Ron Keel is a multi-million-selling singer/musician/songwriter/performer who has toured with and/or opened for icons like Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Aerosmith and many more. His catalog includes three albums which charted in Billboard’s Hot 100, plus movie soundtracks, guest appearances, all-star tributes to raise money for various charities, and the acclaimed brand-new release, “South x South Dakota” on HighVol Music.
Having grown up with Ron’s music in rock bands like Steeler and Keel who had achieved huge success in the MTV era, I was delighted to recently have the opportunity to have a conversation with the legendary vocalist himself.
ANTIHERO: I just wondered with the current situation in the world as it stands today, how are you spending your time? How are you getting through the days?
Ron Keel: Man, I’m working as hard as I ever have, just doing what I do. With the day to day business, interviews, promoting the new album, South By South Dakota. Writing songs, hosting my radio show, entertaining my fans online at patreon.com/ronkeel. I’m actually as busy as I’ve ever been. This was a time when we expected to be home from the road anyway, so it’s pedal to the metal, so to speak. We are in full force promoting the new record and getting to talk to guys like you.
ANTIHERO: You mentioned you have a new record. It’s essentially a covers album. I just wondered how you came about choosing the tracks. Did you find the song selection relatively easy? Did certain tracks pick themselves?
Ron Keel: Well, it is an album of iconic Southern rock classics. One from each of those legendary bands, like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, Outlaws, Marshall Tucker Band, .38 Special. I didn’t really choose the songs, they chose me. I grew up listening to this stuff. This is home for me. This is my musical landscape. And when we were in the studio recording last year’s album, Fight Like A Band, we would warm up in the morning by jamming on some of these classic Southern rock covers. And of course, my producer, Mike Dresch, was recording those jams. When I listen back to what we had, it was totally organic and by accident. Just a bunch of guys in the studio having fun. But I heard it back and I thought, man, we’ve got the foundation of something really special here. How about if we add a few songs and then throw in a couple of previous singles, “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” and “Homesick,” and then we’ve got the foundation for a really great album that we can pay tribute to some of the music that we know and love a grew up listening to, and some of the songs that we always include in our show.
So as far as being a covers album, yeah, the good thing about that, Mark, is that I could brag about how great the songs are. If I wrote all the tunes, I would have to be humble and say, “Well, it’s up to the audience to decide, and whatever you people think.” Man, I’m telling you, these are great songs because they’ve stood the test of time. They have become part of the iconic classic rock songbook. It’s a cool feeling to be able to brag about how great the songs are because I didn’t write any of them. And also, to have an album for the first time in my long career, 30-odd years now, that was totally unplanned and natural, and just gave birth to itself. Usually, when you go in the studio to make a record, you’re on a mission. You’ve written the songs, you’ve rehearsed, you’ve done your pre-production. And then you go in the studio with a game plan and a mission to accomplish. This time, these songs just happened. And I’m so in love with this record and appreciate the media response and the fan response as well. Everybody seems to get it and understand it and enjoy it, and that means a lot to us.
ANTIHERO: It seems to be a growing trend in recent years, both with artists like yourself, and actually hard rock fans, to embrace country more as a musical genre than maybe people would have done years ago. Why do you think that is?
Ron Keel: Man, I don’t know why. I’m just a simple man, no pun intended. I sing, I play, I record, I release albums, I promote those albums, and I get on stage and I do what I do. I think everybody has their own reasons for doing what they do. As I said, the reason we did it is that it sounded to me like we had the foundation of a very special album. It’s certainly more expensive to record a covers album because, first of all, I’m not making any money as a songwriter. I don’t get any song royalties from an album like this. Second of all, you have to pay the original writers for those royalties. So it’s more expensive to do a covers album, but it’s worth it in this case. For us, for Ron Keel fans, South By South Dakota is money well spent.
ANTIHERO: Have you found it a comfortable transition from 80s rock singer in bands like Steeler and Keel, to do country music?
Ron Keel: No, I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t overthink anything. I just do what I do. And I have a good time entertaining people. That’s what I was put here to do, and that’s what I’ve always done. So, I really don’t think too much about those details or complications. I just put the music out there and hopefully, people will enjoy it.
ANTIHERO: You mentioned earlier Patreon. I just wondered if you could explain briefly why you chose Patreon on how it operates, both from an artist perspective and also a fan?
Ron Keel: Well, that’s a great question, and thank you for asking. Because, as you know, and as all of our listeners know, we are under somewhat of a lockdown slash quarantine these days, across the planet. I actually started my quarantine three years ago when my wife was diagnosed with cancer. I know that many of your listeners and friends and family, everybody has been touched by cancer in one way or another. But when you get that diagnosis, that day, that moment the doctor sits you down and tells you the news, my wife has cancer, everything changes. All of a sudden life is different, and it’s never going to be the same again, kind of like this pandemic in a way because you have to focus your attention on taking care of the people you love. And I realized at that time that she was a priority, I was going to stay home and be with her through all the chemotherapy, the radiation treatments, nine surgical procedures that she had to rid herself of cancer. And that’s my responsibility and that’s my priority is to take care of her.
But I can’t quit doing what I do, Mark. I’ve got to entertain people. I’ve got to sing, I’ve got to play, I’ve got to find a way that I can work from home. I found a Patreon platform and built a page and started adding subscribers. And now membership is at an all-time high. It’s $6.99 per month US, but for that $7.00 a month, 23 cents a day, you’re going to get exclusive audio, unreleased songs, music videos that are only on Patreon, that aren’t on Facebook or YouTube. Personal interaction with me. I try to make every possible effort to connect with those fans that are paying us $7.00 a month with online video chats, house concerts. I built a performance area in my home where I can broadcast online. I was doing this a long time before the pandemic hit, and I’ll be doing it for years to come, because it’s a great way to entertain people all over the world from my home base here in South Dakota. In my studio and in my performance stage, which I call the fan cave here at home. It’s decorated with gifts from all the fans throughout the years. I’ve got some very special memorabilia hanging around me in that fan cave slash home performance area.
No, I have been in that quarantine mode, so to speak. When my wife was diagnosed, all of a sudden, like I said, you’ve got to stay home, you’ve got to take care of her, and you’ve got to keep everything clean. You’ve got to wipe down every surface, every light switch, every doorknob. Because the risk of infection is great when you’re dealing with a cancer patient. So we were keeping everything clean and working from home years ago. Of course, I miss the road, I miss the band, I miss our fans in the front row, slapping hands and getting up there and sweating and singing, and all the stuff that I love to do. But we’ll be back doing that at some point soon, I hope. And in the meantime, I’m at home rocking out on patreon.com/ronkeel, and I will keep that going for many years to come.
ANTIHERO: Have you actually welcomed that opportunity to be more hands-on in terms of your career? Obviously, at your height, Keel were going in the 80s, the MTV era, and back when record labels were pumping huge amounts into videos, into bands. Has it been nice to actually step back, take a more hands-on approach with how your career works and operates?
Ron Keel: Another great question, and for me, personally, I’ve always been hands-on. Whether it was the guitar or the microphone or the contracts, or everything that I do. I am a control freak, that’s why my band in the 80s was called Keel. That’s why my band now is called the Ron Keel Band. I am a control freak, I like to be in charge, but I also appreciate the value of having a great team around me. Fantastic musicians that are like brothers to me. A great road crew, a great record company like Highball Music and Bill. The infrastructure. The PR team that we’ve got, Jody and Michael. So, I have a huge, amazing team surrounding me, but I am kind of the captain of the ship. I do steer this thing in whatever direction I think is appropriate, and I am very hands-on.
I do enjoy it, even when we’re filming the new music video or the new single, “Red, White and Blue,” off the South by South Dakota album, I’m out there on a forklift with a camera in my hand circling the shoots, because I’m running the camera. I think that is a control freak, and that is certainly hands-on. But I’m much more comfortable with my hands on a microphone and a guitar. I do enjoy other aspects of the business too. I enjoy what we do and what I do. It’s not a job. It is work, it’s a lot of work, it’s exhausting, but I enjoy it so much that it’s not a job.
ANTIHERO: How do you generally approach the part of your interviews that want to talk about your musical past? Is that a necessary evil, or do you embrace your past as a natural part of leading to where you are now?
Ron Keel: I embrace the past. I treasure all those achievements and accomplishments and all the experiences that I’ve had. All the dreams come true, from back in the 80s selling three million records with Keel, and touring the world with bands like Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Van Halen. I treasure the past. I do live for today because today is all… I’m firmly planted in the present and in the now, but I work for tomorrow as well. The future is important to me. It’s important to me too if I’m steering the ship, we’re going forward. We’re going forward into the summer of 2020 right now and in the years to come. But we’re all only guaranteed today, man. There’s no promise of tomorrow for any of us. And we’re all on a one day contract. I feel like we have to live our lives the fullest right here and now. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate talking about Gene Simmons or Black Sabbath. Those are huge parts of my history that I’m very proud of. So when they come up in an interview, if you were to ask me, or any of the interviews that I do on a day to day basis, I don’t mind talking about that at all. I love it and I’m proud of it.
ANTIHERO: Who would have been the most influential person that you have worked with? Who’s maybe personally taught you the most?
Ron Keel: That has to be Gene Simmons. Gene was our mentor, our producer on the first two major-label albums, The Right To Rock, and The Final Frontier. Gene Simmons took me under his wing. He taught me so much about making great records, about writing great songs. About business and about life. Certainly, Gene’s influence is still there with me every time I go into a recording studio and create music. He taught me so much, and those lessons have stuck with me. Gene is like the little demon on my shoulder in every recording session that I’ll ever do.
ANTIHERO: Just a couple then to finish. Do you have any interests or hobbies outside music? You seem very focused on your career, on music. I just wondered if you had any other interests or hobbies that you like to spend time doing outside of music?
Ron Keel: That’s a great question as well. You’ve got a lot of great questions today.
ANTIHERO: Thank you.
Ron Keel: I wish that I could talk about all the other stuff in my life, but there really is, there are two things. There are music and family. Because music is such a diverse field for me. I can do, literally when I wake up in the morning, whatever I want to do. I can work on the radio show, I can write a book, I can write a song. I can play guitar, I can practice, I can do interviews like this one. There’s so much to do in the field of music that it feels like a hobby to me. I have a choice each day whether I will pick up the guitar, or pick up the pen, or pick up the computer, the laptop. And I enjoy all those different aspects of music.
And I’m a workaholic. I do work non-stop, all day every day until I pass out at night. From the first cup of coffee to the last shot of whiskey, Mark, I am working my ass off. And I kind of feel like at this stage of the game, there’s a time limit. I do take inspiration from guys like Sammy Hagar or Steven Tyler or Rob Halford who are doing this on a very high level at what could be described as advanced age. Because Halford, Tyler and Hagar, those three guys I just mentioned, they’re, what, 70 or more I think at this point, and they’re still delivering a great voice and great show and great songs. So they give me inspiration that I can maybe do this another ten years.
But there’s more behind me now than there is in front of me. The clock is ticking. I’ve got a lot I want to do while I can still do it. So yeah, I keep the pedal to the metal full time, all the time. And every now and then I will watch a movie or I’ll go on a long drive or go camping. But my life is a vacation. For 30 years I’ve been on the road, seeing the world and hanging out with people that I love. What could be more rewarding than that?
ANTIHERO: Just a couple then to finish. What in your life would you be most proud of? Would it be something professionally or maybe something personally?
Ron Keel: Well, that’s another really strong question, my friend. To be most proud of, I think any father would tell you that it’s their children. The fact that I have two amazing children, my daughter Kelly and my son Ryan, that have turned out to be wonderful people. Very successful, very happy, very good at what they do. Good husbands and wives and good mothers and fathers. To see my children have the life that they have now, I think that there’s nothing that any father could be prouder of. I am proud of a lot of the music that I’ve created and a lot of the songs and the albums. And to be able to say that I did what I set out to do when I was just very, very young, to sing, to play, to entertain people, to create and to still be doing it literally all my life, and to do it at a high level, I’m extremely proud of that. Proud of a very successful marriage with the love of my life. My wife Renee, as I mentioned, has been through cancer a few years back. She’s fine now, and we look forward to many more years of happiness and love together. Very proud of my family accomplishments, the kids, and my wife, who is amazing, and all the great music that I’ve been a part of for the last four decades.
ANTIHERO: Just a final one. I’m sure you’ve done many, many interviews over the years, but if the roles were reversed, who would you like to personally interview, and why?
Ron Keel: My goodness. And I do that, Mark. I host my own radio show and I’m constantly interviewing my heroes, people who I used to stand in line to buy a ticket to. I’ve had Joe Elliot from Def Leppard on the show a couple of times, Ted Nugent, who is a hero of mine. Pat Travers. So many amazing rock stars and personalities and people in the business that I’ve been able to interview. I love that process. I would love to interview some of the heroes that I’ve met that I have not had the chance to get on the radio show yet. Jon Bon Jovi certainly would be probably at the top of the list. I admire Jon a lot. We toured with Bon Jovi back in 1987. It was the Slippery When Wet tour, and we did all of those big arenas with Bon Jovi. Three nights sold out at Madison Square Garden with Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour. So I got to know him and we got to hang out and do shows together, but I think that would be a fantastic interview because I admire his music, his work ethic, his longevity, and everything about that guy. I think he’d be a great conversation to broadcast on my radio show.
And you’ve had some great names as well. I was looking back through your credits. You’ve had a really fantastic array of some big-time stars that you’ve interviewed. Who’s one of your favorites, besides Ron Keel?
ANTIHERO: I would probably say Ian Gillan. I was fortunate enough to actually interview… I don’t really regard them as interviews. I regard them more as a chat. I find that easier to mentally come to terms with and deal with. Yeah, probably Ian Gillan, who I managed to talk to twice.
Ron Keel: Oh, that’s a good one, man. I’m jealous. What a great singer. An iconic influence on all of us, an entire generation of hard rockers. I got to cover an Ian Gillan song on the new Emerald Sabbath tribute album. It’s an album of former members of Black Sabbath and Ozzy’s band that got together. Me and Dave Walker, Bev Bevan on drums, Rudy Sarzo on bass. And I got to cover “Trashed” from the Born Again album that Ian Gillan sang the hell out of that song. And so to be able to cover a Gillan song on the Sabbath tribute was great.
I also got to cover “Hole In The Sky,” and Ozzy track, and “Die Young,” which is a personal favorite for a lot of reasons, because that’s Ronnie James Dio from the classic Heaven And Hell album. And being able to cover “Die Young,” after having known Ronnie and toured with Ronnie James Dio back in ’86. We did the entire UK and Europe tour, 14 countries on the Sacred Heart tour with Dio. And now to be able to cover “Die Young,” on that new Sabbath tribute album is a huge honor.
But Gillan, oh man, what a fantastic interview. I’m just glad to be in that same company now on your website and your history of Rockstar interviews. I’m glad to be included in such a fantastic lineup.
ANTIHERO: That’s great, Ron. Thank you very much for chatting.
Ron Keel: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for giving me the opportunity. I appreciate you and what you do. Keep up the good work, Mark.
ANTIHERO: Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of your day.
Ron Keel: Okay, you too, man.