An Interview with
of The Ron Keel Band and Frontman of Keel & Steeler
that took place on Wednesday 10th April, 2019.
Interviewed By Glenn Milligan.
Ron: Good afternoon, this is Ron.
Glenn: How you doing Ron? It's Glenn from Metalliville Zine.
Ron: It's great to talk to you. Thanks for calling
Glenn: No problem Sir. I've been playing your new album all day. I absolutely love it. It's great. It's got some good stuff on there.
Ron: Wow! That means a lot to me. Thank you for that. Thanks for saying it. Thanks for playing it.
Glenn: My pleasure man! So you're originally a Rock man as we all know and you're playing a lot of country now mixed in with it. Were you always a country fan or did you decide just to go country because it's big now?
Ron: Now I'm a music fan and I grew up in a time, in an era in the 70's when there weren't so many barriers and restrictions upon styles. I grew up playing classical music. I was classically trained. I played Jazz, I played the blues... My Dad was a country guy. My family was hillbilly to the core and redneck. My Dad loved Country Music – the old classic country stuff. He played with Hank Williams, Senior himself but also I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. When I was growing up you could hear Black Sabbath and The Eagles on the same radio station. It was all Rock 'n' Roll back then.
To me, it's just like different items on the menu, so to speak and I want to try them all. Country Music was a great experience for me because it gave me a way to write, create without all the bells and whistles. Without the hair, the smoke and the lights. You could sit down with a guitar and just tell a story. I love that but I also love the electricity, the excitement and the energy of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal so I ended up combining both of those influences as 'The Metal Cowboy'.
Glenn: Nice. It works really well. It blends great. Some stuff is straight country, some stuff is straight rock and other stuff is country rock. You've hit it perfect mate.
Ron: Thank You. I appreciate that. All I can do at this point is be myself and write the best songs I could with my band mates in The Ron Keel Band. We did not have any particular direction in mind when we sat down to write this album. We just wanted to write great songs. Songs that would resonate in people's hearts and in their heads. Songs that mean something.
Some songs have those 80's Hard Rock influences that are always going to be a part of me, like the title track 'Fight Like A Band', the lead track 'Road Ready', 'Hearts Gone Wild' and of course, the re-recorded versions of the 80's classics, 'The Right To Rock' and 'Tears Of Fire' on this new album. There's some diversity there. There always has been in my life and in my career.
I'm probably not going to put any Jazz on a record, but actually Keel, on our highest charting album in 1986 on 'The Final Frontier', there's a classical piece on that record. A classical guitar piece called 'Nightfall' played by our Guitar Player, Marc Ferrari. I think that was a statement for us, for me at the time and still – that there are no barricades, fences or restrictions on my music. Everybody's not going to love every song but I have to love every song. I love every song on the new record. I wouldn't put it on the album if I didn't love it.
I'm glad to see that the response has been incredible. You always say, “My new record is the best I've ever done!” - that's my job to say that. But now, the media and the fans are saying the same thing. So many great compliments from the reviewers, the media, the radio and the fans on social media. They are stating this is their favourite album (that) I've ever done. That to me is the greatest compliment and the greatest reward.
Glenn: Awesome. A perfect answer to that. Did you decide to re-record songs such as 'The Right To Rock' because it's the 30th Anniversary of those songs?
Ron: Well we did re-record 'The Right To Rock' in Keel on the 25th Anniversary album in 2010 but I still felt that song... to me that song is a timeless classic. I want to keep that song alive as long as I'm alive and even after I'm gone. I think that's one of the greatest Rock Anthems of all time. I was never truly happy with the original. I was so young and so green. Gene Simmons was producing that album. He kept some things that he thought were special because the vocals have the attitude and the conviction – the mean, angry and screaming growling tones.
However, I never was happy with the vocal on the original, so to re-record it with Keel in 2010 was great. But, we did a different arrangement. We changed the key. We changed some of the stuff. I thought I would try and do a new version that was a little more faithful to the original but sing it with the voice that I have now. After 35 years, I've had a lot of practice on that song. I'm really, really excited about the new version of 'The Right To Rock'. Especially, even more so, the new version of 'Tears Of Fire' which was always a fan favourite, a big hit for us in 1986 off 'The Final Frontier' album.
Once again, I was never happy with the vocal – the tone on that, that I did back in the day. To get another shot? How many people would die or kill for a second chance in life. I got a second chance to re-record some of my favourite songs on this new album and include those Keel classics with 11 brand new original songs.
Glenn: That's great. You are dead right there as well. Why did you decide to call the actual album, 'Fight Like A Band'? It's a great title. Is it because you've fought that hard in the music business to keep up there and not let the people in the biz get you down?
Ron: Well I think that's a common thread that has always run through my lyrics is the fight. Fighting for the right to rock back in '85 and now fighting like a band. I thought that struggle – that saddle that we have with life, death and cancer. My wife went through a serious bout with Cancer a couple of years ago during the writing of this album. You can probably hear some of those references in the first verse of that title track, 'Fight Like A Band' and to see how hard she fought to go through that struggle with cancer – having surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation at the same time.
My band stuck by me at a time that I was not able to tour or travel because I was at home taking care of my wife as she fought cancer. The guys had my back. They could have gone anywhere and done anything but they stuck with me. We decided, “We can't tour this year because I'm going to be home with my wife, taking care of her and why don't we write some songs?” That was one of those songs that really just says what I feel and things that I've been through the last few years.
What a fitting title track to the album and a great testament to anyone who's going through a struggle. If you're going to take on the world, 'Fight Like A Band'! Fight like we fought. Hold onto your dreams, hold on to what's important to you and don't give up. That's the message.
Glenn: Yeah because you can be a Rockstar or be a famous musician but we're all human beings. These things can get anyone. You aren't immortal to things, so things also affect you as well. The thing is, you've written about it and you've sung about it which is a great thing.
Ron: Well we're all people first. We're human beings and what we do is what we do. Whether we play, sing or work or whatever you do ,we're all human beings. I believe that comes first. I want to be a good person. I want to live my life by a certain set of standards and a code of honour as the rules that I've set for myself. Then on top of that I want to sing great, I want to write great songs, I want to do great shows.
Glenn: Nice. How has it been so far on the EMP Label Group with David Ellefson? Is it one of the best things you have ever signed to as opposed to labels you were on in the 80's? How are you enjoying your relationship with those guys?
Ron: EMP has been a huge blessing in my life and my career. When it was time to record this album, I looked no further than David Ellefson and the EMP Label Group. David and I have been friends for a long time. We've got to be good friends in the last few years. As I saw what he was doing with EMP and how he ran his businesses, it seemed like he did everything right from a business standpoint. He really cared about his artists. Every other label that you may sign to takes control of your new album or they want to rehash what I did in the 80's.
David sat me down when I signed the contact. He looked at me across the table and he said, “Ron, I want you to be yourself. I want you to sing your life.” To me, that was just a huge breath of fresh air in this business when a person like David Ellefson puts his money and his reputation on the line, signs my band and gives me a piece of freedom to express myself and be who I am.
Yeah, there's a lot of that 80's flavoured hard rock on this album. I think there's enough of that to keep all the Keel fans satisfied and happy amd anybody who may have strayed away from my music in recent years is going to find something in this album that they can relate to if they were a fan back in the day. Back in the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal heyday of the 1980's. But David gave me that freedom, that ability to express myself. The distribution is fantastic. The promotion is fantastic. They got me on the phone with you. They are doing everything right.
Glenn: Sweet. That's awesome. I've listened to a lot of your songs. They come across very autobiographical and as a result of that they sound very, very real.
Ron: Well thank you for that. There's two kinds of songs on this record. Songs that are from personal experience like the title track 'Flight Like A Band'. There are story songs as well. Songs that I have crafted lyrically to tell a story like 'Rock And Roll Guitar' which is the story of a guitar that passes through from one person to the next. From one musician from a pawn shop up to a young rocker to a Rockstar. Then he passes the guitar onto the next generation. That's a story song.
'Hearts Gone Wild' as well is a story. It's not something that I lived or went through and I don't want to give away the ending in case your audience hasn't heard the album but the story talks about two people that meet in the middle of nowhere, fall in love and then what happens, happens. I love telling those stories as well. There's a lot of very personal expression and feeling on this record in the lyrics and of course the title track says it all with 'Fight Like A Band'. Songs like 'Road Ready'. The lyrics for these tracks are road readier. Twenty phrases and song titles and such from throughout my career like 'The Right To Rock' and many other song titles and sayings and phrases that I've used in my lyrics for the past thirty years. I wanted to pay tribute to my history and my past. I treasure the past. I treasure where I've been and what I've done.
I live for today and I fight for tomorrow. You can't entirely live in the past. You can't keep looking back all the time. You've got to be thankful for the opportunities and treasure those memories and experiences that I've had. I've had all my dreams come true. Today is all that matters. We're all on a one day contract Glenn. I have no guarantees that I'll be here tomorrow so today is super important. Tomorrow, if I am here, I guarantee you I'll be fighting for the right to rock and I'll be fighting like a band. I'll be doing everything I can do to live my life to the fullest. Sing well, play well, live well and take care of the people I love.
Glenn: Exactly because Ron Keel's not keeled over yet, 'scuse the pun. But there you go, you're still here rocking away.
Ron: I am. I'me very thankful for that. Part of it is due to my health. I guess (through) genetics – I am healthy. I've never had a broken bone. I rarely get even a cold. I am a very healthy guy at my age. I'm 58 years old but I've enjoyed great health throughout my entire life plus I've worked really hard and I've never stopped. I sing every day from one to three. I've just got done singing. In fact, last night we did a video shoot for the title track 'Fight Like A Band'. I'll announce it with you first. That's why my voice is a little bit rough around the edges. You know, when you're doing a video, you're lip syncing but I just don't know how to do that. I've never figured it. I've got to sing for real.
We did probably four to five takes of the song from top to bottom – over and over and over again. I'm singing every take at the top of my lungs because it's very difficult for me to lip-sync and fake it. I've got to sing for real. That's part of the reason I'm still able to do this. I'm afraid if I took three months or six months off, I would be definitely afraid that I wouldn't be able to just start over and pick up the pieces and do it again. That's why I sing every day. I talk every day and I rock every day. That keeps me young and keeps me healthy.
Glenn: Sweet! I mean, you won't find no auto-tune on a Ron Keel album will you? It's all real. You can tell it's all real. It's like you've sing it all live in one.
Ron: I appreciate that. Thank you. The music has to come first. I mean, (regarding) the guys in the band – this is a well-oiled machine. These guys have been together now almost five years. Being able to deliver the music live and in concert is super important to me and being able to entertain people. To give them their money's worth, to give them a reason to go out, to leave their house and get off their computer! Get off your cell phones and get off your ass. Come out and see the show, put your fists in the air and enjoy what we do. I've got to give them their moneys worth. I've got to give them a reason to rock and I try to do that every day.
Glenn: Talking of shows, how did Keelfest come about?
Ron: Keelfest is a dream come true for me. This is one month from today as we record this interview. On May 10th, 2019 it really is a chance for me to have a family reunion. I get all my friends, all my brothers under one roof, onto one stage for one night of Keel – all the Keel classics – 'The Right To Rock', 'Tears Of Fire', 'Because The Night', 'Somebody's Waiting', 'Rock 'N' Roll Outlaw' – all of those great songs that we know and love and The Ron Keel Band doing all the songs off the new album 'Fight Like A Band'.
Steeler featuring Rik Fox who played on the Steeler albums – that legendary 80's Metal release from 1983 which featured Rik Fox, Yngwie Malmsteen, Myself and Mitch Perry on guitar. Mitch replaced Yngwie in the Summer of 1983 and he's been a part of the Keel family and the Steeler family ever since.
To have all three bands on the same bill in one night, paying tribute to a lifetime of good times, music and friendship. It's going to be a long night. It's going to be a long show. There's no breaks. It's not band, break, band break – it is one solid three hour show. We're weaving these songs in and out of each other.
When one band finishes, the next band begins. I'm extremely excited about that. I'm very confident that it's going to be a great show.I'd like to bring the show to other venues, other cities and other countries. We could at some point. I think it's a really special event. Not just another concert but a lifetime of hard work and friendship.
That's one thing I'm most proud of, is that all these guys that are doing the show with me, we've been friends now... some of us for 35 years – Rik Fox and Mitch Perry and I. The guys in Keel – Bryan Jay, Marc Ferrari and Dwain Miller. We started out in '84 together so this is our 35th Anniversary of Keel with those same guys.
Ron: We're still friends. We love each other. It's a brotherhood. That means so much to me that it's not a job. It's not about the money. I hope to break even on this. (We laugh)
Glenn: Yeah! That's the hardest bit isn't it?
Ron: It's a lot of hotels and air fare.
Glenn: It costs a fortune.
Ron: There's a lot that I've put into this. I hope I can break even. I know that the reward that I receive and that I can share with my friends and band mates is going to be a memory of a lifetime. The Keelfest, May 10th in Columbus, Ohio.
Glenn: Yeah. It would be nice to see it come across to Britain or to just get yourself across to Britain for a few shows if you can for a little club tour or something. That'd be great.
Ron: That would be a dream come true. I have nothing but love and great memories of my several experiences to Britain and the fans there. That's where the 'New Wave Of British Heavy Metal' started which really kick-started all our careers. Back when (Def) Leppard, (Iron) Maiden, (Judas) Priest and Saxon (started)... Those bands were having such a huge influence on us. That sparked the LA 80's Metal Scene of which I was a part. So that tie with the British bands and the British Rock audience has always been strong. I've been several times and the last time we were there was 2011 with Keel.
Before that, the Dio Tour in 1986. I remember selling out Hammersmith Odeon in London with Dio. Dio sold the gig out. We were just the opening act. Boy, what a great way to cap off that tour for us. We did 14 countries in Europe on the 'Sacred Heart Tour'. The last night of the tour at the Hammersmith, after the show was over, Lemmy came backstage. He said, “You, come with me, come with me.” He rounded up all the guys in both bands, escorted us up to this little bar up in the balcony. He locked the door, took over the bar and Lemmy's serving me drinks! Are you kidding? That's a dream come true! (We laugh)
There was me, Dio, the guys in (Iron) Maiden I think were there. I don't remember who was there. There are some photos online and I see them. I don't even remember but I remember me and Lemmy. He's bar tending and I'm drinking. What a surreal experience!
Ron: So great memories of my time in Britain. I would love to come back. I would love to bring the Ron Keel Band to Britain and give everyone a taste of this music and what this band is doing now because I know that audience would love it.
Glenn: Nice. Yeah we'd love you to come over mate! That'd be great. Why did you decide to do a cover of 'Because The Night'? Is it one of your favourite songs?
Ron: No it was not a favourite song. There's a great story about that. We had done 'Let's Spend The Night Together' – The (Rolling) Stones cover on the previous Keel album, 'The Right To Rock' and Gene Simmons was set to produce 'The Final Frontier'. We wanted to keep that tradition alive of doing a cover song on every record. I haven't done it on every record that I've done but it was a tradition if you could find the right song. I had no idea what that song would be. I was driving my sports car through Hollywood one night and 'Because The Night' came on the radio. It just hit me.
It wasn't one of those songs that I loved or grew up listening to or loving. But it hit me right then and there. I heard that song. I heard the arrangement on how I would “Keelise” it. I thought, 'This would be a perfect song for us'. It's powerful but sensitive and sexual enough to really be a Keel song. I recorded a demo of the song in my home studio and I played it for Gene Simmons. He loved it and we recorded it on 'The Final Frontier' album. It's been pretty much a staple in my shows ever since.
Glenn: Got ya! As well, you're a radio host and you interview various people on a radio station. What memorable times have you had on that with various people? Anything come to mind at all?
Ron: Well I love doing the radio gig. What kid doesn't grow up loving Rock 'N' Roll? You could either be a Rockstar or DJ. I always wanted to be both. I wanted to be on the radio. I'm a huge fan of 'Talk Radio' because as a musician and a songwriter, I've always got five or six songs in my head at the same time. Right now I've got 'Because The Night' in my head.
Glenn: My fault.
Ron: I've got these songs in my head I can't (get out) so I don't listen to a lot of music in the car or on the plane or whenever I'm travelling because I'm already full of music. It's just so much a part of my DNA and my being. What I do is I listen to 'Talk Radio' – sport, politics, the paranormal. I love 'Coast To Coast' with George Noory. I'm a huge fan of 'Talk Radio'.
I wanted to create a show where I can 'talk the rock' and 'rock the talk' and interview people that I thought were interesting. That is a very special skill as you know because you're interviewing Ron Keel right now. It's a skill. It's very difficult. Sometimes you'll get an interviewer who doesn't know what to say or how to act. It's really awkward for the subjects. This interview we are doing right now. This is a good interview right here.
Glenn: Cheers Man!
Ron: If you do a good one then it becomes magic. You get some compelling stuff out of that artist or out of that celebrity or that person that you are talking to (in general) and it becomes entertainment.
Ron: I love that aspect of hosting a radio show and being able to interview some of that people that... I have interviewed some of my heroes – Ted Nugent, Pat Travers, Joe Elliott from Def Leppard. I've had a lot of big stars on the show. Some of which are friends of mine: Dave Mustaine from Megadeth. Dave and I are old friends. He was the guest on my show six weeks ago.
Sometimes I'll find a guy that I don't know that I really know a whole lot about that will end up... especially the singers. When you're interviewing another singer and we start talking about music. We start talking about the voice. I remember the day I met Roger Daltrey. Talk about starstruck man! I mean, being able to meet and hang with some of my heroes – but Roger Daltrey from The Who – that is Rock Royalty.
Glenn: Totally. One of ours.
Ron: He was doing an event in Vegas at 'Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp'. Roger Daltrey was one of the headliners. I got to sing with him. I don't even know what song we did because I was so freaked out because it's Roger Daltrey. Then after the song we sat down. It's me and Roger Daltrey sitting at the table and I was five minutes into the conversation. It was just two guys talking about music and talking about the voice.
He was telling me about what he's been through because he's getting older and I'm getting older. You talk about the challenge of trying to continue singing well at an advance age and he gave me some pointers. He told me about his warm-ups and what he drinks. Two guys talking about singing. It was me and one of the greatest Rock Vocalists of all time. It was Roger Daltrey.
So those priceless moments man! To me, that's the high point of being close in the media. Plus, in the media as a radio show host, I think I'm obligated to be objective. Sometimes you're going to piss somebody off. You're going to say something that... you can't just say that everybody's great – you have to have a stand. You have to have a take. You have to be objective and figure opinion sometimes. I enjoy that object of it too because there are things that I say and do on my radio show that I wouldn't say and do in real life or in social media stuff.
I really enjoy hosting... now it's a weekly show 'Streets Of Rock 'N' Roll'. Because of my touring schedule this year, I can't do the daily show anymore so I've got a weekly syndicated show and all the links for that can be found on my website at RonKeel.com.
Glenn: Sweet. That's great. I must ask you, there's a line in one of your songs that mentions 'Cold Beans'. So I wanted to ask you as a joke, 'Do you like cold beans?'
Ron: I do not. Who does? Hot beer and cold beans? That's the cowboys you know? That's how the cowboys live.
Glenn: Yeah! (We laugh)
Ron: Out on the range. That's the song 'Just A Cowboy'. I appreciate you listening to that. That's the one country song on the record. It's not a country album but that I must admit is a country song. It's only on the record because one night at rehearsal, the guys in the band were over at my house. We were in the basement working on songs. They went outside for a break to grab a beer and have a smoke. They came back in and I was downstairs playing that song. Just playing it and singing it.
They said, “What's that?” I said, “It's a song that I wrote. It's called 'Just A Cowboy". They said, “That's got to be on the record”. I said, “I don't know man! It's a country song!”. They said, “We don't care. That is a great song. It's got to be on the record”. So that song is on the album because the guys in my band insisted upon it.
I wasn't trying too... you know, because I've had that dichotomy of being so to speak, 'A metal artist and a country artist' and sometimes the fans just don't understand or get that. I didn't want to include that song on the record because it's country. But it's a great song.
Glenn: It is.
Ron: It means something. It's got real substance. It's real. It belongs on the album and I'm very proud that we included it.
Glenn: Excellent mate. Well it's a great album. I've been playing it quite a few times. Right, I'll let you get off but it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you.
Ron: My pleasure. Thank you so much for your support. For playing it, for saying it. Keep it up and live the Rock!
Glenn: Oh definitely mate. You take care Ron!
Ron: You too.
Glenn: Thanks man! Bye
Ron: Bye bye.
Special thanks to Shauna O'Donnell of O'Donnell Media Group for setting up the Interview.
All current photographs have been supplied by Ron Keel and used with his full permission.
Posed Photographs of Ron Keel / Ron Keel Band are by Chad Coppess.