As a Musician, Songwriter, Author, Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp Counselor, Vegas Show Producer, Country Music Impersonator, and Radio Host, itâ€™s quite possible we have a new â€˜Hardest Working Man in Rock and Rollâ€™ among us.
Of course Iâ€™m talking about singer/songwriter Ron Keel, formerly of 80’s band, Steeler, and currently fronting KEEL, as well as his solo work. Keel has a brand new autobiography out, Even Keel: Life on the Streets of Rock and Roll, as well as a new rock/country hybrid album appropriately titled, Metal Cowboy.
I recently sat down with Keel to discuss the book, album, and radio show, as well as his thoughts on the state of rock music today, KISSâ€™s inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and random Sunset Strip drug use…or lack thereof.
On interesting nuggets of information pulled from the book:Â
KG:Â You went into detail about the mastering process in your book.Â Why did you decide to include that?
RK:Â Itâ€™s a lost art. Not many people realize how those things were made.Â I had sat down and written that when George Marino had passed away.Â I wrote bits and pieces of the story within the last 10 years.Â The Day George Marino died, a couple of years ago, I wrote that story about what it was like working with him.Â I remember just recalling that experience for myself, with the intent of putting it in the book.
KG:Â Another thing I really found interesting is when you were playing the LA Sports Arena and just went into the back row to reflect on the person watching the show from that very last set.Â Do you try to take moments like that even now?
RK:Â I think you have to take those moments.Â I love going out on stage before the crowd gets there.Â Just kind of walk around and get the feel for it.Â Soaking in the moment.Â Iâ€™ll go out and just look at the marquee if my name is on it.Â Youâ€™ve got to celebrate those small victories.Â Treasure every moment.Â Iâ€™m lucky to have the dreams come true that Iâ€™ve had.Â You never know when itâ€™s all going to end.Â Gotta enjoy it while youâ€™re here.
KG:Â Did you have a ghost writer?
RK: Thatâ€™s a common question.Â I was surprised that people would ask me that.Â I wouldnâ€™t even know how to begin the process of writing something like this with a ghostwriter.Â Part of the fun of it was writing it myself. I wrote every word, except the quotes and the press releases which were pulled from the actual source.
KG: On that, I thought it was interesting that you included negative things said about you as well.
RK:Â I wanted to do that.Â I have a hard time understanding why Iâ€™ve incited such hatred amongst certain fans whether itâ€™s because I â€˜went countryâ€™ or what.Â I think itâ€™s either you love me or you hate me.Â Thereâ€™s really no in between.Â The hate mail has always been a source of amusement to me.Â I realize with a level head that after selling 4 or 5 million records that thereâ€™s billions of people that either donâ€™t like me or donâ€™t know who I am.Â Iâ€™m OK with that.Â But to actually take the effort to go online and actually post something negative about someone? I couldnâ€™t see doing that. Even though I feel that way about some sports stars, some actors, some politicians, that Iâ€™d love to slam. But, to actually go to the extent of going online and slamming them, then you just really hate somebody.Â They hate me as much as the fans that love me love me.Â I love that extreme dichotomy there.
KG:Â In your book you talk about using Ouija Boards.Â Are you still open to psychics, the occult, etc?
RK: Absolutely. I think whether itâ€™s music, politics, religion, spirituality, you have to have an open mind.
KG:Â Do you still smoke on show days?
RK: I do smoke.Â I have a vocal session this week and I havenâ€™t been smoking because I canâ€™t for 10 days.Â So Iâ€™m absolutely apprehensive about how Iâ€™m going to get through this job.Â But, itâ€™s part of me.Â Itâ€™s part of what I do.Â I can feel my voice dying as we speak because I havenâ€™t had a cigarette in five days.Â Thatâ€™s just me.Â Iâ€™m not advocating it.Â Iâ€™m not advocating drugs. Thereâ€™s a lot of drugs in the book, as you well know, but there are a lot of things that will impair you.Â And just because itâ€™s drugs or alcohol perhaps that would impair certain aspects of your performance, but also having a stomach ache will impair you.Â Being tired.Â Being distracted.Â I often thought that if I could take 6 months off and retrain that I would be able to do that (sing without smoking), but weâ€™ll see?
KG:Â So unlike many other rock bios of this era thereâ€™s virtually no â€˜trash talkingâ€™. Not even about Yngwie (Malmsteen).Â Are you just a really nice guy?
RK: I took the high road.Â It was some of the most difficult stuff to write.Â How do I write this without sugar coating it and still tell the truth?Â And the truth is different now than it was then.Â I see things a lot differently now.Â In a lot of ways he was right.Â He was a better musician at the time than I was.Â A better guitar player than I was a singer.Â Now his attitude? He was stubborn â€˜ya know?
KG:Â But in general, you left a lot of stuff out?
RK:Â A lot.Â I struggled with that.Â I just didnâ€™t want it to be one of those books with trash.Â Dirt.Â All that.Â Even a split with a band member or a manager…we went our separate ways, thatâ€™s all you need to know.Â If it was an important part of the story then I tried to tell it.Â Some of those relationships, how could I throw the Mother of my kids under the bus?Â What kind of man would do that?Â Itâ€™s not me.Â Iâ€™m not that guy.
KG:Â You had originally expected the book to come out in late 2011/early 2012.Â Why the delay?
RK:Â I kept announcing it for the last 10 years…coming soon!Â if I hadnâ€™t put a hard deadline on it, it woulda been another 10 years.Â Cuz I really enjoyed creating it and writing it.Â A lot that I left out or that I wanted to rewrite or restructure.Â If I hadnâ€™t of put that deadline on it I wouldâ€™ve still been writing it.Â Thatâ€™s a part of the fun of it.Â It was tough to put some of that stuff into words.Â I struggled with the part about my ex-wife, the Mother of my children, for aÂ long time.Â Itâ€™s 17 years of my life. How do I tell this story and be honest, entertain people, make it a good read, and not offend or upset or in any way damage my relationship with my children?Â I havenâ€™t heard from my Son since the book came out.Â Iâ€™m sure they (Ron has one daughter and one son) havenâ€™t read it, but I know if they would Iâ€™m sure there are things they may be unhappy about.Â Disappointed in me.Â A lot of the adultery that happened during that marriage my wife didnâ€™t know about it.Â If she reads the book sheâ€™ll find out a lot of stuff that she didnâ€™t know.Â A journalist said to me that this was a â€˜pretty gritty tell allâ€™.Â I said â€˜Dude, this is a tell halfâ€™.Â Probably a thousand woman that are really upset because theyâ€™re not in it.
Living in Vegas:
KG:Â What do you think about the rock scene in Vegas?
RK:Â This is aÂ is a mecca for rock personalities, musicians, people that have had some success in the industry.Â Thereâ€™s a lot about Las Vegas that draws them in.Â Iâ€™ve been here the last eight years.Â Kevin Dubrow kinda paved the way for all of us.Â And Brent Muscat.Â Paul Shortino and I moved out here about the same time.Â Itâ€™s the new Las Vegas Rock and Roll Posse thing.Â It feels good to be a part of that collective.Â This is the new Hollywood.Â Thereâ€™s a lot out here that guys like us need.Â Whether itâ€™s the bright lights, the entertainment factor.Â This is supposedly or was at one time, and I think is still, the â€˜Entertainment Capitol of the Worldâ€™Â and a place where dreams come true.Â A place where you can party all night and sleep every day.
The Radio Show:
KG:Â How long have you been doing your radio show, The Streets of Rock and Roll?
RK: Two years.Â 95 shows.Â This week will be show number 95, so Iâ€™m looking forward to the big triple digits.Â I think itâ€™ll be 100 here in about a month.Â It has been a really great experience.Â A lot of fun.Â Itâ€™s a huge mountain to climb each week.Â Because itâ€™s an hour. Â I really admire guys that go on the air on talk radio and do a four hour gig.Â Every day.Â Dennis Miller for instance or any of these guys that can go on and do four hours are you kidding me?!
But, (Streets of Rock and Roll) is an hour long and itâ€™s a production.Â I put in a lot of thought, a lot of heart, a lot of preparation into it.Â I want to hold those peoples attention.Â I want to entertain them.Â I want them to enjoy it.Â Itâ€™s basically like creating the book or creating an album or writing a song.Â You want to entertain people.Â I find myself saying â€˜God, what am I going to talk about this week?â€™ â€˜What songs am I going to play?â€™ â€˜Who am I going to interview?â€™ But itâ€™ll be all right.Â Itâ€™s Monday now, weâ€™ve got til Wed to figure out what the hell weâ€™re doing.
KG:Â Do you record the show from home?
RK: If Iâ€™m on the road I can do it from anywhere.Â And I will do it this week from the road, literally.Â Iâ€™ll be driving. Haha. â€˜These are songs that I listen to while Iâ€™m drivingâ€™.Â I take the recorder with me on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise.Â I interview the fans.Â â€˜Where you from?â€™ â€˜What band are you here to see?â€™ Iâ€™ll interview all the artists.Â I enjoy that social aspect â€˜( itâ€™s like) I have a microphone therefore you must talk to me!â€™ Itâ€™s a great ice breaker.
KG: Do prefer interviewing or being the interviewee?
RK: You know I think I prefer being interviewed.Â Interviewing somebody thatâ€™s really tough.Â I know what you go through having to do that .Â If youâ€™re interviewing me all I have to do is talk.Â Talk about myself.Â Iâ€™ll try to come up with the best possible answer.Â I do take this part of my job very seriously.Â Because throughout the course of writing the book I had to go back and re-read all the interviews that I did in the 80â€™s and I realized that if I had an opportunity again to redo that interview in â€˜Circus Magazineâ€™ or â€˜Hit Paraderâ€™, some of those big money magazines reaching millions of people, I wouldâ€™ve said stuff that mattered.Â If youâ€™ve got an opportunity to talk to people through the media youâ€™ve got to say something that matters, something thatâ€™s important, whether itâ€™s about your music, your art, your creativity, or about society, or the world.Â So now I make every word count. I try and deliver and entertain people.Â Hopefully someone will read this interview youâ€™re doing with me and be entertained.Â Or at least it will illicit some type of reaction.Â But, itâ€™s much tougher being on the other side of the microphone.
KG:Â What do you think of the current state of rock music?
RK:Â Music or business?Â Two different things.Â The music is really exciting.Â There are so many acts out there, whether theyâ€™re established acts, even from my era, still making, creating, delivery, really good quality music.Â Iâ€™d like to think Iâ€™m among those.Â New products, new songs, a new album called â€˜Metal Cowboyâ€™
Thereâ€™s a few bands that are established that are not â€˜heritage actsâ€™ that are commercially viable like Daughtry.Â I really like them.Â They continue to make and release great albums.Â And then thereâ€™s a great crop of young, undiscovered, unheard of bands that I try to give as much coverage on my radio show to that I can.Â It is so difficult for them to make it. Â People now are dealing with of album sales in the hundreds.Â Theyâ€™re really excited about selling 300 CDâ€™s.Â Thatâ€™s a heartbreaker to me.Â And theyâ€™re excited about it cuz to them thats aÂ huge milestone.Â They should give out Platinum awards for 500 now.Â Because the business is so tough.Â To succeed.Â Just to break even.Â Much less to have the kind of success that many of these bands aspire to.Â Or maybe even deserve.
I do think that thereâ€™s a bright hope for rock and roll.Â This is the music of the wild and the young.Â It will always be viable.Â It will always be relevant, but unfortunately a lot of people arenâ€™t going to get exposed to it.Â Itâ€™s very categorized now.Â Itâ€™s a cultural thing.Â I think the state of the business is in big trouble.Â The music is always gonna be there cuz it comes from the heart.
They gauge bands now by how many YouTube views, how many FaceBook Friends, how many likes.Â Those are your criteria.Â Itâ€™s not a matter of how many records youâ€™ve sold.Â Itâ€™s how many YouTube views you get.
The new â€˜Metal Cowboyâ€™ Album:
KG:Â Where was the Album recorded?
RK:Â At the Hideout here in Las Vegas.Â The only thing that wasnâ€™t were the drum tracks which were done in San jose with Mike Vanderhule, the drummer from Y&T.Â I went there to work with him in his comfort zone, in his studio, in his environment.Â I felt that was really important to give the album aÂ real strong musical foundation.
But, I also felt that it was important that I could take my time with it.Â Work from Las Vegas. I didnâ€™t want to travel to do the record.Â Iâ€™ve done that in the past.Â I like to be able to get up, pack my lunch, pack a 6 pack of beer and a bottle of whiskey, and a pack of smokes and go to work.Â Like any other hard working American guy.Â I go to work in the studio and I do what I can do.Â I give all Iâ€™ve got and then go home and go again the next day.
The only other thing that wasnâ€™t recorded here was the Frank Hannon (Tesla) guitar parts.Â He did all his guitars at his studio in Northern California.
KG:Â Do you find it lyrically easier or more difficult to write Rock vs Country or is it the same process?
RK:Â For me itâ€™s the same now,Â because I approach my rock music as a country songwriter would.Â There are prime examples on this â€˜Metal Cowboyâ€™ album; of songs that were rock songs, and still are, like â€˜The Last Rideâ€™.Â Probably the heaviest.Â Itâ€™s one of the more metal songs on the record.Â There were some phrases in the lyrics that were OK.
Country music taught me there are no throw away lines.Â Now you can use a cliche.Â You can use your double entendres like I do on â€˜Love Goes Downâ€™.Â Thatâ€™s fair game cuz that still resonates with people.Â They get the idea.Â (But) you gotta dig a little deeper.Â Come up with a better lyric and thatâ€™s what country music taught me.Â Every word, every line, every syllable has got to say something.Â Itâ€™s gotta mean something.
â€œInside and out Iâ€™ve earned these scars from the Sunset Strip to the Cowboy Barsâ€ Thatâ€™s good stuff and it wasnâ€™t even an original lyric cuz what I got isnâ€™t good enough. (you gotta think) what do I really want to say here?Â Dig deep.Â You canâ€™t just go â€˜if it rhymes itâ€™s done.â€™
KISS and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
KG:Â Since youâ€™ve worked with Gene Simmons before, Iâ€™m interested to know what your take is on if they should play as the original four piece for the â€˜Rock and Roll Hall of Fameâ€™ induction?Â Would you like to see them play as the original lineup?Â (Interview was done before any of the official KISS statements were made the following week)
RK:Â Thereâ€™s a small fraternity of guys that have been in KISS.Â And itâ€™s their decision to make.Â Itâ€™s their band and I certainly respect whatever it is that Gene and Paul want to do. Â But I thought one of the coolest moments in KISS history was the KISS MTV Unplugged special where they had the current lineup and the original lineup.Â They had Bruce Kulick.Â And Peter Criss and Eric Singer both playing drums.Â Itâ€™s just a small fraternity of guys and some of them arenâ€™t even with us anymore, like Mark St. John and Eric Carr. Except Vinnie Vincent.Â You can leave him wherever the hell he is, I donâ€™t think heâ€™s cominâ€™ anyways.Â I think itâ€™d be cool to include all of them and do something like that.Â As a fan I think thatâ€™d be cool.
As a business man I donâ€™t know where Gene and Pauls relationship is with Peter and Ace? Off-again on-again a lot as we all know.
Itâ€™s kind of like this:Â Like the Beatles. Â A lot of people rag on Ringo.Â â€˜He wasnâ€™t talentedâ€™.Â Ringo was 1/4 of the reason the Beatles were the greatest band of all time.Â Those songs would not be what they are if it werenâ€™t for Ringo.Â Well those early KISS albums and that early KISS history, that ALIVE album… they wouldnâ€™t be what it is if it hadnâ€™t been for Peter and Ace.Â So in that respect I do think they should at least talk about it and consider it, because itâ€™s the right thing to do I think.
KG:Â You were quoted in Michael Toneyâ€™s book â€˜Tales From the Stageâ€™ stating that you believed Nikki Sixxâ€™s drug use has been exaggerated.Â Has he ever said anything to you about that?Â Do you still feel that way?
RK:Â No.Â He hasnâ€™t said anything about it.Â But, weâ€™re all in the business of creating characters.Â Iâ€™m the â€˜Metal Cowboyâ€™.Â â€˜Metal Cowboyâ€™, heâ€™s a tough son-of-a-bitch. The real Ron Keel? Maybe not so much.Â I think that we all exaggerate some of the aspects of our character.
Did they do what they said they did?Â I donâ€™t know. But, my only interaction with them was on tour together, we played shows together, we saw each other around Hollywood a lot…I just thought it was exaggerated.Â And if not I apologize.
If they were that fucked up they were holding it together really good.Â Because,Â Nikki especially, always seemed like he was sharp as a tack andÂ the consummate business man. Â Itâ€™s just my opinion.Â I read â€˜The Dirtâ€™.Â They talked about about those first few shows on the â€˜Girls, Girls, Girls’ tour. Â We were on those shows and I didnâ€™t see any of that.
KG:Â Youâ€™re one of the few that havenâ€™t ended up in rehab.Â Howâ€™d you avoid all that?
RK:Â You gotta have control.Â You canâ€™t let anything have control over you.Â Whether itâ€™s hamburgers or pot or whatever.Â You gotta be in control and Iâ€™m a control freak.Â When we went to Europe 12 or 14 weeks there was no cocaine then.Â We didnâ€™t look for it.Â We didnâ€™t want to get deported.Â We did fine.Â Looking back I donâ€™t think we were going through withdrawals or anything.
Being a Fan:
KG:Â What was the last concert that youÂ attended as fan?
RK:Â Queensyrche a few weeks ago, House of Blues in Anaheim.Â That was a great show.
(Almost) The End:
KG:Â Anything else you want to add?
RK:Â Sure!Â Buy the book.Â Buy the CD and read the book.Â Listen to the CD while youâ€™re reading the book.Â Â But, I just want to thank you, the site (National Rock Review), and the fans for supporting me and hanging in, cuz itâ€™s been one hell of a ride.Â Taking on a few crazy twists and turns over the last 20 or 30 years!
Thanks so much Ron and find everything Ron Keel here at www.ronkeel.com