CROSSROADS - Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter KELLY KEELING
by Mark E. Waterbury
Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy

When musicians spend most of their career in the constraints of more than one band, they often begin to develop their own following. The mantra of that following will eventually become, “when are your going to put out your own album?” This mantra can carry a decided voracity when that particular musician has stand out talents. For over fifteen years, Kelly Keeling has lent his vocal, songwriting, and sometimes multi-instrumental talents to a plethora of highly regarded names in rock. Despite the anonymity that often accompanies working in bands that do not promote a prominence with your name, Keeling’s captivating vocal prowess, incredible stage presence and prodigious songwriting talent have culled him a growing and tenacious fan base. Those are the loyalists who have been raising the question for years: “When are you going to do your own album?” That question has been answered in a rather intense fashion. The answer is not merely a first solo effort, but more of a new beginning.
Emanating from the state of Louisiana, Kelly Keeling was one of those individuals born to be on stage. He started very young, performing songs with his guitarist father for his nursery school graduation. Like many youths he also became enamored with the Beatles, particularly after seeing an ABC TV special on Paul McCartney. “Paul has always been a phenomenal influence on me,” Keeling notes. “He was The Beatles as far as I was concerned.” Keeling learned how to play the music from many of his early influences, first on piano and later on the guitar. It wasn’t long before he started performing with casual school bands, as well as playing piano in church and singing in the choir. As a teen it became obvious to Keeling that music was going to be is life, as he formed his first professional band Warlock at age fourteen. Over the next few years, Keeling performed with several bands in Louisiana, eventually joining a band that was first called Voices, and later changed its name to Meridian. He was not the vocalist for that band. Lance Bulen was until producers Mike Clink and David Foster heard the power in Keeling’s voice as he did backing vocals at a rehearsal. From that point on, Keeling became the lead vocalist, and the band’s producers were not the only ears who noticed his abilities. After the band moved to Los Angeles to escape the doldrums of the Louisiana rock scene, they started playing live shows. Ahmet Ertegan, legendary president of Atlantic Records heard a live tape of them at the infamous Whiskey, and was highly impressed with Keeling’s talents. After a showcase which was only the band’s fifth performance in L.A., Keeling was brought into the Atlantic family in 1986. At Ahmet’s suggestion they changed the band’s name to Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge enjoyed some solid success in its tenure. Releasing two albums on Atlantic, they toured primarily in the Midwest and the South and garnered decent radio airplay and regular rotation on MTV. Even though the band broke up in 1991, the word was out about Keeling’s talents, not just as a vocalist but as a prolific songwriter as well. He co-wrote the song “Snakebite” for Alice Cooper’s “Hey Stoopid” album, and also contributed some background vocals. He had also piqued the interest of Blue Murder guitarist John Sykes, who brought Keeling in as the vocalist for the “Nothing But Trouble” album. The album took nearly three years to record, and soon after it was released Keeling left Blue Murder. He then recorded two albums with ex Europe guitarist John Norum, which included extensive touring particularly in Europe and Sweden. It was an enjoyable but also grueling time in Keeling’s career, and after two years with Norum, he needed a rest. The down time did not last long however, as he received a call from Carmine Appice, the legendary former Vanilla Fudge and Rod Stewart drummer who knew Keeling from his days with Blue Murder. Carmine was putting together a project called Guitar Zeus, with another Blue Murder alumnus Tony Franklin on bass. Keeling co-wrote all the music for the two Guitar Zeus albums, as well as handling the vocals. The albums featured a who’s who of rock guitarists including Ted Nugent, Richie Sambora, Brian May, Zakk Wylde and Yngwie Malmsteen. “Carmine is like a brother to me. We work great together and understand each other and he really is a great player, of course.” Guitar Zeus did not involve any touring, but Keeling remained very busy beyond that project. He worked with Roger Daltrey and Denny Laine on the soundtrack for the movie “Chasing Destiny” in which Kelly also had a bit role. In 1998, he recorded the “Unforgiven” album with German guitar virtuoso Michael Schenker. This put Keeling back on the road, as he joined part of MSG’s world tour which was later released as a live album.
As the 21st century rang in, Keeling did another soundtrack for the movie “Killer Bud.” He then worked with guitarist Stuart Smith and drummer Richie Onori in the Deep Purple inspired band Heaven and Earth, and co-wrote part of the new Dokken album “Long Way Home” with Don Dokken. It had been fifteen years since those early days of Baton Rouge, and Keeling had worked with some highly regarded rock musicians. Yet, something was missing in Keeling's musical life, and he finally decided it was time to do a solo album. “I have so many songs that I have written over the years. A lot of the bands I had worked with I was the primary writer. It was time for me to do my own thing, go for my own trip.” Living in San Diego, Keeling got to work, compiling files of original recordings he had produced and recorded. A lot of the music featured Keeling not only singing but playing all the instruments involved. He did have assistance on some of the tracks. Kansas member Kerry Livgren contributed a co-write, as did Don Dokken. Carmine Appice and his brother Vinny added drum parts on some songs, along with Shane Galaas, and there were other guests as well. It was hard work for Keeling, who was basically producing the album on his own with a small home studio. He did manage to find the time to give some early glimpses to the waiting public of his own music. He briefly formed a band in San Diego that played a couple of area gigs. He then moved to Atlanta, where he began doing solo shows in the area, introducing the city to many of the songs off his upcoming release. "This was the first time I'd delved into performing solo,” Keeling recalls. “I've always worked in everyone else's bands...this I call my own. It is a great feeling bringing my music to old and new friends and fans." Keeling eventually formed a band called Sun in Atlanta that played a number of shows in the Southeast. The interest in hearing a solo album from Kelly Keeling was definitely brewing, but the public would have to wait a bit longer as his Netherlands based label Mascot was working on further production and mastering of the album.
As the tweaking of the new album continued, Keeling’s talents remained in high demand. The beginning of 2004 found him out in California working once again with Don Dokken, co-writing and recording several songs for Dokken’s upcoming “Hell To Pay” album. “That album sounded great. Don was singing like he used to. It wasn’t easy, with two part harmonies on most songs, but it sounds like Deep Purple, and it’s killer!” With hardly a chance to breathe, Keeling then joined the tour fronting ex-Dokken guitarist George Lynch's band. Just a week prior to that tour, Keeling loaned his vocal talents to Lynch’s tribute album “Furious George” released on Shrapnel Records. The exhaustive tour covered most of the U.S., almost evenly split with headlining dates and opening for Yngwie Malmsteen. Keeling was not quite done for the year after the tour wound down. He joined prog keyboardist Erik Norlander, whom he previously toured Europe with. This time the act was a power trio including Vinny Appice on the drums. The threesome’s brief tour included a slot at one of the most prestigious festivals in the U.S., the Chippewa Valley Rock Fest in Cadott, Wisconsin. Later in the year, he again joined Norlander and Lana Lane for a tour of Europe, which included shows in Russia. In spite of spending most of the year performing other people’s music, Keeling finished 2004 with some selective solo and band shows in Atlanta, providing the town with another glimpse of what was to come. He then returned to California to do a handful of shows with George Lynch, but as 2005 marched in, Kelly decided to take a break until the release of his solo album. He has been a road warrior for years which can be tough on a performer, but Keeling has been proving his resiliency since day one. “I'm a trouper,” Keeling exclaims, “but if it kills me I'll do my best.. That's what everything is teaching me”
In late March of 2005 the wait was finally over for many of Keeling’s fans. “Giving Sight To The Eye” was released in Europe and is soon to be followed by a U.S. release. “All I can say is God has a plan and purpose for me to have made it through the last thirty-five albums and around the world a few times nonstop. It's a true story; fun, sad, happy and miraculous, all dreams and more come true, many stolen, many sacrificed. The beautiful people I have had the opportunity to learn from and make music with.” The CD is already creating a buzz with press and radio on both sides of the Atlantic, as Keeling is taking a bit of a respite before heading back to the road to promote the album. While “Giving Sight to the Eye” may have influences from those bands he worked with in the past on it, Keeling is stepping in a new direction. Inspired by newer artists like Coldplay, Keane, The Killers and Muse, Keeling continues to write, and while he may not be done working with other musicians on their projects, Keeling is working on providing a sumptuous feast to sate the appetites he whetted for his fans with “Giving Sight To The Eye.” “My new music can be big time if we narrow it down and get focused on all the positives and never ever looking at negatives. Already it’s a year that was meant to be a few ago. So new in the year. Glad to be on this side of life. Healthy, happy and making music fun for the people I love with people I love. Blessings and magic...Good to be back and feeling alive again. “ :->