I had been in Los Angeles barely a few months when I was introduced to Ron Keel through our mutual friend Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. Shrapnel had released Ron Keel's previous band Steeler and coincidentally Mike had given me that album as a holiday present the month before I left Boston. I had known Mike through his Guitar Player Magazine column but had never met him in person. As fate would have it, I ran into him on Melrose while shopping to replace a leather jacket that had been stolen from me. They say something good comes out of something bad and that was the perfect example! The band Keel was formed in March 1984 and by June of that year we recorded our first album Lay Down The Law for Varney's label.
The band built a rabid following and was quickly headlining major venues such as Perkins Palace, The Roxy, The Country Club, and multiple-night stands at The Troubadour.
These high-profile shows led us to the attention of Goldmountain Records, formed by ex-Swan Song (Led Zeppelin's label) president and No Nukes organizer Danny Goldberg who signed the band in August 1984. We immediately began work on our major label debut The Right To Rock produced by none other than the God of Thunder himself, Gene Simmons of KISS.
Released in January 1985, (my one-year anniversary of moving to Los Angeles) The Right To Rock propelled the band to instant acclaim. Anti-censorship groups quickly aligned themselves with the title track and its message... and the title track became a battle-cry for thousands across the country. We toured all year in support of the LP, teaming up with such groups as Loudness, Accept and Helix. The barnstorming paid off handsomely; we were voted “Best New Band” by THREE of the nation’s biggest rock magazines: Circus, Metal Edge, and Rock Scene, beating out such luminaries as Bon Jovi, Dokken and Metallica in the process. A well-received video on MTV helped the cause tremendously and pushed the album to near-Gold status.
Capping off an amazing year, we went back into the studio once again with Gene Simmons to record our 3rd release The Final Frontier.
Just days before its release in early spring 1986, the space shuttle Challenger tragedy shook the world, and the band paid our tribute to the fallen heroes by dedicating the album to them. It was now time to conquer the rest of the world. We toured Europe for the first time as special guests of Dio. We criss-crossed America with Krokus, Quiet Riot and Queensryche. We were invited to play at the annual Texxas Jam with Van Halen for 81,000 people. We did stadium dates with Aerosmith, and to top it off, a whirlwind tour of Japan, where the band received the biggest welcome one could hope for, complete with Beatlemania-type scenes at the airport and hotels. We returned to the studio in December... this time with Michael Wagener (Dokken, Great White, Accept, Alice Cooper) at the helm.
Upon completion of the album, I took on some other projects to keep busy. I produced two tracks for up and coming Texas rockers Pantera... and through my involvement, helped them to land a label deal. I took on a project from a Japanese advertising agency and produced/recorded 12 songs for international use. I wrote 3 songs with ex-KISS skinbasher Peter Criss. I designed my own guitar which Peavey Corp. manufactured for me, and Peavey went as far as to purchase the rights to some of my design modifications.
Our 4th release, self-titled Keel, was unleashed in May 1987. That summer, we landed the gig of our lives... the last leg of the Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tour. How did we get that prestigious slot over countless other bands? A little luck and a lot of initiative made it happen. I had known Jon Bon Jovi for a couple of years. He had always been very cordial to me whenever we met, so I kept in touch with him whenever he was in town. I ran into him at a club in L.A., just after the release of Keel. We had a couple of drinks, and the next day I played him some of the tracks off the album. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, we were touring alongside the biggest band of the era.
Following the ultra-successful Bon Jovi tour (which included 3 nights at Madison Square Garden, and 3 nights at the Jersey Meadowlands) we returned to the clubs, grinding our way across the country for most of the summer and culminating with a ‘welcome-home’ show at our old stomping grounds, the Country Club.
However, the shine didn't stay on the apple for too much longer, and by February 1988 I decided that it was time for the bird to leave the nest and I struck out on my own. It was a tough decision to make, but in my gut I knew it was the right one. Little did I know how hard it would be for me to get back to where I left off...