|Posted on June 19, 2014 at 12:40 AM|
While the 1980s will be remembered as the dawning of melodic hard rock acts such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Europe and Whitesnake, who all enjoyed enormous success throughout this period, the achievements of Night Ranger should not be overlooked or forgotten. It did not take long for this young group to find success with arena rock tracks like (You Can) Still Rock In America, Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, Four In The Morning and their two biggest hits Sister Christian and Sentimental Street. As for the albums that these great songs would come from, Dawn Patrol, Midnight Madness and 7 Wishes, not only would they be multiple platinum sellers of the day, but go on to become regarded as classics of the genre in years to come. While some bands that the critics thought were brilliant at the time have faded away to nothing, Night Ranger have continued on and 30+ years later are still recording relevant and memorable hard rock. Their latest album is High Road and I recently spoke to bassist/songwriter and vocalist Jack Blades about the new album, the band’s history and his other side project Damn Yankees.
Rock Man: In 1985 you sang with pride and passion the lyric “This boy needs to rock, tonight, tonight, tonight, I need to rock!”. Decades later is that need as strong today as it was back then?
Jack Blades: You know [laughs] who would have ever thought when you are in a rock band and you start a band in 1980 and you get your first record deal in 1982 that you would be sitting around in 2014 talking about the release of a new record some 30 odd years later. Yeah, I guess this boy does need to rock [laughs]. It is sort of prophetic lines that I came up with there [laughs] because at this juncture that is all I ever wanted to do and all this band loves to do. Brad (Gillis), Kelly (Keagy), Joel (Hoekstra), Eric (Levy) and myself, I mean that is what we are all about, just rockin’ and rollin’. We are just going to keep on going until somebody says we can’t. And if somebody tells us we can’t we are going to keep going anyway.
RM: Congratulations on the release of the new album High Road. It is an exceptional album you must be very pleased with the final result?
JB: Yeah, we are really happy with it. You know, each time you make a record you always think you are doing your best work, you hope you are doing your best work. Night Ranger is not a band that turns one in, I mean we do not know how to do that, we do not know how to just come along and just like phone one in as they say. So we just put a lot of heart and soul into this thing and there is a lot of music on this record, there is a lot of musicianship, there is a lot of great solos, Brad playing some great solos, Joel playing some great solos, Eric playing a couple of great keyboard solos, you know, and Kelly and I singing. I mean, I think it is one of the hardest rockin’ quintessential Night Ranger must have records.
RM: How many tracks were written for this album and how difficult was song selection?
JB: Well the tracks that were written for this album I think were maybe about 14/15. You know, we started writing this record at the beginning of last year, 2013, and we actually started recording it in May and then stopped and started touring, we toured all through November. Then we came back at the beginning, some of us, in December and then January, February, March and we looked through the songs that we had done and 3 or 4 songs we just decided we could out do them and we came up with new music and kind of pushed them aside and did not really finish them. In fact, the song High Road was the last song written and the last song recorded for the record and it turned out to be the title track and the first single.
RM: So as far as the track High Road is concerned, in my mind this is classic Night Ranger. This is the type of thing that has been your stock in trade for 30+ years, isn’t it?
JB: Yeah, you know, I mean we always just focus on choruses and great solos and that is kind of what Night Ranger does. Melodic rock, up-tempo singles, you know, (You Can) Still Rock In America, Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, When You Close Your Eyes, Four In The Morning and songs like that. I mean we are also known for ballads and everything like that but a song like High Road really sort of unleashes what Night Ranger truly is, which is just a straight ahead kick-ass American rock band. It is a great verse, you know, for me it is a real cool verse, a real good sing along chorus and I love the “Yeahs!” in it and I think it is one of Brad’s best solos he has done in years.
RM: Don’t Live Here Anymore is an interesting track. On that song is the message you are selling for self change?
JB: Yeah definitely. I think that when you have been around for so long like Night Ranger has, and in fact I was just talking to Alice Cooper about this yesterday and he and I were saying you cannot get away with writing lyrics about, like “hey, c’mon baby, yeah, yeah, yeah, give it to me” like you might have done back in 1980 or something [laughs]. Because you are older now and people will go “creepy!”, you know what I mean? So I think the challenge for Night Ranger and any great classic rock band I think, is to like come up with lyrics that actually mean something, that aren’t just, you know, girl/guy type thing. And the song Don’t Live Here Anymore is really about, like change, I mean it could be interpreted about drug addiction it could be interpreted as change from just like who you are, you want to be a different person, whatever it is, anger issues, just whatever, that guy doesn’t live here anymore in the soul. You can always change and I think it is kind of a positive message because people should always know that there is a way out, there is always a new day, there is always like the sun comes up man and you can change, it does not have to be the same thing.
RM: You have a track on the record called Hang On which lyrically is another very positive and uplifting. Can you talk me through the inspiration for writing that song?
JB: Well we were working on this thing, Brad came up with the music for that and just really had this great kind of thematic piece of music that we all loved and Kelly and I were just sitting around and we are going “remember on our first demo we had a song called Hang On back in 1980 and we never did anything with it”. And so we said “what if we sang like - Hang on til tomorrow? Oh yeah til tomorrow” I mean the words were written but the “Hang On” part was, you know, like “Hang On” and it was called Hang On and the melody was different and everything but we are like, we just love that idea man of like just hanging on. So we thought lets just write that song, we try to be, you know, Night Ranger is a positive band. All the individuals in the band, Kelly, Joel, Eric, Brad and myself we are all very positive, we are all up people, you know, we are not downer people. So I think it is good to have a message like that like ‘Hang on baby til tomorrow! It is going to be a better day, it might be funky today, but it will be better tomorrow’.
RM: I found this to be a very consistent album from start to finish. But there are some stand out tracks for me such as Roll On, Coming Home, X Generation and St. Bartholomews. Which tracks are the most memorable for you?
JB: Umm … [laughs] that is a tough one. I love Coming Home because it is just about travelling all the time and then you get to come back to the person you really care about. And also St. Bartholomews is a, I am telling you man that song has so many, that was a fun song, musically that song went in so many directions, we had so many choices to like put so many melodies and things. I like that one because there is so much going on in it, one – there is so much musicianship and two – there is so much melody like, there is more hooks in that one song to me then there is on a lot of people’s entire albums which I think is kind of funny [laughs].
RM: There aren’t too many bands in the world that can boast about having two outstanding vocal talents. But you are very fortunate in that regard having Kelly and yourself, that must give you incredible flexibility in terms of writing/recording and song selection when working on a Night Ranger project?
JB: Yeah, you know what? It just makes it so where if it does not fit me, it fits Kelly, fine. And if it just does not fit Kelly, it fits me or we will figure out how to make it work. So that makes it, that opens up a lot of avenues for Night Ranger and really it is the same thing with the two guitarists with Brad and Joel, you know? I mean certain things fit Joel’s style better than Brad’s style and of course Brad can fit in anything, and I think he has played some of the best solos he has played in years on this record.
RM: So Brad Gillis has always appeared to me as a guy who just professionally goes about his business without much fanfare. Do you think he is an unfairly underrated guitar player and I guess by extension, when he was part of the band, Jeff Watson as well?
JB: I think that Brad is definitely. I do not know about underrated because I think a lot of people rate Brad as a really great guitar player. I mean he is not, I do not think he gets the press because he does not actively seek it, he does not go out and actively seek the adulation that I think maybe a lot of guitar players do. He just does what he does, he just does Brad Gillis and nobody does Brad Gillis better than Brad Gillis. And I think Jeff Watson is a really creative guitar player, very innovative and very creative and I think the same thing. Brad got a lot of kudos because he replaced, right in the beginning of our careers with Night Ranger, right before our first album, he replaced Randy Rhodes when Randy was tragically killed in that plane crash 31 years ago. I think that gave Brad, sort of like, that introduced him to the scene as it were, the national and international scene and I just think he has taken it since then, he has done great.
RM: I know you get asked about this 100 times a year and I apologise for being the 101st, but do you have any plans to get together with Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent to record another Damn Yankees album?
JB: I think that would be a fun thing to do. I think that I am so busy with Night Ranger right now and I think that Tommy is always busy with his things and Ted is just releasing a new solo record that unfortunately I was going to produce it, but I was right in the middle of a bunch of things that I could not get the time to do it. Which is unfortunate because I love doing that, I produced the record before this one, I produced his Love Grenade album, co-produced it with Ted. You know, you never know. I never say never, I do not know, let’s put it this way, I would like to get back together.
RM: You have amassed an enormous body of work over the years. Is there an album, or maybe two, that in your mind best reflects what Night Ranger represents?
JB: Oh boy, that is an interesting one. Yeah, I think Midnight Madness, I think for the era it would probably, maybe that or 7 Wishes. Midnight Madness/7 Wishes, that era, but I think that really represented where we were and I think that right now the last two albums that we have done, Somewhere In California and High Road kind of represent where Night Ranger is in 2014 with this current line up.
RM: Every time I look at footage of the band playing, whether it is in a music video or concert situations everyone in the band seems to be genuinely enjoying themselves and appears to really want to be there. Not all bands look that way, what is it about this group that brings out this real sense of camaraderie and brotherhood?
JB: I think just being together for so many years, of course a lot of bands that have been together for so many years and cannot stand each other. But I do not know, I think it is the core of the band with Brad, Kelly and myself. I think it is infectious when we are having a good time and I think we have the other guys, Joel and Eric, they fit perfectly with us and they kind of pick up on that action too. Fortunately for us we have got like-minded people playing with us, you know, that have the same sort of feeling for life and everything like that. I personally cannot help having fun when I am up on stage, I mean you see a bunch of people singing the words to a song that you are singing how can you not have fun?
RM: And finally, when the day comes that the band decides to call it a day, what do you think or hope the band’s legacy will be?
JB: I hope that people will think that Night Ranger gave it everything they had. I mean, I think that Night Ranger gave it full throttle and every bit of our heart and soul in everything we did, whether that be making a record, whether it be playing live on stage or whatever it was. And I hope the legacy of the songs will remain and they have for 30 something years with everyone just coming along to show and singing so many of our songs and I just hope, you know, I think a lot of the songs have stood the test of time already.
RM: Once again, congratulations on the release of High Road. On behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock I would like to wish you and the band many more years of continued success and a big thank you for the decades of enjoyment you have given us so far.
JB: Well thank you very much and let’s hope that one day Night Ranger gets “Down Under” with you guys in Australia.
For more information about the band visit the official website at www.nightranger.com
Night Ranger – High Road is available on Frontiers Records