Eric Ragno

Keyboardist Eric Ragno became the keyboard player for a revamped American Angel lineup this year. Eric took part in American Angel’s superb comeback album … Vanity. As Eric outlines below, though, “appearing” on Vanity almost didn’t come to pass

MER: Hello Eric! Thanks for taking the time to speak with Metal Express Radio and your fans.

Eric Ragno: Thanks for having me. What’s up? You’ve got a great site and I appreciate what you are doing for Metal!

MER: Eric, how about introducing yourself to MER readers? Where did you grow up, how did you get into music (playing keyboards specifically), favorite music genres, name some of your influences, etc.

Eric: I grew up in Jersey City, NJ, right across the river from New York City. My parents were in Equinox, a regionally successful hard rock band that toured the East coast clubs regularly. Most kids grow up playing a lot of sports, while I spent my youth learning the music industry. I didn’t realize just how cool that was, but I saw things that most kids never see! And, there were instruments around all the time, so my folks were thrilled that I took an interest in music. I was playing the Jersey circuit before I was old enough to legally get into these clubs, and went on to play in a string of regional bands including Amazing Grace in the 80’s. I moved to L.A. in ‘91 to take things to another level, but I never forgot my hometown roots. I love all kinds of rock, AOR, and Metal. My playing is a combination of Jonathan Cain (Journey), Geoff Downes (Asia), and Kevin Moore (Dream Theater).

MER: You’re credited with playing keys on American Angel’s latest, comeback release Vanity. How did you come about that gig and are you “permanently” with the band or is Vox Tempus “your band”?

Eric: About two years ago I was in Jersey and met singer Rocco Fury at a show. I was a big fan of American Angel in the 80’s – their music was a part of my youth. I’d often crank up their album while cruising for girls on the avenue with friends. I love Rocco’s voice and the way he writes songs…and apparently the ladies do too…

I had a great respect for the band’s legacy, and told Rocco I’d love to pitch in if he ever decided to record a new album. Fortunately for me, Rocco was planning exactly that! He was looking for a keyboard player who understood the band and his vision, and had the skills to bring the new material to that place. Rocco flew to L.A. three months later and we started scheming.

As for Vox Tempus, the guys basically lost interest so we’re on hiatus I guess. It’s unfortunate but common, which is why I’m not with any one band. I’d sure like to be though. These days there aren’t too many groups out there doing it full time. Everyone used to record and tour and hang out together and that was enough. Today everybody has day jobs, families and other priorities. Music is my life, and I’m fortunate to get the opportunities that I do. I love working with new folks, and I can be reached at

MER: You mentioned before that American Angel’s vocalist and main man, Rocco Fury, was a great guy. Any stories you’d like to share?

Eric: Dude, Rocco is SO cool. The coolest part of this new album is my friendship with him – really. Last year he suggested doing a Christmas song as a gift to the fans, and we spent a lot of time reminiscing about the magic of the holidays – it was really touching. And the track received some great airplay over the holidays!

It can’t be easy being a band in NJ with your keyboard player in L.A. So I recorded a LOT of keyboard ideas for this record – I wanted to give the guys a lot of options since I couldn’t be there in person. I bounced everything past Rocco and he loved it all, but I’d soon find my parts missing from the mixes – and it was hard not to get upset, I mean I put many hours into these songs! Rocco assured me it would be fixed, but again I’m 3,000 miles away, ya know?

It was finally down to the 11th hour and Rocco went in to hear the final mixes. He listened to “Don’t Wait Up”, and all of the keyboards were GONE. The tapes were being sent to the label that night, and there was a lot of pressure to wrap things up. To his credit Rocco put a hold on everything, and sent back several songs to be remixed so the keyboards would be featured more prominently. Then he came to L.A. to explain it to me over dinner, and asked me to write the keyboard intro that opens the album, “While I’m Away”. Incidentally this is why there are two versions of “Don’t Wait Up” on the album.

What can you say about a guy like that? He could have easily just let it go, but he stood up for his vision – and I’m glad to have been in it. Rocco is a very class act.

MER: You’ve got an incredible number of other projects underway (i.e. China Blue, Josh Ramos, Danny Vaughan, Steve Grimmett). Can you elaborate on these and any others?

Eric: Wow, that’s a loaded question! There are a lot of stories, and I often share these on my website. But yeah, I’ve been pretty busy lately. Bands are getting back to the Rock/Metal that we grew up on, and I’m glad to be a part of this resurgence.

China Blue is a project I conceived and wrote from the beginning, and features Tony Mills (TNT, ex-Shy) on vocals, Josh Ramos (Hardline, ex-The Storm) on guitars and Zane Petersen (Solna, ex-Conditioned Response) on drums. It’s a return to that Classic AOR sound that I was known for with Takara. It has been a long road, especially due to the schedules that these guys keep! We’re in the midst of mixing and hope to have it on shelves before the end of the year.

As far as the others, to summarize: The Josh Ramos record (The Storm, Hardline) has become the Ramos/Hugo album, and Hugo is tracking vocals as we speak. Josh is an incredible soul and a close friend and we work really well together. The Steve Grimmett record (Grim Reaper) is far more Metal, and mixing is near completion. The band is bringing me to the UK to play Firefest this year, so I’m pretty excited about that! GREAT bunch of guys! The Danny Vaughn project (Tyketto) is still in the demo stages – I’ve submitted a ½ dozen songs and Danny is doing his thing on them – it will be awhile yet. I’m also writing some songs with Progressive phenom D.C. Cooper (Silent Force) for his follow-up album. And this week I’m wrapping up keyboards for the new Ted Poley album (Danger Danger) with J.K. Northrup – GREAT new tracks from Ted! Wow as I read this I guess it has been a pretty busy year!

MER: What’s the next release to hit the streets that we can watch for and expect to hear you play on?

Eric: HAHAHA! Well first let me say that the American Angel album is out now, and is a pretty awesome Rock record. I’m so proud of this thing and I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks! Once you’ve gone and purchased that…well the second week of July 2007 the Seven Witches DVD Years Of The Witch debuts in Europe, and I am guesting on that. The debut from the Lec Zorn Project came out in early July 2007 at the Rock-It Fest – that record is an AOR love fest with some great players. I’m also on the solo debut from David Readman (Pink Cream 69) that arrives August 31, 2007. And Steve Grimmett’s record is slated for an October release and again, it’s very Metal.

MER: You’ve played with an amazing list of talented musicians. Are there any moments that stand out for you that you’d like to share?

Eric: I learned a lot from watching Jeff Scott Soto and his career, and the way he works. I guess that’s how I became such a workaholic! But specifically, I remember once we had to scrub an entire album’s worth of Takara mixes and Jeff had to finish remixing the whole album in one weekend. I got to see how a real professional works under pressure, and I took a lot of notes. Literally.

Working with Josh Ramos was surreal. We had a few phone calls and one 15 minute meeting, and a week later he asked me to drive to San Francisco with him to collaborate on his new record. I picked him up and we drove six hours north to Novato, which is surrounded by horses and wine country. He told me all these great stories about Journey and Santana and Sammy Hagar, all these cool stories from this small area. It was magical and the album hopefully reflects that.

It’s fascinating to get to know these people and hear the stories that inspire them. They’ve traveled around the world and they were there when this music of ours was still being created, formed, etc. The Vox Tempus recording was pretty awesome – we brought Gregg Bissonette in during the same week that he got the audition for Ringo Starr’s All-Starr band. We had all this hero worship for Gregg, who himself was still star-struck over Ringo! Gregg would show up with all these Beatles stories and off-color jokes. It was humbling to see a Rock powerhouse like Gregg, and the kind of respect he had for his own heroes. And of course we went home with a lot of David Lee Roth stories!

MER: Is there anyone you’ve not performed/recorded with that you’d love to one day?

Eric: I’d LOVE to work with Steve Perry…I know the line is long but I’m here and I’m perfecting my craft. There are so many others – I mean there are a LOT of great artists I would love to meet! But if there was just one, that would be the one.

MER: Is there anyone you performed/recorded with that you were “blown away” by?

Eric: That’s a tough call…there are so many great players! Probably Gregg Bissonette I guess. The guy is a monster behind those drums! If you visit the Vox Tempus homepage ( you can check out some video clips of what I am talking about. Gregg is a good friend.

MER: You’re the first artist to endorse and play the Williams Keytar, which is a portable keyboard, strapped to your shoulders like a “keyboard guitar”. How’d you score that endorsement?

Eric: I saw it on display at NAMM a few years back, and I saw a lot of potential for the instrument. It’s a guitar with strings, but you form the notes with a keyboard instead of traditional frets. The sound is definitely a guitar. Their demo guy was strumming some gentle Jazz chords – a really nice guy with a shirt, tie and glasses. I picked it up and immediately started playing some George Lynch runs – and people came over to watch! I was a little obsessed about the instrument, and on the last day of NAMM I spent a few hours messing with it. Again a small crowd gathered, and once word got back to Vinson Williams (the owner/inventor of the Keytar), he was kind enough to fly me out to Arkansas so we could get to know each other. A photo shoot ensued, and now I’m their official poster boy. : )

MER: Is this your main instrument when playing live? What’s your typical live equipment “rack”?

Eric: I’ve used the Keytar in some live gigs. The hardest part is usually with the guitarists, as they are already skittish about keyboard players in general since we share the same frequencies. But I’ve gotten good at sharing the space and staying out of their way! The Keytar is great for playing rhythm guitar parts and for doubling up on guitar leads.

On stage I use a Roland D70, an obscure synthesizer that was also used on those classic American Angel albums. I also use a Korg Triton, along with an array of vintage modules and samples. I like playing piano with synthesizer highlights.

MER: Is the Keytar your primary “weapon” in the recording studio as well?

Eric: I use the Keytar for writing guitar-based songs…it is very easy to come up with riffs on it. And because of the unique voicings, it’s easy to create and play pieces with the Keytar that cannot physically be played on a traditional guitar! So from a writer’s standpoint it gives you a lot of options.

MER: Have you had people suggest that the Keytar is the poor man’s guitar, perhaps for those not “man” enough to play a real guitar? LOL

Eric: That’s an honest question; so let me give you an honest answer. I believe that anything that adds new sounds and creativity to your arsenal is a good thing. I thought about learning guitar when I was a kid – I played multiple instruments growing up – but the whole dexterity on the strings was a tough hurdle for me. I thought about taking lessons and trying to really learn the guitar, but that meant less time playing keyboards. The Keytar allows you to play power chords, hammer-ons and all kinds of killer guitar tricks without any guitar training at all! And if you’re a keyboard player, you can use your speed and technique to really blow folks away! Add to this the unique voicings you can get from a Keytar, and you’ve got something really special.

MER: You’re a regular at the yearly NAMM show (music industry’s big trade show). You obviously must like attending and it’s a lot of work. What motivates you to keep attending each year?

Eric: HAHAHA!! Well it used to be to get some cool autographs! Then it became a networking opportunity to meet folks and try out the latest gear. But lately it’s been a lot of work! I’ve got some great endorsements and you want to keep these folks happy, so you kind of have to be on your feet all weekend, performing at the booths and answering questions. This year I spent my breaks signing autographs for LM Straps and pursuing my new Nady sponsorship. Then it’s back to performing demos! But it’s a wonderful thing and I love the opportunity to work with these people at the ground level.

MER: In closing, any last words for your fans?

Eric: One word – VANITY!

MER: Eric, thanks for your time!


  • Scott Jeslis

    Scott is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He handles a lot of Metal Express Radio's public relations, screening of new music and radio scheduling. On occasion, he also does reviews and interviews. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2004.

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