Ron Keel of Keel
Ron Keel is something of a renaissance man. Singer, songwriter, guitarist in both rock and country music; Ron has played to thousands in sold out stadiums and has also played to 50 people in small country bars. His passion does not waiver no matter how large or small the crowd. He has always given 100% back to his fans, he listens to what you want but he also follows his instincts. Right now his instincts tell him that it’s the right time for Keel to once again make a splash into the melodic rock waters.
With the new Keel album, Streets of Rock and Roll, Ron is leading the troops of Keel Nation back from exile. The album is getting rave reviews and a tour is being arranged that should keep Keel on the road for much of this year. Ron is excited about the present, loves to talk about the past, and has big plans for the future. I had a chance recently to discuss all that is Ron Keel with the man himself.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
After getting the band back together in late 2008 and celebrating 25 years together as Keel with shows throughout 2009 was recording Streets of Rock and Roll (SORandR) like taking care of unfinished business?
No. Not at all. We had no aspirations of creating any new music when we got the band back together. It happened naturally; personally I think that’s the best way to do it. After the excitement that was created after the first few rehearsals, certain ideas started to come to life. Then we just started to create new music together. Bryan and I had been working on songs for TV and film work (we have done that off and on over the years). We were tailoring some of that 80’s metal style rock for a couple of these shows and movies and they ended up sounding like Keel songs. We ended up with “Come Hell or High Water” and “The Devil May Care (But I Don’t)” then as we continued to work we had four songs that sounded like the great foundation for a new album. That’s when we decided to pull the trigger and make a new record. We put the pedal down and started writing together and creating but most of all having fun with the process. It was not planned and had nothing to do with unfinished or not yet started business. It was all about having a good time in starting over again.
So that process of collaborating was not a difficult one then having not been together as a band for so long?
It was magically easy. We didn’t think about a direction or a need to satisfy anyone by going in this direction or making certain the music fit a specific style or genre, we just created Keel music. I actually think it would be fair to say that the creative process is actually easier and more productive now than it was back in the 80’s. A lot of that has to do with musical maturity; we have all grown up a lot. Also the technology that is available to us now with computers and video conferencing, we could rehearse and write live in 3 or 4 different towns. We could come up with an idea, put in on MP3 and send it to each other’s phones or Blackberry so no matter where we were we could keep the creative process moving. We used all of this to our advantage
The new record has a song on it called “Hold Steady” that holds a special significance to you personally. How so?
It’s our dedication to people that are in the military. We are all Americans in Keel so naturally it’s geared toward the American military but it’s not a flag waving patriotic song and I think it applies to folks of all the free nations of the world that are fighting for the right thing; the people that are away from home making the ultimate sacrifice with their times and their lives. I myself have a pretty extensive background and experience in working with the military. I have done five separate tours working with the Department of Defense in 1998 and1999 doing shows throughout Europe performing on military bases and actually lived on a base in Italy for a year. We wanted to write a song using that subject matter but like all the songs on the record it wasn’t intentional in the way it came out. It’s nice to see that we have several different subject matters on this record. We have a little bit of sex, a little bit of drugs, a little bit of old time rock n roll and also a little bit of serious subject matter with a song like “Hold Steady”. The song is available for FREE to everyone at www.keelnation.com Go to our website and download the song for free. We wanted to make sure that this song was shared with as many people as possible.
Do you think there is a younger audience now that can appreciate Keel because of games like guitar Hero and Rock Band and sites such as iTunes which make Keel music more accessible?
There is no doubt. I know for a fact that we are getting a lot of response from teenage fans because of games like Guitar Hero and Rockband. These games are exposing the new generation of young people to the same music that inspired us. Bands like Aerosmith, Van Halen, AC/DC, any high energy, powerful, arena rock is starting to leave an impression on kids today. It’s the music of the young because it’s rebellion, its fun, it’s crazy and they are identifying with that. Another factor is their parents are our age, in their 40’s, and they are passing on the music from their youth to their kids. Bands like Keel and other bands like us are starting to benefit from this. When you’re able to share this common bond with your children this is actually one of the main reason why this style of music will continue to survive. This genre of music has been through some very hard times. In the 90’s it was all but gone but it has survived because it’s strong music because it says something and means something to the folks that listen to it. I think there is a bright future for melodic, commercial, hard rock and I think that this style of music will continue to grow and evolve but always have its roots in the 80’s. Bands like Motley Crue, Quiet Riot and Keel will always be part of that cultural phenomenon that was the 80’s. It was amazing to be a small part of that and now 25 years later I look back at it with pride that I was around and able to participate in it.
What would be the biggest difference in meeting Ron Keel in 1985 and meeting Ron Keel in 2010?
I’m actually pretty much the same guy. I’m more mature now; I think that comes to most of us with age and experience. I don’t think there is a way to get around that. I really am just that regular guy from next door. “Business nice” – that has been to my detriment at times in my career because a lot of times people don’t want to meet the guy next door they want to meet and hang with a rock star. They want the overdoses and the car crashes and that’s just not me. Ron Keel in 2010 is that I appreciate every little aspect of music, of my current experiences. Back then I took almost everything for granted. I thought it was going to last forever. We were touring, we were selling record sand I saw no end in sight. In life nothing lasts forever. I appreciate meeting fans more now. Whenever I hear a Keel song on the radio I appreciate it more now. Even doing interviews, I have a greater passion for conveying our message now than I did then. Reading emails from Keel fans telling me how much they love the new record it means more now.
There are two current big name artists that you would like to collaborate with: Jon Bon Jovi and Chris Daughtry. Why those two and what connection do you think you have with them?
I admire them both a great deal. Keel opened for Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour during the summer of 1987 and I got to know Jon and the rest of guys very well. I admire them, the way that they went about the business of rock and roll but more than anything it’s the songs. Those songs that Jon and Ritchie have written for the last 25 years is a very special talent and I think that those songs will stand the test of time and resonate with their fans for years to come. I have the same feeling about Chris (Daughtry). I think that his songs are his strongest asset as an artist, his personality as well. He has that “it” factor that should allow him to continue to perform and stay a top artist in this business for years to come.
Is there a difference for you as an artist on how you view a fan who recorded a Keel show in Boston, MA on April 7, 1985 at the Bayside Expo Center and traded it to their friends (like I did) or in 2010 when someone is illegally downloading your new album to avoid having to buy one? Which is the bigger injustice?
You know I’ve always wanted to change the rules a bit and make 20,000 illegal downloads the new double platinum! Let them download the shit for free all day any day as long as I get to hang that award on my wall. There is nothing we can do about it. It is what it is. It’s the nature of today’s business. I’m not going to stop creating music because of it. If you want to steal it, steal it. If you want to buy it, buy it. I’m going to continue to make it either way. I think you get the full experience when you buy the cd and read the inserts and the liner notes that you don’t get with a download. Because I’ve been in the studio and touring with Keel I have not listened to as much new music as I’d like to. I downloaded the last Judas Priest album Nostradamus (2008) and I bought it online because I didn’t want to wait. But because of the pops in between songs and drop outs and sometimes the sequence is off, there’s still nothing like having the album in your hands and I have since gone out and bought the physical cd.
What was your favorite band to play with back in the 80’s and what would be your dream tour in 2010 if you could choose a bill to play on?
The best tour we ever did was with Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour no doubt. Multiple cities, multiple nights all sold out. It was awesome! We played with Motley Crue in 1985 that was fun. Oddly we never got o play with KISS even though Gene Simmons took a vested interest in us as a band by producing us on two different records We had a planned tour in 1986 with Metallica but it was cancelled because James (Hetfield) broke his hand during a skateboarding accident and we ended up sitting at home. We didn’t tour a whole lot in arenas but we did headline smaller venues and opened for other acts in theater type settings. We played with Krokus, Accept, Queensryche on the Rage for Order Tour. We did also headline a few shows in Japan as Keel, we did our own two hour show and had a few sold night nights in Tokyo.
My favorite record was the 1987 self titled release. What was it like to work with Michael Wagner at that time in your career?
It was incredible. Wagner knows how to make great sounding records. I thought it was the first Keel album where my voice sounded good. We sold more records with the earlier releases but I thought that on that record the band had matured and came into our own as songwriters. We really established our style and my voice but I think the biggest disappointment was the fact that we didn’t have a second single off that record to follow “Somebody’s Waiting”. It’s tough to release just one single and then suddenly pull the plug.
Staying in 1987, Keel had been approached for inclusion on the “Dudes” movie soundtrack for the song “Rock n Roll Outlaw”. What was it like shooting that video?
What a blast! We got to shoot guns, ride horses, hang out with hot saloon girls, it was great. That one was filmed at the Paramount Ranch and it was full of action sequences just like the movie itself. Combined with the performance clips, that is by far my favorite Keel video and a song which stays in the set to this day.
I saw you a couple of years back at a KISS Expo in New Jersey and you played unplugged and performed a version of “Calm before the Storm” which really blew me away. Any plans for more intimate type performances such as this in the future?
I do it all the time. I just got back for Europe opening for Y&T, just me and the guitar. I’m very comfortable in that format. I enjoy the challenge of entertaining a rock audience with that type of performance. If you can do that successfully just you, the guitar and the stories, you’ve got something. Who knows in 10-12 years from now that is exactly where my music might take me. I just did a gig last month at the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas and did a bunch of Keel songs unplugged. Keel has an unplugged gig set up in Stockholm the night before our full stage electric show on April 30. That’s me in the bar after closing with a beer and a shot, playing songs and telling stories, I really enjoy that. The KISS fans have embraced us from the start because Gene Simmons produced us. I’m happy to be a small thread in the huge rock n roll tapestry that is KISS, hell KISS was my first concert. I think it’s a capital sin that KISS is not in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
Was it like working with Yngwie Malmsteen in Steeler in 1983 and have you kept in contact with him over the years?
I have not kept in touch with him, I wish we had. We were both very young at the time and focused on our own individual visions to meet in the middle to create together beyond just the one record. We did nine shows total together over a four month period. It was a great record and it’s considered the cornerstone of early 80’s metal from that period. At one point it was the best selling independent record of all time. Certainly got both of our careers jump started in a big way.
You have played country music in the past as well as rock. In fact you played as part of a Brooks and Dunn tribute band Country Superstars Tribute at the Fritz Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas NV. Did your parents have a country background and did that have influence on you?
My parents were redneck hillbillies. No two ways about it they were country to the bone. Of course that really didn’t resonate with me growing up because I had not yet been to jail, divorced, broke, homeless or heartbroken. I didn’t understand that music. I did understand The Who which is what my sister was listening to at the time because it was all about partying. As I got older country music became a home for me. It was a way to express myself. I got to sing about life and all the things I had been through in rock n roll. Nothing in the music business fulfills me completely so to be able to have this other avenue to express myself is a real blessing. The only thing in life that does is my wife, who has been my companion and really changed me as a person. I have had my share of women though this journey as well as music. Hey, I love a good steak but could not eat it every day. I enjoy the variety life has to offer. I enjoy the desert, the mountains, the snow, the jungle, the forest. Life is too short and the world is too big to build boundaries and fences around your music.
Any Boston memories or connections to Keel that you would like to share?
WBCN was one of those stations that you had to get on and they could make you or break you. I remember it was a huge deal when we played at a WBCN sponsored event in 1985. I also remember supporting Aerosmith at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro in 1986. That was one of the best gigs we ever played. Great Woods shows in Mansfield with Jovi were also very memorable.
Any plans for Keel to record a live DC or DVD compilation?
We have been recording everything since the band reunited in 2008. All the photo sessions, the shows, the studio work all of it. A lot of footage is in the can but there just has been no time to go through it all because of the work we have been doing on SORandR. I really do believe there will be something released but I’m just not sure when.
What are the touring plans for Keel in 2010?
We have some shows in Europe at the end of April. The first US show is in Atlantic City with Cinderella on June 23rd. We are hoping to follow up with a lot more and we are speaking with promoters and have had offers but we just want to make sure everything works for each of our schedules. Pretty much everything we have made so far has gone right back into the band. We are not doing this for the money but just to prove to ourselves that Keel can still rock with the big boys.
If you were to call it quits today Ron in the music field and retire from performing would you have any regrets?
I would regret calling it quits, I tried it once. I worked as a manager in different business ventures and I knew I had to back on the stage. I would regret walking away from this. They are going to have to drag me kicking and screaming off the stage. I have no time for regrets. I’m enjoying the Keel reunion making the new record and all the opportunities it’s brought me.
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