Keith St John Discusses His Uk Tour, A New Solo Album, And Some Unreleased Montrose Music To Come

As one of rock's most in-demand frontmen, Keith's career has seen him perform with the likes of Montrose, Lynch Mob, LA Guns, and Quiet Riot, and he currently plays...

 

 

Interview by: Mark Lacey

 

As one of rock’s most in-demand frontmen, Keith’s career has seen him perform with the likes of Montrose, Lynch Mob, LA Guns, and Quiet Riot, and he currently plays with both Kingdom Come, and his band Burning Rain. A recent pause in the schedule of the ‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ shows in Las Vegas, has provided a window of opportunity for Keith and his longtime friend Jack Frost to visit the UK and perform a series of intimate up-close-and-personal shows, as part of their “Rain Is Burning” acoustic tour.

 

“It was just a surprise to me after Ronnie already asked me if I wanted to do a Montrose band with him, how much of an influence they were on everybody, and how huge they were in the industry circles. It was by hippie accident, I wound up in the party in the backyard already, I didn’t have to knock on the front door anymore”.

MGM: You’re currently in the UK to play several shows. Fans will remember you came over in 2019 with Doug Aldrich to do some acoustic Burning Rain shows. Before that, I think you’d have to go back as far as the Z Rock Festival in 2001 for your last performance here. Have you been to the UK outside of those shows?

KSJ: Jeez, it’s been a lot of shows in a lot of years. But apart from Burning Rain, I don’t think so.

MGM: Those shows in 2019 were a lot of fun. You and Doug have a real bond between you. What’s he like to work and perform with?

KSJ: I think what makes any artist great on and off stage is having some dark and some light. I have some too, and it’s in a different way than his. You spark each other and sometimes you rub each other and then, you work out the rubs later. But along the way, just like any great relationship, when it’s great again, it’s so much greater than it was before. We’ve known each other for so many years. With Doug, I’ll know when he’s in that space where he needs to do his thing. He knows the same. It’s easy. Doug is so professional and he’s so accomplished. When he comes in with a tune idea, most of the time he’s got it sketched out, and what he wants arrangement-wise. He makes it pretty easy for me because he comes in with the musical bed sounding pretty convincing already. I like to sing right off the bat when I record songs. So, I don’t want to hear and study a song until later. When I first sang on it, I just wanted to do it almost as a jam. Sometimes the accidents and the magic just happen and you can never recapture those. I appreciate him allowing me to work that way and helping me grab the gems and put the stuff together.

MGM: You’ve positioned yourself as the go-to vocalist, but I gather you started as a drummer, so you’re quite a rounded musician.

KSJ: I started on classical percussion and timpani, and playing in pit orchestras on drums. I studied that to a level of reading and competitions and marching band and all that. I think it’s a really good root for understanding the nuances of rhythm. As you go along in the singing world, you discover that those little nuances are really important to become a good singer; a Paul Rogers, a Barbara Streisand, an Otis Redding, or a Robert Plant. You need to know how to work around the groove instead of trying to land on it. You need to know how to play and build tension and let it release. I think the drums thing was a really important foundation, and I think a lot of great singers, if you look at their resumes, were drummers.

MGM: That transition from being a drummer at the back of the stage, behind a kit and then coming out front, it must feel quite exposing for the first couple of times you did it.

KSJ: It may seem like an obvious transition, but I wanted to play drums. I found a band and they actually came over my place and auditioned me on the drums, and then they asked me if I could sing too. I was in the running with another much older guy, and they picked him and they said, ‘Oh man, we love you; you’ve got great energy and you play cool. But this guy, he’s got all these club connections and he’s been playing on the circuit for a long time. Well, something happened, like his mom got sick and he couldn’t play. So, then they called me back a few months down the road and I started playing with them. We were just doing covers like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and some early Van Halen. All three of us were singing, and as I was going along, I didn’t know about my vocal register but I was getting all the higher register songs. After a while, the other guys just came to me and said, ‘Me and Marty want to hire a drummer; how about you go out front this band would be much more effective with a frontman out front’. I was a boisterous kid. I was outgoing and pretty athletic, and back then it was cool to jump around a lot on stage. It just worked out awesome.

MGM: You were spotted pretty early on as a vocalist. Your early days with Big Trouble saw you playing alongside John Levin and Bobby Rondinelli, and you’ve since gone on to perform and record with so many musicians. More recently you’ve had two long stints in both Montrose and Kingdom Come. Montrose last played in the UK during their first incarnation in 1975, and Kingdom Come hasn’t played here either since about 2001, so for fans attending your UK tour this month, it may be a great opportunity to hear those songs performed live.

KSJ: That’s awesome. I feel like it was an accident that my voice worked with the Montrose stuff. I wasn’t familiar because their time together, Sammy (Hagar) and Ron, didn’t last that long, as magical as what they created was. But Ronnie had a long path to go on before I think he was able to share the spotlight with other people. They did those first two records, and for every guitar player in the US at the time, that became their rock n roll bible. The young George Lynch, the young Warren DiMartini, and young JJ French, and all these guys in the US just want to sound like Montrose on their first record. And grabbing Ted Templeman, Montrose’s producer, and producing their record with him. It was just a surprise to me, after he already asked me if I wanted to do a Montrose band with him, how much of an influence they were on everybody, and how huge they were in the industry circles. It was by hippie accident, I wound up at the party in the backyard already, and I didn’t have to knock on the front door anymore. That was like a magic bullet to many people in many bands. It was like, if he sings in Montrose, we got to get him.

MGM: As well as playing with Montrose, and Kingdom Come, you’ve also done stints with people like Quiet Riot, Nazareth, LA Guns, and many others. Why do you think you’ve become that go-to guy?

KSJ: I can usually handle the range of this kind of song. And once you play with a few acts that are marquee acts with notoriety, I think people are more willing to, when they need someone, give you a call. The circles are small. From my point of view, I was probably born a couple of decades ago. I feel like I’m like a sixties hippie guy, and just going with the flow. If someone calls me up and says, hey, Keith, what do you think about doing this? I’ll be like, yeah, man, sounds like a gas. I’ve lived a relaxed vibe, almost a hippie life in that way. With the Montrose thing, I think the universe put it there; some greater force. Some things were lined up. And when I sing that stuff, for some reason, my voice just works the way Sam’s does. I came out for our first outdoor gig at Great America, a few thousand-seater in Northern California, and the fans went nuts for it. They missed Montrose with Sam. But for some reason, something about my vibe worked so well with it that they just really went for it. It worked with Kingdom Come, and it worked with Lynch Mob. There’s a lot of early Glenn Hughes-isms in there. When I started singing, that’s one of the guys I started listening to. I just popped right in on that stuff and it felt good. Other acts have approached me that I wasn’t interested in, because I didn’t feel like I’d do it justice. I don’t feel like I want to sing covers in a way that I’m emulating the original singer and trying to walk in those shoes.

MGM: You’ve done some recording with George Lynch. But for most of your other projects, you’ve been a live performer only, and you’ve not recorded with either Kingdom Come or Montrose. Would that interest you?

KSJ: Actually, Ronnie and I did record a whole record. We didn’t complete it. And since Ronnie passed, there was initially a lot of turmoil and drama about who gets what and who’s in charge of everything. I am working out with Ronnie’s wife, who’s still around to be able to finish this stuff off and release it. I need to get the space in my life to dedicate a couple of months I think it would take to get this thing right, as far as editing, because Ronnie’s not here, and we need to present it in the right way. Now that the Raiding the Rock Vault schedule has magically slowed down, I’ve come to a point where my brain is in the thought of, let’s get another Burning Rain record going. Let’s get my St. John record done, and let me get that last Montrose finale put out.

MGM: The last time you came to the UK, you played a series of acoustic shows alongside Doug Aldrich, both sat on bar stools whilst rocking out. Will your current UK tour with Jack Frost follow a similar pattern?

Photo Credit: Jeff Forney

KSJ: I think we’ll have stools. I’m thinking we’re going to do a little bit more standing up and maybe just presenting it a little bit more in your face. We’ll see. That’s what I told Jack. I’ve seen some duos do that, and to me, that looks a bit more like these guys are rocking.

MGM: How did you and Jack get together and decide that this was a tour you wanted to do?

KSJ: I’ve known Jack for about seven or eight years. He came to my first ‘Ronnie Montrose Remembered’ concert in Southern California. He’s such a big lover of the Montrose music, and Ronnie is a guitar player. He came down and just introduced himself and he just had this amazing light energy. At our first meeting, he gave me an old Montrose tour shirt he had. He said; ‘Man, I don’t need anything back. I want you to know I love what you’re doing. I want you to have this. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know each other. He’s come and played a few songs in the Ronnie Montrose tribute concerts sometimes. I recorded a couple of songs with him for his ‘Brothers in Arms’ record.

Jack had heard that I was planning this show, and he called me up and said, ‘Hey, bro, what’s up? I heard you’re going over to do an acoustic duo tour. We’ve got to do this together. I know about all his credentials and I know he’s a smoking brilliant player and also a very good singer, which is necessary when you’re doing these duos. And I was like, you know what? He’s the right guy, and I’m going to love working with him.

MGM: This whole acoustic format has taken off in the UK. John Corabi came across with his storytelling show. Mike Tramp just did an acoustic duo last month, and Hoekstra Gibbs came over earlier this year too. The economics of coming to the UK with an acoustic guitar make it much easier than bringing a whole band, but why do you think the format has started to resonate with fans?

KSJ: From my point of view, it’s such a different experience than going out in an arena or even a large club because the audience can be part of a little group of friends and we can all talk. We can stop a song in the middle if somebody just wants to have a conversation. I think it’s so much more personable and that’s what makes it unique. I love the pomp and circumstance of being on a large arena stage but it’s a different thing. You’re more inside yourself connecting with the rest of the band. In this situation, you get to know people and they get to know you a little bit better. You can joke around in between songs, and we can all sing together. Maybe the audience can get more out of it. They almost can feel like they came backstage just by coming to the show.

MGM: This tour will see you playing eight shows, but what are your plans beyond these dates?

KSJ: We’ll see. I’m coming to the end of having just finished another record that I did with somebody, which just got mixed and mastered. And the Raiding the Rock Vault dates in Vegas have slowed down. There’s this giant gap and I’ve got to decide what I’m going to do. I’m going to do a little family time when I get back to the States because I just haven’t seen my parents for a while. Between now and then I’m going to figure out which thing to tackle first. I’ll see what Doug’s schedule is, and see if there’s any light in the tunnel in the next few months for us getting together and doing some writing.

I’ve also got players lined up to do the Keith St. John record, which is already written, and a lot of the basics are recorded. I just have to finish it. I’ve got a guitar player called Brent Barker, who was in a band called Sweet FA. He’s a brilliant guitar player. He’s on the level of Doug Aldrich but in a different way. He was very classically influenced for a long time; Randy Rhodes meets Brian May. I met him 30 years ago. We didn’t do anything back then, but I loved his playing and we almost started a band, and then he got married, left the business, raised some kids, became an executive, and then retired from that and decided to get back into guitar. He started playing with these instrumental blues bands and doing these underground blues speakeasies. He’s played 90% of the guitar on my record and he’s been able to capture my vision. I’m excited about it because it’s a big departure. It’s not going to sound like a Burning Rain record at all.

Keith St John will be touring the UK from 3rd – 11th October: https://www.keithstjohn.com/tour

Oct 3rd: Bannermans, Edinburgh

Oct 4th: O’Riley’s, Hull

Oct 5th: Nightrain, Bradford

Oct 6th: B2, Norwich

Oct 8th: Corporation, Sheffield

Oct 9th: The Black Heart, London

Oct 10th: The Station, Cannock

Oct 11th: The Black Prince, Northampton

www.keithstjohn.com

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