La Jolla Real Estate

Steeler / Keel / Fair Game / Iron Horse vocalist
Ron Keel

Keel Lay Down the Law will finally be released on cd in March 2008
Pre-order your copy now.

FIBM:  What's new, what have you been up to lately and what's in the future?

RK:   For the past five years, I've worked very hard developing my band IronHorse ( - a bastardized blend of Country and Heavy Metal built around strong songs about real life, with great friends and musicians and awesome fans who have given us the strength and energy to keep believing and pushing forward against the grain.

I'm currently touring with a package called The Acoustic Outcasts - I had an idea to bring together a group of friends and singers and go on the road together, performing acoustic versions of our hits, favorites, and new material. The current lineup features Don Dokken, Terry Ilous from XYZ, Kelly Keeling, who's sung with Michael Schenker, George Lynch, John Sykes/Blue Murder...on lead guitar we have JK Northrup from XYZ, King Kobra, etc...and my good friend Charlie Wayne. Charlie and I have been good friends since 'back in the day', and we've been developing our vocal duo Keel & Wayne this year - cutting some songs, filming a new video called "I Gave It All To You", and doing a lot of acoustic shows, which is how this thing started. The Acoustic Outcasts concept is something I plan on doing several times a year, with various participants depending on everyone's schedule and availability.

I am working on a Ron Keel Anthology CD that will contain songs from throughout my career, including new and unreleased material, and a DVD collection of all my videos from the past twenty years. I am writing a book about my experiences, not really an autobiography but a collection of entertaining stories, lyrics, interviews and such. And I am recording a solo acoustic CD. I always have a lot of irons in the fire, I always bite off more than I can chew, I'm always exhausted and trying to catch up, but I love what I do - I believe you only live once, and I'm not going to be able to do this forever, so I've got to kick ass while I can.

FIBM:  What are your 3 most fond memories of being in Steeler?

RK:  I guess I keep the memories, Steeler and otherwise, in two piles, good and bad. If I had to pick 3 out of the good pile, the first would be the week our guitarist, Michael Dunigan, and I went out to Los Angeles to scout gigs and get the 'lay of the land', so to speak. It was an unbelievable time for hard rock in LA, and as soon as we got to the Sunset Strip we knew we were home. The second fond memory would be the entire time from the drive to LA, when the whole band and crew was moving out there together, up until the time the original lineup started to splinter. That was a very magical experience, being young and full of dreams and living in a place where they could all come true. And the third memory would have to be the first time we heard ourselves on the radio, on KLOS in Los Angeles. You know, if you watch any biographical music movie, where they are dramatizing the life of a famous musician or singer, there's always the scene where they get played on the radio for the first time, and everybody's jumping up and down and screaming. It's really like that.

FIBM:  Tell us about the Steeler Anthology being released in Japan

RK:   "Metal Generation: The Steeler Anthology" will be released this fall from Majestic Rock Records - it is a comprehensive anthology of recordings from throughout the band's history, from the first single to the final demos.

FIBM:  Any chance of a Steeler reunion, if so would it feature all the original members (original, meaning those who cut the record) including Yngwie?

  Not much chance of that. Rik Fox and I have talked about working together to promote the new anthology, but it's too soon to make any announcements.

FIBM:  How did you hook up with Yngwie?

  Mike Varney played me his demo tape, and like I said, I wanted the best and I got the best. I invited him to come to America and join Steeler.

FIBM:  How did the original Steeler line-up change into the one we all know? Was it your choice or did the original line-up quit?

RK:  Unfortunately, it was my choice, and not a very good one. The level of musicianship on the LA heavy metal scene was very competitive - there were some amazing guitarists, drummers, and bassists and I thought that's what I wanted. I found out the hard way that the best musicians don't always make the best bandmates, and there's no substitute for chemistry and camaraderie. I was lucky enough to find that again with KEEL, and more recently with IronHorse, but it's very rare and underrated. I still believe that if I had been mature enough and strong enough to hold the original band together and work hard, we would have been one of the premier bands of the time.

FIBM:  While Yngwie was in the band, were you two friends, or did he mostly keep to himself?

RK:  He was very focused on his guitar, it never left his hands. I always try to be friends with the people in my bands - if you're in my band, I'll take a bullet for you. Some of those friendships outlast the bands, and some don't.

Mark Edwards, Ron Keel, Yngwie Malmsteen, Rik Fox
FIBM:   How long was Yngwie in the band and why did he leave?

RK:  About four months, nine shows plus the recording sessions for the album. He left because he wanted to take the necessary steps towards fulfilling his own musical vision, and no one can blame him for that.

FIBM:  How long was Yngwie in the band, before you cut the record?

RK:  Just a couple of months. With the exception of "No Way Out" and "Abduction", the songs were already written and we were all in a hurry to get in the studio and make our first album.


FIBM:  How did Rik Fox come into your life?

RK:  Of all the guys in Hollywood that looked like rock stars, I thought Rik looked more like a rock star than anybody else. He's also a really nice guy, a good spirit. So with that lineup I had the best guitarist in the world, and the best looking rock star on the planet playing bass, but the chemistry amongst the whole team was never there unfortunately. Rik and I remain friends and I enjoy that, we recently resumed corresponding with each other, because of the Steeler collection coming out.

FIBM:  Do you ever play any Steeler songs with your current band, IronHorse?

RK:  Not with IronHorse, but during my acoustic shows I perform a modernized version of "Serenade", which I now sing like a man....I recorded a new version of it for the Steeler anthology and I'm very proud of it. That's a song that has definitely withstood the test of time.

FIBM:  Up-to-date, how many copies of the Steeler album have been sold? It says on your site that it is the largest selling independent record of all time. How many were sold originally?

RK:  I have lost track of the number. I'm still waiting for the gold record....we got the "Biggest Selling Independent Album" stat from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). The album continues to sell, and has never been out of print in 22 years, thanks to Shrapnel Records keeping it alive.

FIBM:  Do checks still arrive in the mail from your Steeler sales.

RK:   Shrapnel has always been timely and accurate with their royalty payments....I wish I could say the same for all the other record companies I've worked with.

FIBM:  What was the largest residual check you received from those sales.

RK:  I really have no idea; sorry...I usually cash them rather quickly

FIBM:  Anything you wish you would have done differently in the Steeler days?

RK:  Life's too short for regrets, who knows how things might have turned out. But I really should have kept the original lineup together, as I said earlier.


   FIBM:  In 1984, you formed Keel and released Lay Down the Law. How many copies were sold before you were able to land a deal with A&M?

RK:  Actually, the deal with A&M/Gold Mountain was sealed before the "Lay Down The Law" album was even finished. We had just finished mixing it and had to start recording our second album, "The Right To Rock", almost immediately.

FIBM:  Why hasn't Mike Varney done a re-release of Lay Down the Law on cd?

RK:  We've been working on it - the original tapes have been remastered and I hope to be able to announce a release date soon. That album has never been released on CD, and I have wanted to see that happen for a long time. That's a very special record for me, the first time my voice really started to shine, and it's the debut album from KEEL - it deserves a legitimate CD release.

FIBM:  I actually bought a copy of Lay Down the Law on Ebay and it was a cdr with decent quality inserts and a sticker for a cd label. Paid $30.00 for it. The sound quality is not too terrible. Are you able to stop that type of piracy, or do you even care?

RK:  We care. And the sound quality of those bootlegs IS terrible

FIBM:   Why hasn't there been a re-release of Keel, Self-titled and The Final Frontier? Are you aware of how much money people spend on those cd's?

RK:  Ownership of those properties has taken years to establish. Yes, I'm aware of the value of the original versions, it is high time to re-release them and we're working hard to see that it happens. I've also been working on releasing a collection of music and videos from throughout my career, and from all my various projects. I'm confident we'll be able to get these discs out in the coming years.

FIBM:  How does it work when a different label wants to re-release one of your titles? Explain the licensing process.

RK:   Establishing ownership is the first and biggest step - you can't wheel and deal if the property isn't yours to begin with. Many times you're dealing with international legalities and musicians that you haven't seen or spoken to in years, so it can get complicated. There are other artists who have been much more active in repackaging and licensing their previous releases - I have always tended to keep forging forward, focused on the here & now and the road ahead, with projects like IronHorse, Keel & Wayne, and the Acoustic Outcasts. Only recently have I begun to put my history into perspective, and I'm able to look at my accomplishments objectively.

FIBM:  Does the new label offer a signing bonus, or do you just get royalty checks as they sell?

RK:   Both or either, depending on what the property's worth. It's a good idea to get as much as you can up front, because even with signed contracts royalties can sometimes be hard to collect, especially from international deals. But this holds true with any situation - whether you're signing a new record deal or licensing material that's twenty years's difficult at best to get the truth about how many units are sold, and when it comes to receiving timely and accurate royalty statements, you have two choices: hope for the best, or take legal action.

L-R: Bobby Marks, Marc Ferrari, Ron Keel,
Bryan Jay, Kenny Chaisson

Ron Keel, The Right to Rock Sessions
FIBM:  What is a basic royalty rate, for each sale? If you don't mind, what was it when you played in Keel? What about Steeler, did you receive a better rate?

RK:  For the artist, between twelve and eighteen percent. My major label deals were structured on a 'points' basis, with one 'point' equaling one percent of the 'suggested retail price'. Points were like stock, and you could deal with them - for instance, you give points to producers or other people that could help your career. The guys in the band usually ended up with a point apiece, and the suggested retail price when 'The Right To Rock' was released, in 1985, was $8.98. So that's almost nine cents per album sold in your pocket, after you recoup the two million dollars the label invested in you.

FIBM:  Did you ever receive payments, in the early days, for Keel records or were you always in RECOUP HELL.

RK:   In KEEL, we were fortunate to have record companies that believed in us enough to invest heavily - for instance, during the 'Final Frontier/self-titled' era, MCA dumped about two million into the band - but it was unfortunate that they made the wrong decisions about selecting singles, marketing the band, and so on. Rather than being smart and creative, they thought they could break the act by throwing money around, and it got to the point where we would have had to sell five million albums just to break even. So yes, in regard to artist royalty, we never recouped - we stayed alive and kept the machine moving forward with income from merchandising, publishing, and touring income.

FIBM:  How many copies of the Right to Rock were sold originally?

RK:  The official number was just a hair below 500,000. Because if they admitted that they sold over half a million, they would have owed us a huge bonus and advance for the next album. My belief is that 'The Right To Rock' is only one of the gold albums I have done that was never certified gold.
FIBM:  Why wasn't the Final Frontier released on A&M?

RK:  We were actually signed to Gold Mountain, which at the time was a subsidiary of A&M. When 'The Right To Rock' did so well, Gold Mountain decided to cash in on a huge offer that MCA put on the table - basically pimping us out to the highest bidder. At the time, it was very flattering to be wanted and to be fielding such huge offers, but in the end I think it hurt - with MCA, even though they held up their end financially, we were never their baby - just a bastard child they had adopted in hopes of competing in the heavy metal marketplace.

FIBM:  When I heard the Keel / Self-titled release, I remember thinking that you guys were going to be huge. The tracks sounded great, the songs were also great and catchy. Why do think that didn't happen? Could it be?. MCA (Metal Cemetary Association)?

RK:  Indeed, that's a great sounding album, the songs, musicianship, production, vocals, the whole package is something I'm extremely proud of and still enjoy listening to today. I think the mistakes with that album, and with 'Final Frontier', were the choice of singles - "Because The Night" & "Somebody's Waiting" were great songs, but they weren't KEEL songs - they were covers, and both were MCA choices to release as singles. Every other label and act at the time were having multi-platinum success with a tried-and-true formula: the first single was geared to establishing the band's identity, like 'The Right To Rock', or 'Youth Gone Wild', or 'Welcome To The Jungle'....the second single was usually a more commercial radio-friendly tune, and then the third single was your power ballad. With 'The Right To Rock', we didn't even have a second single...the only time we ever had a second single was 'Tears Of Fire', which was a pretty big hit in a lot of major markets.

I'm not one to dwell on mistakes that were made two decades ago - life goes on, and there are more songs and more shows and more adventures around the bend. I feel fortunate that I was able to live the dream, and have so many goals is like a chess game, and I'm just happy to still have some powerful pieces on the board.

FIBM:  What are your 3 most fond memories of being in Keel?

RK:  There are so many - there's no way I can narrow them down to three. Signing your first major label recording contract, seeing your albums climb the charts and having your songs all over the radio and MTV?playing in front of 86,000 at the Texxas Jam opening for Van Halen....playing Madison Square Garden sold out three nights in a row....headlining our sold out tour of Japan....watching the lights go out on the Eiffel Tower after a sold-out show in Paris.....not to mention all the laughs, high fives, good friendships and other dreams come true. Pick any three of those memories you like, they are all my favorite.

Ron, playing to 86,000, at the Texxas Jam

FIBM:  Anything you wish you would have done differently in the Keel days?

RK:  Of course. Mostly just little things - I remember spending $30,000 one month just rehearsing, with full production, sound, lights, a basketball court in our rehearsal room....we should have just rented a barn in the middle of nowhere for $500 bucks and pocketed the rest....

FIBM:  On to Fair Game, your post-Keel band. Did you ever mix business with pleasure? If not, how did you not? If so, no explanation needed.

RK:  I'll leave that to everyone's imagination.....if I did, I would never admit it....

Fair Game

FIBM:  How did the Saber Tiger release come about and how did the fans in Japan react to hearing the thunder-god vocals of Ron Keel, after all those years?

RK:   Japanese guitar star Akihito Kinoshita had just signed a big deal with Fandango Records, and they were looking for an American vocalist to do the album. I had dropped off the radar in Japan when I started singing Country music, and had a good reputation and large following there. I was singing Country music in Arizona at the time they contacted me, and I had just come home from a brutal gig where I sang for five hours for something like fifty bucks. I'd had a few cocktails, as I do from time to time, and when I came home there was a fax on my desk that read something like, "Hello, this is Tosh Sakabe from Fandango Records in Japan, we have just signed guitar star Akihito Kinoshita and we are wondering how much you would charge us to make contract to sing on his new album. Please call us, " and there was a phone number.

Well, I had a couple more cocktails, and I called them - it was the middle of the night for me, but mid-afternoon in Japan - and spoke to Sakabe-san, and he reiterated what he had said in the fax: "How much you charge to make contract to sing on this album,". I told him I'd do it for $75,000....he said he'd discuss it with his boss and call me right back. I had a couple more cocktails, and then he called back, and said "We give you $30,000," and I said "Hell Yes, I'm there..."

I love that album, and it remains my finest metal moment. I never toured with the band, so the only was to gauge fan response was by chart position and sales, both of which were very good. The whole experience was extremely taxing on me physically and vocally, but incredibly rewarding and one of the most interested and satisfying projects of my career.

FIBM:  Is the cd still in print and do you receive royalties for sales, or did they just pay you for the session?

RK:   I was paid the flat fee for the session, but also wrote all the lyrics, for which I should be receiving royalties. They sent them the first year, but nothing since....they even re-recorded the album with a Japanese singer, used all my lyrics, and never sent me a dime, but I got almost 40K out of the deal, great memories, and a great album, so I'm cool with it. I would like to release the disc myself to make it available for fans who might hesitate to shell out forty or fifty bucks for the import.

FIBM:  Did your latest band, IronHorse, recently sign with a record label? If so, which one and what does that mean to you?

RK:   IronHorse has licensed the "Bring It On" CD to Rock Candy Records in Europe, the UK, and Japan....there will be some significant changes in the album: it will be remastered by Jon Astley, who has remastered the catalogs of Judas Priest and The Who; it will be resequenced with new material added; new album cover artwork, photos, and the title of the release will now be "American Thunder", which is one of the tracks form the album. The guys at Rock Candy Records, Derek Oliver & Dante Bonutto, are very well respected and experienced in all aspects of this business, I've known them since the KEEL days, and I'm very excited to be working with them. They wanted to work with IronHorse for all the right reasons - because of the unique nature of this band, because there's nothing else like it - a true hybrid of southern rock, metal, and country. There are hundreds of melodic rock albums released every year, but IronHorse stands tall in a new genre all its own.

FIBM:  What are the benefits of signing with a label, rather than financing the project yourself? I realize this may sound like a stupid question, but considering the fact that you have name recognition, couldn't you realistically, sell less independently, but make more than you might on a major? Or hire the staff to promote as the labels do, such as radio promoters and so on?

RK:  The IronHorse CD was financed by ourselves and investors, but as you know, I'm already spreading myself too thin with all my musical's taken me two months to respond to this interview! Some of my future projects, such as the Ron Keel Anthology, DVD compilation, and acoustic solo album will be done in-house on a smaller scale. But an act like IronHorse deserves a lot more, and needs to get a shot at competing in the big leagues.

FIBM:  Your thoughts on Jamie St. James joining Warrant. Have you talked to him since and has he forgotten that Black n Blue was a great band?

RK:  I think it's great that Jamie & Warrant have joined forces, and I'm looking forward to hearing their new music. It's a great match, and I'm happy for him....Jamie will always be proud of Black n Blue and I guarantee you he'll never forget - but like all of us, we have to live in the present and point ourselves toward the future. The past is history, but our accomplishments and experiences can never be taken from us - our job is to keep on creating, keep on singing and performing, enjoying our lives and chasing our dreams.

Marc Ferrari, Ron Keel, Jamie St. James, Bret Michaels


FIBM:  What is your most disgusting habit?

RK:  Smoking.

FIBM:  What is the most feminine thing you do?

RK:  I really like to cook and spend time in the kitchen. Is that more feminine than wearing makeup?

FIBM:  If there is a God, what is the first question you would ask God when you arrive?

RK:   If there is a God, I doubt I'll get the chance to ask him anything...but if there is, and I did, I would really be stupid if I didn't drop to my knees immediately and ask for forgiveness.

FIBM:  Greatest Rock band of all time?

RK:  The Beatles.

FIBM:  What were you doing 40 minutes before you sat down to do this interview?

RK:  Working on the computer, fighting a losing battle to catch up on business and correspondence.

Quite an honor to interview Ron. I first met him when I was a kid at A&M Records; they had just finished recording The Right to Rock, my dad & I were there visiting a friend of the family, who was the Vice President of Marketing. Secretary comes on the intercom, "Ron Keel & Marc Ferrari are here to see you"..I was aware of Ron Keel at the time, the two walk through the door, each with a Tecate, they were both very cool, took photos and signed autographs.....I got a tape of the Right to Rock about a month before its release, of course, thought I was the shiz. Forward to their tour, they come to Dallas, me & two friends, again we'll call one of them - St. Ain't St., and yes, momz, once again, drives us to the venue..... 3 front row, center seats & backstage passes, at the Arcadia, Keel is opening for Loudness. We get to our seats, look back and see all four members of Pantera. Go backstage, hang out on the Keel bus, very cool, Marc Ferrari walks in with two Pantera cassettes, Metal Magic & Projects in the Jungle. It was the moment they made contact for the first time.

For whatever reason, I am apparently, still not cool with Jamie St. James being in Warrant. Not sure why, but I do think it's a perfect example of the general public missing the point. That first Black N Blue / Self-titled release was one of the TOP DOGS of that genre, not only in songwriting, but also production.

Thanks again Ron for taking the time to do the interview. He is the real deal, people. One of the true pioneers. The Steeler release is a classic. The Keel albums were always very cool & each record was better than the last up through the Self-titled release. Somebody send a resume` to Mike Varney, apply for the job to head a campaign to get some of these OOP cd's released. What the hell is this guy waiting for?  AI
Don't Forget to visit Ron at his websites:


Iron Horse Website