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Rolling With The Punches

(Interview With Keri Kelli Taken From Black Velvet 23- Feb 2000)

By Shari Black Velvet

About 4 ½ years ago Black Velvet did an interview with a young man named KERI KELLI. In the early nineties, Keri was the guitarist, lyricist and founding member of the LA glam rock band Big Bang Babies. They were probably the most well known of their criminally unsigned ilk at that time and unfortunately never reached the heights that they should have. BBB split up before releasing a full length album (although two have since been released) and each member went his own way to pastures new. Keri Kelli has gone by far the furthest, and is currently touring with the arena-filling rock outfit, Ratt.






Sat at home in LA, taking a breather after the second leg of the American tour, the always amicable Keri tells us about the non-stop rock n' roll life he's been living since we last spoke. He begins by telling us how he actually got the job with Ratt.

"I play in this side-band. It's me, my friend Robbie who plays bass in Ratt now - he was the bass player for the Vince Neil Band, Robbie Crane - Jani Lane from Warrant and Danny who plays drums for Warrant. We have this side project called The Underdogs. During the last year or so we've played shows around LA for fun. We'd just go up there and play for 2 hours, sometimes 2 ½ hours. We've got 30 songs that we know and we just do a bunch of cool covers like Zeppelin stuff, Rolling Stones stuff, The Cars and just various things like that. One night Bobby Blotzer came down and jammed with us on drums. I met Bobby and hung out. Then at a couple of other shows we were doing Bobby came down and was like 'I wanna jam' so I got to know him a little bit. What basically happened was that Ratt wanted to go back out as there were these big tours getting ready to start up and Ratt's always been a two guitar band - from the beginning, they were just built that way, with those harmony leads and stuff like that. Since Robbie was incapacitated, let's put it that way, I was pretty much at the top of the list because I'd known Robbie, and Bobby had jammed with me too. We got along. The funny thing was that they put another call in to the guy over at their label at Sony, Barry Squire, an A+R man but also a kind of a headhunter; he places people in bands. He knows a lot of musicians whenever somebody needs somebody. They called him and asked him "Hey, we're going to have some people come down for Ratt, who should we get?". Barry Squire said "Keri Kelli" and they said "He's already coming down". So it was kind of a double endorsement.

"When I came down I thought it was going to be a process. "Come down, play these songs, we'll call you next week, we'll have people come down again" kind of like that, but I went down there, did my thing, talked for a little bit, left and an hour later they called me on my cell phone and said I was in. It was totally unexpected, let's put it that way."

So with Keri the new fifth member, the band began their tour. First leg began in May 1999 for three months. They then had a break before the second leg that ran from early September until early November. A third leg will be in operation by the time you read this to run alongside the latest single, with dates in Japan following the American stint. These seem pretty cool.

"Ratt's doing good. Major label, got John Kalodner behind the whole thing, singles coming out. But you've got to realise your position in the marketplace these days. This kind of music isn't at the top of the heap. But you've got to keep a positive outlook and roll with the punches and make it happen. The more powerful people on your side like John Kalodner, Sony Records, Linda Metz on the East Coast, the better you are and the better position your project's in. Ratt are fortunate enough to have strong, powerful people behind the band, into the band. Although that doesn't necessarily do anything… it's rough. You could have everybody in the world from every magazine editor to every major label president to every whoever, and still not sell a million albums out of the gig, so it all comes down to the people. But the more happening people you have behind you the better."

The shows that the band have been doing range from 10,000 to 21,000. "Over in Detroit, a place called Pine Knob. That was great,” Keri enthuses. “That was like my third show or something. Sold out to the hilt, 21,500. It was packed. That was pretty damn cool."

So were there any pre-show nerves?

"The first show I did with Ratt was a warm-up show and there was 5500 people which is pretty strong. I thought it was going to be weird. I've played in front of 4,000 kids before so that really wasn't that big of a deal, but the next show we did was in Rockford, IL and I think there were 10 or 11 thousand. It was a small arena. Like about half of the size of the Forum in LA. It's like a mini Forum. I thought I was going to be all freaked out but you go there, you hang out in the backstage, put your clothes on, everyone's bulls**tting, the tour manager comes out and he goes 'Alright, you've got 5 minutes". So you get to the side of the stage, still bulls**tting and talking. They put the intro tape on and your tech comes over and puts a guitar on you, and you go "let's hit it!" and just start playing.

"I've done so many shows in general - not at that level, but just playing, that truthfully, although it was exciting, it was actually more exciting when I would sit at my house and look back at it and think 'wow, that was cool'. But when you're doing it, at least myself, you just go up there and you hit it. It's like riding a bike, kind of.

"I love music and I love to play. I'm in a great situation and I have a great opportunity. So I just go out there and do what I've gotta do. I'm having a great time. It's the best place for me to be right now. I'm very happy and I've just gotta keep a positive attitude and roll with the punches. Things have been going great."

And the future? "Like I said, I love being in the position I am in right now and in this situation with Ratt. I'd love for the band to keep going in the vein of Aerosmith or a band that has been together for 25 years and every year or two putting an album out and going out there and doing it and giving the people that are interested in it what they want. I really do hope that Ratt can continue that way because I have a great time with the guys."

So this is where Keri is at this exact moment in time. But other than the actual try-out itself, how did he get to where he is right now? Let's backtrack to the beginning.

When Big Bang Babies broke up Keri formed the band B.L.O.W.. They changed their name when informed of another band with almost exactly the same moniker (Blow as opposed to B.L.O.W.) coming out of England at the same time. B.L.O.W. became Rubber. They recorded an album's worth of songs with Michael Lloyd.

"The record - we ended up getting it all tracked, we mixed six or seven songs and then we had a dispute about some publishing - how the publishing money was going to be split, with my publishing company and with Michael Lloyd. We were in litigation for about six months on that deal which held us up. I got a band together (as I said this was a project) and we started gigging around while this thing was going on. This must've been about '95 or '96. We finally got out of that deal, which cost me a little bit of money, which I didn't want. It also cost me the master tapes. They (my publishing company at the time) ended owning the masters for all of this stuff since they paid for all the studio time as it was a publishing deal. They paid X amount of money to record the record and then they were going to have a finished product and sell it to a label. So I lost the master and ended up paying these lawyer bills. It was a nightmare in other words.

"During this whole time when I was playing with Rubber, Steve from Pretty Boy Floyd, who I'd know from a few years before, had called me. They were looking for somebody to come into the band and help them put the band back together. At first I told them I had some songs and they were interested in using them. Then they wanted me to play and thought they had this going on and thought they had that going on, and somehow we got into where I was in the band. So I had Rubber still going and then I was in Floyd too. We did a couple of shows in LA which were extremely packed. The first night we were loaded because we were so happy to be playing. They were happy and I was happy. We played at the Roxy. We were trying to get a little deal with CMC or someone like that but it never happened.

"The thing about me playing with Floyd didn't really sit well with the guys in Rubber, so that ended up falling apart. I think it was kind of unfortunate as I thought Rubber was a great band.

"But then I just kind of found myself. It's one of those things where you just wake up one day and you're like… in something else. Played with Floyd, did some shows, ended up recording an EP that was done at my home studio, and then a company called Deadline, which is part of Cleopatra in LA, asked us if we wanted to record another album with them called 'Porn Stars'. That was actually recorded in the Summer of '98. That album is half of the songs off the first Pretty Boy Floyd album which is out of print in America and then half new songs. Everything has been rerecorded.

"At that point, when the deal was being negotiated, I was in Floyd, but by the time it came down to recording, I wasn't really in the band anymore. I had another project going. All I did on the album was: I played a few rhythm parts. I play four leads - which are very noticeable from Kris' as I play with a completely different style. What I did the most of, on every song, was back-up vocals, harmony vocals and stuff like that. I just came in for about two days and did all the stuff I needed to do, because I was actually playing with this guy on Sony called Tal Bachman. He is Randy Bachman's son."

"The Tal Bachman project was a salary thing. They didn't want anything to do with the "Oh yeah, we've got Keri Kelli guy from Pretty Boy Floyd". This was adult alternative. They wanted me to get away from the whole Floyd imagery… which I can understand. We did all this stuff with Tal. We did a bunch of Sony showcases in LA where all the bigwigs came out. We did a few in New York with Donny Inner. That was July or August '98 and then in February of '99 Tal called. He called all of the guys in the band. They were going to re-evaluate the financial salary, regardless of what was going on. We might not have even rehearsed, because he lives up in Vancouver, Canada, although the band was based in LA, but you're still on retainer. The album release date was April of '99. He took us off salary. We were all 'Oh s**t, what are we going to do?" because after six/seven months of getting X amount of money and then you have none, you're like "Oh God".

"So luckily, literally a month after that is when the thing with Ratt came up. How I got the audition to begin with with Tal Bachman's band was through the guy that I mentioned earlier, Barry Squire. He recommended me for Tal Bachman. I got that gig and when the Ratt thing came up he said 'Get Keri'.

Either accidentally or on purpose Keri misses out a number of other vital chapters in his career. But no, he isn't getting away that easily. I prompt him into talking about the Newlydeads story.

“I forget some of these things because I've done so many other things too, like the Jani thing, The Underdogs, where we get together every couple of months and do a couple of shows. Then I was playing with Jay Aston of Gene Loves Jezebel for a while, but that was another paid situation where he had X amount of shows for X amount of money. It was his band and I was just a paid musician. The thing with The Newlydeads and Taime: We ended up doing two records worth of stuff. We did an album called 'Rebound', which is a remix album that I played on. Remixes from his first album. And then we did another album called 'Black & Shiny'. I don't know if he's got a deal for that or not. The first two albums came out on Mutiny, I believe. But he didn't want to put 'Black & Shiny' out because he thought it was really good and was looking for a better deal. Mutiny are a great label but they're a smaller label. I don't know if he's got a deal for that or not. But I kinda did that. That was during the Floyd time too, but before Tal.

And Dad's Porno Mag?

"Dad's Porno Mag - what that is is a another thing similar to the situation with Jani. It's like a side band for a bunch of guys. But this is more like a real band. With Jani we just jammed and played cover songs and had a really great band. This band, although we get together rarely just because of everyone's schedule, we actually have real songs that are our songs that we wrote and recorded. It's myself - I play guitar and sing. Then my other brother Ryan Roxie - he's from Slash's band, the new Snakepit. They just finished mixing their album in New York - Jack Douglas did it. It's amazing. He plays guitar and also sings. Then Stefan Adika is the bass player and Mike Fasano is the drummer. Both of those guys play in Gilby's band periodically. It's a great band and we have a great time playing together. It's like Cheap Trick meets The Foo Fighters in a way. We have a record that's coming out on a label called Robison Records. It's an indie label."

Does Keri ever get time to sleep, you may be thinking. Believe it or not, there was even a Big Bang Babies reunion show in the middle of all of this.

"That was approximately a year ago. How that came up was: Kit, the singer, called me and wanted to do a show as a fund raiser. He actually needed some money for some reason. He'd put a lot of money into Big Bang in the old days. He would pay for rehearsal studio time for recording and stuff like that. He actually needed some help and he asked "Do you wanna do a show so I can make some money to pay off this debt that I have?" so I said "Yes, that's fine with me". I talked to the bass player, Tweety, and he said he was all good with it. The drummer couldn't do it for whatever reason so I called up my boy Kane from Floyd and asked him if he wanted to do it and he said "Yeah, no problem". It was cool. We booked the show at the Roxy. Did the whole Big Bang set which worked out great, and then at the end I had a bunch of my friends come out and had an all-star jam. Taime came up and jammed with us. We had Steven Adler played drums on 'Heaven's Door'. Steve of Pretty Boy Floyd came up and sang a song. Ronnie from Kix played guitar on a cut. My boy Ryan Roxie from Slash and Alice Cooper's band came up… It turned out to be a great time and it helped Kit out.

So there you have it. Keri Kelli's life in a nutshell; proof that hard work brings just rewards and rolling with the punches is the best way to play. Look out for more on Keri in the future. Visit www.kerikelli.com



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