Hard-rocking legend Ron Keel on his return to Australia, inspirations and an extravagant collection of cowboy hats

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Hard-rocking legend Ron Keel on his return to Australia, inspirations and an extravagant collection of cowboy hats

Melodic Rock Fest comes to Australia for the second time with an even bigger and more dynamic lineup than its first instalment – and this time includes hard-rocking legend Ron Keel. Through his distinguished career as a vocalist and guitarist, lending his talents to Keel, Steeler, Fair Game, Iron Horse and a host of solo projects since starting his career in the early 1980s, Ron Keel has not once stopped rocking.

We caught up with Ron ahead of his trip down under for Melodic Rock Fest this March.

What was your journey in heading towards your special blend of metal and country music?
I grew up in a time when the lines between musical styles weren’t so clearly drawn…we heard Eagles, Motown, and hard rock like Sabbath, KISS and Alice Cooper all on the same radio station. I loved the songs and stories of bands like the Eagles and Skynyrd, and I loved the excitement and energy of hard rock, and eventually carved a home for myself in the no-man’s-land in between as the Metal Cowboy.

Do you take a lot of inspiration from other bands and artists?
Every creative spirit is a sponge, absorbing elements of everything we come in contact with. Then when you squeeze the sponge, a combination of those elements emerges as an entirely new substance. We’re all inspired by the music we love, the songs and bands that created the soundtrack of our lives – as an artist, I’m just always trying to express myself in a way that represents my personality and attitude…combining the screams with the dreams.

How does being a radio host compare to your career as a performer?
The similarity is, that on both platforms I’m trying to put on a good show and entertain people. But I love the interviews and discussions with other artists, fans, listeners…those conversations are the real gold of the radio show, and it’s always a challenge and a thrill to be on the other side of the interview and talk to other artists about their passions. I’m very proud of the STREETS OF ROCK N ROLL Radio show and hope that the fans enjoy riding shotgun with me each week.

How’d you end up getting roped into playing at Melodic Rock Fest?
The Melodic Rock Fest and the tour leading up to the festival is an absolute dream come true for me. Ten years ago, while performing at a big US festival called Rocklahoma, I met a young rocker named Jules Millis who sings in the excellent Australian band White Widdow – he said, “We gotta get you to Australia mate, my band will back you up.” And he kept working on that for years, convincing the promoter Peter Hoffman to make it happen, and here I am. I cannot thank Jules, White Widdow, Peter Hoffman and his entire team at SOLPRN for bringing me and my music together with the Australian audience for the first time ever.

I am excited to cram my 35-year history into a solid one hour show, with all the Keel classic hits, new music from our “Fight Like A Band” album, and even some Steeler and Black Sabbath songs – it’s been a long time coming.

You’re playing amongst quite a line-up, anyone you’re excited to see?
I am most excited to see the fans – from my viewpoint onstage, and at the meet and greets afterward. I’m not here as a spectator, I am here to perform for the audience – hopefully I can catch some of the other amazing acts on the bill like Eclipse, H.E.A.T., Reckless Love, Crazy Lixx and White Widdow that I can’t get the chance to see back home in the US.

2018 marked your 35th anniversary as a major recording artist, how much has your music and the music scene as a whole changed across those 35 years?
Change is natural, and evolution is inevitable. Music, and the music business, must change or die. My roots are still strong and firmly planted in the Hollywood concrete and red dirt roads of the American south where I was born – but the branches must keep stretching out to find new rays of sunshine to stay alive.

My music has evolved into a hybrid that combines all the influences and experiences of my life – I am still screaming anthems about self-empowerment and freedom, but now I have some other stories to tell as well.

You played quite a bit throughout the ‘80s, if there was one thing about ‘80s rock music that you could revive and bring back to the modern rock scene what would it be?
My hair. Other than that, everything still feels like 1986 to me!

How many cowboy hats do you own, which is your favourite and why?
I am way worse than any woman and her shoes. I actually have no idea how many cowboy hats I have, or guitars for that matter…I am bringing three favorite cowboy hats on the Australian tour – one custom made by Sintervention Threads, one by Rock N Roll Gangstar Apparel, and one which I customized myself. The hats are hanging all around my house, everywhere, on the mic stands, the stairway, on my motorcycle, on the guitars…they are everywhere.

John Wayne or Clint Eastwood – who’s the better cowboy?
John Wayne is synonymous with being the tough guy who always does the right thing, a true cowboy in every sense of the word – Eastwood is the ultimate outlaw. I admire them both, and try to bring some of that inspiration into my personality as the Metal Cowboy and the Rock N Roll Outlaw.

Melodic Rock Fest will take place at The National Theatre from Friday March 6 to Sunday March 8. Visit nationaltheatre.org.au/melodic-rock-fest for more information and tickets.

Written by Jess Sercombe
Photo by Chad Coppess