Interview : Robert Cavuoto
The Ron Keel band has recently released his latest CD, Fight Like a Band via EMP Label Group. The collection features 11 brand-new songs and fresh recordings of Keel classics.
After selling millions of albums and touring the world as both a metal screamer (Keel, Steeler, and a brief encounter with Black Sabbath) and an outlaw country artist, he has combined those elements into his own brand of music, Metal Cowboy. Expressive songs from the heart; sung with passion and delivered in true metal fashion.
I caught up with Ron fresh off the heels of his return trip home from the Frontiers Rock Festival in Italy where Keel recently performed. In my interview with Ron, we talk about the transition from metal and rock to Metal Cowboy and the creation of his new CD Fight Like a Band.
Robert Cavuoto: You are just back from the Frontiers Rock Festival in Italy, how did that show go?
Ron Keel: The show was amazing and one of the best Keel shows of the last ten year. We reunited in 2009 for our 25th anniversary, and now it’s our 35th anniversary; and it’s better than ever. The energy from the guys in the band and audience were a great warm-up gig for KeelFest in Columbus Ohio next week,
Robert Cavuoto: Many bands when they play Frontier Rock Festival do a live CD or DVD. Did you record out there?
Ron Keel: We should have. They offered us the opportunity to record a live DVD, but I declined because my focus is on The Ron Keel Band now. Keel is a side project while most people may think the opposite. It’s a brotherhood; a celebration of our musical legacy for our fans and friends. My main focus is on new The Ron Keel Band album Fight Like a Band, and I didn’t want to detract from that in any way.
Robert Cavuoto: You grew up in the southwest, and much of your music now has a southern rock vibe, was that something you were always a fan of even back in the 80s with your first few rock albums?
Ron Keel: It goes back to the 70s in my formative years. There was no prejudice between musical styles like there is now. The lines were not clearly drawn. I was listening to AM radio with Sabbath and The Eagles on the same station. To me, it was all rock & roll; great songs with different approaches to telling stories. I have deep roots to the South as I was born in Georgia then moved to Nashville at 17 years old. My father was a country musician, and my musical upbringing was a completely diverse environment. I grew up playing blues and jazz and classically trained in the school band on a variety of instrument. I can read and sight read music. There were so many places I could go from there with my music. Keel was a hard rock band that crossed the lines of metal and commercial rock while Steeler was all metal. The stylistic evolution came when I went back to Nashville in 2000 to play with the musicians there to write country songs. I have one foot on either side of the fence, and I love the excitement, electricity, and passion of metal but also love the way country music is built around the voice, melody, and story that it’s trying to tell. I have taken that approach over the last 20 years into something I call Metal Cowboy. It’s the power and energy of arena rock with songs that touch hearts and make people feel something. I think people will relate and like our new CD Fight Like a Band. Even the metalheads on social media are embracing the southern flair songs. I didn’t set out to write any particular style of music for this album, but there are some real 80s Keel-esque anthems on it like “Road Ready” the lead track, “Fight Like Band” which we did a video, and “Hearts Gone Wild. “Hopefully, people will enjoy it. Songs like “Rock & Roll Guitar” is a metal song. We just wanted to write great songs and record a great album.
Robert Cavuoto: In some ways, you reinvented yourself with this magical combination particularly on the song “Girls Like Me” which has an old metal school vibe with a modern southern rock flair.
Ron Keel: There is a lot of serious stuff on this album but “Girls Like Me” is not one of them [laughing]. If Van Halen had been in Georgia instead of LA, it is what they would have sounded like; a southern Van Halen.
Robert Cavuoto: What did your Dad with his country roots think of you going into long-haired heavy metal?
Ron Keel: They disowned me and gave up on me [laughing]. Until Keel came on MTV and the cover magazines did they start to realize I was on to something. He thought we named the band after him [laughing]. He became our biggest fans and would drive out from Phoenix to LA to see us. He was my best friend and a big influence on my life and music. I wish he was still here to see us as I think he would dig it. I sing for my parents now. They would be proud to know I’m still singing, I’m happy, I’m healthy and doing well deliver good music like I was supposed to do.
Robert Cavuoto: You redid the Keel songs “The Right to Rock,” “Tears of Fire,” and a medley of “Because the Night” and “Somebody’s Waiting” they sound more powerful and sonically better. What was the intention of revisiting?
Ron Keel: I have an internal clock that goes off every few years where I want to make a new record. I knew it was a time when I re branded this project as The Ron Keel Band. I didn’t have any songs at the time, so I thought let’s re-record some Keel songs and maybe write some new songs to make an album. When we started writing, the flood gates opened with ideas. We have 11 original songs that are on the album. We recorded some of the Keel classics on this record; the intention was to give the songs another shot. I really wanted to sing them again after all the years of doing them on tour. I felt like I have come a long way vocally and not the guy I was in 85 or 86 who didn’t have a grasp on my voice or really know how to control my instrument. I wanted to show fans I still embrace the past and the songs that got me where I am today. I moved forward but have not moved on. They also fit nicely on the album. They don’t stick out like an apple tree in a cornfield. They belong on this album.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about your connection with David Ellefson and how you got signed to his EMP label.
Ron Keel: David and I go back to the Hollywood heydays with Megadeth and Steeler. David now owns and operates EMP Label Group, and we had a chance to do a show together in Sioux Fall South Dakota. David brought one of his band’s, Doll Skins out there and at the end of the show we did a jam with David. We played some Megadeth songs and cover tunes. Over the course of the event, I got to know him as a businessman and his passion for EMP and his artists. I felt when it was time for me to make a record that is where I should go. They had great success with my friends like Autograph and Slaughter. David embraced what I’m doing now rather than rehash the past or create a new Keel album. At the contract signing, he looked across the table at me and said, “I want you to sing your life, just be you and do what you feel is right!” He allowed me the latitude and freedom to capture the spirit of who Ron Keel is today with The Ron Keel Band. I applaud David in his belief of me. I’m proud of this album because the chance David has given us.