METAL PULP AND PAPER: Hello Ron. So glad to be catching up with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us here at Metal Pulp And Paper. We appreciate it.
RON KEEL: Thank you, it’s my pleasure – you caught me at a good time!
MPAP: So, how are you doing? Now that 2018 has come to an end, and 2019 is here point blank, are you ready for it?
RON: If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready… we spent last year writing and recording the new album Fight Like A Band, so we knew when that clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve it was go time. So let’s go!
MPAP: Before we go any further, let’s properly introduce you. Hello everyone, we have Ron Keel here, who over the years has been the lead singer for Steeler and Keel. Both heavy metal bands from the early to mid-80s. Even for a moment, Ron spent some time in the legendary band Black Sabbath, eventually going on to reinvent himself in country music, some would not suspect him ending up doing. You’re now known as the Metal Cowboy. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
RON: Man, that’s a good start, you got it covered. I have reinvented myself several times, and I’m also proud of my work as a radio show host, author, a musical entrepreneur in general – but it all stems from the music, that’s where it starts and that’s my number one priority.
MPAP: With a new year usually, that means there could be new things on the horizon? I hear February 23rd is a big day? Please tell us more?
RON: Like I mentioned, the music always comes first for me – so last year we really focused on writing the best songs we could and making the best album we could. I didn’t do a lot of shows or a lot of other business because I was immersed in that creative process – but now it’s time to clock in and rock out. February 23rd is our official album release party, at the beautiful Grand Falls Casino just minutes from my adopted home town of Sioux Falls, and then Fight Like A Band – from EMP Label Group and Ron Keel Band – hits the streets worldwide March 1st.
MPAP: Even at this record release concert, along with playing some songs from the RKB release, you will also dust off some classics and play some of your tunes from Keel. Any details of what songs you might play, do you have anything up your sleeve for that night?
RON: Those songs don’t need any dusting off – we play them at every show. I have to give the fans "The Right To Rock" and those other Keel songs, and I love singing them more now than I ever did. We’re going to play the new Fight Like A Band album in its entirety, that’s 11 new original songs plus a Keel medley which includes "Because The Night," "Somebody’s Waiting," "Tears Of Fire" and "The Right To Rock." I’m excited about that, and let’s face it – we may never get the opportunity to perform the complete album in one show, so this is going to be a very special night.
MPAP: And, hold your horses, the show doesn’t just end there. After that, you then return to the stage to perform a South X South Dakota set, which is a tribute to Southern Rock icons like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Outlaws, Molly Hatchet and more. Tell us about you being the Metal Cowboy and what got you into Country music?
RON: From the first time I heard Skynyrd’s live album One More From The Road in the 70’s, I was hooked on Southern Rock. My dad was a hardcore redneck and loved his music, and the Keel house was one-half country music and one-half rock n roll – my old man and my older sister would alternate Haggard and Jones with Beatles and Stones on the family record player and I loved it all. In school I was learning classical music, and jazz and blues, so it was a very diverse upbringing, which I think has led to diversity in my career and my music. I love the excitement, energy, and electricity of hard rock and metal, but I also love the twang and the truth of country music. Mix ‘em up and it comes out Metal Cowboy.
MPAP: Metal music and the Rap music genre crossed paths many years ago, do you want Country and Metal to cross paths, even more, these days?
RON: I’d like to see less prejudice in our culture altogether – left, right, black, white, metal, country – there’s too much intolerance today of other people’s taste and feelings. Different styles of music are different vehicles, and everybody should take a ride in my backseat just to see how much fun it can be.
MPAP: Going back to your release Fight Like A Band, David Ellefson’s EMP record label is going to release it? Dave Ellefson is someone you want in your corner in the music industry?
RON: When I felt it was time for us to create and release a new album, David Ellefson and EMP were my first and only choice. Can’t say enough good things about that guy – his passion for music, his character, his business sense, and the results reflect in his Billboard chart success with a number of EMP releases these past couple of years. And, label chief Thom Hazaert and I are cut from the same cloth – we hit it off from the very first phone conversation and it has been nothing but mayhem since. Dave and Thom believed in what we’re doing, and they didn’t want a carbon copy of Keel and another 80’s flashback record – Ellefson sat across the table from me when we signed the record deal and said "Ron, just sing your life." And they created a special imprint, EMP Outlaw, for this. So, I sang my life. From the hard-hitting opening track "Road Ready" to the Keel medley, there’s some heavy shit on this record – but there’s also some heavy shit in the lyrics of songs like "Hearts Gone Wild" and "Just A Cowboy."
MPAP: Thom had this to say about you, "Ron is one of the most talented rock vocalists of our generation," "A true gentleman outlaw, and we are honored to have him as part of the EMP family." How does this feel to be a part of that label, and how does it feel to hear something like that mentioned about you?
RON: I think most entertainers have a core desire to be liked, to be wanted, to be accepted. You don’t label yourself an outlaw – people bestow those titles upon you – but I’ve always been an outcast. In the 80s when it was cool to abuse women and drugs, I was the guy next door just wanting to throw a party and I got a lot of backlash for it. In country music, where they tell you what you can and can’t say and do, how to act, and when you’re 30 you’re too old, I didn’t really fit in there either. So, to have EMP really embrace me and my band and make us part of the family – to invite me to dinner, to put their money and reputation on the line to support my work – you’re damn right, that makes me feel really good.
MPAP: February is just the beginning, and there are plenty of months left after that on the calendar, what else do you have planned for all your fans for the rest of 2019?
RON: Kick back and grab a drink – this is gonna take a minute. There’s a lot happening in my camp this year! When my wife Renée was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I began exploring an online platform called Patreon, which would enable me to entertain people from home. She’s recovered and healthy now, but I was still excited to launch http://patreon.com/ronkeel a few months ago where I can share exclusive audio, video, music, the RonCast, experiences and other content with Keelaholics online so I hope everyone will check that out. In addition to Fight Like A Band, there are some other exciting album releases, starting with 9th Star, the Black Sabbath tribute album featuring 10 former members of Sabbath and Ozzy’s band. I am very proud of my lead vocals on this project – I got to sing an Ozzy song, "Hole In The Sky," an Ian Gillian song "Trashed," and the Dio-era classic "Die Young." Other rock royalty on those tracks include Vinny Appice and Bobby Rondinelli on drums, Rudy Sarzo on bass, and DC Cothern from Ron Keel Band on lead guitar. FnA Records will release Steeler: Come Hell Or Hollywood – this is pure 1982 Hollywood rock from before Yngwie joined the band; Ron Keel Band will have our South X South Dakota Southern Rock cover album out this summer, and we’re hoping to see the re-mastered re-releases of The Final Frontier and Keel on Rock Candy Records in time for the Keel show at the Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan, Italy in April. After four years hosting a daily radio show, I am resuming my weekly syndicated show 'Streets Of Rock N Roll' – the debut episode features an exclusive interview Dave Mustaine from Megadeth and that will be available on demand at http://patreon.com/ronkeel. And then there’s the big elephant in the room – KEELFest 2019, just announced for Columbus Ohio May 10th! Keel – Ron Keel Band – and a tribute to Steeler featuring Steeler alumni Rik Fox on bass and Mitch Perry on guitar. This is a three-hour show 35 years in the making, and to have all these good friends on stage with me in one night is going to be a dream come true.
MPAP: You are keeping yourself busy for sure. All of those events sound like a good time. Just recently you were at the inaugural Headbangers Con that was held in Portland, Oregon on November 10th and 11th, in 2018? For those that might not know what that was, it was a place where the fans could meet their Rock heroes or the other way around; a place for the Rockstars to meet their fans. Tell us about that your experience there?
RON: I loved it, the promoters did an incredible job with that event, and I am right at home with the all-day meet-greet. I’ve done a dozen or so expo/convention type events in recent years, and it really is a great way to get that personal interaction with the fans. Next time, I’m singing – hear that Chris 51 (the promoter)? Next time I’m bringing my guitar with me, the hardest part of the whole deal was not getting to perform. I like to do the condensed acoustic show at these events – OK Chris?
MPAP: That would be great to see and hear an acoustic set performed by you. Hopefuly that can happen. Now after the red carpet party at The Bossanova Ballroom, and then the two days that followed at the Lloyd Center Exibit Hall where the actual convention was at, is there any moment you can put your finger on that you enjoyed the most if it’s even possible while at the Headbangers Con?
RON: Yes, tough to point out any one thing, but what I treasure the most are the friendships – getting to see long time buddies like photographers Iron Mike Savoia and David Plastik and making new friends like artist Claudio Bergamin (whose beautiful artwork includes the latest Judas Priest album Firepower) and the promoter, Chris 51. Another highlight was being invited to David Ellefson’s and Thom Hazaert’s birthday dinner with his family and close inner circle.
MPAP: Moving forward, let’s talk about some of the headlines from 2018 and get your thoughts on them. Ratt had been making headlines because original drummer Bobby Blotzer and singer Stephen Pearcy have been having legal disputes over the band’s name and who owns it, but in this one headline, for the second time in two weeks, 'Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy crashed and burned on stage.' What are your thoughts on that?
RON: I get it – not only am I in the media so I should have a take on that, Stephen and I have been friends for almost 40 years. I love that guy and would rather not comment on it. You can say he crashed and burned, I’ll just say he had a rough night and promise you that will never happen at a Ron Keel show.
MPAP: Another story that made headlines was about Yngwie Malmsteen, and at one-point, Yngwie was your guitarist in your band Steeler in 1983. The story was, Jake E. Lee slammed Yngwie, calling the legendary Swedish axeman 'an arrogant fucking asshole who is only really good at one-minute aspect of the art of playing guitar.' I don’t expect you to say anything bad about Jake or Yngwie, but, after all these years, do you still keep in touch with Yngwie?
RON: I don’t mind talking about Yngwie or Jake. My history is forever entwined with Malmsteen because of the success of that first Steeler album, and Jake and I have known each other since he was in Ratt. I reached out to Yngwie to appear on my radio show to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Steeler album release, and didn’t hear back from him, before that the last time we spoke was 1984. Rumor has it we will be crossing paths in 2020, however…
MPAP: Let’s talk about two critical bands that decided to call it quits in 2018 for a moment. There was the Canadian Rock band Rush, and the American Thrash-metal band Slayer. Slayer called it quits after being together for over 35 years, and Rush hit the 50-year mark of being together. These are two icons in their own elements, two music groups on each side of the music spectrum coming to an end? What do you think about that? It’s something hard to conceive and chew on, right?
RON: From what I hear, Neil Peart pulled the plug on Rush and there’s no way they can continue without Neil; I have heard recently that Geddy and Alex may be working together on something new? Both acts have an enormous body of work that will live on, so whether they're active performers or creating new music or not, their place in history is secure. I can tell you, somewhere, someday, I will be an old man on a barstool with an acoustic guitar trying to sing and play, and when I can no longer do that, you’d better bring me another bottle of whiskey.
MPAP: Whatever you want to call it, retirement-un-retirement, we can’t leave out and at least not mention Motley Crue. On September 13, 2018, frontman Vince Neil announced on his Twitter account that Motley Crue was recording four new songs together. Does that surprise you that in 2015 they 'so-called signed a contract' stating they would never tour together, and then three years later announce they are getting back together to record some new music? They haven’t announced a tour yet, but what do you think about it all?
RON: Well, it makes a great story, doesn’t it? That’s why we’re talking about it. When an aging boxer wants to get back in the ring one more time, who am I to say they should or shouldn’t? Let the music do the talking. If they can get back in the ring and land a solid punch, then 'knock ‘em dead, kid.'
MPAP: Very well put Ron. Then, last but not least, on September 19, 2018, following a performance on America's Got Talent, Kiss announced that they would be ending their career with the One Last Kiss: End of the Road World Tour in 2019. Do you believe them?
RON: I do believe them. And I begged Gene to let Keel be the opening act on that tour, we’d call it 'Keel Over' and sign a contract agreeing to never tour again… But I can’t help thinking that eventually, there will be a new version of Kiss with new young entertainers assuming those iconic roles. They’re like superheroes, and there’s always going to be a new Batman, a new Tarzan.
MPAP: Speaking of Kiss, Keel’s major label debut, The Right To Rock, was produced by Kiss’s Gene Simmons. How do you feel about him saying that Rock and Roll is dead? You obviously have some respect for him and what he’s done for you and your band Keel, but putting that aside, do you have any comments about his statement? Is there anything you’d like to say back to him?
RON: We dedicated a whole episode of my radio show to that topic when Gene said that a few years back. It’s a dramatic statement meant to get people’s attention and it certainly did; I can relate to the meaning behind it. Physical death is final, but music has a way of evolving and surviving in spite of all odds. There are dozens of musical styles that have come and gone throughout recorded history, and hundreds of years later they still echo in the corners of our existence. Wow, that was pretty fucking deep… what I mean is, rock is not dead but it’s not what it used to be, when giants walked the earth, when rock stars were larger than life, when there was still so much creative territory to explore.
MPAP: You’ve been in the music industry for well over 35 years. It is not easy what so ever to be a part of it. What inspires you to keep doing this every day?
RON: If it was easy, everybody would do it. And if you can quit, quit. I can’t, and I came to terms with that truth decades ago. This is who I am, this is where I stand, it is in the very core of my being. Predators hunt and kill… musicians make music. I am like a shark – if I stop swimming I will drown.
MPAP: Heavy metal or Hair metal, whichever flavor you choose to call it, the 1980s were filled with lots of debaucheries. Did you ever get caught up in the middle of drugs and alcohol?
RON: I got news for you, the debaucheries didn’t stop when the 80s were over. Drugs and alcohol are not debauchery, unless you abuse them. Lots of things can be abused – time, energy, substances, people. A knife can cut butter, or it can stab someone. I’m not condoning anything, and I’m not judging anything. I have been drug-free for twelve years and I do not drink every day, or even every other day, but I’ll respect your sobriety if you’ll respect my right to enjoy a shot of whiskey every now and then.
MPAP: All good things must come to an end, but before you go, I would like you to say the first thing or even first things that come to mind when you think of the 1980s and these following things:
Your vice then, your vice now?
RON: Music. No addiction has ever been that powerful.
MPAP: Backstage then, backstage now?
RON: I could smoke cigarettes backstage then, now I have to go outside.
MPAP: Tour riders then, tour riders now?
RON: Pretty much the same – water, liquor, sammiches and batteries!
MPAP: Before the show, then, before the show now?
RON: Again, pretty much the same. Preparation, nerves, excitement. I think now there’s an appreciation for each moment that we didn’t have back then; we thought the ride would last forever, and as we mature, we realize how blessed we are to still be able to do this at a very high level. You know there’s more behind you than in front of you, so you really cherish every moment.
MPAP: Writing a studio album then, writing a studio album now?
RON: I have so much more in my emotional well to draw from now, and I am so much better at channeling those feelings into music. If the songs we’re writing now were released back then, I really believe they would have been big hits. It’s a craft, a skill, and I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at it with practice.
MPAP: Fans then, fans now?
RON: There were more of them then! We sold 90,000 copies of The Right To Rock in the first week and didn’t even crack the Billboard Top 200 – now, like my buddy Luc Carl says in the epic rockumentary film Hair I Go Again – "if you sell 25,000 copies, you’re #1. And you’re still the #1 broke guy." But I don’t care how many there are, I appreciate every damn one of them.
MPAP: On behalf of myself and Metal Pulp And Paper, I’d like to thank you, Ron, for doing this interview with us. We look forward to what you do moving forward into 2019 and beyond.
RON: Thank you for the opportunity, and for the support!
MPAP: Any last words out there for all your fans worldwide?
RON: I ask that you visit me online at http://patreon.com/ronkeel - this is my private campfire online, where we share exclusive audio, video and other content, and you are all invited to my party. Live the rock!