WEIRTON - It all started with a ring.
"Sixteen years ago - March 5, 1998 - I was standing in the crowd at a Creed show," said James Keller, Descendsion lead singer and songwriter. "(Singer) Scott Stapp reached down into the crowd and gave me a ring. I said, right then and there, that some day, I would open a show for him, that some day, I would share a stage with Scott Stapp."
Keller and Descendsion will fulfill that dream at a show Tuesday at Latitude 40 located at 200 Quinn Drive, Pittsburgh. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Descendsion will open for Stapp, who is touring to support his newest release, "Proof of Life."
DECENDSION – Weirton-based rock band Descendsion opens for Scott Stapp, the voice of Creed, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lattitude 40 located at 200 Quinn Drive, Pittsburgh. — Contributed
"I wasn't supposed to be able to do this," said Keller. "As a lead singer, with this problem, this illness, I have, I shouldn't be able to sing at all, but I am."
Keller spent nearly a decade plagued by a mysterious illness that caused seizures, blackouts, extreme fatigue, dizziness and disorientation. One incorrect diagnosis after another - from vertigo to mental illness - followed, and doctors told Keller the disease would kill him. Struggling with the undiagnosed illness caused Keller to suffer from depression and alcohol abuse, eventually costing him his marriage and his job.
It was music - and a spiritual epiphany - that gave him a lifeline.
"People didn't believe my condition was serious," he said. "They thought I was trying to get attention, I was lying and faking for sympathy. Instead of lashing out, I held it in. I remembered my dream. Every day could be my last day, but I was fighting as hard as I could for the next day and to get as close to my dream as possible. I refused to fail. I had to believe I would win."
He began writing songs about his frustration, depression and fear to deal with, and explain, his emotions. Keller also began examining his life and thinking about how he would be remember if the disease did take his life - and he didn't think he would be remembered well.
"People had this idea about who I was, and I didn't want to talk about (the disease), because I didn't want to be labeled as weak," he said. "I felt like people would get what they wanted from me, and they would walk away without considering how I felt about the situation."
With the help of his bandmates and his music, Keller began reaching out to help others - people who were struggling with health issues and addiction.
Keller also held on to that long-ago dream to open for Stapp.
"I called him 'the giver of the ring,'" Keller said. "It made me feel like I was no longer alone in the world. When I was sick, it helped me feel stronger and remember my dreams and goals. It was a symbol and it gave me a lot of inspiration."
Eight years after his first seizure, Keller was diagnosed with epilepsy, and a year later, doctors recommended he undergo surgery to have a Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy device implanted. The pacemaker-like device delivers signals to the vagus nerve at regular intervals to decrease the frequency and intensity of Keller's seizures.
The device has widened Keller's horizons and gave him - and Descendsion - a new lease on life. The band has toured throughout the Tri-State Area and will be performing in Nashville this fall. Descendsion has opened for the BulletBoys, Candlelight Red, Trapt, Fuel, Drowning Pool, Saliva, Oleander and Buckcherry. The band also established a relationship with promoter Brian Dursky of Dursky Entertainment.
"I was always trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could," he said of working with headliners. "I was always asking questions, asking for advice, asking 'what do we need to do?' Brian Dursky told me to work hard, write honest songs and stay as tight as we can and (Oleander lead singer Thomas Flowers) said the live show had to be energetic and to focus on giving great live shows. The biggest advice I ever got was from Scott Stapp - it was in September 2012, and we were in Durham, N.C., and we were standing next to his bus, talking, and I told him all of it - my hopes and dreams and how I had worked and fought through everything and all of it - and he told me don't worry about who likes you or not. It's not a reflection on you, and it's OK if someone doesn't like your music. You're not performing for people who don't like your music, you're performing for the people who want to listen to you and enjoy your music."
Keller is joined by lead guitarist Brian Davies, bassist Aaron Glosser and drummer Gary Stewart.
"We've been through a lot together," Keller said.
Davies has "been off-and-on since the beginning" and is Keller's songwriting partner, with Keller providing lyrics and Davies providing the music.
"When he plays the guitar, it paints a picture for me," said Keller. "It feels like you can't tell where each other left off (in a song). It just fits together, like a hand in a glove. It gives the music so many layers of meaning. We started from scratch, chasing this dream, and he stayed with me through the thick of it - and now we're here."
The band's first album, "Shades of Existence," is available on iTunes and Facebook, and Keller expects they will soon be back in the studio to record a second album, although much of the band's focus is on improving and tightening their live shows.
Through social media - primarily Facebook and Twitter - Keller's ability to reach out to others has been expanded, and he regularly interacts with fans from as far away as Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Canada, California and Alaska.
"The message is getting out there, and that's the important thing, that the message gets across and people are being helped and learning from our story," he said. "It's a two-way street - I help somebody, but they help me, too. It's a good feeling when someone feels they can come and talk to you, share their story. It's a lot of trust, and they become part of your family."
Keller feels that everything he's gone through has led him to this point.
"It's surreal," he said. "It doesn't feel like reality right now. I'm nervous as nervous can be. I want to be worthy of this. All the naysayers said this was a delusional pipe dream, that I was working my whole life for a delusion. I had this dream, and it's come full circle and become reality. Hard work pays off, and it feels great to accomplish this."
It started with a ring, and it ends with a dream fulfilled.
"It's about not giving up," said Keller. "Don't stop, don't give up. No matter what, you have a right to fight to be happy, and you can't let anything, not depression or illness, get in the way. We're all in this together. Keep reaching and taking it to the next level. You've got to believe in yourself before anything else. Chase your dreams, and don't let anyone tell you you can't do something, because it's not up to anyone else, it's up to you."
The show will be held Tuesday at Lattitude 40 located at 200 Quinn Drive, Pittsburgh. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. It will feature Stapp, Australian indie rock bank Monks of Mellonwah and Descendsion. It is an all-ages show. Tickets are $26.
For information, visit Descendsion's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/descendsion, follow the band on Twitter at @descendsion2014, follow Keller on Twitter at @jameskeller15 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jameskeller.
The show is presented by Drusky Entertainment.