An Interview with Ron Keel of Steeler, Keel & The Ron Keel Band

Feature image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Music’s one and only Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboy is raring to go for what is shaping up to be an eventful year ahead for 2022.

Ron Keel has spent the better part of the last forty years in music demonstrating his ever-shifting versatility and malleable songwriting, and in the months ahead, Keel will couple his years of hard-fought industry knowledge with his business sense, and god-given intangibles to expand the Keel brand into a Heavy Metal empire.

Keel’s humble origins and passion for music, have seen him break the LA Glam and Hair Metal scene with his early band Steeler, which served as a proving ground for both himself and young shredder, Yngwie Malmsteen.

Even in his younger years, Keel’s instincts served him well, and in short order, he dissolved Steeler, despite its critical success, and high standing among the Sunset Strip scene, and then formed Keel, a band which would effectively showcase Keel’s songsmith to adoring fans worldwide until a volatile scene gave way to Grunge in the early 90s.

Ever-shrewd, and never one to shy away from a challenge, Keel reeled it in, and dialed back to his roots as a Country artist for the greater bulk of the 90s, before dipping his toe back into the waters of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal and the decade drew to a close, and Y2K bore down.

In the ensuing years, Ron Keel has continued to release music on his terms, as he sees fit, to continued success, all the while maintaining his integrity, all the while pushing his unique brand forward.

We recently dug in with Ron, and among other things, Ron dishes on the formation of RFK Media, the launch of KRFK Radio, his show, The Streets Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, his new EP, Keeled, working on the new Black Sabbath tribute, Emerland Sabbath, with Vinny Appice, and Rudy Sarzo, his musical origins, Steeler, Keel, a second act as a Country artist, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about Ron Keel, you can follow him via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube, and of course, via his website as well. Don’t forget to tune in to Ron’s radio show, The Streets Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, pledge your support via his Patreon, and lastly, hit his Linktr.ee for all his other latest comings and goings.

Andrew:
Ron, thank you for taking the time. First things first: tell us about RFK Media, which is your new record label, and multi-media company. Dig into the genesis for us.

Ron:
Thanks for doing this, we’ve got a lot to talk about and I appreciate the opportunity. As far as the new company is concerned, it’s time for me to take the bull by the horns. When HighVol Music chief Bill Chavis died [along with his wife Lori, from COVID-19] we lost not only two dear friends but our record deal as well. My business partners and I decided to launch RFK Media as a vehicle for all my creative endeavors, and I believe we have the experience, brains, and balls to get the job done right. You can check it out via http://rfkmedia.com.

Andrew:
As an artist, and businessman, why was the development of RFK Media important to what you do moving forward?

Ron:
I’m just tired of sitting in the backseat — I want to drive. I’ve always been a self-employed American small business owner, the only difference is now the paperwork on my desk is piled a lot higher, and my to-list just got a lot longer. Everything still revolves around the music — without the music, there would be no business.

Andrew:
Who are some of the early signings which have been signed to RFK Media? Is the label strictly for up and comers, or will it eventually be a haven for legacy acts in the way that Frontiers has been?

Ron:
RFK Media is not a hobby, it’s a business, and I’m only working with artists that have star quality, and the potential to make a profit. That’s why our first signing is The Fifth, a fantastic Rock band from North Carolina, fronted by powerhouse vocalist, Roy Cathey. Fans know Roy from Cold Sweat, who released a cult classic album on MCA Records, which also featured my bandmate, Marc Ferrari from Keel. The Fifth is definitely a band on the rise, but with a veteran frontman who’s proven himself, and he has the pipes, personality, and passion to take it to the next level.

Andrew:
Another major launch from your camp is KRFK Radio. You’ll be featuring the likes of Dee Snider, Joe Elliott, and of course, yourself. Tell us more.

Ron:
KRFKradio.com is a big loud uncontrollable beast blasting out of your speakers and earbuds, featuring a massive playlist of all styles of Hard Rock, Metal, and the best-syndicated programming. We are the only exclusively online station with the broadcast rights to House Of Hair with Dee Snider and The Joe Elliott Show, and there are several other great programs on the schedule, including my Streets Of Rock ‘N’ Roll radio show. I love that there are hundreds of options for people to stream music online, and KRFK Radio is just another great option for people who want to #LiveTheRock!

Image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Andrew:
As an old-school rocker, you perhaps know better than anyone the importance and legacy of radio. In an age of streaming services, and downloads, why is it important to you to turn back the clock, so to speak?

Ron:
The last thing I want to do is turn back the clock. Yesterday was great, man, but I’m flying a Rock ‘N’ Roll jet at supersonic speed, and if I stop to look back, I’ll crash this motherfucker. I am all about the now and the future, and the future of radio is online at http://KRFKradio.com.

Andrew:
The Streets Of Rock ‘N’ Roll will be your featured show on KRFK Radio. Specifically, dive into the origins of the show. How do you plan to integrate your podcast into the mix?

Ron:
The Ron Keel Podcast will not be on KRFK Radio. The podcast is already everywhere, on Spotify, Amazon, Apple, YouTube, wherever you get your podcasts, and all those links are on the podcast page at http://ronkeel.com. It features the unedited/unfiltered interviews from The Streets Of Rock ‘N’ Roll radio show, which I launched in 2012 as another vehicle for me to entertain people. That led to me doing live radio four hours a day on KBAD 94.5 FM, which was the #1 rated Rock station in my adopted hometown of Sioux Falls.

The Streets Of Rock ‘N’ Roll airs every Wednesday at 11 AM Eastern on KRFK Radio, and as I said, you can find the podcast elsewhere.

I always wanted to do radio — what Rock ‘N’ Roll kid doesn’t dream of being a DJ and a Rock Star? I’ve learned a lot about hosting a show and helping to run a station. Interviewing interesting celebrities, many of which were my heroes growing up or artists that I know personally, and have toured with, is a thrill for me, and I enjoy the challenge of doing it well. The interviews are the meat of the show, but they’re only twelve minutes long — the rest of the radio show is all about great music.

Andrew:
You’ve got a new EP out called Keeled. These are new versions of some of your well-loved, 80s classics. What led to the decision to want to re-record them? Did you feel they were lacking at all? Tell us about the recording and early returns thus far.

Ron:
You only get so many second chances, and I’m gonna take every chance I can. Songs like “The Right To Rock” and “Tears Of Fire” are vital organs in my body of work, and they deserved to be sung with the voice I have now — power, control, pitch, conviction, tone. I was very young the first time around, and I’ve obviously had a lot of practice on these tunes the last few decades.

When I first put The Ron Keel Band together, we didn’t have any new original music yet, and I wanted to get the guys into the studio to establish us as a recording act — so we cut a few of the Keel songs that were in the show, and I am just super proud of the results. Some of those tracks appear on the new EP, Keeled, and it’s also a chance to show the fans how important those 80s roots are to me.

Image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Andrew:
On the subject of new music, I am told you’ve got a new album in the works too. The word is this album will feature music from Keel, Steeler, The Ron Keel Band, Fair Game, IronHorse, Metal Cowboy, your solo work, and more. Dig in for us.

RK:
Keelworld — it’s the album of a lifetime. RFK Media will be releasing new singles from some of those bands you mentioned, with the full album hitting the streets in January 2023. These are all new songs, not re-recordings or old unreleased tracks, but fresh cuts from The Ron Keel Band, Keel, Steeler, IronHorse, and more. It’s a very ambitious project, but I’m enjoying the challenge and working with all these dear friends, and incredible musicians again.

Andrew:
You’re also featured on the Black Sabbath tribute album, Emerald Sabbath. How did you hook up with Vinny Appice, and Rudy Sarzo, among others, for the project? How important was Sabbath for you as an up and comer back in the late 70s, and 80s?

Ron:
As a very tiny thread in the massive tapestry that is Black Sabbath’s iconic history, I was asked to sing the lead vocal on “Trashed,” originally sung by Ian Gillan on the Born Again album, for that Sabbath alumni project, Emerald Sabbath. One song turned into three songs, and I also got to cover an Ozzy tune, “Hole In The Sky,” and the Dio-era classic “Die Young.” To record that one with Vinny, who played on the original when he was in Sabbath, was obviously an honor and a thrill, and we were joined by Rudy Sarzo on bass and Dave Cothern from The Ron Keel Band on lead guitar. Right now, I’m working on “Heaven And Hell” for the second Emerald Sabbath album.

Sabbath was important for everyone who has ever enjoyed Metal, they really founded, and established the art form.

Andrew:
2022 seems to be about pushing the Keel brand forward, while also simultaneously celebrating your long and storied legacy. Would you agree?

Ron:
Absolutely — I am all about pushing forward, I’m just wired that way. I celebrate the history, and the memories, live each day to the fullest, and always work towards making each tomorrow the best day of my life. That may sound trite, but it works for me.

Image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Andrew:
On that note, I wanted to go back a bit. If you can, dive into your earliest leanings which ultimately gravitated you toward music, and eventually Hard Rock and Heavy Metal.

Ron:
I was hooked at the age of two when I saw The Beatles on TV. Classically trained, played a lot of instruments, was in the school band, Jazz band, marching band, orchestra, guitar class, whatever I could participate in I did. Music has been my best friend all my life. I love, enjoy, appreciate, and have played almost all kinds of music. As a teenager, I gravitated towards whatever was louder, sexier, more exciting, more dangerous, and at the time that was KISS, Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Purple, ACϟDC. When I moved to Hollywood in 1981, my style was squarely built upon my top five of that era: Priest, Van Halen, Scorpions, ACϟDC, and Def Leppard. At the same time, I’ve always had a special place in my heart, head, and history for Bob Seger and The Eagles, but in 1981, nothing was sexier than Hard Rock and Metal.

Andrew:
Many people recall that your first major band was Steeler, which featured Rik Fox, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Mark Edwards, which in retrospect was a formidable foursome. How did that band come together?

Ron:
Steeler was formed in 1981 by four kids from Nashville that wanted to play loud Hard Rock and Metal, dress up, and put on a wild show. We didn’t know about what was starting to happen in Los Angeles until we moved there later that year, and found out that the scene was exploding with great bands that wanted to do the same thing. Being the outsiders, it took a while to claw our way to visibility and credibility, but within a year, we were headlining to packed houses everywhere we played, and that’s when the album lineup was assembled.

Andrew:
Yngwie, and Rik Fox, in particular, have been extremely colorful characters in music over the years. What were your first impressions?

Ron:
Obviously, my first impressions were that both had very special skills and assets to bring to the band, that’s why I chose them to be in Steeler.

Andrew:
Steeler was a hot draw on the Strip, in the early 80s. If you can, paint a picture of that time. What do you recall regarding Steeler’s first gig?

Ron:
Steeler’s first gig was at a dive bar in Nashville called Cantrell’s on February 17th, 1981. One year later, on February 17th, 1982, we were headlining The Whisky, and celebrating the release of our vinyl single “Cold Day In Hell.” Those times were rough, man — we went hungry, we were fighting, and struggling to get ahead, and get a break in a brutal business, at a time when nobody in the business took any of us seriously until Quiet Riot broke down the gates with Metal Health. But we were at the epicenter of cultural revolution the likes of which will never happen again — it was electric, exciting, and I’m very fortunate to have been there and done that.

Image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Andrew:
Circling back to Black Sabbath, you were briefly the band’s singer in 1984. How did you get the gig, and ultimately why didn’t it work out?

Ron:
Speaking of Quiet Riot, I was recording Steeler demos at that same studio, and their producer, Spencer Proffer, heard them and got me the gig with Sabbath when he signed on to produce their follow-up to Born Again. I never got fired, so technically I’m still in the band, just not on the payroll.

Andrew:
From the ashes of Steeler rose Keel, a band that went on to great success. Take me through the transition from Steeler, to the beginning of Keel.

Ron:
Steeler was unstable, a revolving door of musicians, and even though we always did great shows, and sold out everywhere we played, it became obvious that in order to succeed I needed to change the brand, and the band. I put Keel together in March of ’84, and within six months, we were recording our second album, The Right To Rock, for a major label, with Gene Simmons producing.

Andrew:
Keel’s early records, which sold in excess of two million records between 1984 and 1989, and as you mentioned, were produced by Gene Simmons. How did you hook up with Gene, and what do you recall most about working with him? How was his influence most felt in relation to your artistic instincts?

Ron:
When we got signed, the record company presented me with a list of potential producers, and all the heavyweights were on that page. Max Norman, Michael Wagener, Tom Werman, and more. I looked at the list, and Gene’s name became crystal clear, and all the other names became out of focus all of a sudden! We met, and I sang him a verse and chorus of “The Right To Rock,” and he said, “I’m going to produce this record. And we’re going to start Tuesday.”

His influence on me from a musical standpoint was significant — lessons about songwriting, recording, singing, performing, everything. I consider him a true mentor in every sense of the word. And from a business standpoint, marketing, merchandising, and promotion…I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am without Gene’s guidance, and inspiration.

Andrew:
As the 90s dawned, and Hard Rock and Heavy Metal waned, you made the shrewd decision to go back to your Nashville roots and rebrand as a Country artist. Was that always in the cards, or did the Grunge era force your hand?

Ron:
The only thing that’s ever forced my hand is my unstoppable drive to create and entertain. I went from touring the world as a Rock Star and seeing my records on the charts to pretty much losing everything. I left California in 1992 with about fifty grand and moved my family to Arizona to start over. On the drives back and forth between LA and Phoenix, I was hitting the SCAN button on the radio, and it kept landing on these 90s country stations. They played Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, and I really loved what I was hearing. I was born in Georgia, my parents were hillbilly-redneck-country to the core, and I moved to Nashville when I was seventeen, so those seeds had been planted early on. I started writing songs like those I was hearing on the radio — songs about real life, love, heartbreak, drinking beer, and chasing women — and those were what we call “The Country Years.”

Image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Andrew:
As an artist who firmly straddles the line between Metal and Country to great success, which genre do you personally identify with most, and why?

Ron:
I identify with songs that express something special, regardless of the genre. I know we have to put labels on them, like items on a restaurant menu, so you know what to expect, but when I was growing up the lines were not so clearly defined. I heard Black Sabbath and The Eagles on the same radio station and thought it was all Rock ‘N’ Roll. And now, on my albums, you’ll hear some songs that sound like Black Sabbath, and some that sound like The Eagles…I guess that’s why I’m just a Metal Cowboy at heart.

Andrew:
Circling back to current events, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention your feature in a paranormal thriller, Anomaly, and the documentary, Let The Music Play. You’re a man of many talents, and as always, covering all ends of the spectrum. Dig into these for us.

Ron:
Well thank you, but I feel there’s more tenacity than talent in that equation…I’m a simple guy, and always just looking for the next challenge, and the next opportunity to entertain people. I’m living my dreams, man — a kid from a poor southern family, high school dropout, who dreamed of being a Rock Star, being on the radio, being a Movie Star. I’m excited about Anomaly because it’s my first starring role in a movie in thirty years, and the last movie I starred in did not get released! The writer/producer/director of Anomaly chose me for this role; I play Russell Tate, the leader of a ghost hunting team that gets in way over their heads in a terrifying situation. I’m headed to New Jersey in a couple of weeks to shoot the first scenes, and I don’t know what’s scarier — the movie itself, or having to dust off my acting chops!

And I’m very proud to have participated in the documentary, Let The Music Play, which has been re-titled When The Bands Stopped Playing for its award-winning film festival/syndication release. This movie will probably be even more recognized for its importance ten, or twenty years from now, as a reflection on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the concert industry.

Andrew:
I also wanted to give you the floor to speak on your Patreon and its importance to you both personally and professionally. Where can your fans go to pledge their support?

Ron:
It’s important for me to entertain people — it’s my life’s work — and http://patreon.com/ronkeel has become a vital part of that mission. When my wife was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, we were suddenly in lockdown mode long before the pandemic; wearing masks, washing our hands a hundred times a day, sanitizing every light switch and remote control — and, learning to work from home. I wanted to be with her for every chemo treatment, every radiation treatment, twelve surgical procedures, and figure out a way to work from home — and that solution was Patreon. After three years, it has become a tribe, a family, a collective of Keelaholics. They pay $6.99 per month for All Access, which literally means ALL ACCESS — I share everything I do with these people, new and vintage audio, video, behind-the-scenes stuff, merch discounts, VIP access at shows, more than I can even mention.

Andrew:
Winding down now, you were featured in a few books, most notably, your wife’s, Anything But Pink: On Becoming A Cancer Survivor, and the wonderful 80s trip down memory lane, Nothin’ But A Good Time: The Uncensored History Of The 1980s Hard Rock Explosion. What else is on tap there?

Ron:
Growing up as a geek with a library card (I STILL have a library card), I love books…especially biographies, and autobiographies of notable figures. My book, Even Keel: Life On The Streets Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, will be reissued this year with a lot of new content; Renee’s book chronicles her battle with cancer, and I contributed additional chapters coming from the spouse’s perspective. I’m looking at my bookshelf here in the home office right now, there’s Black Sabbath: Never Say Die, Pro Secrets Of Heavy Rock Singing, the Rockin’ For Autism cookbook, Take It Off: KISS Truly Unmasked, and many more. It’s really an honor to have my name, thoughts, experience, and memories documented in book form.

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next for you in all lanes, Ron? I know the Ron Keel Band will return as the official house band for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Beyond that, are you hitting the road?

Ron:
I’m just gonna ride this thing out. My life is very much like a motorcycle run — from behind the handlebars, you see the entire world, and you also see every little pebble on the road ahead. I’m gonna keep trying to see the big picture while still paying attention to every little detail. I can promise you, I’ll be making music and stomping around on the stage as long as I possibly can.

Image courtesy of Ron Keel Via RKBmedia

Interested in learning more about Ron Keels’ new EP, Keeled? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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