Kelly Keagy of Night Ranger & Scrap Metal
Back in the late 80s and throughout 90s Kelly Keagy, Mark Slaughter, Eric Martin, and the brothers Nelson were all fronting their own hugely successful rock acts – Night Ranger, Slaughter, Mr. Big and Nelson. You may recall a few of their mega hits that are still in regular rotation in most rock radio stations – Sister Christian, Fly To The Angels, To Be With You and After the Rain, just to name a few. Well, the decade may have changed but the music hasn’t, they are just bringing it to us a little differently these days. Scrap Metal started years ago when the boys were asked to perform at the annual National Songwriter’s Association meeting, what started as a friendly jam session turned into a fortified band consisting of a potluck of musicians who have one main goal – to bring the fun.
While the nature of the music industry is constantly changing, and arguably not for the better, these guys have definitely found their niche. There will always be a loyal fanbase who will turn out to see this band because of the love they have for that genre of music, and the time and place it takes us all back to, mix that with musicians who love what they are doing and you’ve got a recipe for success. There is something to be said for songs that stand the test of time and can still bring people back to the first time they heard it over twenty years later.
Most recently Scrap Metal played a benefit for St. Jude and has a show coming up in December in Nashville. One of their many lead singers, Kelly Keagy, took time to talk with TWRY staffer Star about Scrap Metal, Night Ranger, Rock and Roll Fantasy camp and…Olivia Newton John covers?
Interviewed by: Star Rhoney | November 2007
I’m a big Scrap Metal fan, but for those people that aren’t familiar with you yet can you give us a little background on who the band is and how you all came together?
Yep, it was a couple years ago. Gunnar Nelson, Mark Slaughter and myself were asked to do this NSAI (National Songwriters Association) symposium in Nashville, they do it every year and they had this big week long schedule of shows with songwriters performing so they asked us to represent the rock side of Nashville. We were really excited about because we’d never actually played together. We got together and we pulled a bunch of our friends from surrounding areas and from other states to come in and do an All-Star show with us. Then after that first show a couple years ago we thought, man, this is so much fun because we’re all big fans of each other’s music. The set was like two hours long and it was all a bunch of recognizable material so you can’t lose with that. You don’t have to work so hard, it was really fun. So that’s how it started and then we did it again the next year for NSAI and then we played at Mohegan Sun which was a real show. It’s just been slowly building and it’s been this amazing, almost spontaneous kind of thing. Sometimes we do a bunch of covers. Last night we were in Louisiana doing a benefit for St. Jude and at the end of our set we just started pulling out a bunch of songs and just playing and it was just fun. So we had a really great show last night, it was really fun.
Speaking of that, we’ve been hearing about the St. Jude’s benefit online, how did you get involved with that and does that charity hold any special meaning for any of the members?
Well, it came from Mark Slaughter, he had the idea because he’s been involved with St. Jude for awhile out of Memphis. He had gone and taken a tour and it’s these kids with terminal diseases and St. Jude is really in the forefront of cures and it’s all about no child being left out. If you can’t afford it, it doesn’t matter, they take you in and there are all sorts of amazing things they are doing out there. So when he came to me about this, I was immediately into it. I have kids too and we’re all lucky our kids are healthy, but we want to be doing something for people that can’t afford it.
You all play instruments, or I know at least most of you do. You play drums, Mark used to be a guitar teacher in Vegas but I think I saw him playing bass in some of your promo shots…
Yeah, the very first picture we ever had he was playing bass. He’s really a good bass player and people don’t know that, he never really plays when he’s out performing but we’ve had some tremendous jams where he’s played bass. Gunnar will start something and all of a sudden he just goes over and picks up the bass and I’m tellin’ ya we have had some great jams with him playing bass.
So being that you’re all predominately lead singers, how has it been performing as a full band onstage. Who decides who’s going to play what? I guess you’re probably always the drummer, you’re the only one who plays drums aren’t you?
No, actually I’m not. Gunnar plays drums very well.
Oh yeah, last night we ended the set with him playing drums while we played ‘You Can Still Rock in America,’ a Night Ranger tune.
Yeah he totally pulled it off. We’ve never rehearsed it, and he says “I wanna play drums!” I came out and sang and it was just great, we had a lot of fun.
So where do you feel most comfortable when you’re playing with Scrap Metal, behind the drums or up front?
Actually both, because I know that Gunnar can pull it off so I’m like okay, anything you want to play that I can sing, do it! So he’s learned some of the other songs and we might be doing that. We’re pretty much like an off the cuff sort of thing so when someone goes “I want to play this song”, we’ll do it, we’ll do different versions of our songs. Last night, Mark was singing Burning Bridges and right in the middle of the song he would just break it down and start talking to the audience and get them involved and get them singing. We’ve never done that before so we all like watching it go down and every once in awhile someone will do something really different.
That’s fun for the audience too because it’s not always the same old show that we’re used to seeing. You guys have had quite an array of special guests sharing the stage with you. We’ve seen everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Grand Funk Railroad to Firehouse. I hear that list will also soon include former Deep Purple frontman Joe Lynn Turner. How does such collaboration come about?
Yeah Joe Lynn Turner, he’s been with Rainbow, he wrote ‘Street Of Dreams’ and ‘Stone Cold’ back in the late 70’s early 80’s, he had a huge success with that and he’s such a great writer. I think it was back in 1986 or 87 Night Ranger had Joe Lynn Turner on our tour so that’s where I got to know Joe but I’ve been kind of out of touch with him. Everyone kind of gets busy with their own thing so it’ll be really special to have him on the show. We had him on the MelodicRock.com fest in Southbend, IN. It’s going to be so fun having him and Eric sing together again, we’re really looking forward to it.
So do you find a lot of people are approaching you guys now when the see you coming to their area or do you do contact them and say, hey, do you want to come out and jam with us?
Well a lot of people have been sending us emails saying they’d like to be involved and when are you playing next so we’re getting a lot of that. We’re starting to come up with ideas about who would fit. When we first started out we thought we’d just keep it 80’s, but now anybody that wants to come in that we enjoy playing with that’s not going to be a problem we’re open to. We don’t want any drama or any egos, it’s all about let’s go up there and have a great time and rock it out. So that’s where it is with us. The first thing is no drama, no ego, leave your ego at the door, come up and sing some tunes with us.
It’s actually really nice that we don’t see a lot of egos anymore these days. Everyone seems very approachable and down to earth, it’s quite refreshing.
I think that goes with the territory of being really comfortable with where you’re at in your life and with yourself so I think that everybody in this thing and everyone that’s going to be involved, that’s the way it’s going to be and we’re going to make sure of it. We’re going to make sure that the audience can totally relate.
Nashville’s kind of the new Rock City. It’s always kind of been LA and now the happenin’ place is Nashville. You’ve got Cinderella, Slaughter, Winger…
Isn’t that funny? It’s hilarious. When I first moved there I was so surprised that Tom Keifer was there, most of Cinderella. It was fun to find out that Mark had moved there and Gunnar had a house there and some old friends that I’d written a bunch of songs with on my solo albums with had moved there 15 years before I moved there. It’s the quality of life there that’s amazing, it’s not just about the music. Plus the weather’s great.
Night Ranger – kickin it old school!
Are there any differences in your approach when you play onstage with Scrap Metal vs Night Ranger?
You know, it’s a little more unfamiliar with Scrap Metal and that’s a challenge. Especially the way we are, we’re pretty spontaneous, like what I was talking about earlier how Mark likes to break songs down or we do different things on each others songs. With Night Ranger we’re pretty consistent in the way we play our tunes, we play them pretty much like the record so it’s a challenge but I really enjoy it because it’s rewarding at the end to get through a set and know you pulled of some songs that you weren’t that familiar with.
Can we look forward to hearing any original songs soon? Either out on the road or on your Myspace page? I don’t think you’ve played any at your shows yet have you?
No we don’t have any originals on there. We started working on songs about a year ago and then all of us got so busy. I was busy with the new Night Ranger record, we went to Japan and I’ve been touring with them and it’s really been hard to get together with the Scrap boys so I’m really glad we’ve had some shows.
You also have your solo record ‘I’m Alive’, have you been touring for that at all?
For my solo record I’m not doing any touring. I thought maybe I’d be able to but it turned out I was just too busy with Night Ranger. I think November 2nd we’re going to pull out ‘I’m Alive’ and do that song which is from the solo record. I hope we can get that together anyway, I sent everyone the mp3 so they’re looking at that to learn it. I also just heard a brand new song that Matthew and Gunnar wrote in the dressing room. They had a demo and I was like WOW, I was blown away, great song, so that might be one we can pull off too but it’s getting pretty close. We only have about a week so if we could pull out a couple of tunes I’d be happy because I’ve been pushing to get some new material for a while.
Random question – any chance you guys might do a remake of the Olivia Newton John hit ‘Physical’?
(pause) Where did that come from? (both laughing) Why do you want…where’s that….that’s so funny…
Seriously, what? You guys do a little of this and a little of that, we were just wondering. I think it would be a lot of fun for the audience.
(Kelly cracking up) Really huh? OooooKay (laughs) I’ll have to talk to Gunnar about that one and see.
Maybe break out a little ‘Stayin’ Alive’, you guys can all switch off on the mic and take turns on them.
Yeah, ha! We’ll do that, we’ll have Mark do that one…(Kelly breaks into a KILLER rendition of Stayin’ Alive Mark Slaughter style) That’s hilarious. You almost got a snort out of me on that one, that was funny.
Do you have a favorite place to play? I see you’re playing Mohegan Sun again.
Yeah, that’s a great place to play. In fact, I like the amphitheatre where you live, the one outside Kansas City, what is that called?
Sandstone. Well it’s actually called Verizon now I think but it’ll always be Sandstone to me.
Yeah, that’s one of my favorite places to play. Also there used to be this great ampitheatre called Alpine up by Chicago that’s a great place to play. It’s like not like being in a regular ampitheatre.
Do you like amphitheatres better than being inside?
I like inside too. I like the way things sound inside. These places we’ve been playing, like the place we played last night for St. Jude was in a gymnasium on the campus in Louisiana. It was great. I just like playing with these guys, I don’t even care where it is.
So you are participating in the Rock N’ Roll Fantasy camp this year in Vegas. Is this your first time?
I’m doing the Rock N’ Roll Fantasy camp probably two times this year, I’m doing the one in Vegas then I’m probably doing the one in February or March in LA. I look forward to these things, they’re really great.
How did you get involved with it?
Actually Jack Blades brought me into it. He was a counselor in it about six years ago and he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I came into it and it’s just really a great opportunity because you meet all these stars that you’re a big fan of and you get to hang with them and play music with them and it’s just really fun.
So what’s your favorite part of it?
The counselors all get together and we’ll back up a star. We’ve always had Roger Daltrey and some certain stars and we get to play and perform with them. Also, these campers come in and they want to learn everything about how to be in a rock band and we get to give back to them and show them what we’ve been doing for the last 30-odd years and it’s kind of cool, it’s like being a teacher so that’s really fun. I really enjoy it.
Kelly behind the kit – Copyright 2007 Monique Larroux
Is it kind of frustrating?
It’s not actually, it’s really kind of rewarding because we know how it was when we were just starting out so we know how that is. Sometimes it can get kind of crazy because everybody’s playing at once and it’s like a class room ‘wait, wait, wait, hold on, shut up, I want to see everybody’s hands’ or you’ll go over and turn off someone’s amp so you can talk. It’s wild but they’re just enthusiastic.
If you were a camper at fantasy camp, who would you want the musicians at the front of the classroom be?
Man, I’d like to see Billy Joel, Elton John, those are some of my favorites. I was blown away being able to share the stage with Roger Daltrey and some of the guys that have been at camp the last few years. Joe Walsh, Jack Bruce from Cream. It’s been really fun.
To wrap things up we have a few quick little questions for you. Which form of dance best fits your personality? Square, ballroom, swing, salsa or other?
I’d say Salsa. It’s really graceful. The tango, it’s not salsa but the tango is amazing. I like watching that.
Are you a dancer? Is there a little dancing with the stars in your future?
I’m not. Drummers can’t dance. Drummers can play the groove but they can’t dance.
I don’t buy that. Drummers have rhythm so I bet you can.
I haven’t seen one drummer that can dance. We just kind of stand there and do the two steps back and forth thing.
Chocolate or Vanilla? – Chocolate
Blonde or Brunette? – Blonde
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader or Solid Gold dancer? – Dallas Cowboys
Drums or Microphone? – Microphone
Hot or Cold? – Definitely Hot
Cats or Dogs? – Cats
East Coast or West Coast? – Both
New Edition or Menudo?– New Edition
Ginger or Maryann? – (laughs) Ginger
Superman or Wonder Woman? – (laughs) Both
If you had to be one of these people for a day, who would you choose?
Hall or Oates? – Hall…nothing against Oates
Tito or Germaine? – Yanno, I don’t know much about either one of them so I’ll say… Michael. (both laughing)
Bill or Hillary? Hillary
Britney or Lindsey? – Neither!
Gunnar or Matthew? – Both!