Night Ranger/Damn Yankees frontman JACK BLADES talks solo work, old school 80s and working with Vince Neil and Robin Zander
Jack Blades has built a career based on hard work, hard rock and sublime songwriting, spanning decades and influencing at least a couple of generations with his music. The “hard work” part of it isn’t to be taken lightly either as Jack has often balanced commitments to Night Ranger, a solo career, outside collaborations with other artists in addition to his project Shaw/Blades. He recently released a new solo album called ROCK AND ROLL RIDE on Frontiers Records and it’s just that, basically a nice, fun album that incorporates all the different variations of rock he’s capable of. After years of admiring his work in Night Ranger and beyond we finally caught up with Jack who gave us the lowdown on the album and was kind enough to answer a plethora of questions I’ve had building up since 1982. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: When I was a young lad I raided my sister’s record collection and turned up Dawn Patrol and Back in Black which was a pretty good start. I remember being so bummed when she got to go see Night Ranger back in the day and it took me a while but I finally got to see you in the last decade and was blown away. How do you do it? It was basically as good of a show as Live in Japan, just many years later.
Jack Blades: Thank you, we’re firing on all eight cylinders right now for sure and we just feel like we don’t have to prove anything anymore John. We’re Night Ranger and we’ve been Night Ranger for so long that we just go up there and have a good time. We try and put on the best show possible and play the best we can possibly play but at this point the shows are pretty interactive, we love that give and take with the audience and they are absolutely part of the show which also really keeps it loose and fun. The pressure is totally off by the time we hit the stage, that’s the most fun of our day.
LRI: This year mark’s the 30 year mark of Randy Rhoads passing and I know that event also has a correlation with your band. Any memories of that time in 1982 and how it played out?
Jack: Randy Rhoads and I never crossed paths but he was definitely involved with us in a roundabout way of course because Ozzy pulled Brad Gillis in to do those shows after Randy died. We were just getting set to start recording our first album in 1982 when Brad went in to fill those big, big shoes. It was a pretty intense time to be honest. I remember Kelly Keagy and I listening to the live radio broadcast of Ozzy with Brad on the King Biscuit Flower Hour from Memphis and looking at each other and saying “Holy shit, this is so good, he’s never gonna come back” (laughs). He did come back but he did do the SPEAK OF THE DEVIL album and also several big shows like Texas Jam and things like that while we were working on DAWN PATROL. Also, I remember Sharon and Oz coming down to visit us in L.A. while were tracking it. It is still such a loss that Randy died so young, he was like a bright, shining supernova that just burned out, I mean, all you have to do is listen to those records, he was a great guitar player and writer. I know guys in L.A. who played with him and he was every bit as magical as we all remember him to be.
LRI: Indulge me a little and stay in 1982 for a moment. The DAWN PATROL album really is something special, I know it was 30 years ago but what was the backstory on one of my favorites the song called “NIGHT RANGER”?
Jack: Yeah, that song “Night Ranger” is pretty rockin track, especially that revved up part at the end. It’s so funny to me because that was just another song on the album back when we were called RANGER. About a week before we were gonna put out our record there was a full page ad in Billboard for this band called The Rangers and we found out they had the name, their fathers had the name and their grandfathers started the band dating back to the Civil War or something stupid like that. So we were like “Oh great, there goes that” and I suggested “Let’s just change it to Night Ranger since we have that song” and they were like “No, we can’t do that, it sucks” and I said “No, no, it will be GREAT, it’s perfect we can just go on no big deal” and they thought about it and were like “Really?, you think so?” and I was like “Of course, it will be amazing” and then I hung up the phone and thought “We’re FREAKIN doomed”. (laughs).
LRI: You have a long history of playing shows here in Rockford, Illinois with both Night Ranger and Damn Yankees, you must have crossed paths with the Cheap Trick guys a few dozen times right?
Jack: Of course, Rockford, Illinois is the home of Cheap Trick and I love those guys. Robin is on my new album ROCK AND ROLL RIDE and he came out here to my ranch and we wrote a bunch of songs. He pulls up in a big stretch limo wearing this all white outfit and looking like freakin John Lennon, we wrote and recorded some stuff, he sang on “Anything For You” and just nailed the chorus and then got back into that big ol stretch limo and drove away. I looked at my buddy Will and said “That just happened, that was the most creative friggin four hours I’ve ever spent”. Robin is just so creative and fantastic. Cheap Trick was always a big favorite and in fact we toured with them in 1985 they supported us on the 7 Wishes tour and we did about two months. That’s where I got to know those guys, Rick is just such a great guitarist and zany guy and Robin is such a great singer and a great friend of mine. I remember a lot of those shows there in the Arena in Rockford, I remember Billy Gibbons coming down to a Damn Yankees show we had there and coming up to play with us.
LRI: Lots of career highlights in your life from the looks of your new album cover which is just awesome. Was that your cover concept?
Jack: Thanks, it was. I have all these laminates in my drawer, everything from the Cal Jam II in 1978 on forward and those are all of those passes. This record is kind of my rock and roll ride so it’s billed exactly as it is, it’s my journey from 1975 when I quit college and moved out here to Northern California so all those laminates those are all the real deal from all those years on the road these past 30 odd years. I knew I saved those things for something. It’s cool too because it encompasses my whole career. Some people will say stuff like “Well, how come it’s not all like Night Ranger and not all of it is hard rock or metal?” because of the title and I just tell them “Dude, it’s a ride, just get on and enjoy the ride”. It’s all of my influences and career, everyone that has touched me from The Beatles to Cheap Trick to the California sound of the Beach Boys and The Eagles all the way to the more rockin stuff like Night Ranger to Damn Yankees or even my British Metal roots. All of the stuff that I love is in there.
LRI: I really enjoyed your appearance with Tommy Shaw on the Howard Stern show a few years back and went out and got your Shaw/Blades album. That softer side and those harmonies are so amazing, is that important to you that there has to be a clear kind of separation between your other projects and Night Ranger?
Jack: Yeah, yeah or basically it’s got to be different or why even do a solo album. When you do a solo album it gives you that total freedom to go on all the musical adventures you want and lets you just basically explore. I don’t think a song like “Hey Now” or “Anything For You” would be on a Night Ranger record but it felt perfect to close out this ROCK AND ROLL RIDE record. I love collaborating John. My son Colin is a great singer and songwriter in his own right and he and I co-wrote the song “West Hollywood” on this latest album.
LRI: Night Ranger had their own unique sound for sure but were often mentioned in the same hard rock magazines as bands like RATT or Quiet Riot even though you guys changed over the years. I know you weren’t from the Sunset Strip scene but was there ever any pressure to “be more metal” at any stages following “MIDNIGHT MADNESS” ?
Jack: To tell you the truth, people always try to pigeonhole you in order to put you in a bag, even within the hard rock world. “Are you heavy metal?” “Are you glam metal?” “Are you death metal?”. Everybody’s gotta put a jacket on you. For Night Ranger we came blazing out the gates with “Rock in America” and “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and then had a huge hit with “Sister Christian” which really changed the game and put us on the map as far as being “big time”. We went from selling a million records to selling five million records but it was definitely a two edged sword because from that point on the record company only wanted ballads. They thought that was the easiest way to get the audience to buy our records. Meanwhile, we thought of ourselves like you think of us which is as a hard rock band and that caused some consternation amongst the band members and led us to sort of going crazy for a few years there. That’s what I like about being able to do this solo stuff John because it allows you to go a little deeper as an artist and I think fans like it whenever you can go deeper. Everyone else can go fuck themselves. The fans that are really into what I’m doing solo or into what Brad or Kelly might put out are not looking for that same exact sound as Night Ranger, otherwise they would just buy the new Night Ranger or go to one of our shows.
LRI: Did the fact that Night Ranger came from the bay area INSTEAD of the strip kind of help keep the band more focused on music and songs during those days of the “glam lifestyle” and everything bigger, louder, faster?
Jack: Yeah, it did. We were more in line with bands like Journey, Van Halen and Def Leppard than a lot of those bands. We were definitely focused on great playing but even more so on the songs. We were also way before that whole strip metal scene anyway, I mean Motley was just hitting big time when we were already an MTV band. We were sort of ahead of the curve on that whole hair scene but ended up getting lumped into after the fact anyway because of that need to put a jacket on you.
LRI: You sure as hell got to know a lot of those guys though including Motley. Was it fun collaborating on DR. FEELGOOD or Vince’s solo album EXPOSED??
Jack: I loved it. It is so much fun. When we broke up Night Ranger in 1989 I called up Vince who was doing the FEELGOOD album and I was like “Dude, I just quit my band and I’ve been writing and all this” and Vince was like “Comon up here to Vancouver with Bob and us” so I flew up to Vancouver for about ten days and all those guys were sober at that point so we just sat up every night talking about life and good times until 2 in the morning every night, it was great. That’s how I remember ending up on that album. Then the same thing happened in reverse a few years later. I get a phone call from Vince, “Dude, my band fired me” and I was like “Ok, well we’re in L.A. cutting the second Damn Yankees album” and Vince was like ” Well, they want me to do this thing for a movie, will you come down and check it out with me?” and Tommy and I went down and saw the premiere of Encino Man. We wrote “You’re Invited But Your Friend Can’t Come” and recorded it with Vince at the studio where we were cutting the Damn Yankees album while Ted was away, we did it with just the rest of our band. I played bass, Tommy played guitar and Michael played drums while Vince sang lead, we knocked it out in one weekend because the movie people wanted it right away. Then I introduced Vince to my manager who he hired and I introduced him to my record company and they signed him. It was pretty funny how it all worked out (laughs).
LRI: Before I let you go, I know things just haven’t lined up for Damn Yankees but what’s the status on Night Ranger while you are busy promoting the new ROCK and ROLL RIDE solo album? The last album, SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA, was strong.
Jack: Well, it’s so funny John cause I finished this album before I finished SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA. In fact that song “Growing up in California” was originally ON my solo album. I was listening to ROCK AND ROLL RIDE with Kelly and Brad and we all kind of agreed it would make a great Night Ranger song so we just re-cut it with that band and that ended up being the first single and video for the last Night Ranger album. I was sort of in a zone and rolling on this solo album and we just went right in like two weeks later and made SOMEWHERE IN CALIFORNIA. I was just on a tear from making my album and told those guys we just needed to get in there and go for it, don’t over-analyze or waste time just go in there all guns blazing. Frontiers released both albums and we just decided to hold my record and release my record after the Night Ranger album. I’m still in Night Ranger and we’ll continue to play shows and I’ll continue to write. Dude, I write ALL the time, it’s just what I do and what makes me happy and I’m hoping to do another solo album a year or so from now. I wanna do an album with Robin Zander. I could do one with Colin. That’s my son in the video for the song “Back In The Game” from this album, it’s my own little mini WWII movie. We are always creating. Dude, music is around here all the time and I can say “dude” a lot John because I’m from California (laughs)
Video for “Back In The Game”, the lead single from ROCK AND ROLL RIDE
Video for “Growing Up In California” from Night Ranger’s last album on Frontiers Records