Interviewed by Thomas Schwarzkopf (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
I think many of you remember the legendary guitar solo on Europe’s classic “Superstitious” and the famous man behind it: KEE MARCELLO. After breaking up with Europe lots of things have changed and during to the release of his new solo album “Judas Kiss” I had the pleasure to interview this living legend.
Kee talked about his new record as well as his appearance in the musical “Rock Of Ages”, but also about some very personal things he experienced in all these years of music business. Check out this very detailed interview with one of the finest guitar players of all time!
Hello Kee! You just released your new solo album “Judas Kiss”. How satisfied are you with the result?
Kee: Very satisfied – I think it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever done!
“Judas Kiss” sounds more aggressive and modern than your previous records. It seems to be much darker. What lead to this new style?
Kee: I think some of this darkness was present already on “Melon Demon Divine”, but this time it feels like it came out exactly like I meant to.
In a way records have a life of their own, sometimes they take an unexpected turn and end up in destinations you couldn’t foresee – but this time it felt like my producing, the people I worked with and the spirit of the album were going in the same direction. A big part of this are of course all the talented people I get to work with; Ken Sandin (Alien, Transport League), long time bass player in the band, drummer Mike Terrana (Axel Rudi Pell, Tarja Tälonen), and the amazing mixing engineer Roberto Laghi. (In Flames, Hardcore Superstar, etc).
Could you imagine getting back to the melodic rock style of the 80’s or is this chapter finished for you? You know, this kind of music is very popular again, especially in Sweden.
Kee: Firstly, I think the popularity of this kind of music in Sweden is gravely exaggerated. There are no successful acts like that around that I’m aware of. But to answer your question, I guess you should never say never, but I’m not in that type of creative mood these days. I’ve been getting addicted to the kind of darkness represented on “Judas Kiss”. It feels like I’ve found my own style – and I’m comfortable with it.
Let’s talk about some songs on “Judas Kiss”. “Coming Home” was already released on your album “Melon Demon Divine”. Why did you put it on the new record again?
Kee: I like the version of “Coming Home” on Melon Demon Divine, but I really wanted it included on this album, since a lot of people have discovered this song quite recently – several years after it was released originally. Furthermore, the sound on Melon Demon Divine and Judas Kiss are so different that it wouldn’t have worked to put the MDD version of the song on Judas Kiss.
“And Forever More” is very close to Europe’s “Girl From Lebanon”. Especially the chorus is very similar. Is this song some kind of tribute to this Europe classic?
Kee: Not at all. I’ve already done my tribute to the song when I rerecorded it on my previous album, “Redux: Europe”.
As a matter of fact, I didn’t hear about this until a fan pointed it out to me on my Facebook fan site.
I wrote this song together with the excellent Swedish song writer/producer Fredrik Hult (23 #1 singles in Japan, 2 #1 on the World charts) for the Japanese act LIV MOON, and I can assure you that we had no intentions of making it sound like Europe. If we would have, that would probably have made the song less coveted.
It took you 9 years to release complete new song material … a very long time. Why did it take so long?
Kee: Because when you make an album, you need a plan. And frankly, I didn’t feel like I had one for this album until just about now. You need the right people to work with, and now I’ve found it in long time music professional Hans Derer from Germany, and his label 7Hard. They’re doing a great job. The first single “Zombie” is presently #23 on the mp3 songs charts, and #3 on the rock charts.
Some other parameters had a part of it. I wrote my autobiography, “The Rock Star God Forgot” – a best seller in Sweden, and the English translation is on it’s way. This took me about a year to write, and together with the book I released “Redux: Europe”, so there were promotion tours connected to those releases.
Also, I’ve had an ugly break up from a manager that turned out to be a con artist.
These things consume time, but I promise that the next album will arrive much sooner. Since it took such a long time I’ve got a lot of great songs in the drawer – at least 50% of a follow-up to Judas Kiss.
You’ve shot a video to the song “Dog Eat Dog” and you look really crazy there. It reminds me of Alice Cooper, just with more make-up. Who had this idea? Is this part of a radical change of your image or something like that?
Kee: The idea was all mine. I’ve been fascinated by the phenomena of Jesters, Jokers or evil clowns for as long as I can remember. Harlequin and Pierrot – I have an intriguing oil painting of them on the wall above the stair case in my house, The Joker in the Batman comic books, the guitar player Zal Cleminson of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons of Kiss, etc, etc …
I named my first band Joker. It’s something that’s been in my mind forever.
But the whole band make up idea for the “Dog Eat Dog” video was beautifully executed by the excellent British make up artist Sammm Agnew (yes, with three m’s!). She knew exactly what I wanted for this video. The video is directed by Marek Budzynski, great director. I would love to work with these guys again. Mind you, this was the video idea for “Dog Eat Dog”. The next video might be something completely different.
Why is the album called “Judas Kiss”? Has this a special meaning to you?
Kee: Yes it does. It’s about all the double dealing and betrayals one can be – and I’ve been – exposed to in this sometimes ruthless industry. I’m far from alone having experienced this. A lot of powerful people in this business pray on young talented performers, who live for their music and don’t really care so much about money.
You are my favorite guitar player beside Richie Sambora. What do you think about his skills? Have you ever met each other?
Kee: Yes, we’ve met on a couple of occasions. He’s a nice guy and a good player.
Do you still learn something new from other guitar players? Who had/has the most influence on your play?
Kee: I don’t really listen to “guitar players” as per say, I listen to bands. For instance , I’m not crazy about Mark Tremonti’s solo playing, but he’s one of my favorite rhythm guitarist and song writer of that genre. I’m a big fan of the Alter Bridge albums, especially “Blackbird”.
As a guitar player, my core comes from Hendrix, Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, John McLaughlin, Neal Schon, Alan Holdsworth, but first and foremost: Ollie Halsall of the group Patto. (Google!)
I think you influenced a whole generation of guitar players with your legendary guitar solo in Europe’s “Superstitious”. Did you ever think this one would make you so famous?
Kee: I guess you never really know … but I realized that people were going to listen to it since it appeared on the first single of “Out Of This World”, the follow-up to “The Final Countdown”. Another factor was that I was able to convince the band to double the extent of the solo! Originally it was supposed to go on for just one chorus, but I told them that I felt like it would build to a great crescendo if I could double it, this time one octave up. It turned out that this sounded fantastic, and proof of that is that today the solo is just as famous as the song itself – or, as a matter of fact – perhaps more famous.
I recall a key thing regarding my playing on “Out Of This World” in general. After the one-year long Final Countdown World Tour I lived in Nassau, The Bahamas. I know, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! (laughs)
I was having a beer on the patio, reading the brand new issue of Guitar Player Magazine, when I came across an interesting article. It was an interview with the excellent American Jazz guitarist Pat Martino – not to be confused with Pat Metheny. Martino was sharing an anecdote of when he bumped into Les Paul while taking a walk on Manhattan.
“Mr. Les Paul, I’m a big fan!”, Martino goes, very pleased to meet this legendary player.
Then Les Paul does a one-liner that I’ll bring with me forever:
“Pat, you sure play a lot of notes – but – does your mother recognize you on the radio?”
This spoke volumes to me! Nobody remembers a solo that doesn’t have a strong melody or some sort of catchiness and uniqueness to it.
With this frame of mind I traveled to London and recorded “Out Of This World”.
You also released an album, called “Redux: Europe”, which consists in most parts of cover versions from Europe-classics. I liked this one very much, because of its rough sound and the punchy production. Why did you decide to do such a cover album?
Kee: I was playing some of these songs live on my solo tours, and I simply wanted to be able to perform my own versions of them. So I picked the Europe songs I felt I could do something new with – by adding rawness and a modern production. I did “Here Comes The Night”, since I always heard it like this on “Redux: Europe” – as a “Mott The Hoople” kind of ballad, which it really wasn’t in the Europe version.
The reason I re-did my old band Easy Action’s “We Go Rocking”, was that I wanted to bring some justice to the song.
It’s a well known fact that the US band Poison stole “We Go Rocking” and called it “I Want Action” on their debut album. The plagiarism was very obvious, especially after it turned out that the producer of the album; Rick Browde, had brought a copy of Easy Action’s first album to the studio wanting the band to cover the song!
So after some lawyer dealings it ended up with a settlement out of court in LA, when Poison had to pay me and the co-writers in Easy Action a substantial sum of money for the song theft.
But when Poison performed at the Sweden Rock Festival a couple of years ago and Brett Michael’s was asked by journalists what he thought about “We Go Rocking” and Easy Action, he replied that he never heard about either “We Go Rocking” or Easy Action.
His arrogance really pissed me off! I mean, if it’s been proven that you are a thief and that you’ve built your whole career on somebody else s song, why not at least try to show some humility?
So, as a reply to this I re-wrote the lyrics so they’re now about how Poison stole my song. It felt like a catharsis recording the vocals to the new version of the song!
I think the album turned out great, although I actually got a lot of bad reviews because of the concept. I think a lot of journalists thought it all was some sort of trick to capitalize on Europe’s past success, but I can honestly tell you that it wasn’t my purpose. I merely wanted to give those songs a modern production and turn them into my own style.
Speaking about Europe – I read you had lots of trouble with these guys, so are you finally done with them or can you at least talk to each other in a good way?
Kee: Oh no, we’re not on speaking terms. Since they decided to go with John Norum, non of them ever called or contacted me again. In all fairness, I never called them either, but frankly, who need friends like that? I wish them all the best doing their own thing, but I don’t want to be part of it again, mostly because I can’t picture myself playing any of the songs since the reunion. The magic is gone.
Another problem is that I bought Norums fifth of the band for 1 million SEK in 1987 – more than 1 million Euros with today’s money count, and they haven’t bought his share back. So in theory I still own the rights to a fifth of the Europe brand name. So far they have showed no interest in paying me my money back, but I hope we can reach a settlement in due time, cause this really ain’t the way to do business.
A journalist asked me the other day: “If Joey reaches out his hand to you, how will you react?” I replied: “I will embrace it, under the condition that it contains the 1 million Euros he owes me.”
Could you imagine joining an existing band again, besides your solo stuff?
Kee: Maybe if it’s the right band, but I’m not sure. It has to be under the right conditions, and the right crowd. I choose to only work with people I like.
You are part of the musical “Rock Of Ages” in Sweden. How did this happen? How does this experience feel for you?
Kee: It’s an extraordinary experience! It started with a phone call from Bosse Andersson at 2Entertain, the biggest Musical and theater producers of Scandinavia. He asked me to come with him to West End in London to check out the UK production of Rock Of Ages. Bosse, me, and Joacim Cans, who is also in Rock Of Ages, flew to London to see it a couple of days later. After the show I told him that I felt that my part in the show was too small and that I had other plans. Then he explained that they were going to write a new role for me into the script – as myself. So I’m actually acting as Kee Marcello in the musical! This is quite unique, my part doesn’t exist in either the Broadway, Las Vegas or West End productions of Rock Of Ages.
So besides playing and singing throughout the show, I’m also acting. Since this is something I’ve done very little of, I find it very inspiring. The only similar experience is when I acted in the horribly bad cult horror movie “Blood Tracks” with Easy Action in 1985.
You have been in music business for a long time now. Which was your worst experience and what was the best that happen to you?
Kee: The worst was coming back to Sweden after the Europe era. We were the biggest thing in rock’n’roll to ever come out of Sweden, and a lot of jealous people thrived on the fact that it was now over. Also, I developed a dangerous cocaine habit living in LA, the difference was that now, when I found myself back in an autumn grey Stockholm I was no longer a celebrated rock star enjoying a couple of lines at the Rainbow – I was a simple junkie – scoring in the projects. Love was what eventually saved me.
I have my beautiful wife Pia to thank for my life – she made me see colors again.
The best thing that happened was when I realized that I don’t need to group up with others. I don’t need Europe, Easy Action or any other act for that matter – I can stand firmly on my own legs. I’ve finally grown up!
Imagine you could be part of an all-star-band. Which musicians should join this band beside you?
Kee: How about: Me and Mark Tremonti on guitars, I would be singing, Marco Mendoza playing the bass, and Virgil Donati playing the drums. Sounds good? I think so.
What can we expect from you in the nearer future? Are there any plans of touring or are you involved in other projects?
Kee: I’ll do Rock Of Ages until May 25 when we have a summer break. I’ll be doing some touring this summer. Check out www.keemarcello.com for tour dates.
Any message to your fans out there?
Kee: I would like to say thanks to y’all for being so faithful! You are truly amazing.
I’m presently doing a photo contest on my Facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kee-Marcello/49909539642)
The idea is for fans and friends to post pics of themselves and their Kee Marcello memorabilia – records, books, magazines, merchandise, etc.
The response has been fantastic, I can’t believe how many people this have reached!
Good job my friends – see you on the road!
Kee, it was an honor to talk you! Good luck and success with your new album!
Kee: Thank you!