Profile: Ron Keel (Steeler, Keel)
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Ron Keel spent his early, formative years in Phoenix, with some small portions of time in Texas. It was in Phoenix that Ron formed and/or joined his first, formative musical acts. However it was not until he spoke to an MCA A&R Rep. in Texas that he truly got on the path that brought him to his eventual destination of 80s Flash Metal Stardom.
This A&R man confessed that he was unable to help Ron (who at the time had a promo kit and demo that he had written, produced, played, and sung) but did direct him to a colleague of his in Nashville who he believed could. Once Ron got to Tennessee, Ron’s demo ended up being passed on by MCA records, but it was here that Ron joined the first band with which he would record a commercially available product.
That band was called Lust and they had recruited Keel while competing in a local “Battle of the Bands” competition. Up until that point, their drummer had sung, but it was agreed upon by the band’s member’s that they needed a frontman to be a force in the competition. They ended up taking first place in that competition and, with Ron still in the line-up, recorded 2 tracks for a local split/sampler called “The Homegrown Album” (One of these songs was called “Speed Demon”, and while being musically different to the KEEL song from their ’84 debut, contained similar lyrics)
After Ron left Lust he formed the first line-up of Steeler, which also included the bass player from Lust, and the new band quickly took over the Rock club circuit in an around Nashville. They decided that in order for them to expand they would have to relocated to greener musical pastures for Hard Rock, and headed west for L.A. where they also quickly gained notoriety.
By 1982, the band had been signed to Shrapnel Records and was recording their self-titled debut album for that label. By that time, the line-up had also changed to include two superstars of the strip in Bassist Rik Fox (who had been a member of Pre-W.A.S.P. band Sister, as well the earliest incarnation of W.A.S.P.) and drummer Mark Edwards (Riot, 3rd Stage Alert, Burning Starr). Steeler now also included a young guitar player from Sweden by the name of Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbach, or Yngwie J. Malmsteen as he would come to be known. The album would go on to become a classic of early American Metal and the biggest selling independant release of all-time.
Through almost constant line-up changes, especially in the wake of Yngwie leaving to join erstwhile Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet’s new band Alcatrazz, Steeler dissolved. Ron, however, felt it was time for him to create a band that was distinctly his. Thus began KEEL, a group of musicians hand-picked by Ron based on talent, drive, and hunger. The band only played one show before Ron was plucked by genre progenitors Black Sabbath, but his prospects for a future with the british institution quickly faded, and KEEL reformed and started seriously gigging around L.A.
After a few months on the California club circuit, the band entered the studio to record their official debut. Lay Down the Law was released on Shrapnel Records in late 1984. Before the album was even mixed however, the band’s management recalled them to L.A. to showcase for record company executives. After this showcase, the boys were locked in to a deal with Gold Mountain Records (a division of A&M) and were given a choice of producers to record their major label debut. Of all the names on the list, Ron chose Gene Simmons of KISS.
The following is a direct quotation from the Ron Keel Bio/History found at http://bit.ly/llSSEI:
“So they set up a meeting with the God Of Thunder himself. I went to meet him at the Beverly Hills Hotel, we talked and went up to his room. I inserted a tape of the jam we had recorded that first day of the “LDTL” session – there were no vocals on the tape – and I stood right there and sang ‘The Right To Rock’ along with the tape, in his face…as soon as the first chorus was over, he hit the STOP button, looked at me, and said ‘I’m going to produce this album. And we’re going to start Tuesday.'”
As you might have guessed, these sessions with Gene resulted in 1985’s The Right to Rock, the title track of which would go on to become, arguably, Keel’s most famous track. The song cracked the Billboard Hot 100 and the band’s first video was filmed for it.
Through the following four years, KEEL would have a fair amount of success on the national stage in the US, as well as good exposure overseas. During their 1986 world tour in support of their 3rd album The Final Frontier, they would headline four nights in Japan, with two sold-out nights in Tokyo among them. The Final Frontier would also be their highest charting album, making it to 53 on the Billboard Hot 100. During the bands touring cycle in support of their self-titled fourth album, they were the opening act for Bon Jovi for three sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden.
KEEL would begin to fall apart due to many factors and reasons including contract disputes and personel changes. During the filming for the video for “Dreams are Not Enough” (from the band’s fifth, half studio, half live album Larger Than Live from 1989) Ron, being the only remaining original member, made the decison to disband the act that carried his own name.
Following the demise of KEEL, Ron went on to form a group called FAIR GAME, in which he again sang lead vocals and was backed up by an all-female group. The group had some truly solid songs and was actually featured in a low-budget sci-fi movie called “Bad Channels” in 1991. Their album was never official released, but there are copies of it cirulating around the internet. I highly recommend it as it’s a truly solid album.
Through out the 90s and early 2000s, Ron was involved with several projects including Sabre Tiger‘s 1997 album Project One. He would not do any touring or live events with the band, but as Ron himself put it in his official Bio/History, the album would be his “heaviest Heavy Metal release.” In fact, the album is very much in the vein of fellow Japanese act Sex Machineguns, a very heavy Speed/Power Metal act. Most of his other projects in this period were in the Country and Western genre, with Ron operating under the name Ronnie Lee Keel. There was, however, a brief KEEL reunion in 1998 where the classic line-up released an album of unreleased, remastered, and re-recorded material called VI: Back In Action.
In recent times, KEEL once again reunited for their 25th anniversary in 2009 and have released a new album, Streets of Rock ‘n Roll, and continue to tour to this day. It’s fantastic that Ron is back on the scene and, given the proper opportunity, KEEL is a band that yours truly would love to see live.
So in closing, if you’re a KEELaholic or a Steeler fanatic, throw on an album, crank it up, and pay tribute to a legend. If you’re not, then check out the recommended albums at the bottom of this article. You won’t be dissappointed!
Recommended Ron Keel releases:
Steeler – Steeler (1983 Shrapnel Records)
Keel – Lay Down the Law (1984 Shrapnel Records)
Keel – The Final Frontier (1986 Gold Mountain Records)
All videos are from the KEELTV channel on youtube
Photos of Ron are from his tripod site
All research conducted at RonnieKeel.tripod.com, wikipedia, Keelnation.com, RonKeel.com, and metal-archives.com
YOU’VE GOT IT! FIGHT FOR IT! THE RIGHT TO ROCK!