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Full Throttle Rock

Interview: Jack Blades - Night Ranger

Posted on April 21, 2017 at 2:45 AM

Rock is dead. This has been the debate amongst some of the music industry’s heavyweights over the past couple of years. While everyone has an opinion, myself included, just one listen to “Don’t Let Up” - the new offering from Californian hard rockers Night Ranger - would strongly suggest that the pulse of Rock and Roll is beating just fine. This is the band’s 12th studio record and it also marks the band’s 35th Anniversary; 2017 is shaping up to be a massive year for one of America’s most popular rock outfits. As fate would have it, singer/songwriter and bassist Jack Blades was on hand for a chat to discuss the new album, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the band’s 35 years in the business.


Rock Man: Firstly thank you for your time today Jack, I appreciate it. This band has been riding a wave of success for 35 years now. Have you had an opportunity at any point to reflect on what you have achieved or are you still having too much fun on this rock and roll journey to do that?


Jack Blades: I think I’m too busy being too busy to sit back and rest on my laurels or our laurels or all the things we have done. With Night Ranger we just keep rockin’ - we tour every year, we’ve got this new album Don’t Let Up, I’m doing the new Revolution Saints record [and] we’re touring a lot this year and it’s the 35th Anniversary. To tell you the truth, I have not actually had the time or the inclination to sit back and go “Wow, look what we’ve done!”. All I know is that it is kind of a shocking event when you sit back and go “Wow, we’ve done this for 35 years now” when Dawn Patrol was released 35 years ago in 1982 and I’m telling you, sometimes it feels like 35 days [laughs].


RM: I have long believed that bands don’t survive in the music industry for long periods of time by accident, you need to be doing something right on a consistent basis in order to sustain a career. With three and a half decades under your belt, what has been the secret to Night Ranger’s longevity?


JB: I think that we as a band just love to play. And right now we are having so much fun playing - we’re having so much fun creating the music - I think the fact that we don’t, at this stage of the game, have to prove ourselves to anyone, any more. Now when we hit the stage we just go up there to have fun and the audience can have fun, everybody can have a goodtime. I mean, we’ll throw different songs in and we switch things around, Night Ranger does not use loops or tapes or anything like that on our live shows so everything we do, everything we play, everything you hear coming off the stage is live from our mouths, our guitars, our drums and our keyboards. So that being the case, a lot of times we just change the set-up and throw in songs we don’t normally play - we’re playing songs we haven’t played in 10-15 years, it’s fun, not only for the audience but for ourselves.

RM: So with that in mind, last year the band released a live CD/DVD package: 35 Years And A Night In Chicago. I thought this was a wonderful testimony to the band’s music and staying power. As you go through song after song it’s just one solid track after another. You appear to have maintained a real sense of “quality control” over the years when making music, what is the criteria for selecting material for albums?


JB: Well we’ve always been pretty hard on ourselves, I think. But a good song is a good song and if I can grab an acoustic guitar and I can sing you the song and sing you the chorus and you get it, you can get the song with just one voice and one guitar or piano or something. If it makes sense as a good melody and a good lyric and a good song, then it is a good song. And Night Ranger has always subscribed to that theory, so we’re pretty hard on ourselves when we look at songs. Sometimes we’ll be jamming on it and we’ll go “Nah, just don’t fell it. Let’s start something else”, and somebody will come up with an idea and boom, that will spur someone else to come up with a chorus line or a vocal or a guitar part or something and the next thing you know we have another Night Ranger song.


RM: Congratulations of the release of the band’s new album Don’t Let Up. From the get-go I thought this album sounded much more “edgier” and “heavier” than previous albums. Is this an accurate assessment or just my imagination?


JB: I think that what you’re reading into it is what we tried to accomplish in that since this is our year to celebrate 35 years of touring and playing, we wanted a record that sounds like what we sound like live, who we are live. Because basically we’re a straight ahead, kick ass, American Rock and Roll band - case closed, boom, go for it! And that is what we wanted to achieve on this record, so in that respect we wanted to be more like our live show because this is kind of like a celebration year for us. So we wanted to celebrate the 35 years, celebrate with the fans and so we wanted to make a record that is more like our live show, so I think that is what you’re picking up. You know, less ballads, maybe less acoustical things, less quieter things, I think the drums are louder in the mix and we intentionally did that because we wanted it to be more like who we are on stage and I think that is what we accomplished and that is what you’re hearing.


RM: Yes, indeed. So I’d like to get your thoughts on a couple of the songs from the new album and I’ll start with the title track – Don’t Let Up. You’ve always written very positive kind of lyrics and this one fits the Night Ranger mould perfectly, doesn’t it?


JB: I think it does. It’s kind of an autobiographical song; when I landed in San Francisco I was all alone and I didn’t know anybody. I just came to town and wanted to start music and wanted to start playing and you know, I met my wife in Sausalito and the whole idea of like, you go into something and even though you’re a kid and you don’t know what’s going on and you’re just kind of going for it, you know, you never let up. I never let up and the band never let up. Don’t let up on the big picture and that is what the song is about and that is what the lyrics are about - there is a whole world waiting for you. And so as long as you’re focused on the end game and you’re focused on the ball and you keep going, that is really what the Don’t Let Up song is and we thought that was really a perfect title for the album; and the perfect title for the fact that we’ve been doing this for 35 years, so it’s like we’re not letting up.


RM: Truth is a song which I can see as a potential single from the record and also a song which I can see becoming a permanent part of the live setlist. Can I get your thoughts about that track?


JB: Oh I think it is a wonderful track, it’s one of my favourites. In fact, it’s Brad Gillis’ (guitarist) favourite song, he just loves Truth. It came about very organically, we were sitting around and I’m like, “I want to write a new song and I want it to go something like this” and we had different ideas and Keri Kelli (guitarist) was with us at the time and Keri said “Let’s try this?” and I said “No, how about this?” and I started (hums guitar melody) and, you know, we started jamming and the chorus and the verses came out and it just naturally came out and the whole thing was written in about 30 minutes. All the good songs are written like that, they just come to you and it’s almost like you’re channelling another energy or something, which we probably were [laughs]. But Truth is one of my favourite songs and I think it is a heavy lyric; it’s a little heavier than maybe what Night Ranger likes to touch on but I think it’s important for this world to just “Give me Truth”.


RM: I love the bluesy/honky tonk piano bar feel of (Won’t Be Your) Fool Again. This sounds like it was a whole lot of fun to record.


JB: Oh yeah, we had a blast doing that one. Brad and I sat down and he had that [hums guitar melody] and I just came up with the idea of (Won’t Be Your) Fool Again and the lyrics are kind of funny, you know, “I feel like I’m living in a T.V. show/With a dude that’s some dumb-ass Joe” I mean, we had fun [laughs]. And again, that is a bit of a departure, it’s more bluesy than what Night Ranger usually puts on a record. But we really enjoyed it, Keri played a great slide guitar and of course Eric Levy (keyboards) with the honky tonk piano was just spectacular.


RM: As seasoned veterans I would imagine recording albums is a pretty pain free experience - get in, press record, knock it out, done - or is there still the odd challenge from time to time?


JB: Well, there’s always challenges along the way. A lot of these songs on the verses are actually from when we demoed out the songs and I was singing. We looked at it when we took the masters and put everything on it and looked at the vocal and tried singing it a few more times and I’d go “We’re just trying to get it to the level that we’ve already got on there”. Because when we make our demos we make them with a full Pro-Tools rig in a studio and everything like that. So everything is recorded really well and perfect with great mics and stuff [and] a lot of the verses and some of the choruses on are just straight from when we first put the songs down, our first take. When you do that it’s more exciting because, like a song like Somehow, Someway, all those vocals are the demo vocals and I said “To Hell with it man, just run with them because I can’t beat them” [laughs], you know, I couldn’t do them any better. That I think is a testament to having done 12 studio albums and having been in the business 35 years and we walk into a recording studio and it’s like our second home. It’s like walking on stage or walking to my living room, it’s a natural environment for all of us after all these years and because of that I think it makes for a really fun recording process.

RM: In recent times you have introduced guitarist Keri Kelli to the band. What has he brought with him to the Night Ranger table and when you’re in a position of looking for a new band member, what are some of the qualities you’re looking for?

JB: Well, hopefully we don’t have to look for new band members. But when we did, it was interesting because Keri filled in a couple of times for Joel Hoekstra (former guitarist) when he was playing in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra during the winter time. I knew Keri years ago when he was playing with Alice Cooper and I’m very good friends with Alice Cooper and so when Joel left to join Whitesnake we didn’t even try to check out other people we were like “What about Keri?”, “Hey Keri do you want to jump on this train with us?”. Because we had played with him a bunch of times there was no getting used to the guy, no getting used to the way he played, we loved the way he played, we all loved the way he soloed and he works really well with Brad. Brad loves him, he and Brad get along great, they hang out all the time on the road and we already knew that Keri fit Night Ranger like a glove so there was no point going any further. And the proof is in the pudding - this is the first record we’ve done with Keri and there are more double harmony leads and great solos with he and Brad working together than there has been on the last four or five Night Ranger records.


RM: As a fellow drummer myself, Kelly Keagy is one of my all-time favourites. His work on this album is off the page, especially on Comfort Me. Is it possible he’s gone to another level as a drummer on this record?


JB: I think that everyone wanted, like I said, to make a live statement. If you listen to Kelly live, and unfortunately we’ve never been to Australia, but when you see him live that is the way he plays. So we captured the essence of Kelly Keagy on this record and I think he went for it on the record. I think we all wanted to make a statement, Kelly included, and I think that he did and because of the way he played, because he played so well and like I said because we wanted the drums to be more out the front like our live shows I really think he rose to the occasion.


RM: 30 years ago the band released what I consider to be one of the jewels in the crown of the Night Ranger catalogue: Big Life. Does the band at any point throughout 2017 plan on celebrating the release of this record?


JB: There are so many things in the works right now, but nothing I know about in relation to Big Life. But you’re right about that, Big Life was produced in 1987 and that was 30 years ago, unbelievable! What we are going to do this year is play songs, some deep Night Ranger tracks for the fans and we are going to draw from the Big Life record for a couple of those songs. I think there is some good stuff on that record, the song Big Life, The Colour Of Your Smile, Rain Comes Crashing Down, I mean there is some great stuff on that record.


RM: Looking back on those times and that record, what do you recall about that album?


JB: Well, it was kind of a transitional record for us because we used the producer Pat Glasser for the first three albums and on the fourth album Big Life we decided to use Kevin Elson from Journey fame. And we did it in the [San Francisco] Bay area really because we had spent so much time touring and so much time away from our homes that we never had a chance to be in the Bay area and we really wanted to do a record there at a studio that we liked. So we did it at Fantasy Studios and we used Kevin Elson up there. It was a bit of a transitional record for us and also the track The Secret Of My Success, I had written with David Foster, and that was the first single and that was a different sound for Night Ranger in a lot of respects. In fact, I think there were more keyboards on that record than I think there were in the past, I remember that and I remember all of us being up completely the entire night before we took that photo shoot (for the album cover). So if you look at that album cover just know that all of us are sitting around there with just 20 minutes of sleep [laughs], if you look close at the way we look you’ll realise “Boy, these guys take partying to new levels, you guys have got to lay off a little bit” [laughs].


RM: So you just mentioned The Secret Of My Success which was also in the movie of the same name and on its soundtrack. You’ve had a lot of your music end up in movies and on soundtracks, do you have any thoughts on why that is?


JB: Well, it seemed to be a bit of a trend back in the ‘80s. A lot of people did that but with Night Ranger that trend continued all the way up to Boogie Nights and Rock Of Ages, we’ve had a lot of songs in a lot of movies and you’re right. Frankly I like it, I think it’s fun, you go to see the movie and the guys go “Hey, we’d like you to write a song” and the next thing you know you write a song and it’s up on the big screen. It’s a fun thing to do, really enjoyable. I remember Tommy Shaw and I writing with Vince Neil on his first solo song which came out after he left Motley Crue called “You’re Invited But Your Friend Can’t Come” for the Encino Man movie and it was fun. They screened the movie for us and Vince said “Come On, we’ve got to write a song” and so really that is the entire Damn Yankees band, except for Ted Nugent, recording on that song and we used our producer because we were in the studio doing the second Damn Yankees album while we were doing it. I mean, I like doing that sort of stuff, it’s kind of fun.


RM: Once again it’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame season, and with that comes the inevitable debate about who is there/who should be there. From your view point, what are your thoughts on the Rock Hall and is it something that Night Ranger strives to be included in?


JB: Well it is such an honour and we would love to be involved in that. But there are so many bands that are not in there that have been around before us that certainly deserve that recognition. I’m so glad that Journey is getting into it; there’s so many groups that are out there, I mean, can you believe Ted Nugent isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? He started playing music in ’68 with the Amboy Dukes. It’s political, but it’s coming around and getting a little more realistic now. It would be a great opportunity to be involved and be nominated to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame but I’m not holding my breath.


RM: In general, how do you see the state of the music industry and Rock and Roll’s place in the world?

JB: I think that Rock and Roll is always going to be around, music is always around it is really the soundtrack to everyone’s lives. There are so many different things I think that can draw people away from music and so many different genres, so many different things. But it all comes down to music man, music touches people’s souls, you know, and I think that’s really the secret of the fact that Night Ranger has been around for 35 years and the fact that our music was the soundtrack for a lot of people’s lives. It’s a thrill when they come to hear the songs and you have a fun time with the guys that created the songs and you’re out there watching the music and all that kind of stuff and for that moment or that hour or that evening it just puts a smile on people’s faces. I mean, the music industry, you know, there is a lot of great music that comes out. I’m a big fan of Taylor Swift and things like that. And then again I love a lot of the harder edge things, I’m still an Iron Maiden fan and Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest and all that kind of stuff. But I grew up listening to Cream and Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and all the English metal bands and things like that. And basically Night Ranger, when you think about it, when we formed in 1980, we were all huge Thin Lizzy fans - we kind of fashioned the band off of Thin Lizzy.


RM: So just finally, you mentioned before that the band has never been to Australia, is there a chance of doing some shows here and what are your touring plans throughout 2017, where can folks go to see you play?


JB: Well, unfortunately there’s nothing I know of that is booked to head down your neck of the woods. We are going to be touring all across the United States, I do know that we are in Japan in October. I don’t think we are going to Europe this year, I personally am going to Europe to do a Revolution Saints show at Frontiers Festival. So I’m going to Europe but Night Ranger doesn’t have any plans to do any shows. I’ll tell you what the problem is man, to get everyone over to Europe or Australia, to get everyone over there and all our things, unless we have like a ‘go fund me thing’ from all the fans, we’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to make it all happen. Because you’ve got to get down there, you’ve got to get transportation, pay everybody, play the gigs and all that kind of stuff, so unfortunately we haven’t made it down. It is something I’ve always wanted to do, I want to play Australia and New Zealand and I hope someday we will.


RM: I for one would love to see you make it here one day and I think there are many others that would too. Once again, congratulations on the new album Don’t Let Up. On behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock I would like to wish you and the band all the best for the future.


JB: Well, thank you very much. I’m glad you guys love the record and trust me, I’m going to work on everybody and were going to get down there, somehow, someway, just like the song on Don’t Let Up.

For more information about Night Ranger visit the official website at: www.nightranger.com


Night Ranger – Don’t Let Up is available on Frontiers Music Slr

Categories: Interviews

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