Just weeks ago, Keel announced they were ready to reunite after decades of silence. Vocalist Ron Keel talks with Bring Back Glam! about that reunion, playing festivals and working with Gene Simmons. Transcription follows.
Bring Back Glam!: Tell me how the reunion got rolling.
Ron Keel: The band members always remained really good friends, unlike so many other bands of the same genre. We always stayed in touch. Every year, I’d get together with the guys and we’d talk about how cool it would be to do a reunion. Unlike most of our contemporaries, Keel hasn’t been playing regularly. Even though the band is named after my last name and I had every right and ability to form a new version and keep going, I didn’t feel it was right without the original guys. I always thought of Keel as a band in every sense of the word. There’s a real camaraderie and brotherhood in the true sense of the word with all the guys and I’m really glad I held out. So, we’ve always talked about it and the last couple of years, things have changed in the industry to make this possible. Festivals are a big thing. Most bands – even ones with platinum records – were playing small clubs for 200 or 300 people and now with the festivals the last couple of years you can get out there and do it right. You can get on the big stage, play in front of thousands with a big production and do it right. That was certainly a large part of making this happen. Having a great time behind us and with us is also a big factor. We were determined we wouldn’t do this unless we could do it right and the timing makes it a milestone: 25 years since the release of the Right to Rock album and 20 years since the band has played on stage together. This just seems like the right time to get out there, celebrate the music, great times, friendships and play for people that want to hear it.
BBG!: So, what really caused the Keel break-up?
RK: The truth is, after several albums and not getting over the hump – we had a lot of success, we toured the world, sold a lot of records, were on the covers of magazines - but we never achieved the level of success of bands like Motley Crue and RATT. After three records, people started pointing fingers and demanded “Why isn’t it happening for us?” Well, it’s a lot of things: it’s the record company, the choice of single, the difficulty of getting on a big tour. That’s what I attribute to the difficulty of getting over the hump. We had a short time with Bon Jovi. This was great, it was the last leg of the Slippery When Wet tour. Cinderella had 300-some dates, we had 20-some dates. We were scheduled to tour with Metallica when the bus accident happened and Cliff Burton died and that tour was cancelled. There were other factors that lead to us never being on a big tour for a long length of time. A lot of bands were not receptive to taking us on the road for them. Bon Jovi did. We opened for Van Halen at the Texas Jamm and also for Aerosmith at their big reunion show when Brad Whitford and Joe Perry rejoined the band in Massachusetts – big stadium show. You start to wonder what is going wrong and you second guess yourself and you begin to have differences. [Guitarist] Marc Ferrari left to form his own band Cold Sweat and Keel just wasn’t the same after that. Bryan left the band...it sort of feel apart. I could have plugged in new players and kept going but I just didn’t feel it was right. So, we never really “broke-up” more like one piece of the puzzle fell away and it was never the same again. I’m glad I pulled the plug at the time and didn’t beat a dead horse.
BBG!: Tell me why you think other bands didn’t want to take Keel on the road.
RK: I don’t want to toot our own horn or brag or anything. We had a tour booked with Motley Crue. You know, tickets printed, posters made, the whole deal. Well, anyway, Motley took us [on the] Girls, Girls, Girls tour. But in 1985, Nikki Sixx came to see us open for Queensryche in San Diego. The next day we were off the tour. Keel took great pride in a big stage show. We have guitar solos, choreographed moves. You could take away all the bells and whistles, give us two feet of stage room and we could still snuff a lot of those bands. You know, Gene Simmons was one of those. Gene was a big proponent of Keel, he produced two albums and was a big supporter, but he wouldn’t put us on before KISS. The Metallica tour would have been a great break. We were going to be the opening act the entire tour. The worst thing that could happen did – the bus crash, Cliff died, the tour was cancelled. All we can do is make good music, have fun and try to do the best we can. We just never had the opportunity to do a protracted arena tour. Probably in the whole history of Keel we only did 60 or 70 arena shows. We were the eternal opening act for bands like Krokus, Accept...bands that had a lot of push behind them but were playing smaller venues. Unless you can get out there every night and play arenas in front of 15 or 20 thousand people, not enough people will hear about you to buy your records, enabling us to achieve the level of success we wanted to achieve.
BBG!: Tell me about working with Gene Simmons
RK: Working with him as a producer was absolutely incredible. We got a record deal really fast. Everything happened really fast for Keel. I put the band together in March, we played our first gig in April to a sellout crowd in Los Angeles and by summertime we were in the studio recording our first album. Before the sessions were even done, the management called us back to showcase for the major labels because there was a lot of interest. By the end of those three days, we had a deal. The record company wanted to move quickly to get a record out in January. The label put a list of producers in front of me and it had all the hot cats on the list and one name stood out was Gene Simmons. I thought “That’s the guy! I want to meet Gene. “ The record label set up a meeting. I met him at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We (Keel) didn’t even have anything good to play for Gene except the demo of the “The Right to Rock.” We’d just made that tape as a warm up in the studio – it didn’t even have a vocal track. I put the tape in Gene’s boom box and I just got in his face and started screaming the song. He’s looking at me and I’m singing to Gene right in his hotel room. All of a sudden he just leaned over, hit “stop” and said “I’m going to produce this record and we’re going to start next Tuesday.” We had to work around Gene’s touring schedule with KISS. We were thrust in the studio very quickly – Gene was with us for the first couple of years. He was a great help, both in and out of the studio. As a producer, Gene is very underrated. He knows all about songs: the chords, harmony, melody, arrangements... he was very instrumental in shaping our identity and our sound. Off stage, having his name associated with Keel certainly didn’t hurt. He had – and still has – a lot of power and muscle in the business. He fought hard for us. Gene did everything in his power to help us. All of a sudden, the floodgates were opening: the tour, the media, the fan response, the record was on MTV and radio and we were off on one hell of a ride
BBG!: Will Keel play any summer festivals?
RK: I hope. I think we’re tailor made for these festivals. I know for a fact that we can sell tickets. I did an appearance at Rocklahoma last year on a side stage. The response from the fans was overwhelming. There were people there from Japan, the U.K., Australia; they all brought their Keel records and memorabilia for me to sign. They wanted to meet me, shake my hand, take a photograph – it was overwhelming. I know Keel can sell tickets and entertain those people. You put us on a stage, we’ll put on a show and entertain those people and that’s what it’s all about. We want to play as many of the big festivals as possible. I’ve already seen the response. I went on the Rock Gone Wild message board and saw the fans asking for Keel. We didn’t encourage this. After I saw this, I thought “This is great!" I don’t know these people, but they are on the message boards, blogs and emails asking for Keel. This is special. Keel isn’t a band you’ve seen the last 20 years. This will be a special event every time Keel hits the stage. We’d like to do all the festivals. We’ve got our first reunion show January 31st and after that, we’ll do some shows in select markets: Vegas, Phoenix, a couple New York shows, Columbus (Ohio), Nashville, Detroit...and I’m not sure where else. We’d like to go to Europe and Japan and we’d like to do it right. We’ll see what 2009 holds for us.
BBG!: What can fans expect to hear when Keel plays live?
RK: You’re absolutely going hear all the hits. We had five major hit songs: “The Right to Rock,” “Tears of Fire,” “Somebody’s Waiting,” “Rock n’ Roll Outlaw” and “Because the Night.” There’s no way you’ll leave a Keel show without hearing those songs. There are some that fans have demanded through the years that were not singles or hits. Especially "I Said the Wrong Thing to the Right Girl." We’re going to give it to them...something from each album. We have six records and there will be something from each record. At festivals, you’re on stage for 40 minutes and you don’t have time to do all the tunes. We’re going to do medleys – a verse, chorus, solo. It’s an entertaining way to include as much material as possible.
Photo credit: Keel official website.No copyright assumed.