The Ultimate Jam Night Interviews with Keith St John of Burning Rain and Ronnie Montrose Remembered
Another rocking chapter of Ultimate Jam Night was about to commence at the world famous Whisky a Go-Go on the notorious Sunset Strip. This would be the big 86th edition honoring the iconic Malcolm Young of the legendary AC/DC – with all proceeds benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association. On tap to perform one of the band’s many iconic songs was Keith St John of Burning Rain, who would unleash an explosive rendition of the almighty TNT.
We caught up with Keith St John before the set to find out more about his participation with Ultimate Jam Night, the current happenings of Burning Rain, news on the upcoming Ronnie Montrose Remembered show at the Yost Theater on January 21st and a whole lot more! Read on as we chat backstage with the one and only Keith St John…
How did you become involved with Ultimate Jam Night, and how many times have you done this?
I got involved with Ultimate Jam Night when they were doing it at The Lucky Strike at Hollywood and Highland right in the early days. First off, Matt Starr at the time had just got done doing some touring with me in Burning Rain, which is my band with Doug Aldridge of Whitesnake. Matt is the last drummer that played with us on tour. I’ve known Chuck Wright for years. He came and played with me in the beginning of the a later Montrose band, which I got together with Ronnie Montrose. Chuck was actually the first guy I called who wound up joining that touring band. That goes back to about 1999. Gilby I know too, so pretty early on when they started doing that Lucky Strike jam, I was involved. In the beginning of that jam, it was nowhere near as planned out as it is now. You basically just showed up and then they figured out when you were gonna go on. “Hey man, you wanna go on in like, 15 minutes with so and so?” You’d just do it. Now, it’s such a huge thing and everybody around the world knows it, that pretty much a week or two before each one you gotta get in the roster or have them call you.
To those who will miss it, what can we expect from your performance tonight for the Malcolm Young / AC?DC tribute?
Well I don’t really normally sing this kind of music too much. I do hard rock and bluesy stuff. And actually the Bon Scott stuff is pretty bluesy in it’s own way. But I never really was in a band that wanted to do AC/DC covers. So it’s kind of my first dab at it, except for when I was subbing in for Robin McCauley in Raiding the Rock Vault. I had to do Highway to Hell but I’m not doing that song tonight. So I learned a new one tonight.
It’s “TNT,” which is pretty fun with attitude. Should be a good time.
Have you ever had an encounter with Malcolm Young or AC/DC?
KS: No, but I know Simon Wright who is here tonight. I’ve played with Chris Slade on drums, I’ve done some jams with him. I don’t know why I play with drummers more than anyone else, but no. Neither of the Young’s. Briefly met Brian Johnson, but that’s about it.
What was it like working with Ronnie Montrose and why do you think you were one of the longest running people with him?
I think he was much more mellow when I met him than he was back in the 70s. We may have had minor ups and downs, which if he had been 30 years younger would have been major blowouts. But, people change with age and our musical chemistry was so good that it just always brought us back together, even if we split apart for a while. Even when I thought we weren’t going to work together again, by and large push came to shove – I got a call from Ronnie going – hey man, let’s work this out and get back to work and we did. I don’t know why that was, it just was.
Will you be at the Ronnie Montrose Remembered show this year?
Yes. Saturday January 21st at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana and it’ll be even bigger and even better.
Has any members of Led Zeppelin heard or comments of your cover of Kashmir?
I have no idea. My head is so in the sand. I’m like the rock and roll ostridge. People say, have you seen this movie or this TV show? Or this band? I’m like, sorry man. If it’s something after the Rolling Stones, probably not. Maybe.
What made you decide to cover that song for the Epic Obsession album?
I really dig that song, man. It’s really bitchin and it’s just – talking about it with Aldridge and just agreeing on what would be cool. The cool thing was is that song is done with a bunch of keyboards and I was like, if we do a guitar version of this, maybe we can rock it out and make it sound cool. Also, to be honest, now that I think about it, we recorded that cover of Kashmir when we recorded the first record. But it got released with the third record. We had a drummer that was way into Zeppelin back then. We decided to try it and we canned it, and just shelved it back then and then brought it back up later many years later, obviously, how many years? Jeez – 13 years between records there.
Why was there such a long wait?
I got into Montrose and Doug got into Dio and then Whitesnake and our schedules just sucked for getting our band back off the ground. We eventually, obviously got back into and now we’re working on #4.
When is that coming out and how do you think it’ll compare to the other ones?
I don’t know when it’s coming out but I would say #3 was a transition into what we’re doing now, which is just an evolution of songwriters. We’ve both been produced by a lot of worldly record producers and we’ve played with everybody under the sun now at this point. I just think all of that knowledge and different way to approach producing music has influenced us both. And we write quicker, we finish the structures of the songs quicker and we write a lot more volume, like maybe we’ll write 3 songs a day when we jam instead of just one that takes a week to complete.
So we won’t have to wait another 10 years for the new Burning Rain album?
Well we started it, we’ve demo’d a lot of songs for it. Right now The Dead Daisies is on the road and that’s Doug’s latest touring project that he’s with so, it’s gonna depend on their schedule mostly. Because I’m pretty free at home now doing a lot more studio work. I’m starting a music library for TV and film called Giant Music Media, so that’s a new thing of mine. So – when Doug is here long enough, we’ll record the record.
You’ve been in a lot of bands. Lead vocals for a lot of bands. Either for short periods of time or longer.
I get some calls here and there.
What was it like working with Sweet and with Steve Priest?
I loved it. That was probably the band that – it was most starry-eyed for me to go out and sing those songs. I heard that stuff as a kid and I thought it was really cool, so I remember those songs being a little dude, hearing them and digging “Love is Like Oxygen.” So singing that on stage with Steve was just amazing. He’s a great guy, he paid me a lot of compliments and there was a big mutual respect, which a lot of guys from that era who have been around that long – they just kind of – I don’t want to say don’t’ give a shit. A lot of cats that made it back then and then came through the sort of the demise of the music industry, just kind of look down their noses at people 30 years younger than them. Steve doesn’t, man. He hangs out, get some beers, talk about life, go out and do whatever – go out in the parking lot, throw a frisbee, whatever. Steve is a cool guy.
Are you involved with any other music projects at the moment?
Burning Rain is my main focus right now. There’s a couple of other things kicking around but they’re minor. Just some little projects and stuff. And Ronnie Montrose Remembered type of stuff…
Did you have any messages for Burning Rain fans who are reading this right now?
We’re working on the next album, it kicks ass. I’m really happy with the songs. I feel that they’re a real good step ahead from the 3rd record and I can’t wait to get it out. Hopefully in early 2017.
Thank you to Lisa Woodard and Ultimate Jam Night for setting up this interview. Be sure to check out Ultimate Jam Night, returning Tuesday, January 10th with a Van Halen Tribute to the world famous Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip!
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Roy A. Braatz Jr)