KEEL - Living At Street Level

February 14, 2010, 9 years ago

By Carl Begai

keel feature

It was only a matter of time before Keel joined the seemingly endless chain of ‘80s hair bands on the comeback trail. Makes sense given they’re celebrating the 25th Anniversary of their biggest noise ever, The Right To Rock, and that bandmates Ron Keel (vocals), Marc Ferrari (guitars) and Brian Jay (guitars) never really went away. Rather than trying to recapture the old glory, however, the band has taken the bold step of creating an album for themselves. The aptly titled Streets Of Rock N’ Roll isn’t what the majority of the band’s diehard followers are expecting, nor is it the glaring disaster that often turns up when a retired band tries to fire things up again. Instead the listener is treated to an uncomplicated rock record that is capable of bringing in an entirely new generation of fans. In many cases the same people that dismissed Keel as the loud and obnoxious wannabes on the block when Ratt, Mötley Crüe and W.A.S.P. were carving their respective ways to the top of the hair band pile.

“We stayed in contact over the years, we’ve remained friends and there’s always been a sense of brotherhood between us,” Ron says of the comeback. “We’ve always thought about doing something again when the time was right, and the 25th Anniversary seemed like it was now or never. Marc and Brian have successful careers in the industry, I’ve been involved in a number of projects recording and playing as many as 200 shows a year. Things like Rocklahoma that have surfaced over the last few years have been very appealing as far as being able to get out and play for people. Our agent was a huge Keel fan back in the day and really was the impetus behind convincing us that if we put the band back together we’d get some high profile shows, get out on some big stages and do thing they way we wanted to. That was the main reason for getting back together. We’re very proud of what we accomplished in the ‘80s and if we were going to come back and play shows we wanted to be able to get on stage and deliver the goods. If we were going to make an album we had to do it just as good or better than before. I think we’ve accomplished that.”
“Better” depends on how you like your Keel. Streets Of Rock N’ Roll is a far cry of The Right To Rock’s high energy hair metal attack, being more of a no-nonsense rock record with hints of the band’s metal past. Reviews have been largely positive, suggesting that Keel’s fanbase has grown with them and doesn’t mind a whole hell of a lot that Ron and Co. aren’t dishing out overblown the-gang’s-all-here ‘80s anthems.

“It hasn’t surprised me but I think the other guys might be a little overwhelmed by the positive reactions we’ve gotten,” says Ron. “I was out with my band Iron Horse for six years and we did something like 800 shows across the States, I ran into Keel fans on a regular basis, and they were out there singing ‘The Right To Rock’, ‘Because The Night’ and ‘Tears Of Fire’. The advent of the internet was the surprise for me (laughs). I got my first computer and my first website 10 years ago, and there were these fan sites out there which showed me that the band hadn’t been forgotten. The most surprising reaction to me has been the ones I’m getting for the new album. The response has been really positive and I’m very thankful for that. It’s very encouraging.”
“I agree that it’s more of a rock record than metal,” he adds, “but putting those stylistic labels on it, that’s for people like you to do. For us it’s Keel music. I think the one Keel trademark we’ve kept alive is the element of diversity. We’ve got heavier stuff like ‘Come Hell Or High Water’ and the title track, and then there’s the commercial stuff like ‘Looking For A Good Time’. There are different influences and elements on the album, so it takes you for a ride.”

As Ron tells it getting back to business wasn’t a big deal once everyone was on board – with only bassist Kenny Chaisson bowing out, having been replaced by Geno Arce.

“After we decided to get back together things happened really fast. At the time Brian and I were writing songs for his TV and film catalogue and they were ‘80s metal songs (‘Hit The Ground Running’ and ‘Looking For A Good Time’). We realized they could actually be Keel songs. Marc and Brian got together in LA and wrote the music for ‘Come Hell Or High Water’, sent me the mp3, I put lyrics, vocals and the melody to it, and suddenly we had three or four songs that we felt strongly about. That was the point where we said ‘Let’s make a record.’ As soon as we made that decision everything fell into place. We didn’t think or talk about it. We didn’t create the music with the intention of being retro or old school; we just made Keel music. It was an exciting process.”
“Everything on the album is brand new except for the title track, nothing was dusted off from sitting in the archives,” he adds. “The song ‘Streets Of Rock N’ Roll’ is something Brian recorded under a different name with a different project; he brought it to the table and we thought it was the perfect signature song. I wanted to write a song with that title and that one fit perfectly.”

Coinciding with the release of Streets Of Rock N’ Roll is the re-issue of The Right To Rock in all it’s over-the-top glory. It might be considered a stupid business move putting out two very different albums by the same band simultaneously, but Ron is happy to have it out there again just the same.

KEEL - Mag Shot 6

“There are two reasons why The Right To Rock album sounds the way it does. One is the hunger and energy the band had at the time. We were on fire, we’d just gotten our record deal, so there was a lot of excitement. The other thing was Gene Simmons producing the record. Gene wanted to capture a band with that fire, that hunger and that attitude, and make an album that was really in your face.”
“One of our goals was to secure the rights to that album, because it was lost in limbo,” Ron explains. “We were signed to A&M; at the time through a company called Gold Mountain. They folded, A&M; folded, and Universal retained the rights. It was like finding an abandoned car in a parking lot; nobody knows who it belongs to but I’d really like to drive the sucker (laughs). We went through hell and high water – no pun intended – to secure the rights to that album, and about the time we were creating Streets Of Rock N’ Roll acquired those rights. It was the next logical move to put it out, so we worked out a two album package with Frontiers. It was ultimately their decision to release the two simultaneously.”

Bridging the gap between The Right To Rock and Streets Of Rock N’ Roll is a re-recorded version of the former’s title track. A solid move that breathes new life into a lunkhead ‘80s metal anthem that everyone knew back in the day whether they wanted to or not.

“’The Right To Rock’ itself is Keel’s signature song. It’s what were best known for and it’s a song I’m extremely proud of. I’ve been trying to write another one for the last 25 years and it’s not that easy (laughs). It’s one of those classic anthems from that era and that genre of music, so being able to re-record the song was cool. I think the original version sounds a bit dated. It’s raw and hungry, it has a lot of fire and energy, but we wanted to re-record a version that can stand up for another 25 years.”
“The future is going to depend on the success of Streets Of Rock N’ Roll,” Ron offers. “If the fans dig it and it does well there will be the demand for another one. We want that to happen.”

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