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Apollo Ra

I first learned about this amazing Heavy Metal band from my friend Maurizio Chiarello of Underground Symphony Records fame in 2003. In fact “Ra Pariah”, their debut lp, was re-released on LP, and for the first time, through OMP records after a decades, and on cd through Unisound Disc from Greece, that gave a great chance to many people to discover this amazing band.
The album made a very good impression many listeners since it contains some really great Classic Metal tunes, characterized to an excellent guitar work and some progressive atmosphere that reminds to us some legends as Crimson Glory, Queensryche and Lethal too.
The band no longer exist, so I contacted Bill McKeown the guitar player of the band to have a few words…..

Interview done by Beppe Diana (beppe@secretofsteel.net)

Hi Bill and thanx for your avaiability and your support, I don’t want to ask the biography of the band, but what you can say about the first years of Apollo Ra? Why you have to choose this particular monicker? Someone in the band was a passionate about Egyptian’s mythology?
Hi Beppe and thanx for your questions….
Yes, Chris Murphy, former guitarist. He and Steve formed the band, and he actually co-wrote every song on Ra Pariah, with the exception of Alone In Darkness.
Carl and the band agreed to let him go during pre-production, a fact that I’m not exactly proud of. He’s still musically active. We talk on Facebook frequently.

It is true that the first band’s release was a two track demo in the 1989, that have remained unpublished? What could you say about this songs? Was the first experience in the studio recording for you guys?
No. There was an Apollo Ra demo cassette from 1985 or 86 that I was given to learn for my audition. The band at the time was Danny, Steve, Todd, Chris and the guy I replaced, Jeff Henderson.
“Crimson Streets” and “Rukkus” were on that, along with 3 other songs. “Ra Pariah” was recorded in 1987, the “Winds Of Time/Alone In Darkness” ep was done in 1989.

In 1989 the band planning to record your first full length album that was published as a simple demo, but this was just a way to find a deal with a major label?
We were signed to a label called Shatter Records who hooked us up with Carl. They folded while we were recording “Ra Pariah”. Carl believed in the band, so he financed the remainder of the recording and shopped it around for us.

How did the deal with Carl Canedy, come about?
I’ve heard that, in addition to being your producer, Carl was also the band’s manager, it is true?
Was the Neon City Production his own label? It’s true that he is the owner of the master tape?
Yes to all. I still keep in touch with Carl.

Could you tell us some details on the recording, the time spent on this? What’s your memories about this season?
Wow, so many memories! Carl had us in pre-production for 2 weeks prior to recording, and he was a taskmaster. Whipped our asses into shape, and made us a MUCH better band.
I remember those days as some of the best times of my life. I couldn’t believe I was in a signed band, recording songs that I co-wrote, and working with the guy who produced fucking ANTHRAX!!

Do you have some funny story about the recording session?
Yes. After I recorded the real fast over-the-top solo for “Rukkus”, Carl had me do a fake solo on a separate track. It was really really bad, like a drunk blues guy playing slow and out of tune. We then called Danny in to check it out. We said “what do you think?” The look on his face was priceless. He said, “It’s…interesting. Not what I expected…” Carl & I finally cracked up & played him the real one.

“Ra Pariah” delivering a classic metal attack influenced by some atmospheric elements, a perfect mixture about power metal and progressive sound, what’s your main influence at time? Could you tell us in which way were born songs as “Crimson strets” or “Bane of the Black Sword”?
Everybody brought their own influences to the band. I can’t speak for the other guys, but early Rush was my biggest influence. We argued constantly about which bands were great and which bands sucked.
Oddly, the only band that we all LOVED was Queen. More specifically, 70’s Queen. Guitar-wise my heroes were (and still are) Brian May, Alex Lifeson , Neal Schon, David Gilmour, Gary Moore, Matias Jabs,Eddie Van Halen, James Hetfield, etc. etc.
I wasn’t in the band when they wrote Crimson Streets. “Bane….” started out as a guitar riff that I brought in, Chris Murphy added some stuff, and Danny wrote the lyrics based on a graphic novel he was reading by the same name. Elric of Melnibone was the main character, and his sword was named Stormbringer. (I actually just now texted Dan for clarification on that. Haha!)

……and what’s your favourite song on the album?
My favorite songs from Ra Pariah are “March Of Fire” and “The Challenge”! Still rock those songs on my Paul Reed Smith guitars often!!!!!
I am also putting the black Kramer guitar that I played on Ra Pariah up for sale.

Was the band involved in the OMP record’s vynil pubblication, or it was just a bootleg? Why we have waited 14 long years before this release? You know that was a crime to let rot a masterpiece inside a drawer? Just the fault of the musical trends that changed, or what?
I did not even know that there was a vinyl version on O.P.M. until I saw a review in Goldmine magazine. I was floored! The track listing is completely out of order. I tracked Carl down. It had been years since we had talked. He now includes me in everything that involves Apollo Ra.

…so also the cover artwork was done by OMP?
The orange album cover did not exist until the vinyl pressing on that label. The original cassette just had our ugly faces on it. The band didn’t really have an “image”. We pretty much looked like every other metal band from 1987. I remember the guys hated my spiky hair, so I eventually grew it out! Haha!

Despite the “Ra Pariah” no longer exists for a long time, the love and passion for the band and for the album, not decrease, how you explain it?
Beats me! Museum Of Fear was me, Dan, Steve & Todd. Dan was playing acoustic guitar on half the songs. We thought we were stretching out and progressing, but that band got no love. We are all very proud of the Apollo Ra stuff. I just wish we could’ve gotten a good record deal and toured the world.

I’ve read about an official release, do you think this new chance can give you back what the fortune took you away some time ago?
No, that ship has sailed. I actually just quit my current band yesterday. Going to do some solo shreddy stuff which I will post on the Apollo Ra Facebook page, so I guess maybe more people will listen to it than if I wasn’t in Apollo Ra. I will be playing heavy guitar-based music on my deathbed!

If you take a look about your past life, do you think to have just good memories, or some regrets?
A little of both. It would have been nice to have gotten a real record deal and toured the world. I married Steve’s sister Alexandra. We were married for 20 years and have a 15 year old daughter. Alex and I are still good friends. Had I not joined the band, my beautiful daughter would not exist. You cannot put a price on something like that.

It’s true that you’re trying to convince Danny to bring back the band on stage? You know that the european audience waits this great event, right?
Carl said we were offered a spot on the Keep It True festival for April of 2016. I was up for it, as was Steve. Dan has no interest. Keith Menser of Mystic Force fame said he would play Todd’s parts. I would love nothing more than to play those songs again!

Who is Bill McKeown today? Do you still play guitar? Are you involved in some new projects?
Like I said, I just quit my band yesterday. Too many reasons to get into here. I will just say that things were not moving forward the way I wanted them to. I play every day. I am 10 times the player I was in 1987. I also went to recording school in 1997, have recorded over 50 Baltimore bands. I engineered and coproduced (with Danny)a Museum Of Fear cd about 8 years ago, The God In My Closet. I believe it is still on iTunes. Steve played drums on one song, “Darkest Days”.

Before the end, you can remember two great guys as Kevin Bulkley and Todd Channing Weaver that are both passed away?
Todd was absolutely amazing! One-take guy in the studio, amazing performer onstage, solid, SOLID bass player until the end, when he just, I don’t know, stopped caring, or bad things or bad people in his life took precedence. He played all of the bass parts on Museum Of Fear’s first album, Post Hypnotic Suggestion Box. After awhile, he forced our hand, and we had no choice but to fire him. We hired Brett Sharbaugh, another amazing bassist. Brett’s picture is on the inside of the PHSB cd, but the actual bass parts are Todd’s. Todd was funny, smart, talented, charismatic as hell, yet VERY private. Hard to get to know sometimes. I miss Todd sooo much. I didn’t hear about his death until 2 days after his funeral. I wish I could have paid my respects and said goodbye to my friend.
As for Kevin, well, you’d have to ask Danny Miller or Steve Albinak. They knew him better than me. He and I were not at all close, and never became the guitar team that I had hoped for. I don’t feel like he contributed very much. The solos he is seen “playing” in the videos were actually played by Andrew “Duck” McDonald, a friend of Carl’s. After Chris left, Carl brought Duck in as a session player, so we would still sound like a two-guitar band. Duck kicked ass, and had the coolest guitar rig I had seen at that point! Last I heard, Duck was playing with Blue Cheer.

Ok Bill, the end is your, so…
Thanks so much for this opportunity!! I am humbled and truly honored that people still love the music that we created decades ago. If you think spending my twenties playing guitar in Apollo Ra must have been awesome….well..…. YOU’RE RIGHT!!!!! Play that shit LOUD, Motherfuckers!!!! MUCH LOVE!!