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Conquering The Badlands: An Exclusive Interview With KEEL Namesake RON KEEL

By Larry Petro, News Monkey
Tuesday, April 28, 2015 @ 4:53 PM

"There were some bad decisions made but the worst one of all, which was the career killer, was the decision to release "Because The Night" as the first single from The Final Frontier album."

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Live Photo By Larry Petro

You may remember him from hard rocking 80's bands like STEELER OR KEEL, or you may recall his foray into the country music scene as Ronnie Lee Keel or with 'country metal' bands like IRONHORSE and K2 following the decline of the hard rock scene. He's also had his own syndicated radio show for a number of years now as well as releasing a solo album and penning his autobiography, Even Keel: Life On The Streets Of Rock N' Roll.

But what you may not know is that he's embarked on probably the most arduous adventure of his career in 2015 as a major player in the new Badlands Pawn, Guns, Gold & Rock N' Roll project in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one that he likes to call a 'Metal Cowboy Disneyland'. I caught up with Ron before a recent show in Houston, Texas to discuss this new period of his life, how he became involved in it, if he has any career regrets and what advice he would give to others who want to live the rock n' roll dream. Check it out!

KNAC.COM: Before we get started I want to take a moment to acknowledge something you did yesterday. A friend of mine, who is in the Houston band TAME FURY, is in the hospital in ICU waiting on a heart transplant. You took time out of your day yesterday to go and see him. That was an incredible act of kindness, Ron.

KEEL: It meant as much to me as it did to Phred (Williams, the drummer) because people like that are an inspiration to me. I can't imagine what it would be like to spend what, two months now, in the hospital waiting on a heart transplant. He doesn't know how long he's going to be there waiting to get your heart ripped out of your chest and somebody else's put into your chest. Man, i can't even fathom what kind of courage, stamina and character that must take. I've been blessed with really good health so to be able to visit somebody like Phred did me as much good as it did him. Just to see the surprise on his face when I walked in, how can you not do something like that? You've got a fan who's been supporting you for your entire career, you're six miles away, you just gotta make time for stuff like that, so I was glad to do it and I wish him all the best and we're all hoping that he gets back on his feet and out of that hospital bed soon so he can come out and rock with us.

KNAC.COM: Too often we hear only about the trouble rock stars gets into, so when something like this happens it deserves to be recognized and so huge props to you sir!

KEEL: Thank you, I appreciate that, thank you.

KNAC.COM: Now, let's get on to the big news for you for this year, the Badlands Pawn, Guns, Gold & ROck n Roll project. This thing is huge for you!

KEEL: It's huge for me and it's going to be huge for a lot of people and for the entertainment business in general. The project is so huge that it's tough for us to wrap our heads around it and really explain it in a nutshell because there's so many moving parts. You've got, first of all, my role, which is obviously why I'm there is to be the band leader for the Badlands House Band, fronting a new project and the lead singer and band leader of the Badlands House Band, I get to put together my dream team of musicians to continue doing what I've always done and do best, which is fronting a rock band. That's the core nucleus of who I am and what I do, so that to me is the most exciting element but there is so much more to it.

Being a part of the Badlands Radio Network, being able to be on the air, on Badlands Radio from 10-2:30 Monday through Friday starting November 26th, to have a daily shift on a major FM network, not just a station, but we're going to be beaming this thing via satellite to stations all over the Midwest and streaming online for fans around the world. To be a part of that radio team is also a dream come true for me. I've been doing my own syndicated show for three years now and I guess I had the chops or at least the ability to entertain people on the air and I enjoy that; Being able to speak to the fans, to share music, to share stories with people that are listening in their homes, their cars or on their computers around the world and to be a part of the Badlands Radio Network from a business standpoint too. I've been really involved in the technology, the business, the creation of the network itself which is a huge honor and a thrill. The Bandlands Entertainment Group, which will be working with national acts, local acts, the Badlands House Band of course, to bring live music to that Badlands Pawn venue on a regular basis.

We're going to have a full concert stage, state-of-the-art lights, production, video, it's going to be every bit as kick ass as any concert venue that you've been to. We've got a lot planned for that. It opens on November 26th and there's a lot more to it than I can explain in this brief, well not brief, because whenever I talk it's not brief (laughs), but I suggest everybody go to badlandspawn.com. We're always updating the video with new footage of the construction, the rock stars that are stopping to say hello, interview footage and to just be a part of the building of this empire with us online at badlandspawn.com.

KNAC.COM: So the process has already started, the construction and everything is all ongoing now, right?

KEEL: That's correct. We broke ground in early February and I started onsite mid-February, February 16th and the construction has been, just to watch the buildings going up, the shooting range being built, the best is yet to come. We're going to put this radio station behind glass in between the shooting range where you can shoot guns up to 50 calibers, and sandwiched in between that and the concert stage with a full PA, you're going to have a radio station fully broadcasting 24/7 live, behind glass so people can come in and watch us do our thing on the air and interact with us in a number of ways where the fans, the listeners, the customers, the visitors to Badlands Pawn will be a part of the radio broadcast. You'll be able to pick up the hotline downstairs, look at us as we're in the booth and you'll be able to make a request, get on the air, talk about what's going on at Badlands Pawn, a fully interactive experience.

We're going to have a recording studio on the floor where you can go in, take a guitar off the wall and lay down a solo on a track or go in and put your voice on a track and take that track home with you as a souvenir recording of your visit to Badlands Pawn. So there's a lot to it and it's going to be the exclamation point on my career as you know, you've done your homework, I've had a lot of dreams come true, I've sold millions of records, I've toured the world, I've been able to sustain a long and productive career in the entertainment business through the ups, the downs, the highs, the lows and to be able to at this stage of the game get what I consider the best opportunity I've ever had, I mean, I've had some great chances back in the day of course, getting signed to a major record deal, getting to work with Gene Simmons (KISS), being able to tour with bands like BON JOVI, VAN HALEN, AEROSMITH, to see the world, to headline Japan sold out, the list goes on so for a guy who's done all that, to be able to get the Holy Grail of gigs at this stage of the game in my career is a huge blessing and I'm not gonna take it for granted, I'm gonna give it 100% and make sure that I hit this one out of the park.

KNAC.COM: This is like the icing on the cake for you.

KEEL: It is the exclamation point on my career, that's how I treated it from my very first meeting with our creator and the founder of this project, Chuck Brennan. He understood my goals and that was my primary goal was to put this big, huge exclamation point on all of the other accomplishments that I've been able to enjoy.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of Chuck, how did you first become involved with him on this?

KEEL: That's a long story. I've known Chuck for a while, he's a big part of the Las Vegas rock n' roll scene and we've crossed paths a number of times and developed a friendship. Some of the people that work with him and for him have been in bands with me or worked in a business capacity. When Chuck was putting together his plans for Badlands Pawn I was in the right place at the right time. It was like lightning striking twice and he called me into sing the theme song and that's how I really got integrated into this thing. We met, we talked, he had done his homework on me in terms of my skills as an entrepenuor, being able to carve a career out of the business the way it is now, and I had to diversify, I had to do a radio show, I had to write a book, I had to go on tour and bust my ass, I had to record a solo album and continue my activities with KEEL, had a lot of fingers in a lot of pies and Chuck saw that and recognized that skill within me that I was able to succeed on a level which is very difficult to do in the business these days. To be able to be a part of the radio network, to be the Metal Cowboy, and that phrase is something that Chuck and the rest of the management team has embraced, they want the Metal Cowboy, they want that Badlands attitude with that rock n' roll spirit and the cowboy mentality, all of that stuff that I bring to the table.

So I was in the right place at the right time, we decided to pull the trigger and go for it and here we are, eight weeks in, we open November 26th and between now and then I think there's 236 days until we open and it is a grind trying to build this thing, the technology involved alone is incredible, with combining the live broadcast radio show broadcasting by satellite, the state-of-the-art concert stage, the recording studio, hundreds of miles of cable, fifty video screens, hundreds of microphones and just a lot of moving parts, it's going to be like Disneyland and it's gonna be one hell of a ride. I hope that everybody will enjoy it and hopefully come and visit and if you can't come visit, please check us out online at badlandspawn.com, it's just gonna be cool.

KNAC.COM: Now, you don't have the band together though, right?

KEEL: Pretty much

KNAC.COM: Can you divulge any of the members yet?

KEEL: I can. I can announce that local Sioux Falls legend Jeff Koller is going to be on the drums. This guy's paid his dues in that market and region, he's a local guy we wanted to give an opportunity to, not one of those guys that moved to LA like i did back in the day. Somebody from Souix Falls who has deep roots there in Souix Falls, South Dakota, he'll be holding down the duties on the drum kit. My longtime bass player Geno Arce from KEEL and IRONHORSE is going to be joining us on bass. Geno's been with me for 18 years, he's obviously my first call when I get an opportunity like this. There were a lot of guys that I had chosen that I would have liked to have worked with that I called and they're just not able to make that commitment or relocate or sell their soul to the Badlands, so to speak, but Geno's the kind of guy that, we'd follow each other to hell and back and I'm glad to have him on board. On lead giitar we have another guy that worked with the RON KEEL BAND who is somebody that I initially had hoped that I could secure at this position, his name is David Cothern. He played some RON KEEL BAND shows with me last year on tour with my solo project, we developed a strong bond and friednship and I believed that he would be the right guy for the job and now he's all in as well. We're still looking for a couple of additional players, keyboards, another lead guitar player, so we'll round out the lineup here in the next couple of months and continue to make announcements as we secure those final positions.

KNAC.COM: Now, this whole thing is also being filmed for a reality show, is that not true?

KEEL: That's correct. We have the cameras up our ass 24/7 and actually have five TV shows in production right now, the flagship being the reality show on a major television network, but also a game show and they're filming our morning show. We're going to be broadcasting our morning radio show live, kinda like Mike & Mike In The Morning or The Dan Patrick Show, cameras in the radio studio filming the Morning Crash, our headline DJ, the guy who's been a legend in radio in the Midwest who was with the classic rock station there in Sioux Falls for 19 years and gave that up to spearhead this new project with us, so we have really created a Dream Team of people from across the country to relocate and be a part of this.

Craig Bradford, our stage manager, our production manager is someone who's worked with RATT, LITA FORD, WARRANT, just a serious resume in terms of production and live concert touring and he's heading up our production team. a lot of these guys like myself have relocated, made Sioux Falls their home and now we're all in on this thing. It's an amazing process to be a part of and it does dictate that I put a lot of my other stuff on the backburner or off to the side. Once I seal the deal, on November 18 I sign my contract, November 26th was the last episode of my syndicated show because I needed to devote myself to the Badlands. As for my solo career, there won't be any more Ron Keel solo albums. For the next 3-5 years I'm going to be totally committed to this. We do have some KEEL shows on the books that I've got to fulfill and the guys in the band were very understanding and supportive. That KEEL band's been a brotherhood for 30 years now and we all love each other enough to do what's best for each other individually, so the guys in the band have given me their blessing. We've got one more show this year on the Monsters Of Rock cruise and then one big show in 2016, which we're about ready to announce as well, but other than that it's all Badlands and Badlands Radio Network, Badlands House Band and Badlands Pawn.

KNAC.COM: Best of luck with that Ron.

KEEL: Thank you

KNAC.COM: Jumping to your autobiography for just a minute, it seems to be full of instances of decisions that should have or could have been made differently in hindsight. Out of all of those, which one in your opinion would have had the greatest impact on your career if you had made a different decision?

KEEL: (Sigh) Impact on my career? Well, they weren't all my decisions, there were some bad decisions made but the worst one of all, which was the career killer, was the decision to release "Because The Night" as the first single from The Final Frontier album. We were following up The Right To Rock, which was a big success, it was a huge rock anthem and still is to this day, you cannot follow that up with a cover song that's half ballad..."Because The Night"'s a great tune, it's a big part of my life and my career BUT, the fans were not expecting that to be that first single and I think that was a huge mistake, we had nothing to do with that. Even Gene (Simmons, who produced the album) couldn't veto that decision. The powers-that-be at MCA made that call and it was a huge nail in the coffin because The Final Frontier didn't go platinum as expected so therefore it was an uphill battle the rest of the way.

I do have some decision that I made....who knows how it would have been if I hadn't fired the original STEELER band and hired Yngwie (Malmsteen)? I have a pretty good idea how it might have unfolded in the short term in terms of being able to get STEELER to the level of having a major label record deal in LA at the time. But would we have been multi-platinum, would it have been everything that I wanted it to be? You never know, so I don't sit and second guess those decisions. I relaize that it might have been the wrong call at the time to break STEELER up and to hire Yngwie BUT the fact that Yngwie and I made our first album together was a huge boon to both of our careers. That STEELER album really kickstarted his career and mine so I don't think there should be any room for regrets.

My biggest regret of my entire life was not being there when my parents died, choosing to do the gig as opposed to being bedside. That's something I would change right now if I could, I would have cancelled the gig and I would have been their with my mom and my dad at their bedside when they passed away. I justified it at the time thinking, well they know who I am, they'll understand. I didn't know my father was going to die. I had been at his bedside for months as he was recovering from a stroke. I had one gig on the books the band really wanted to do, the money was good, it was a good gig and I decided to go ahead and do the gig. I told my dad and I explained to him at his bedside, 'look, we're going to be gone for a week, I'll be back, just hang in there and keep doing what you're doing'. He was fine when I left him and then I got the call on a Sunday night, the last night of the gig, that my father had passed away. I'll always regret that.

KNAC.COM: What's the one thing you'd like people to come away with when they read the book?

KEEL: I want them to be entertained. I mean, these are entertainment products. I want them to enjoy the ride. You know, life is a journey and that's how I sign most of the books when I autograph them on the inside front cover, I say 'enjoy the journey'. Life is a journey and you gotta have fun with it, you gotta enjoy it. It's not a textbook, if you learn something from it, good for you but you'll learn a lot about me. Of course, learning all about Ron Keel isn't going to help you on your life path or anything but it should be entertaining, it should be fun. That's the primary motivation behind the book. It should be a good read, a fun read and you should enjoy it. I don't need you to take anything away from it other than 'hey man, I dug that, it was fun, it was worth the $15 and I enjoyed reading it'.

KNAC.COM: I had to tear up my initial set of interview questions once I started reading the book because most of them were answered in the book! (laughs)

KEEL: Yeah. Sure, they will. Just about any question you could aks me is gonna be answered in the book, except Badlands Pawn and all that new stuff. Hopefully that will be in the sequel here in 5 years or so.

KNAC.COM: You're going to have to write an addendum to it now.

KEEL: Yeah, absolutely because it's not over yet.

KNAC.COM: You've done so much and you've set the goals for yourself early in your life. Is there any goal that you haven't achieved yet with everything you've done now?

KEEL: Well, in terms of creative fulfillment, my primary goal now is just to enjoy the rest of the ride. I'm 54 years old now, I still have my health, I've been really blessed with good health and I've worked on it the past couple of decades in terms of being drug-free 10 years now and eating right, up at 4:30 every morning to hit the gym. It's a grind to stay in shape and stay healthy but my voice is my instrument, I've got to be healthy to do what I do. A lot of that's genetic, I mean I'm not allergic to anything, I've never had a broken bone, I rarely get sick so my health is really top notch. It's hard to believe that next year I'll be eligible for being a senior citizen! I just got my first senior citizen discount! I moved to Sioux Falls and I got new insurance because we bought a new house and I combined my homeonwer's insurance with my auto insurance and I'm looking at the quote and there's a 'driver over 50' discount (laughs). It's kinda weird because I still feel like the same 17 year old kid. I'm a lot more intelligent, I'm a lot more mature than I was back then, I'm a better businessman, I'm a better singer, a better songwriter but I've still got that same child-like passion and hunger for life and for music and I'm sure that'll never go away.

KNAC.COM: What advice ewould you give to youngsters who share your dream of being a rock star?

KEEL: Man, that is a tough question because I am really involved with coaching and teaching young people through the Brennan Rock N Roll Academy in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I've worked with the School Of Rock in Las Vegas where they teach young people music. It really comes to a very simple analogy; my philosophy of life and music from the time I was 2 years old, I wanted to suceed in a band. that's it, in a nutshell, that was my goal, that was what I was going to do with my life. I'm going to succeed in a band. My philosophy of how to succeed in anything, whether it's music or life or business or love or whatever, is very simple, you have to be willing, ready and able to do whatever it takes to succeed. In order to be successful in a band you have to always do what's best for the band, not only what's best for you but what's best for that band. That is my advice to anybody in music or in a band-type situation.

Also, I believe life is like baseball, only it's a lot easier. In baseball you get three outs, three strikes and you're out. In life there's no outs man, you can just keep swingin and that's why I'm still here today is I am swinging, swinging at every pitch and every now and then you're gonna hit one out of the park so jump on every opportunity, don't be afraid to chase your dream. I've never been afraid of big moves. when I was 17 I moved to Nashville out of the blue to pursue a music career. When STEELER was put together in Nashville I was not afraid to take the whole band and the crew in the van and drive to LA to be a part of that LA scene. I was not afraid to move to Las Vegas 10 years to create a production show that's still now, eight years later, up and running at Bally's. A show that I created. I moved to Las Vegas to create a show. It's still up and running and I accomplished what I set out to do in Vegas, so you can't be afraid to make big decisions and big moves. If you don't make those decisions you're going to be the person sitting back listening to other people on the radio that did make those decisions. Those people that you're listening to on the radio, that you're seeing on TV, they did whatever it took to succeed.

Editor's Note: After the recorder was turned off, Ron mentioned one other piece of news regarding the Badlands Pawn venture. They had just secured the naming rights for a racetrack in Sioux Falls, the Badlands Motor Speedway, so there is yet another thing to look forward to once this project is completed.

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