviously busy with the show coming up tonight, so how can fans stay in touch with you?  I know there’s the iTunes app people can get, of course they can come out to Skull Fest and some of these festivals and meet you, but how do people stay in tune with Ron Keel now?

Ron:  The best way is .  I’m a big fan of the old-fashioned, conventional website.  I’m not a big Facebook guy.  Twitter’s cool, but Facebook is the devil.  So, is my home online.  You can listen to the radio show, check out our tour schedule, there’s a forum there where we talk and I post things that you don’t normally hear on Facebook or Twitter.  We’ll talk about sports, food, politics…whatever.  All the show dates are there on , including Skull Fest, so I encourage fans to stop there, hang out with me, and check out what I’m doing.

G2G:  Awesome, Ron.  Thanks for taking the time to talk with me and I’ll let you go ahead and call Marc back, he’s probably a little more important than me right now (laughing)…

Ron:  Yeah, he knows what he’s doing, but we are getting tuned up and ready to rock…

G2G:  Well, I will let you go and I look forward to meeting up with you at Skull Fest in October in North Platte!

Ron:  Thank you, Arttie.  I appreciate what you are doing and you’ve got my number, so if there’s anything you need, anytime, just give me a holler.  Count on me, my friend, I’m all yours…

That was a great conversation with a guy who will tell you pretty much anything you want to know!  Can't wait to meet one of my favorite singers after all these years when he finally gets to North Platte, NE and Skull  Fest 2013!  If you want to meet him as well, tickets are on sale NOW at THIS location!  Get 'em while they are cheap, folks!!!

Back To Talkin' Trash With...
Back To Home

No comments:

Post a Comment