Ron Keel Keeps On Rocking For Keel's 25th Anniversary Reunion And New Album "Streets Of Rock And Roll"
Hard partying rock icons Keel have come back together for a 25th anniversary reunion to rock the world again in a string of festival appearances. Not content to simply rehash the past however, the band has also put out an entirely new album "Streets of Rock and Roll." Front man Ron Keel commented on the creation of the album, "Immediately after the first couple of rehearsals we started coming up with some songs. The energy was flowing and the excitement was there. It felt like 20 years had just melted away. We thought we had a few songs that could be the foundation for a strong album and that’s when we decided to pull the trigger and make a new album."
Ron and I spoke at length about the new album and the re-released version of their flagship album "The Right to Rock," which features fans singing with the band on the title track. We also discussed the long history of the band, Ron's other projects, and his thoughts on rock and roll parody/tribute act Steel Panther.
xFiruath: You’ve been knee deep in the music industry for a good long time now. When did you first get interested in vocals and who influenced you in the early years?
Ron: I started singing before I knew how to sing. I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and that was a big day for a lot of people of my generation. I was two years old and my sister was ten years older than me and made me watch. When I saw that show it was probably a matter of hours before I was jumping up and down on the bed with a hairbrush pretending it was a microphone. We have a very musical family. My father played and took me to my first guitar lesson when I was six. I started being in bands when I was only nine or ten years old then I started playing bars in my early teens. It’s really all I’ve ever done and wanted to do. I don’t know if it’s in my blood or my genes or my heart or soul or all of the above.
I think we are influenced by everything we hear that we like. I was exposed to a wide variety of music at an early age. There was the rock and roll that my sister listened to like the Beatles and the Stones. My father listened to and played country music for a living so I listened to a lot of that. The first thing I wanted to do when I was old enough was join the school band. Through the years as a teenager of course rock and roll resonated with me because it was loud and rebellious and all about sex. The “dark side” so to speak, so as a youngster I was really attracted to that and I’ve never really lost that love of good old primal rock and roll.
xFiruath: Are you active with any of your other projects outside of Keel right now?
Ron: No I’ve put everything else on the back burner for the reunion. I’m the kind of guy that likes to listen to a lot of different things but I liked to dedicate myself to one thing at a time. The Keel reunion has pretty much been a full time job now for a year. I did have a great vehicle before that called K2, which was kind of a Keel tribute band with Ron Keel as the lead singer. We did all the Keel stuff from throughout my entire career. Killer band, great guys, and did some great shows but everybody understood it was time to put that on hold and focus on the Keel reunion.
xFiruath: What prompted Keel to get back together?
Ron: We had talked about it for a lot of years. The cool thing about Keel was that the core nucleus of guys remained tight and good friends throughout the years. We’ve worked on various projects together and played on albums together. Marc Ferrari and I did the Aerosmith tribute. We would jam whenever we could. We felt like a team that had been to the Super Bowl two decades ago and there was still that bond. There was never any bad blood. Of course there were always offers to put a band together and call it Keel or to reunite. I resisted the temptation to call any of my bands Keel even though it’s my last name and it certainly would have been within my rights to do that. I felt that it wasn’t right without these guys, without Marc Ferrari and Brian Jay on guitar and Dwain Miller on the drums behind me it just wouldn’t have been Keel. We’d talk about it and always think maybe next year we’d do it. We were always hoping the right pieces would fall together so it would happen.
In the last few years there have been a lot of things to perpetuate this style of music and keep it alive. One is the big festivals in the states like Rocklahoma and other festivals like they’ve been doing in Europe all along. It gave bands like us the opportunity to get out on the big stage and do it right. We also had a team of people like Sullivan Big at Big Fat Entertainment who books a lot of these ‘80s rock acts. He’s a big Keel fan and we knew he was on board and pushing for it. Plus the release of “Lay Down the Law.” Our debut album was finally released on CD after all these years and got some good buzz. Our original intention was just to do some of these festival shows and it wasn’t for this full time thing it’s turned out to be for us. Immediately after the first couple of rehearsals we started coming up with some songs. The energy was flowing and the excitement was there. It felt like 20 years had just melted away. We thought we had a few songs that could be the foundation for a strong new album and that’s when we decided to pull the trigger and make a new album.
xFiruath: Tell me about the new album “ Streets of Rock and Roll.” What’s its sound like in comparison to the other Keel albums?
Ron: I think this one combines all the good elements from the previous releases. Looking back on all six earlier albums they are all very different. “Right to Rock” is like a one lane freeway headed straight into the desert at 150 miles per hour. “Final Frontier” was a little more diverse and there was some different styles there. Diversity has been our trademark so to speak. You’ve got bone crushing metal, you’ve got hard rock, you’ve got commercial rock, you’ve got a couple of ballads and even a classical song on that album. The self-titled record that followed that was a little more polished. After we’d been playing the arenas for a couple of years we became really good song writers. It took us a few albums to really find our style. We were one of those bands that never wanted to stand still, we always wanted to experiment and step out on the edge and see what happens. That’s one of the reasons why we never get pegged as one of the more successfully bands of that era.
There are certain trademarks to the Keel sound all those albums have as a common thread with “Streets of Rock and Roll,” like loud, aggressive vocals, the twin guitar stuff, trading solos, harmonizing together, the pounding grooves, big shouting chants. There are lyrical themes like a lot of songs about attitude and living your life, doing it your way, overcoming adversity and being tough, fighting for what you believe in. Those themes have run their course through our entire career. There are a couple of new elements we bring to the record. First of all it was really easy and natural. There was no A&R guy leaning over our shoulder and pushing us to have a big hit single. There was really no pressure from any outside sources except ourselves. Our goal was to make an album we could be proud of and listen to ten years from now and says “Yeah man, I’m glad we did that.” The element that makes it a special record is the maturity and the experience. I think we’ve really combined that hungry, raw power and passion that made us get into rock and roll in the first place with a maturity and experience that you can only get with age. The ability to really craft and write songs effortlessly without having to think about it. There were no band meetings or discussions about what style we would do. Nothing was said and we just started writing. It came out something like Keel.
xFiruath: Where did you record and who did you recruit as guest musicians for the album?
Ron: Special guests have always been a tradition. That goes back to the days when Gene Simmons was producing our albums and Gene of course attracted a lot of rock stars to the sessions. He’d call Ted Nugent or whoever and invite them down. There was always somebody. Can you imagine having to sit there and play in front of Ted Nugent and Edward Van Halen? No pressure. We’d always have special guests like Jamie St. James, who has now sung on four Keel albums. Paul Shortino with Quiet Riot works with me on the vocal tracks, we actually recorded those at his house. We did all the primary recording in Hollywood, because you’ve got to back where it all began. We still have that old school philosophy of how to make a record, using new tools with old tricks. We basically went in and pounded it out like a rock and roll band with our producer Pat Reagan who made it sound great. The combination of our old school philosophy and Pat’s state of the art recording techniques made another special aspect to this record. It sounds like an ‘80s rock album produced in 2010.
xFiruath: You are also doing a 25th anniversary addition of your “Right to Rock” album where you had fans submit their own vocal lines to add to the chorus. How did that turn out?
Ron: That was really special. That’s the way we wrote the new album with the technology available today. We’d come up with an idea, record it immediately, and then send the other guys an MP3. They’d bounce ideas back and forth. I had the idea to have the fans send in some MP3s of them yelling “The right to rock!” We had a little sample on our website with a space for them to yell the right to rock so they could hit the right key and timing. We had fans from all over the world send it in and then we blended them in with our voices so the fans are actually singing on the album with us. We want to thank all the fans who participated because it’s their album too. It gives you the feeling that you are in the arena with band and the fans singing together and that’s what it’s all about.
xFiruath: When are you guys hitting the road to support the new album?
Ron: As far as touring goes I got a call this morning with some very exciting opportunities. It’s a little too early to be making any announcements as far as touring goes. We’ve got to be selective and we’d like to play some major festivals. We are playing one in Stockholm on April 30th. We’ll do a lot of weekend gigs, fly out and play and then fly home. As far as touring across the country like we did in our 20’s, we want to be selective about it and also economically sound. It’s an expensive machine to take all the guys and crew on the road, but if the right tour happens we’ll be there. With the right headliner and the right opportunity we’ll jump on it.
xFiruath: What music have you been listening to lately in your free time, Ron?
Ron: There is no free time for me. I’m a workaholic. I feel guilty when I sit down to eat. I should be standing up instead. Put the plate on the counter, take a bit to eat, then go do something. I’m on the computer, on the guitar, on the phone. But as far as what music I listen to, man I listen to “Streets of Rock and Roll.” That’s no lie. It’s literally CD number one in my CD player. If I’ve got a meeting an hour away from home I enjoy that drive from my house to the meeting because I know I’m going to get to listen to that record. And that’s as a fan, not just as the guy who sang on it and wrote it. As a Keel fan it’s really satisfying and rewarding to me. It resonates with me and certainly a lot of the fans and the media felt the same way. The response has been incredible. We’ve already had over 10,000 illegal downloads, which I guess is a milestone. That should be the new platinum. People are liking it because I guess if it’s worth stealing it’s worth listening to. I do listen to some of my favorite bands from back in the day though. I know I can get something from Scorpions, AC/DC, Judas Priest. They are going to ring the bell for me. As far as new music goes I do like Daughtry. I really like the records he’s put out. I enjoy the songs and the production and the way those are put together. I really like Nickelback also. I think they are great and powerful rock and roll party band. I have a good time enjoying their music.
xFiruath: Since you are in that genre that Steel Panther both mocks and pays tribute to, what do you think of their music?
Ron: I get that question in a lot of interviews, you’d really be surprised. I haven’t seen them live so I can’t comment on their show. I know the guys and they are all super guys. We did a show with them last summer in Maryland. We shared a dressing room, but of course we didn’t get to see them because we were busy getting ready for our gig while they were on stage. They actually play right down the street from my house every Friday and Saturday there in Vegas. I hear they are packing them in and everyone loves them. As long as everyone is getting entertained and enjoying rock and roll, who am I to judge? We can’t take ourselves that seriously. I know a lot of guys, back when Spinal Tap came out in the 80s, we were offended. We were like, “how dare they mock us?” I think we’ve all got past that though. Spinal Tap is one of my favorite movies of all time now. I could watch it over and over again. At the time it struck a nerve though. We were all taking ourselves way to seriously back then and we all thought we were metal gods. We ruled the world and would live forever and all that crap. I’m sure Steel Panther is a great show and one of these days I’ll get a chance to go see them. More power to them. It’s all about having a good time, so if they are entertaining themselves and entertaining people, let ‘em roll.
Ron: I want to thank the fans out there who have stuck with me throughout the years and followed me through the twisting path that has lead full circle to this Keel reunion. We have a great new website we just launched for Keel with all the bells and whistles. I’m very active with trying to stay in touch with the fan and posting blogs and all that. Back in the ‘80s we thought it would last forever but now I know better. It could end tomorrow, it could end next year, but while we’re here lets enjoy it.
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