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Do you still have the right to rock?: A look back at Ron Keel’s 1985 Night Flight interview
In the spring of 1985, Ron Keel was riding high and living the dream of being a young up and coming rock musician in Los Angeles. Most of his friends, like Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, and Ratt had already been signed. Now, it was, finally, his turn.
The band, Keel — which had been handpicked by the singer to help fulfill and create his musical vision — was on their first major tour supporting their sophomore album, The Right To Rock. The LP was released in late January and the kitschy music video for the album’s title track was being played on MTV, “Radio 1990″ and “Night Flight” on a regular basis.
Years of backbreaking work and near missed opportunities looked like they could finally pay off for the hard-working 24-year old singer as he taped his first national U.S. television interview at Night Flight’s New York studio.
A Phoenix, Arizona native, Ron Keel had left home at the age of fourteen to go on tour with a band, that ultimately left him stranded in Tennessee. By 1979, he joined Lust, a local Nashville band. They had a good run, which included the creation of the first Keel concert staple, “Speed Demon.”
While still in Tennessee, and just prior to relocating to Los Angeles, Keel formed his next outfit, Steeler, before relocating to Los Angeles; this four-piece group briefly featured Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. That band didn’t last past one September 1983 album but it did give the struggling singer his second set list standard, “Cold Day In Hell.”
Ron’s next band, Keel, was created in April 1984. The band members were handpicked by the singer and initially they were told what to, where to, and how to play; this was Keel’s vision and the revolving door of musicians that had plagued Steeler was not going to be a problem in his new band.
Following the release of their quickly recorded debut album, Lay Down The Law, the band signed to the MCA-distributed Gold Mountain Records and were asked to pick a producer off of a list for their second album.
The ever-crafty singer took a look at the paper and picked one name, KISS bassist Gene Simmons, knowing full-well that Keel would instantly gain a built-in audience of KISS fans. The Right To Rock LP was well received in the music press and put the group on to the national scene.
“The Right To Rock” music video, which was set four years into the future (1989), told of a world where rock ‘n’ roll had been driven underground. Night Flight even held a contest where one lucky viewer could win a featured role in the next Keel video. The spots for the contest — which featured Ron Keel asking “You wanna rock with me?, you wanna be in my next video?” — ran for several weeks, further elevating the band’s profile.
Sadly, no second video was ever produced, and Keel quickly retreated to the studio to record their third album, again with Gene Simmons at the helm.
1986 got off to a great start when Keel won the “Best New Band” category in Circus Magazine’s annual readers poll.
The Final Frontier album (released in March 1986) is arguably the band’s best work and two music videos, “Because The Night” and “Tears Of Fire,” were lensed to promote the LP.
Had a third video materialized — or perhaps if “Tears Of Fire” had been filmed at the band’s July 19, 1986 appearance at the Texxas Jam, where they performed in front of 80,000 people — this would be an entirely different article.
The June 1987 release of the band’s self-titled fourth album — one of the first hard rock compact discs to carry the “DDD” distinction (meaning it was recorded digitally) — put the band into a make0-it-or-break-it position.
In spite of high profile bookings with Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi, it was not to be, and the band ultimately disbanded in 1988.
Four albums in four years was an impressive turnaround and the band has retained a large part of their original fan base. Keel is one of those bands whose destiny, despite the Herculean efforts by everyone involved, never reached their true potential.
In 2014, Ron Keel published his autobiography, Even Keel: Life On The Streets Of Rock & Roll, and he currently works the weekday afternoon shift at KBAD-FM, a terrestrial radio station located in South Dakota’s 7,000 square foot concert venue by night, the Badlands Pawn complex.