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Guitarist and entrepreneur Keri Kelli talks rock ’n’ roll, craft beer

Updated January 17, 2019 - 1:57 pm

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

When Keri Kelli isn’t on the road with Alice Cooper, Slash, Skid Row or one of many other artists who regularly enlist him to handle guitar duties on the road, he splits his time between Orange County, California, and Las Vegas. The former is where he grew up. The latter has been his second home since he opened Aces &Ales on Nellis Boulevard in 2009.

At the time, the local craft beer scene was severely limited. But Aces proved so successful that in 2013, Kelli opened a second location on North Tenaya Way. Now he’s working on bringing a brewpub to The Bend shopping complex when it opens this year near the 215 Beltway and Durango Drive. “We will strive for the most eco-friendly business practices possible, from water conservation to recycling and reuse programs,” he says.

We spoke with the 47-year-old, who jokes that he’s “always the youngest guy in the band” when he tours with acts who are often best known for their hits in the ’80s or earlier, during a break in the ongoing Night Ranger tour. Here’s what he had to say about his life, rock ’n’ roll and beer.

Review-Journal: What was it that drew you to rock ’n’ roll?

Keri Kelli: My parents were into music when I was a kid. My dad was really into the Stones and power blues bands like the Yardbirds and Johnny Winters. Then my mom got this Queen record, “News of the World,” and I thought, “Wow this is great!” And then she took me to go see Queen. I was only 7 years old when we went to go see them at the Forum, but I was like, “Wow, this is great!” Then the next year, she took me to see Kiss in Anaheim, and I was like, “Wow this is really crazy!” And I kind of just thought, “I want to try to play.” My grandma got me my first guitar when I was maybe 10 years old.

How did you go from playing your own music to stepping into other acts that needed somebody to tour?

I took my first guitar lessons with a jazz-fusion guitar player, and he really pushed me into exploring more real, musical guitar playing. I wanted to play rock, but he said you have to learn the scales and the modes. So when I was 13 through 16 or 17, I practiced literally eight hours a day — I didn’t even go to school at one point. And I think that really laid the foundation for being dedicated and thorough, and really learning music. And that’s what it is when you get hired by these bands. It takes time and dedication to learn the parts properly and come in prepared.

What brought you to Las Vegas to open Aces &Ales?

Orange County, with San Diego, was really a hotbed for craft beer. And some of my buddies opened places that were legendary craft breweries, like Greg Koch from Stone (Brewing). So I was into the whole craft beer movement. And I’d come out to Vegas to play. Then one of my other buddies, Ryan Johnson, said, “Why don’t we open a craft beer bar?” And it was really just because we wanted to have a place to serve the Las Vegas community with great craft beer.

How was it received?

The first six months were pretty rough. But we just kept banging it. We were on Facebook, MySpace and we had the website. Then we started inviting some of my friends from these breweries to come out and do these takeovers. And one night we were with Alice (Cooper) playing in Vegas, and I said, “We should do a jam at Aces.” And he said, “Yeah, let’s do it tomorrow.” And the place was packed. All those little things add up.

What made you decide to open a brewery?

I’ve been into the beer brewing thing for years. My cousin was actually the head brewer at a place in Orange County called Hoparazzi almost 30 years ago, and he introduced me to it. Then things developed with Greg (Koch at Stone Brewing) and people like that. And the last 10 years, I, personally, have been doing collaboration beers with a lot of different companies. I did five beers with Greg at Stone. Sierra Nevada, we did two with them, and Lagunitas. For what we do, it is the natural next step for us, and it’s something we have always wanted to do. And (The Bend) was the ultimate location. Being in the craft brewing industry really means supporting the local community, creating jobs and advocating for local organizations.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @almancinivegas on Twitter.

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