Marc Ferrari & Brian Jay of KEEL play "Whisky-A-Go-Go" June 8th
THE RIGHT TO ROCK…AGAIN!
Keel is coming to the Whisky on Saturday for a rare comeback performance, and guitarist Marc Ferrari promises the band will be “tighter than a frog’s ass”
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Editor at Large
HOLLYWOOD — Keel is among the most fondly remembered pop-metal bands from back in the day that never quite got to the point of selling millions of records and headlining arenas – but they were oh so close.
The fivesome led by Ron Keel and twin-lead guitarists Marc Ferrari and Bryan Jay supported a lot of major acts on the road like Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and Aerosmith, but by the time they broke up a few years later, they owed the record company about $500,000 – a typical scenario in a rock and roll business that applauds you one minute, then turns its back on you the next.
The group did have a great anthem called “The Right to Rock,” but looking back now, perhaps they weren’t “destructive” enough – both professionally and personally – to climb into the upper-echelon. Sad, but maybe if Keel had been arrested more or harmed others, they would have been more popular.
The songs were good but in those days that was not always the No. 1 priority.
You look back now, and youtube provides a pretty good scale of how popular you were if you add up all the views of the top videos. Keel totaled about 1.5 million views overall – bigger than Giuffria but less than one-tenth as popular as Ratt.
In particular, Mr. Keel and Ferrari found success in business through the years, but it’s still fun to strap on the guitar every so often, so the band has made a few little comebacks through the years, including playing Rocklahoma in 2009.
Now they’re returning to Los Angeles, and Keel is headlining the Whisky on Saturday, June 8.
Ferrari, 50, has always been a scenemaker of sorts, and we run into each other all the time. He later formed Cold Sweat and Medicine Wheel plus he wrote a book – all epic failures, sadly – before striking it rich in the 1990s by forming MasterSource, a company that licenses music for TV and film soundtracks.
Ferrari has been wanting to get his Sludge on for quite some time, and even though his image is pretty squeaky clean, there is a lot of soul beneath the varnish.
He’s a great guy, a gifted songwriter, and here Ferrari promises to the tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
KEEL in the early days
METAL SLUDGE: I see the band is playing some dates. So Keel is still active?
MARC FERRARI: Yeah, we play like six to eight to ten shows a year. Whenever we’re asked to play, we do it. We did the Monsters of Rock cruise, a couple of support slots, a couple of headline slots. We’ll play any time!
SLUDGE: And you playing the Whisky on Saturday, June 8.
FERRARI: This is going to strike you as odd, but it’s actually the first time Keel has played the Whisky. We played the Roxy in April, 1984. I remember it because Kelle Rhoads opened for us. He was Randy Rhoads’ brother. And the other band that night was Mansfield with Doug Aldrich.
FERRARI:Cold Sweat played the Whisky, but for Keel this is first time.
SLUDGE: OK, you’ve brought up Cold Sweat, let’s get right into it. After you signed a record deal, your singer, Oni Logan, left to join Lynch Mob. You ended up with Rory Cathey, who was not nearly as good. Were you mad?
FERRARI:First off, we’re all great buddies now, me and George Lynch and Oni Logan, even though some might find that hard to believe. We all hang out and everything. But at the time, rewinding the clock to 1988 or ‘89, a quarter-century ago, of course I was mad. That move put all of our careers on hold. Fortunately, we had some patient people at MCA like Bret Hartman, who was our A & R guy, and the others at MCA. They believed in us.
Marc Ferrari & Cold Sweat
SLUDGE: Here’s the part that I don’t understand: You had some stripes yourself, playing in Keel. George Lynch had played in Dokken, but it wasn’t like Oni was quitting your band to join a big group like Journey or something – that I could understand. But to join Lynch Mob? That was almost like a lateral move, and that made it more of a betrayal, in my view.
FERRARI: Yeah, in retrospect, you could say that, but George certainly had more of a following, definitely more of a buzz. I think Oni had some money thrown at him. I’m not sure of the amount or if it’s even true or not. It’s one of those folklore kind of things in rock. But like I said, we patched things up many years ago, and he’s been over to my house and everything. Many years later, he did apologize for that because it was a shitty thing to do at the time, but we’ve all moved on.
SLUDGE: Who’s to say Cold Sweat might have been a lot bigger with Oni instead of Rory?
FERRARI: That’s just talk, just a bunch of shoulda, woulda, could. Just so we’re clear, I’ve made peace with everybody.
Brian Jay & Marc Ferrari
Marc with Brad & Joe from Aerosmith pre-show 1986 Foxboro Stadium
SLUDGE: I remember Bryan Jay well from his girlfriend, Heather Torrance, that whacked out porno star who used to hang out on the Strip. Do you remember her?
FERRARI: I don’t but it sounds like you do. Here’s another little trivia thing, I was actually dating Bryan Jay’s sister about a month later after he joined. As for Bryan, he had a lot of girlfriends. He was kind of the quintessential California dude, tall and athletic and a great player. I definitely had a different vibe, being from New York, but he had the California vibe, and he was kind of a ladies guy back then.
SLUDGE: Maybe that was not such a good idea dating the sister of a band member. I mean, what if some chick is pulling out her tits on the tour bus, is there still man code that he’s not going to tell the sister?
FERRARI: With Bryan, like most people, blood is thicker. That’s where your loyalty is first, then me. But it’s all good.
SLUDGE: I’ve got to ask you about that little blond patch of hair you always have, a little blond spot with brown hair. Did girls like it, or did they turn you down just because of the patch?
FERRARI:No, but they turned me down for other reasons (laughs). You know, everyone has their own calling card, and I wanted to have something visual.
SLUDGE: Oh, so it’s dye? I thought it was natural.
FERRARI:Yeah, there’s a long list of rocker guys, all chemical. For some reason, it’s become one of my trademarks. Back then, you definitely wanted people to notice you, so you did what you had to do to get noticed. Joe Perry, Blackie Lawless. Blackie did his thing, and that worked for him, but it wasn’t a blonde streak it was white.
SLUDGE: Did you ever get lazy, and it faded out.
FERRARI:No, I had a hair roadie just for that! He would remind me.
Marc Ferrari with the legendary Dimebag Darrell
KEEL with Steve Riley and some local 5-0 during the summer of 1984
SLUDGE: Looking back, I guess the most distinctive thing about Keel was the great tours you got to do, the great opening slots.
FERRARI:Yeah, it was really spectacular. The biggest was Bon Jovi. We did a month’s worth of dates on the “Slippery When Wet” tour, and that was the apex of Bon Jovi-mania. We did dates with Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Queensryche, Black n Blue. You’re absolutely right – a lot of supporting bigger bands, but we also did some headline shows and theatre shows, never made it to arenas. We’d play these big places, then we’d be back on our own playing clubs. We should have busted out in 1987, but we never got the momentum going after that. Still, I had a great time, no regrets. I wish it would have lasted forever, but it is what it is.
SLUDGE: Did you take notes or a journal? I bet you’ve had some amazing times that you’ve forgot all about because the nights layered on top of one another and all blended together.
FERRARI: The shows with Bon Jovi were some great memories. I always kept something from every gig, a picture, a matchbook cover, that kind of thing. I think I kept most of my brain cells from back then. I wasn’t a choirboy, but I didn’t go off the deep end, either.
SLUDGE: Yeah, I don’t even remember you smoking pot.
FERRARI:No, Bryan Jay and I, out of the five guys in the band, we smoked the least. But the alcohol flowed freely. It was in abundance. But I watch all those VHI shows like “Behind the Music,” and there was nothing nearly as dramatic as most of the bands. We had a good time, but we worked hard, and we were all very diligent. We were all very serious about what we did. Ron Keel ran a pretty tight ship.
SLUDGE: He is incredibly talented. How impressed were you with Ron Keel?
FERRARI: Oh, I was absolutely impressed. He’s right there with the best, especially his work ethic. His focus was like a razor back then, very driven.
SLUDGE: Do you remember the project he did after, with Fair Game? It was him and four female backing musicians including Athena Lee on drums, Tommy Lee’s sister. The project went nowhere — did you think it was a good idea or ridiculous?
FERRARI: Well, I think Ron would be the first to admit it was maybe not the most successful thing in the world, but it was something different. I don’t think the idea worked, but he was trying something new, so he can’t fault him for that.
SLUDGE: Then eventually you got into the business with licensing for movies and stuff.
FERRARI:Yeah, after Cold Sweat broke up in 1991, I was kind of faced with what the heck am I going to do now?
SLUDGE: Did you have any money saved up, or were you struggling?
FERRARI: I had nothing. With Keel, we were all getting by on a minimal salary. We still owe half a million dollars to the record company. The thing is, with most recording artists, you get such a little piece of the pie to begin with, with reductions and record returns charged back and things like that, and you have the smallest piece of the pie to begin with. You’ve got to realize that record companies don’t give you a thing, they just loan you money. But I guess it’s gambling, and if you stand in front of a slot machine long enough and keep feeding quarters, eventually you win a jackpot.
SLUDGE: Now I understand the lyrics to “Right to Rock.” You have a right to rock but not a right to get paid.
FERRARI:Yeah (laughs), but the that song benefitted us in a lot of ways because it was such an anthem, and the timing was perfect with all that stuff with the PMRC.
SLUDGE: I don’t see how “Cherry Lane” was not a huge hit. That was a top-40 hit waiting to happen, a great song.
FERRARI: Yeah, it was a great pop-rock song like Warrant. It had a great uptempo feel and a good rhythm, certainly a poppy song in line with what Bon Jovi was doing, but we didn’t do a video for it. We did one for “Somebody’s Waiting” instead, and that was a good song, too. But you know how it is, and “Cherry Lane” never had a chance.
SLUDGE: So you look back now, were you happy during Keel’s run? Did you feel like you got enough satisfaction?
FERRARI: Oh, I was extremely happy. I felt lucky. I moved out from the East Coast with like $300 to my name, trying to make it with three guys who, we were all in cover band together in Boston. We thought we could come to L.A. and reform and get a record deal, but those guys ran out of money and got lonely cause they missed their mommies and whatever. They couldn’t get it together and all moved back home, and I decided to stick it out.
SLUDGE: When you eventually toured through Boston again, did you hook them up with backstage passes and stuff?
SLUDGE: Did you feel an extra sense of satisfaction?
FERRARI: Nah, I’m not a vindictive guy. I loved them then, and I love ‘em now. No hard feelings. Everything happens for a reason. I highly doubt we would have made it in Los Angeles because we just didn’t have a charismatic front man. I hooked up with Ron Keel a few months later.
SLUDGE: Ron has a reputation for kind of having a dark personality, but when I met him in Vegas he treated me like a king. Is he misunderstood?
FERRARI: No, he doesn’t have a dark personality, he has a strong personality, and that’s because he’s very self-confident and knows exactly what he wants. Like I said, he has a laser focus. I think some may look at him as arrogant in a Kevin Dubrow or Dee Snider kind of way, but they’re all just headstrong guys.
SLUDGE: OK, I’m going to name a city, and you tell me a particular memory – and not something like “Oh, we did great there,” but something more substantial.
FERRARI: OK, go for it.
SLUDGE: San Francisco.
FERRARI: Good one. We recorded up there one summer and played the Stone and got into a major fight. The whole band was brawling, and knives were pulled.
SLUDGE: You pulled the knife?
FERRARI:No (laughs). But I did some stomping. But someone else did pull a knife. The crazy thing was how the flight flared up so quick. You didn’t even have time to think.
FERRARI: Oh, I have a great one for Detroit, too. We got snowed in. We were there as part of a three-day radio tour for “Right to Rock,” and there was a blizzard like you would not believe. I didn’t think we would make it, but once we did get there, that’s when the real blizzard hit, and it snowed all night. We had a cool motor home, and we couldn’t get it out. Detroit was also the first city outside of L.A. that I ever heard our song on the radio, and that was pretty cool.
SLUDGE: OK, how about somewhere in Canada? Toronto.
FERRARI: I remember hanging out with Sebastian Bach in Toronto. He was on the bill with us, and we were all hanging out with Neil Young’s sister, on the bus. She was a rocker chick. I think that was in ’85. We were opening for Loudness.
SLUDGE: New York City.
FERRARI:We played three nights at Madison Square Garden. I remember rolling up on that place and seeing our names on the marquee of such an iconic venue, and that’s the kind of thing you dream about. It was an amazing feeling. We also had some pretty crazy times at Limelight late at night, plus recording at Ladyland in the same room as Jimi Hendrix. That was pretty incredible.
FERRARI:We played three nights at Hammersmith Odeon, opening for Ronnie James Dio. Every night, a different set of rock royalty showed up – not for us, of course. Lemmy was holding court, and there was Maiden and Saxon and Girlschool and all these others. We went to the bar afterward, in London, drinking with Iron Maiden, and it just felt like, “Wow, you’ve arrived.”
FERRARI: We did a headline tour through Tokyo in ’86, but not Budokan. It was a smaller place, I forget the name.
SLUDGE: Good memories of Japanese groupies?
FERRARI: Yeah, and I think we did fine job as cultural ambassadors. We spread the virtues of the American way, and we did ourselves proud. There’s still peace, so that’s got to mean something.
KEEL with Lita Ford
Marc & Marc! Both spelled with a C! Ferrari & Storace Krokus frontman 1986
SLUDGE: Nice. So the Whisky show is coming up soon. Are you going to be well-rehearsed?
FERRARI:Are you kidding? We’re going to be tighter than a frog’s ass. If we can’t get these songs down after 29 years, then something is terribly wrong.
SLUDGE: Do you sample the background vocals?
FERRARI: No we handle them, and that’s being truthful. We’ve never, ever sampled vocals. We have always worked hard on the vocals, and as far as samples and loops, we don’t even know what those are.
The Right To Sludge