Interview: Keith St John

American songwriter, composer, and singer Keith St John is thrilled to announce his return to the UK with the ‘Rain Is Burning’ acoustic duo tour. Scheduled for October 2023, this eight-show tour promises a nostalgic journey through Keith’s illustrious career.

As a founding member of BURNING RAIN and recognized for his time with renowned bands such as Montrose, Lynch Mob, LA Guns, Quiet Riot, and currently with Kingdom Come, and the Las Vegas hit show Raiding the Rock Vault, Keith St John, along with the accomplished musician Jack Frost (known for his work with Savatage, Aldo Nova, Joey Belladonna, and Seven Witches), will grace the UK stage for the first time since 2019 with their acoustic “Rain Is Burning” tour. Keith talks to us below about the tour and his musical journey over the last few decades.

You were born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the suburbs of Long Island. In what ways did your surroundings shape you as a musician? And what are your earliest musical memories?

Well…heh heh earliest musical memories were singing children’s songs with my Mom who recorded us on a (now ancient) cassette player. Where is Thumbkin, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Horse Fell Down the Well, etc! Found out a few short years ago that one of those tapes was preserved and so I transferred it to digital!!! Mamma and her 2yr old then again at 4 years old! My surroundings were Broadway and off-Broadway shows, the Metropolitan Opera, and plenty of jazz heads around NYC. I played drums in High School marching band, orchestra, etc….So by the time I discovered Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, I felt I had a pretty broad “well” that I naturally just “drew from” and still do!

You began your life as a musician as a singing drummer, how hard was the transition of stepping out from the kit and performing without the safety net of a kit? And who would you regard as the ultimate singing drummer?

The transition was nil…it was basically instantaneous. I was pretty “hammy” already behind the kit when I was singing…so jumping (literally) out front was EASY! Steven Tyler played drums as does Paul McCartney…not sure if they play and sing at the same time! It isn’t really the hard rock genre but I personally think Don Henley from the Eagles is a “super-talent” singing so seamlessly and dead-on, whilst holding down some pretty complicated rhythmical arrangements on the drums.

What was it like for a Brooklyn boy moving to L.A. and all the wonders/temptations of Sunset Strip?!

HaHa!! I think there’s been a few movies about this!! Being what some call a “triple fire sign” I am known to be very comfortable “in the moment” so being thrown into the melting pot of the Sunset Strip at the time just really added to the boatload of fun and games I was already having figuring out how to record my music and who to do it with!!! I never let anything slow my work ethic down and I was never interested in drugs, but I definitely woke up in some strange places trying to figure out where I was and who the hell I was with and why??… until I came to my senses!!!! Bahaha, great memories!

In the early days of Burning Rain, how quickly did it take to realize that you had a special partnership with Doug Aldrich?

We wrote and demoed 3 songs basically immediately after meeting. There was already a good manager interested who helped us shop it to a wonderful Japanese major label which was Pony Canyon. We were welcomed to Japan as if we were the Beatles!!! Fun stuff. Great band! It was a beautiful experience for me. As far as the “chemistry” it was also instantaneous ’cause we were both dudes on a serious mission who worked our craft and got the shit done 24/7…so in that way, we were very eye-to-eye.

What was it like performing again as Burning Rain for the Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan?

I think we’ve done it twice now maybe? I thought it was curious to have one of our record labels throwing their own live festival. But when I got there I realized these guys (Frontiers) really had an amazing idea with this!! It was genius having all the bands playing who were “label mates” as they flew us in from all over the world which I think is a great experience for both the fans and the bands!

What brought you to the attention of Ronnie Montrose and you becoming the new vocalist in Montrose? Replacing Sammy is a tough gig!

Oddly enough I had no real knowledge of the Montrose legend and legacy when I met Ronnie Montrose. A mutual dear friend by the name of Ed Roth (currently keys for Glenn Hughes/Robbie Kreiger Band) introduced us when Ronnie was looking for a new singer to write with. I liked his energy and he dug mine so we just started writing a collection of songs toward an album which we actually did have enough songs for a complete record. Within that process, a guy named Scott Booray who manages the Steve Miller Band told Ronnie if he would consider putting the band Montrose back together (albeit with some new faces) he’d be hot on managing and helping rebuild the band’s career. Ronnie told me all about his bygone days with Sammy Hagar and asked me if I’d like to take a stab at singing those songs.

We got a couple of L.A. guys I knew together and had a jam session over at Leeds in North Hollywood. When we reached the guitar solo in Rock The Nation Ronnie stopped and said “You in Keith?” ….I smiled, said hell yeah! We shook hands, jammed out Rock Candy once, and called it a day. On our way to the car, Ronnie sidled up to me and said “Hey Keith we’re gonna need some major players…I’m out of the whole loop these days, you think you can find us the right guys?”..to which I replied absolutely!!! Our first drummer I asked through the grapevine was Pat Torpey from Mr Big who was one of my favorite drummers in modern times, and he was into it, and over the years we had several great drummers and bass players who were a great pleasure to work with. They ALL loved working with Ronnie! The thing about replacing Sammy and all…I really just sing the stuff my way and it just happened to work. It’s been a great experience of a lifetime getting to know many of the hardcore Montrose fans!!

You of course perform as part of ‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ in Las Vegas, of all the classic Rock songs that you perform, what is the hardest? And did any songs, in particular, give you sleepless nights? Let’s face it, if you take on ‘Stairway to Heaven’ then you need to have balls of steel!

I wouldn’t really label any of the songs as being “hard to sing.” I think for me in this kind of situation, with each song I need to find a part of myself that I can bring out that will connect the audience in the right way with the essence of what that song (and those eras) were all about. Part of it is the voice, part of it is identifying with a certain candor and stage presence that’s fully still me but lends itself to the peephole that leads them to memories of their musical heroes and transcends the time and space they’re in. Regarding Stairway…I definitely feel in singing it one needs to stay connected fully 100% from beginning to end. I wouldn’t want to experience someone stumbling or “breaking the 3rd wall” anytime during that one. It’s like being the preacher in a grand church and giving the most important sermon of the evening!

You are back in the UK for your “Rain is Burning” acoustic duo tour with guitarist Jack Frost, without giving too much away, what can punters expect? Where do you know Jack from?

The last time I was in the UK touring, it was in this acoustic duo format with Doug Aldrich supporting our latest Burning Rain release “Face the Music” in 2019, I feel I am partially keying in on the Burning Rain fans, many of both old and new who came out and supported and had a great time in 2019. But as this is not a representation of Burning Rain (it’s just little old me) I will also be equally sharing my performances of songs from the other bands in my career that I spent a significant amount of my life with and that I feel are quite relevant to those same listeners ears! We’ve for sure got Montrose Songs, Kingdom Come, and Lynch Mob songs, and some really FUN others!!! Hopefully, that didn’t give away too much!!!

I met Jack at an annual concert I produce in Southern California and he immediately expressed his deep appreciation for both Montrose and Burning Rain. His energy is “beam of light” positive and we’ve always got on perfectly. We did record a few songs and made a few videos together which were well received and I dug the experience of working with Jack. So I know we can get on in the work environment, I know he loves all the material we are hitting, and he’s a very seasoned, very talented guitarist with his own impressive resume as well!

Edinburgh, Hull, Bradford, Norwich, Sheffield, London, and Cannock – that’s some pretty tricky accents for you – have you been doing your homework on the local lingo?!

As I’ve been speaking with publicists, interviewers, radio folks, etc….I’ve been given some friendly ‘lessons’ and hints about working the different dialects if you would, but I think to master any of them I’d need time to live in each city for a half a year at least!! I’ll hopefully be able to further sharpen that knife with each crowd I meet!!!

You’ve always traveled all over the world, UK, Europe, and Japan – what is the biggest difference from the US that you notice when you travel?

The appreciation of live music performance in the States is more along the lines of seeing what’s cool and hip and going viral, trending, or whatever. I think in most other countries at least that I’ve been to, in the “rock” world, there’s a lot more deep and careful listening going on and still more of a genuine appreciation for the underlying art form behind the superstardom or what have you. The deeper way is more in line with my take when I go and see an artist I like! So I do appreciate being able to experience that coming back at me now and again! In countries like Brazil, I observed people outside on the sidewalks in the parks everywhere just dancing and singing and really almost meditating or perhaps freeing themselves from the other confines of life or what-have-you. This would be everywhere in entire towns! The experience seemingly one of pure joy! Once again, not something one generally finds in the States.

Which new bands/musicians have caught your eye recently?

I will have to take the fifth on this one! LOL Although I do from time to time stumble onto something fresh that really catches my ear, I am usually so busy with some musically artistic endeavor that I fail to catalog these things in a way that I can easily rattle off the names without going back and checking out my saved links from social media and YouTube. I personally tend towards art that evokes deep feelings within the observer. In a way, a kind of feel that might be the basis for all art! The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once stated that music is the only true art form!! In some ways, I’d say I’d have to concur with that.

What are your plans for the remainder of 2023? Holiday season in Las Vegas?

After this tour, I’m going to spend some time with family on the East Coast, whilst organizing how to finish up on the Keith St John album that’s been in the works. I’ll hit Vegas for a week or two to do some RTRV shows in there as well, and by the way, the Ron Coolen + Keith St John record will be released in early December and I encourage folks to check out cause there are some killer songs on there that I co-wrote with Ron and sang ALL the vocals on!

And what do you have lined up for 2024?

I am always having hopes for a new Burning Rain record and I hope Doug might find some time within his busy schedule with the Dead Daisies in 2024 to allow us to get together and start the next fire! I will hopefully by springtime have a mixed and mastered KSJ record ready for you guys!!!

Let us all continue on the never-ending mission of redefining “ourselves” which in itself redefines the world around us…and if music can spark us to transcend out of our worldly “now” and into a new emotion then the creators of that music have done their job!!! – K.S.J.

 

Rain Is Burning” UK Acoustic Tour

Oct 3rd: EDINBURGH Bannermans
Oct 4th : HULL O’Riley’s
Oct 5th: BRADFORD Nightrain
Oct 6th: NORWICH B2
Oct 8th: SHEFFIELD Corporation
Oct 9th: LONDON The Black Heart
Oct 10th:CANNOCK The Station
Oct 11th NORTHAMPTON The Black Prince

For ticket information and tour updates, please visit https://www.keithstjohn.com/

 

Portrait photo credit – Ron Lyon

All live images – Callum Scott Photography

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