Keith Nelson never expected to be touring with KISS. Neither did he expect to be on tour for more than 260 days at a time.
But events have unfolded well for the lead guitarist of the popular modern rock band Buckcherry, which now faces the end of the lengthy tour that brought it back last week to the town that served as the band’s launchpad: Los Angeles.
Although Nelson grew up listening to music, at the time it wasn’t the music he wanted.
“We always had plenty of records in the house,” Nelson said. “And it was music that I love now, like the Motown and such, but back then I wanted stuff like KISS — rock ‘n’ roll.”
His musical career started when he was “banging on pots with spoons,” until he eventually moved to the guitar.
In 1995, Nelson and lead singer Josh Todd formed Buckcherry, and the band soon made its way through LA’s music scene, playing gigs along the revered Sunset Strip and constantly writing music. But like many other aspiring musicians, Nelson didn’t see himself becoming famous anytime soon.
“It always seemed so unattainable, because [being a professional rock musician] is such a lofty goal,” Nelson said. “The thought was always in the back of our minds, and it was a goal, but we never expected it to happen like it did.”
But Buckcherry didn’t just sit around and wait for its big break.
“We weren’t some art school kids waiting around for a deal to be handed to us,” Nelson said. “We wanted to be out there, playing all the time.”
In true Hollywood fashion, record executives heard what the band offered and liked it. The rest has been, as they say, history — albeit one fraught with classic problems, including the departure of some original members. Nelson and Todd have stuck around, however, like true founding fathers. Their dedication has paid off, leading to a Grammy nomination as well as multiple top-10 singles.
The band hit up Los Angeles last week with a stop at the Staples Center, and now Nelson looks forward to finishing up a tour that has lasted longer than a year; The last show is on Dec 6.
Touring is, as expected, an exhausting event. Many musicians tire of long schedules on the road, away from the sense of normality that home brings.
For Nelson, however, touring isn’t just work — it’s a way of life.
“Our first big tour was back in ’98 with, actually, KISS,” Nelson said. “It was weird jumping from our cars to a big van, which was awesome … It’s a learning experience, and you learn along the way how to be a better musician and a better businessman.”
Buckcherry is largely a touring rock band, like most rock bands of yore, and the band spends the majority of its time on the road. But in terms of the exhaustion factor, Nelson remains unfazed.
“Any musician who’s successful and complains about being out on the road should just stay home,” he said. “It’s just such an ungracious thing to whine about touring when you’re successful.”
Not that the repercussions of touring aren’t a consideration, especially to those in the band who have families. Nelson notes that being out of town seems to keep him behind on what’s going on in terms of a week-to-week or even a month-to-month basis.
But even with all the difficulties, the band has marched on, racking up tours with AC/DC and KISS as well as headlining its own tours, traveling most recently to Canada.
“Getting back to the studio is a treat,” Nelson said. “But the bulk of the work is on the road.”
Now that the tour is coming to a close, Nelson said he looks forward to fresh time in the studio to write and record new material. The band’s last album, Black Butterfly, did moderately well on the charts (peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Top 200 chart) as well as critically, and now the band is planning to get to work, concentrating on crafting another successful record.
As for the more long-term future, Nelson hopes to continue “making great music and working for the people who want to hear it.”
There are, of course, great bands that have stood the test of time — for example, KISS still plays to enormous crowds all around the world.
“Of course I would love to continue to play. I mean, look at some of the bands today, like AC/DC or Metallica. They still have ‘it,’” Nelson said.
Even with these hopes, Nelson is fully aware of the danger of trying too hard.
“I don’t want to be old and playing county fairs,” he mused. “It’s important to stay relevant; when the passion is gone, it’s already too late.”