Johnny Kelly


Johnny Kelly may be the hardest working drummer in music today. He is currently touring with metal icons QUIET RIOT since taking over for the late Frankie Banali in 2020, he still tours with DANZIG, KILL DEVIL HILL and SILVERTOMB. Johnny was a member of the band that put goth/metal on the musical map TYPE O NEGATIVE and is currently involved with a new project and band EYE AM. METAL TEMPLE writer Fred Bonanno was honored to be able to spend some time with Johnny and ask a few questions about his impressive career.
By Fred Bonanno
June 6, 2023
EYE AM's Johnny Kelly: "I am smarter with how I use my hands to get what I want out of the kit.  It's not just about hitting as hard as I can to be heard over the band
First things first Johnny, how are you doing?

I'm doing ok.  Keeping busy

Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers at METAL TEMPLE, I know you are one busy guy and you're involved in quite a few projects now, currently with metal legends, QUIET RIOT, how did that come about?

Thanks for having me.  The QUIET RIOT thing happened in a weird way.  I've played with Alex Grossi in Hookers & Blow for a few years at that point.  QR was going to be performing near me in Dallas.  I knew Frankie Banali was going in for treatments for his cancer.  I had offered to help him out so that he could save his strength for the show.  I had offered to Alex if there was ever a time where Frankie wasn't up to playing, I would fill in for him if he wanted.  I never expected that to happen.  Alex called me 2 days before the Dallas show asking if I could do it.  After that, I was doing more shows with the band.  Before Frankie passed away, he was setting things up so that the band would continue on.  He wanted me to continue with Quiet Riot after he passed away.

What's the touring schedule look like and are any new albums in the works?

We play mostly on the weekends.  It's a lot of flying.  There aren't any plans at the moment to do any kind of long-term touring.  But the schedule for the rest of the year is looking very busy.  There aren't any plans for new music with this lineup at the moment.  We've talked a little bit about possibly doing something down the road.  But it's just talk.

I'm so glad to see Rudy Sarzo back with the band and I'm a huge of his, what's it like working with such an amazing talent?

It's great having Rudy back!  At first, I was pretty nervous about playing with him.  He's such an accomplished musician, I wasn't expecting to stay in the band long after he joined!  Playing with him is a great opportunity for me.  He makes me want to do the best that I can every night.  What's great about Rudy is that he's one of the nicest people you will ever meet.

Your other project is EYE AM, with members from TYPE O NEGATIVE, CROWBAR and DOWN joining you, tell me about this band, the other members and what genre would it fall into?

This project is something that I'm pretty excited about.  Aside from playing in bands with Kenny since we were teenagers, I've known Kirk and Todd for almost 30 years at this point.  I'm a fan of CROWBAR and DOWN.  Having the opportunity to play with them was great!  I wasn't sure what was going to come of it.  But I really dig what we came up.  The song was basically written in a day.  We tracked it the following day.  It was a very natural, organic experience.  The single is being released on June 2.  We shot a video for it which will also be released the same day.  I hope people like the song.

Looks like EYE AM is in the recording studio, what are the plans for an album and/or touring?

We're going back in the studio at the end of June.  The plan right now is to write and record more songs.  I don't know how we're going to release those songs.  Maybe a full-length record or maybe release a song at a time.  We'll have to see how that goes.  Right now, there aren't any touring plans.  But those things change all the time.  There might be something booked and someone forgot to tell me!

You have quite the impressive musical resume to say the least, TYPE O NEGATIVE, DANZIG, KILL DEVIL HILL, SILVERTOMB, A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY and even the LED ZEPPELIN tribute band EARL'S COUNT…..whew.

On paper, it looks impressive.  There's a few other bands and projects besides those.  But I'm a person that likes to keep busy.  I enjoy playing with different people and doing different things musically.  After TYPE O NEGATIVE ended, I had no idea what was next for me.  Thankfully, it's been ok.

Let's start with TYPE O NEGATIVE, you became the full-time drummer in 1993, tell me about working with them and was it difficult being in a goth/doom metal band that dealt with controversial lyric topics such as death, sex, depression and drug abuse?

When I first joined, it took a little bit of time before I found my place in the band.  Working with Type O was an experience with all of emotions.  Making music was fun.  I always admired Peter as a songwriter.  He was really an outside thinker.  Working with them was a great learning experience.  I didn't really have any issue with any of the controversy the band had.  I think a lot of it had to do with people not seeing the humor and sarcasm that was all over our songs.

The lead singer Peter Steele passed in 2010, what was it like working with such a complex, intense talent?

Peter was just Peter to me.  I knew him for a number of years before I joined the band.  Type O was one of my favorite bands at the time.  I was thrilled to just be in the band.  I had no idea what was ahead for us.  I knew the band had potential.  But I never thought that the band's music would have the staying power that it wound up having.

Was there ever any discussion about the band continuing on after Peter's passing?


Sorry to ask this, but I've heard that GLENN DANZIG was difficult to work with, any truth to that?

I've always got along great with Glenn.  He's pretty easy to work with in the studio.  We have a lot of laughs when we've toured.

TYPE O NEGATIVE achieved good success and popularity (several albums went gold and platinum), and covered songs from some unusual bands throughout the years, SEALS AND CROFT, NEIL YOUNG, THE BEATLES and THE DOORS to name a few.  Was that a challenge putting a metal spin on those songs?

It wasn't putting a metal spin on it that was important to us.  We approached a cover song with perspective of how this song would have sounded had we written it.  We didn't want to just cover a song.  There were songs that we had played around with and scrapped because they sounds too much like the original.  Not every cover worked out.  But the ones we did were pretty interesting.

From a "performing live" aspect, is there a big difference playing "classic, good ole metal" over "death/doom/goth?"

I don't really see much of a difference.  I'm more focused on trying to do better than I did the last time I performed it.  It's more about the people I'm playing with than it is the type of music I'm playing.  Drumwise, there's something similar going through the types o music I'm associated with.  In a way, it's kind of like doing the same thing but in a different context.  Does that make sense?

Who are some of your musical influences?

I was raised on THE ROLLING STONES and THE BEATLES.  My father then introduced me to KISS and that changed everything.  From there I discovered LED ZEPPELIN and then BLACK SABBATH.  I loved all the metal that was happening in the 80's.  From JUDAS PRIEST to SAXON to MOTERHEAD to VENOM to CELTIC FROST to SLAYER and of course METALLICA.  After that I went back to the classics and bands that sounded like the classics.  ALICE IN CHAINS and SOUNDGARDEN had a big impact on me as well.  But my main influences were John Bonham and Bill Ward.  Then there was Tommy Aldridge, Cozy Powell and Tommy Lee too!

Any drummer come to mind when I use the term "underrated?"

There are many I consider underrated.  The first that comes to mind is Bill Ward.  Despite the fact that he was in BLACK SABBATH, he is basically the blueprint for heavy metal.  He truly is an incredible musician.  More than just a drummer.  What he brought to those classic records is unbelievable!  Another one that comes to mind is Phil Rudd from AC/DC.  His discipline and instinct are second to none!  He's the heartbeat for that band.  He knew exactly what to play and how to play it to make those songs great!

How involved are you in song writing?

For a drummer, I try to do my part in doing what I can to make the song the best it can be.  I try to see a song beyond what the drums are doing.  I try to do what's best to support the song.  To give it a solid foundation.  For me working on songs is a learning process.  Sometimes what you think will work doesn't.  Sometimes, the first thing you came up with was the best thing for the song.

Any band, current or past that you would have loved to be part of?

Tough question to answer.  Depends on my mood.  Today, I think it would've been great to had played in HUMBLE PIE!  Steve Marriott was one of the greatest vocalists ever!

Do you have a favorite album you've played on?

I'm grateful to have been a part of some pretty cool records over the years.  But truthfully, my favorite one is the upcoming SILVERTOMB record.  I tracked all the drums in my little studio in Dallas.  It's been a great learning experience.  It's been great being able to work out the songs on my own without getting yelled at by anyone!  I was never a fan of the studio.  But learning how to get sounds and really focus on getting a good performance on my own had turned out to be a lot of fun!

You lost your father, your grandfather and friend and bandmate Peter Steele all in a short period of time, how did you handle and cope with that emotionally?

That was a turbulent time for sure.  Losing people you love and care about to me is a part of life.  It comes with the territory of getting older.  I miss them terribly.  But it's important to me to keep moving forward while keeping memories of them dear to me

How has your drumming evolved over the years, especially being in so many different bands with so many different musicians and musical landscapes?

I've always been a student.  There are so many aspects of drumming that I continue to work on in my playing.  I've always felt that I was an average drummer at best.  To be able to stay in the game, it's been important to me to continually improve every aspect of my abilities.  I try to be smarter with how I use my hands and how I get what I want out of the kit.  Now, it's not just about hitting as hard as I could to be heard over the band.  But hitting in a way where the kit still has some teeth to it without destroying everything!  I've been putting a lot of time into building hand speed.  There's always been an emphasis on being consistent and staying in time.

On that note, how has the musical landscape changed since you started playing professionally?

The internet and computers changed everything.  It's an entirely different game now than what it was 30 years ago.  Starting with how music is created, recorded, promoted all the way up to how it's purchased.  Some of it has made some of those things much easier to do.  But some things have certainly hurt the music industry.  Particularly, the artists.  To me, music has become disposable.  When I was younger, going to the record store was a religious experience.  You studied every single inch of a record when you brought it home.  Now, you can barely name a song that you like which you probably forget about by next week...

What is the current state or future of metal/rock?

Rock & Roll has always been on the outside looking in. There were a couple of moments where it was cutting edge and topping charts.  In certain ways, it's expanded quite a bit over the years.  I think we're at a time where it's due for some reinvention.

If you didn't go into music, what career would you have chosen?

I most likely would've gone into the automotive field.  I love old cars and have always wanted to get my hands dirty with them

What does Johnny Kelly do for relaxation?

There's always something that needs to be done.  If it's something with music or something around the house.  There isn't too much downtime.

What artist/band are you listening to, that might surprise us?

I'm a huge fan of Sigur Ros! (Icelandic rock band)

Johnny, thank you so very much for taking time from your hectic schedule to answer a few questions and let us get into the mind of such an incredibly talented musician and person.

I think I should be thanking you.

I wish you the absolute best moving forward in all the many projects and adventures you are involved in, and I look forward to seeing you on stage in the very near future, take care my friend.

Thanks again!  Take care!

Interviewers note: you can check out my zoom interview with Johnny on Facebook under my name Fred Bonanno

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