Ron Keel is a many-faceted man. Rock, metal, country, blues, jazz, and classical, you name it, he has probably played it at some point in his life.
He has also hosted a syndicated radio show, Streets of Rock & Roll, for several years, has his own podcast (the aptly named The Ron Keel Podcast), and is known by fans across the world as the “Metal Cowboy.”
Keel brings all of that and more to The Post in Pierceton on April 3, where he will play “Alone & Acoustic.”
Rocking in the ’80s
Keel has sold about three million albums in his 40-year career from the heavy metal heyday of the ’80s through the present day.
The first worldwide commercial release was 1983’s Steeler album, which became a cornerstone in the foundation of ’80s Hollywood hard rock and the last, to date, is the cover album South X South Dakota, a rocking tribute to many of his influences.
Looking back on his career during a recent interview with Whatzup, Keel said he never dreamed he would still be making music and playing shows nearly four decades after he put out that first album, but he is glad he has been able to adapt and survive.
He said that he is proud to have lasted this long, but that he never plans too far ahead, instead favoring to simply focus on whatever is presently occupying his creative mind.
“I prefer to take it one day at a time, one year at a time, one song at a time,” Keel said. “I’m very proud to be one of the elder statesmen of my industry at this point and have a 40-year career to look back on. But, for me, it’s always about the next day, the next song, the next show, and the next challenge. That keeps me motivated.”
Adapting in the ’90s
To continue to survive as a relevant artist, Keel has had to adapt.
When ’80s hard rock quickly fell out of fashion upon Nirvana’s arrival on the scene in the early ’90s, Keel turned to country as a way of satisfying his innovative desires.
From the outside, it was looked upon as a strange career move. But today, it appears to have been just another step in the evolution of Keel as an artist.
“I felt like when I went country and it was one of the big topics on VH1 and MTV, I got slammed for that,” he said.
Now, with so many others following in his footsteps from rock and pop to country, you could say he was a visionary, a man ahead of his time.
“I grew up in an environment where there was no prejudice against any certain style of music, so you can call it rock or country or southern metal or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “But to me, it’s all music and it’s all part of my life and part of the palette with which I paint the picture of my journey.
“The country music years were really good for me and people to this day will tell you there’s a lot of country in my style.”
He has combined his various influences into what he calls “metal cowboy music,” consisting of screaming guitars, vocals, and thunderous drums with songs that tell stories songs and mean something.
“The lyrics have to come from the heart,” he said. “Metal is certainly an inspiration to me and has been a big part of my life, but so has country. To me, it’s all just music and I want to explore all those territories and find place that I can be comfortable and call home.”
Pioneering in the ’20s
Keel is a pioneer in another aspect of the business. He was also one of the first artists to recognize the importance a platform like Patreon could have in his career.
He discovered the website out of necessity when his wife was diagnosed with cancer in late 2016.
Faced with staying home for an extended period of time, Keel felt he had to find a way to work from home while continuing to entertain people. So he embraced Patreon as a way to continue to engage his fans and get them entertainment.
“That has just been a huge blessing for me,” he said. “When the lockdown happened and we were all pretty much confined to our homes, I was already working from home with the Patreon platform. What you get with that is hundreds of video and audio downloads and interactions. It’s basically like Netflix for rock stars and it’s evolved into so much more than I ever dreamed it would. It’s not about me anymore. It’s really about the fans.”
He said he is even hoping to use his Patreon site to livestream the Pierceton show to fans across the world who can’t attend.
The Alone/Acoustic concept is described by Keel as a unique intimate musical experience that is likened as somewhere between a sold-out Madison Square Garden and a campfire surrounded by a few close friends.
“It’s just me, my guitar, my stories, and my songs,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge. And it’s not a guy sitting on a barstool strumming an acoustic. I am standing up, rocking out, singing my heart out and trying to deliver a real show. Audience participation, the stories, the memories, everything is geared to satisfying the audience first and satisfying myself as well.”
As for the future, Keel remains grounded in the philosophy that has gotten him to where he is today.
“I just keep focusing forward,” he said. “I’m climbing a mountain. It’s a big, big journey that I’ve been on the last forty years, and so I keep my eyes focused on the next challenge and the next goal instead of sitting down and looking back on where I’ve been. I treasure the past, but I live for today and I work for tomorrow. We are only guaranteed today.”
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