Eric Ragno: The Rock and Roll Keyboard Master
Need a rock solid keyboardist in your band? Who do you call? The one and only Eric Ragno! He has worked with the likes of Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnett, and has currently been playing shows with The Gary Moon Band and the notorious London. Highwire Daze caught up with the very active Eric Ragno to find out a whole lot more about his vibrant and extensive career. Read on….
Since this issue will be going to the NAMM show, what is your keyboard equipment of choice and why? Please list any endorsements.
I’ve been a Hammond Organ artist for several years – the instrument has a rich legacy, and never lets me down! I’m also sponsored by Alesis – I love their keyboards, and these instruments are at the heart of my live rigs. I’ve been using TKL Cases for forever now, and I have a long partnership with LM Straps and Stands (Standtastic). These companies make exceptional products, and treat me like family. Check out their booths at the NAMM show.
What advice would you give a musician seeking an endorsement deal?
These days it’s all about social media numbers. I learned this the hard way. I’ve toured with several heritage acts, and appeared on records that did respectable numbers. But a kid in his garage with 220k YouTube followers has a better chance of getting gear that I can’t even touch. The business model has shifted, and I suppose we all need to adjust.
Who were some of your early keyboard influences?
For piano, predominantly Jonathan Cain (Journey). I can’t overstate his impact – I’ve studied his piano and synth playing my whole life. I’m often compared to him in reviews, which ultimately lead to my tenure with The Babys (Jon’s first professional band before joining Journey). Growing up, Gary Wright inspired me with his Dreamweaver’esque synth textures – they take you to another place. Geoff Downes, another artist in our Hammond family, inspired me greatly with his multi-synth work with Asia. And finally, Kevin Moore showed us what keyboards on a prog record should sound like. Those first three Dream Theater albums are a master class in lead synths and lush soundscapes.
How did you become involved with The Gary Moon Band and what has it been like working with him?
Andrew McNeice from MelodicRock.com put us together, and I was Gary’s Music Director at Melodic Fest 4 and 5. Ironically, he lives 10 minutes away. Gary previously sang with both Night Ranger and Three Dog Night, so our live show reflects those catalogs, as well as his solo work. Gary is a GREAT guy, he is funny and his voice still sounds 1000%! We’ve played some great US festivals this year, and have been Special Guests of acts like Dokken and Vince Neil. The band includes Andy Hewett (bass), Cameron Brett (drums) and Frankie Lindia (guitar). Looking forward to 2019.
You are also currently in London. What has that experience been like working with Nadir D’Priest?
Nadir is one of the original Hollywood bad boys. He’s a walking history of the Sunset Strip, and everything this band does is BIG. He’s very inclusive – he encouraged me to mount a 50″ flat screen on my Hammond, where I run graphics and video during our shows! He also welcomed my input on our new album Call That Girl (find it on eBay), and I look forward to what he has in store for us in 2019.
Your credits are massively impressive and we’ll go through a few of them now. How did you become involved working with Joe Lynn Turner and what was it like working with him?
Steve Brown (Trixter) was the Music Director, and an old friend. We worked previously on the most recent Trixter CDs, and Tokyo Motor Fist with Ted Poley. Steve knew I had the Hammond chops to play the Rainbow catalog, as I did this extensively with Graham Bonnet. Rounding out the tour was Sean McNabb (Lynch Mob) and Matt Starr (Mr. Big, Ace Frehley). It was a powerhouse lineup, and we played songs from Joe’s entire career. Joe is a great guy, and performing those classic Rainbow and Purple classics by his side was a career highlight.
You’ve also worked with the legendary Graham Bonnet of Rainbow and MSG. What did you do with Graham and how do you approach working with someone of that stature?
I toured Europe with Graham pretty extensively, and we became close. The band would sleep on the bus till noon, while Graham & I would be up early swapping stories over breakfast. His lyrics are so deep, and he has an enthralling perspective of the world. Again, we played songs from throughout Graham’s career – and those Hammond parts required a lot of homework! We’ve done some sporadic things in the US since then, and recorded some tracks that I’m really proud of. Graham has been through a lot – he’s a survivor, and I love him dearly.
What was the experience like working on the Blind In Paradise album with Jeff Scott Soto and Takara?
Takara was my formal entree to the Melodic Rock scene. (Guitarist) Neal Grusky was at a gig and impressed by my synth work, and introduced himself. That chance meeting changed the course of my career, and introduced me to the world of Jeff Scott Soto. This was in 1995, when the internet was still in dial-up. Who knew that this genre of music was doing so well in Europe and Asia? I immediately jumped into it. Jeff & I became fast friends, and I base a lot of my career on what I’ve learned from him. His voice is powerful, I love his Motown influence, and his mastery of harmonies is amazing. He still steers me toward new opportunities – he’s a good friend, and his trajectory continues to inspire me.
What was it like working with Tony Mills on Shy and TNT?
I wrote and recorded the China Blue album, sort of my solo effort – but it didn’t have a voice. Again Andrew McNeice suggested that I contact Tony Mills, and his early demos just floored me. Tony became the voice of all my personal demons and dreams, and a dear friend. I’ve written and recorded for all of his solo efforts ever since.
Favorite memory of working with Jami Jamison of Survivor?
Jimi was such a sweet soul – God I miss him. I named my cat Jamison after he passed. We had plans man. Same with Fergie Frederiksen of Toto, after the record we did together. Jimi & Fergie were in that same circle, and were both taken from us within a year. At the time my dad fell ill, so I couldn’t attend their memorials…it was crushing. But we would brainstorm ideas on the phone….I just can’t believe they are gone. I Can’t Hold Back was an anthem at my high school, and performing it live with Jimi was always a magical moment for me.
What do you think makes you and Ted Poley work so well together on multiple projects?
We laugh together – a LOT! LOL Ted is a master showman. He’s in his prime right now – he’s the most in-demand melodic rock singer out there. Ted sings with so much hope and emotion – you believe every word he sings. We run into each other randomly at festival dates. I look forward to our next excursion.
With all of these outstanding credits and more, when could we see a solo Eric Ragno album in the works?
China Blue was the closest I came to a solo album – thank God I had a wealth of good friends to help me pull it off. The logistics and financial burden of a solo record are just too much. And, I prefer being a part of a team. But I still write and record a few new albums each year for other artists.
What’s up in the New Year for Eric Ragno?
Last year I started working closely with Shane Tassart, an amazing singer who toured with Lies, Deceit & Treachery (formerly The Bulletboys). He’s an amazing singer and a GREAT guy. We worked together in a Journey tribute – we both love that classic sound – and we’re booking dates now as WHEEL IN THE SKY. Everybody sings, & our Christmas video went viral. We’ve also been working on original music, which we’ve been integrating into our set. We’ve received inquiries about doing a full album in 2019, so look for that. When you have a team of friends, the sky’s the limit! Look for us online at https://www.facebook.com/witsjourneytribute/. And keep up with my latest happenings atwww.keyboardplayer.net, or on social media as rockkeyboards. Rock on!
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Erica Vincent)
Eric Ragno on Facebook