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Ten Questions with...

JAY RUSNAK (Iron Horse)

Guitarist Jay Rusnak is a member of Iron Horse, who were formed by Ron Keel and mix metal with southern rock and new country. Their new album 'Bring It On' has just been released.

1. What are you currently up to?

Our new CD "Bring It On" was just released on Compendia/V-Tone records on Sept. 21st and we've been gearing up to support it by any and all means at our disposal.

Among other things, we're slated to begin the Bastards of Metal tour in late October with Stephen Pearcy (Ratt), Joey Belladonna (Anthrax), and Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys). Stephen and Ron are old friends and they've been discussing getting Ron/IronHorse involved in this for a while.

We thought it would be a good opportunity to present IronHorse to an audience that already is slanted in our favor due to Ron's history with KEEL. We can accomplish two things at once; satisfy all the fans that supported Ron back in the day while presenting new material and a new band to an audience that would be highly receptive to it.

Our first single "The Best Move" is due to go into rotation on GAC. In the meantime, we continue to tour and promote across the country.

2. What have been the highlight(s) and low point(s) of your career to date?

The highlight has undoubtedly been my involvement with Ron and Iron Horse. It's a very professional organization and a very closely- knit family at the same time. I learn something new every day, while creating and performing killer music with my best friends. There's a vibe in this band that I've never encountered in any other band I've been in and I'm sure is rather rare. I've played some big shows while with other bands but none of them compared to the ride that I take with this band every day.

The lowest point of my career was probably the same one that a lot of musicians who came of age in the 80's would mention: 1992. This was the year that the style of music that I wanted to hear and create was rendered totally obsolete overnight and as a result I turned my back on original music for quite a few years.

I just didn't know how to change my mindset to write and play music that featured crappy guitar tones, lame vocals, and garage-band production. I'm not indicting the 90's as a whole; there were some great artists that appeared during that time period - but it definitely put a bunch of hard rockers out of business and sent many more of us underground for a number of years. I ended up working a "real" job for five years - Ugh!

3. Iron Horse has a new album out, 'Bring It On' - could you take us through some personal highlights please?

One of the biggest highlights was getting to work with the producer, Kevin Beamish. Anyone familiar with hard rock in the 70's and 80's and new country over the last ten years recognizes the name. Kevin has worked with everyone from Saxon, KEEL, and REO Speedwagon to Kenny Chesney so he was perfect for the kind of vibe we were going for and the material we do.

Kevin has worked with a bunch great guitar players including Dave Meniketti of Y&T and Michael Schenker so it was a major trip to have him take me aside during preproduction sessions and have him favorably compare my playing style and guitar sound to theirs. It's funny - you think a big-name producer like that would be a dictator and micromanage you but Kevin isn't like that. He

lets go of the reins and allows you to do your thing. He has history with Ron, having worked with him back in the KEEL days, so he knew when he took on this project that Ron's band was not going to require babysitting. And we didn't. Most of my solos were done with Kevin out of the control room. Actually, now that I think about it, nearly ALL of the guitars were done while he was busy doing vocals with Ron. He would just meet with me at the end of the day, listen to what I'd done, and 95% of the time he'd give me a thumbs up and we'd crack a beer. And just when I thought I could do no wrong, he'd wear me out the other 5% of the time!

I've spent enough time in a studio to know what a tooth pull it can be, but making this record was unbelievably smooth and easy. We were very prepared, everybody put forth good performances, and it just flowed very well. The whole thing really was one long highlight, so the only other thing I can really point to is a song I wrote for the record. I wrote two songs with Ron but a third was a very bluesy tune I wrote myself.

This was a musical area that IronHorse had not yet explored and I wanted us to try so it was a treat to hear Ron wailing out on something that I composed specifically for him in a style that he'd never been captured doing previously.

4. How did you hook-up with Iron Horse? Is the band now getting their name known in the US and beyond?

Interesting story there. I'll make it short. I belonged to the number #1 professional musician referral service in the U.S. One of the listings was for IronHorse and the contact person was Ron Keel. I saw it and said to myself, "That can't be the same Ron Keel I'm familiar with - the guy who brought Yngwie Malmsteen to America, the same Ron Keel who's STEELER and KEEL albums I've jammed to a gazillion times." (I actually used to play "Somebody's Waiting" and "Right To Rock" in a band I was in back in 1988). So I called. And that's what I asked him. And he said, "Yes, I'm THAT Ron Keel!"

Actually, it took over a year from the first time I contacted Ron to the time I actually met with him and the band, auditioned, and got the gig. And it's funny: Yes, he IS that Ron Keel, but at the same time he's a completely different guy than the one that made the STEELER record - vocally, personally, etc. Sometimes I forget that he's not just the guy who's on my right when we're onstage - he's RON FUCKING KEEL!

As far as getting our name out, obviously there's a lot of old school rockers out there who still follow and support Ron's activities so we're known to them. We do nearly constant roadwork and so we're always out on tour, promoting, and showing people what we're all about.

And honestly, we're a really easy band to like because we take all the best parts of three different genres (metal, southern rock, and new country) and blend them into one high-energy package. So even if you don't like country there'll be enough metal to satisfy you and vice-versa.

5. Do the band play any Keel tunes or is it purely music penned by the band now? Any plans to tour Europe at all?

It depends on the gig we're doing. If we're doing our typical headline show, we'll usually concentrate on promoting IronHorse and emphasize the new material.

Occasionally "Right To Rock" or "Tears of Fire" will sneak in at the end but we're IronHorse, not RON KEEL AND FRIENDS so we concentrate on what the band is doing now. However, when we go home to the band's birthplace of Ohio, we end up doing longer shows for the fans there and we tend to throw in about a half dozen KEEL tunes. We even sometimes play a song off the SABER TIGER release that Ron did in Japan in 1996 or 1997. Great record. Very heavy and it featured some Japanese guitar hero who's name I can't spell or pronounce.

We also toss in a few cover tunes that suit us from time to time, like ZZ Top's "Beer Drinker's and Hell Raisers". As far as Europe goes, we can't wait! We expect to be taking IronHorse to foreign shores during 2005. Obviously with the current foreign unrest a lot of agencies have refused to send their clients over there for safety reasons but we look forward to eating sushi, drinking some British Stout, seeing the Eiffel tower, and visiting our drummer's home town (he's from Ramacca, Sicily).

6. How has your guitar playing developed down the years? Any good tips for new guitarists?

This could take forever, so I'll just reduce it to this: When I was younger, I used to play 100 mph all the time. Now I play normal speed 90% of the time and 110 mph the other 10%! Actually, it just really boils down to throwing away the stuff that doesn't matter, not worrying about impressing yourself with what your fingers are doing, and concentrating on what you actually SOUND like.

My first guitar hero was Ritchie Blackmore. I don't sound like him anymore although there's still traces of him in my stage presence. Then I got into Yngwie and Uli Roth. But, as I got older I wanted to rock more and practice less, so players like Gary Moore, John Sykes, and George Lynch were where I was at.

Actually, combine those three guys and you've pretty much got what I sound like now. Obviously, those guys all have great chops, but more importantly they all have highly distinctive and intense styles, play rhythm very aggressively, and are fluid improvisers.

For all the developing players out there, my best advice is to not watch your fingers so much, but instead LISTEN to what you do. Tape your playing. Go back and critically examine it. You can't learn what about your playing sounds good or bad unless you can listen back to it in the cold light of day and evaluate it.

Get a clear picture in your head of what you WANT to sound like and work hard until what's on the tape starts to sound like that. And always work on your vibrato - it's the Achilles' heel of most guitarists I see or hear. There's plenty of guys out there who can play at the speed of sound but the way to make the guitar talk and sing is to get a good vibrato going.

7. What made you first want to play guitar and what bands were you in prior to Iron Horse?

My story is different than most people's. I didn't start playing the guitar to be popular or get women or any of the usual reasons you'll hear. Actually, my mother made me take lessons. It's the truth!!

For the first six months, I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn't practice, I had no natural talent, and I couldn't wait until I could quit. Then I discovered that there was a musical system in place and I could use this system to improvise and spontaneously create music and then it became fun and eventually took over my life.

Before IronHorse I was in a gazillion bands that no one has ever heard of. Original metal, original hard rock, tribute bands, pop cover bands - I've done them all. However, I have been featured in GUITAR WORLD and I've done instructional columns for various smaller guitar publications.

8. What are your fondest memories of the live shows you've performed and why?

Every show is a big show. That's a philosophy Ron and I have in common and we practice what we preach. Whether it's a roadhouse, a theater, or an outdoor concert in front of 20,000 with .38 Special, we air it out every time and leave everything we have on each and every stage. It's the only way we know.

9. What do you do in your spare time outside of music?

I'm very fond of sleeping! Aside from that, I'm a baseball fanatic (Cubs!). I also enjoy golf, bowling, football, playing with my dogs, cooking, wines, blackjack, chess, the beach, the gym, reading, and movies.

10. Message to your fans?

Please visit us at We look forward to seeing you all out on the road very soon, either with the Bastards of Metal tour or on our own. Meanwhile, there's a lot of great music out there that you won't see on VH-1 or in the shelves of Wal-Mart. If you really love music, please support the artists that create it and spend some time looking for it.. you won't be disappointed - I promise.

Interview © 2004 Jason Ritchie/
Format and edit: The Music Index.

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