Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Right to TALK! with Ron Keel.


Keel came into my world when I was fifteen. As a complete Kiss nerd and metalhead I was constantly reading the magazines to hear all about my favourite bands and to learn about any new bands on the horizon. That was when I spotted Keel who were about to release a new album with Gene Simmons in the "production" chair.

Good enough for Gene, good enough for me, and I went right out to buy "The Right to Rock" album. Top to bottom this albums rocks with great songs but what really stood out to me was the vocalist, Mr. Ron Keel. Ron is one of those singers with a truly unique voice, powerful, memorable and honest. In my opinion he holds his own with the metal greats of Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford.
The video for "The Right to Rock" showed a long haired young teenager being chased down and harrassed for listening to ROCK!. Which pretty much, although not to this extreme, was my youth. I remember sitting in the park with my friends and blasting this cassette to  many less than appreciative classmates at lunch. The Right to Rock is a classic metal anthem that still rings true today.

When Keel reformed and I heard they were going to release a new album I was actually a little concerned. Many of the "reunion" albums from various bands of my youth have been filed under the "yeah I might listen to that again" category. Keel's "The Streets of Rock n Roll" is definatly not one of those. This album is rocks with some great new songs and I think it may just be my favourite Keel album ever.

So needless to say, I was thrilled when Ron Keel agreed to let the Decibel Geeks in on what is new and to share some stories of his long and interesting career.

Decibel Geek: Alright then, let's start with Keel as it is now. I know you've been back together for a little while but how exactly did the Keel reunion happen?

RK: Bryan, Marc, Dwain and I have all stayed friends and talked about it for years – our 25th Anniversary was like a now-or-never milestone, so we decided to pull the trigger and I’m so glad we did. It’s been an amazing ride, from our debut reunion show in Hollywood where it all began, to major festivals like Rocklahoma and events like the “Monsters Of Rock Cruise,” our first ever headline tour of Europe last fall, and especially creating a new album which we’re very proud of, “Streets Of Rock & Roll,” released on Frontiers Records.

DBG: So take a moment and introduce us to the current lineup of KEEL.

RK: It bears a striking resemblance to the classic KEEL lineup from the 80’s – Marc Ferrari & Bryan Jay on lead guitar, Dwain Miller on the drums, and we brought my long-time bassist Geno Arce into the band when we put it back together.

DBG: Keel's latest release "Streets of Rock n Roll" harkens back to a golden age of metal. Quite honestly, I feel it's possibly Keel's best album to date. Please tell us how this record came to light?
RK: Thank you, I agree that it’s our best album ever, and when that happens in an artist’s career, there is always a combination of reasons for it. One thing is, it was a creative adventure that came naturally between the guys in the band – when we decided to reunite in 2009, we had no intention of creating new music or making a new album, we just wanted to play some shows and celebrate our 25th anniversary with each other and the fans. The energy and excitement of being back together gave birth to some new song ideas; Bryan and I had already written “Hit The Ground Running” and “Looking For A Good Time” for TV and film projects before the band got back together, and when we finished them they sounded like KEEL songs. Then Marc and Bryan started throwing more riffs at me, like “Come Hell Or High Water” and “The Devil May Care,” and the process just exploded from there.

One of the biggest compliments we’ve received from both fans and the media is that “Streets Of Rock & Roll” is true to our 80’s roots and style – we didn’t try to modernize our approach in any way. That wasn’t a conscious decision either; we never got together and discussed what direction we would take, we just spit out an album’s worth of classic KEEL songs and followed our hearts and our instincts.

Another big reason this is our best effort ever is that we’ve naturally developed and improved as songwriters and musicians – if you keep working at something, you’re bound to get better at it. We wouldn’t have done it if we weren’t confident we could deliver a killer album full of classic KEEL anthems – it’s not a piece of merchandise to sell at the shows, it’s a statement of what we are all about and something we’re extremely proud of.

DBG: Technology not withstanding, what are the differences in recording a Keel album now versus back in the 80's?

RK: The actual process for us was not different – the years between working together kind of disappeared, and we naturally fell into our standard methods and procedures for making a record. Rehearse, do your homework and prep, show up ready to kick ass…we only know one way to make a KEEL album. For the basic tracks – drums, bass & rhythm guitars – I think it’s essential that the band is together in the studio. Guitar solo overdubs and lead vocals are best done later, alone with the producer, but for the foundation we wanted to capture the vibe and hang together.

DBG: You have been playing some shows in support of the album, what is the plan moving forward for Keel?
RK: We want to play more shows.  We have a lot of unfinished business with the Reunion, a lot of favorite towns we haven’t gotten to play yet, and we want to keep building on the European tours we’ve done the past couple of years, and we’d like to get back to Japan.  We’ve talked about an album that would celebrate our 30th Anniversary as a band in 2014. Just taking it as it comes.

DBG: So I assume Keel is back to being priority number one musically but you spent a number of years recording some great country material. Can you tell me a little about Ironhorse? I stumbled across the video for "Best Move" and fell in love with that song. What happened with the Ironhorse band?
RK: IronHorse was a very special project, and a very special time in my life. It was my first attempt to combine the energy of hard rock with the songwriting approach of country music – it ended up getting pegged as southern rock which is fine by me.

Two great albums and over 700 shows coast to coast, a lot of bike events and concert appearances as a headliner and opening up for 38 Special, ZZ Top, The Outlaws, Marshall Tucker, lots more. Some great music and friendships resulted from that experience. That band was based in Central Ohio, and the fans there are still as passionate as ever- a few months ago we did a reunion show there for charity, and raised $27,000.00 for a young man in need of medical treatment (htto://

DBG: Personal question, Is Ironhorse available for purchase anywhere? I have been looking but so far am empty handed.

RK: Good news, bad news – those albums never got the push or the attention they deserved, but I am now working on my first full-blown solo album which will pick up where IronHorse left off – it’s called “Metal Cowboy: Sex, Guns & Rock & Roll” and it will be a true hybrid of metal and southern rock. Real songs about life, good times and hard times, with blazing guitars, thunderous drums, and screaming vocals.

DBG: Continuing with the country music, you set up shop in Vegas with an incredible tribute to Ronnie Dunn. From the footage I have seen, you captured both the look and the sound to a T. How did you get involved with the show?
RK: I am one of the show’s creators, and one of the primary reasons I relocated to Las Vegas in 2006 was to help bring a world-class country tribute show to Sin City.  I began the Ronnie Dunn tribute in 2004 while still in IronHorse – I saw it as a new challenge, a new mountain to climb, very much like tackling an acting role, and it has been an amazing thrill being able to take that initial inspiration and literally build it into an entire second – or third – career. “Country Superstars Tribute” has been running in Las Vegas for over five years now, currently at the Golden Nugget.

One of the things I enjoy most about it is the contrast between that persona and my rocker persona. Ronnie Dunn is a great singer, in my opinion one of the best tenors in country music history, and a super performer as well, but portraying him is very different from what I do on stage with KEEL. One of my dear friends, Kathy Wolfe, who portrays Wynonna Judd in “Country Superstars,” has known me for six years but hadn’t seen me live with KEEL – she came to a recent KEEL show in Vegas and was literally in shock. She still doesn’t look at me the same way as she used to, she just kind of wrinkles her brow and says “Who ARE you?” The Ronnie Dunn role demands a special kind of controlled intensity, whereas when it’s time to rock, I am out of control!

So I really enjoy it, being part of a major Las Vegas production show and getting to step out of my boots and into his and try to deliver a performance that Ronnie Dunn would approve of  if he ever saw it.

DBG: As a teenager in Canada in the 80's I was about as far from the LA music scene as anyone could be.

My introduction to Keel came through the pages of Hit Parader magazine, when I read about this new band being produced by Gene Simmons of Kiss. As a huge Kiss Geek, that was all I needed to hear and I immediately went out to purchase The Right to Rock album.
So how did the whole Kiss connection happen?
RK: The fact that the KISS Army immediately embraced us was a huge factor in our early success – we sold 90,000 albums that first week and I know many of them were bought by KISS. That’s was just one of the many benefits that came from working with Gene – in addition, he was truly a great producer with clear vision for the projects as a whole, incredible appreciation for rock & roll history, song structures, vocal harmonies, just how to make great records and make them sound COOL. The lessons he taught us are still with us today, and his presence was still very much felt when we entered the studio to record “Streets Of Rock & Roll.”

The connection happened because the record company arranged a meeting with Gene at my request, and he instantly believed in the band, my voice, and especially the song “The Right To Rock.” The story has been told many times how I sang along with the track in his hotel room, and he committed to the project right then and there.

DBG: What were the studio sessions really like with the Demon?

RK: There was a great combination of taking care of business, balanced with just having fun recording some rock & roll music. He was always in total control, very dominant and confident, but always willing to try new ideas and different approaches.
He had a lot of famous friends who would stop by and hang out, such as Eddie Van Halen and Ted Nugent, actors and actresses, beautiful women, so it was a very inspiring atmosphere in which to sing and play.

DBG: Any "Gene" memory you'd like to share with the Decibel Geeks?

RK: So many of them – I gotta save some for my upcoming book, but we had a lot of good times just being friends. Hanging at Gene’s place watching movies, going to concerts, or just driving around – I remember cruising through New York in a limo with Gene, and he’d point to a building, and say, “I own that building,” then we’d make a left turn, and he’d point to another building and say, “I own that building.”

DBG: The Right to Rock album is still one of my all time favourite albums top to bottom. Any great tour stories you'd like to share from that time?

RK: After a couple of decades, even the nightmares you experience on a tour become fond memories. We had a great run in the 80’s, opening up for Van Halen and Aerosmith in huge stadiums, touring with icons like Bon Jovi, supporting some of our friends and favorite bands like Quiet Riot, Queensryche, Dokken, Loudness, Accept, Helix and many more. Of course there are the magic nights when it all comes together, and there are hard times on the road too, in in between are a lot of miles, smiles, and some of the other stuff too…

DBG: n my opinion, Tears of Fire is quite possibly one of the greatest power ballads ever written. Lyrically, what was the song about?
RK: It really is an amazing song, one we never get tired of performing. Lyrically, it’s a cheating song, trying to explain to the girl back home what happened and why. Since then, I’ve always had a band rule: if you’re gonna fuck around, you better at least get a hit song out of it.

DBG: Keel went on to tour and record extensively for the next few years. Who were some of your favourite bands to tour with?

RK: The Bon Jovi tour was the most amazing touring experience, because they were on the tail end of the “Slippery When Wet” tour and we were playing sold out arenas on the East Coast, like three nights at Madison Square Garden. And not only were the arenas and shows killer, I really enjoyed the entire experience – hanging backstage with those guys, who were just beat up and burned out from nearly two years on the road, and then watching them gut it out on stage and give it everything they had. And the very last night of the tour, at the Meadowlands in Jersey, Bon Jovi invited us into their dressing room after their show and the two bands – just the ten guys, no chicks, no roadies, just us – had our own little end of tour party, just hugging and high fiving and pouring beer down our throats and all over each other.

Queensryche and Dio were two other bands that we toured extensively with, and I never got tired of going out into the crowd and watching their shows every night, and now I’m really glad I did that.

DBG: I understand that you auditioned for the vocalist spot in Black Sabbath. Any recollections from that event?

RK: That’s pretty well documented in a lot of books and on-line at: - anyone who’s interested in my experience with Sabbath can read the whole story there.

DBG: Your time with Steeler produced some great music and of course is known for introducing Yngwie Malmsteen to America. Now Yngwie certainly has quite the reputation as being somewhat difficult to work with. How do you remember your time in Steeler?

RK: Steeler had a lot of history before Yngwie came along, and kept going for a year after he left, but of course the band will always be remembered for the album we recorded together, which really launched both of our careers. Of course I’m proud of the album and the accomplishments, but my best memories are of the original lineup that relocated to Hollywood from Nashville to make our mark, lived a very tough existence and clawed our way to the upper deck of that amazing early 80’s Hollywood metal scene. THOSE were some magical times.

DBG: My final question, I ask this to anyone I interview...Pick for me the one song you wish you had wrote?

RK: The “Monday Night Football” theme – not only am I an NFL junkie, that song generated millions and millions in revenue. If they need a new tune with some rockin’ twang to it, have their people get in touch with my people.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blogger Template by Clairvo