Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis: “I would have loved to have made a studio record with Ozzy but I rolled the dice to play with my brothers in Night Ranger”

Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis:   “I would have loved to have made a studio record with Ozzy but I rolled the dice to play with my brothers in Night Ranger”
June 18, 2014 | By | Reply More

Night Ranger has just released their 11th studio album, “High Road” and are currently out on the road supporting it and playing all the hits that made the band a household name for the MTV generation.  All the trademark elements of the Night Ranger sound are evident on “High Road”; the subtle keyboard flourishes, the signature vocals of Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy and of course the familiar guitar harmonies and flashy lead spots that made longtime guitarist and ex Ozzy sideman Brad Gillis a guitar hero to begin with.  I recently had the chance to talk to Brad while the band was on the road, their home away from home for the past 30 years.

LRI:  Hi Brad, thanks for taking the time to give us a call…

Brad:  Thank you, sorry if I’m a little late, it was a late night and we’re out on the road, had a show last night and we’re on our way to a show tonight and I may have overslept a bit.

LRI:  You played the solo for “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” so I can live with that. Night Ranger who were one of the first bands I ever saw live and still one of the best…how are the new shows going?

Brad:  They are going great John, just amazing.  The band sounds great, we’re having a blast playing a high energy rock and roll show, all the hits the fans wanna hear, some Damn Yankees and even a little Ozzy.  We played some shows with Boston, did the Frontiers Rock Fest in Italy and will be out on the road here in the states all summer.  After that, we head to Japan in October to do a series of shows which we are really looking forward to, Japan has always been very good to Night Ranger and we will also be hitting Hawaii for a couple of shows before returning to California. 

LRI:  I’m glad you brought up Ozzy.  I saw your guitarist Joel Hoekstra was a part of the recent Randy Rhoads Remembered shows on the east coast and of course you are a huge part of that whole story.  Is it still a blast to crank up and celebrate Randy’s music all these years later?

Brad:  Yeah, I did the Rhoads Remembered NAMM show this past winter and played “Suicide Solution” and this really cool instrumental part that was part of the shows on that Ozzy tour as well.  It was just awesome, it was so cool playing with Rudy Sarzo again, I don’t think anyone had heard that instrumental part in years, let alone played it,  it was just a really cool little segue jam but for me it was really a flashback to those days of touring the world with Ozzy.  Of course, it’s sort of a reminder of how tragic a loss it was, how chaotic that time was for the band after losing Randy and how I was kind of thrown into the fire back then.  I really tried to just do the best job I possibly could to make them proud, make my bandmates in Night Ranger proud and do the music justice.  I had been a fan of Randy’s playing dating back to when I was in a club band called the Alamedia All-Stars and he was in Quiet Riot and was being called the next Eddie Van Halen.  So I knew some of his licks and some of that style, which really may have helped when it came time to audition for Ozzy even though I still had to hammer down all those songs in a really short amount of time.  I spent a few days with a boombox with a live recording of the band with Randy and a practice amp and that was the extent of my boot camp, my first gig we soundchecked about 6 or 8 of the songs that were in the set of about 18 and Ozzy wasn’t even there for the soundcheck.  To be thrown into the fire and be a touring musician on that level, even under tragic circumstances, was a pretty amazing thing and to be able to hear myself on the “King Biscuit Flower Hour” which was the live recording we did two weeks into me joining the tour, was just like, “Wow” at the time. 

LRI:  I’m glad you mentioned the King Biscuit show.  When I interviewed Jack he was telling me that they were sitting there listening to it with their jaws on the floor like “Oh, shit, he’s never coming back”.  Despite the pressure and the craziness was there ever a moment where you seriously considered not coming back to Night Ranger and staying on board with Ozzy and his band?

Brad:  It was a great, great opportunity and honor but the thing about it was that I would always be a side man with Ozzy and Night Ranger was  our baby.  Night Ranger already had interest from a record label and one of the stipulations to the deal was that I remain in the band, which was because my profile had risen because of the Ozzy gig and all the attention that went along with it.  You gotta realize, we had put a lot of work, a lot of blood, sweat and tears into Night Ranger and we had some pretty amazing demos of some pretty amazing songs that we were working on for the Dawn Patrol record.  Besides that, the guys in Night Ranger were my brothers, I was not ready to leave my brothers and my band, we got along, we made great music and were very excited.  It was also happening at a very difficult time for the Ozzy guys, any of them will tell you that.  By the end of that tour we were all tired, stressed, exhausted and just emotionally spent.  Ozzy, as much as he liked me and my playing was constantly looking over his shoulder and expecting to see Randy, I did the best I could given the circumstances but it was a really hard time for all of them.  I would have loved to have made a studio record with Ozzy but I rolled the dice to play with my brothers in Night Ranger.  Rudy left when Quiet Riot got a record deal and were getting ready to release “Metal Health” and by that point Ozzy and Sharon were getting ready to regroup all over again so when Night Ranger had a record deal offer, I had a choice to make.  I rolled the dice and chose to go back to my buds all these years later I am still making music and doing what I love with my brothers in Night Ranger.

LRI:  I have interviewed other guitarists who have worked with Ozzy over the years, all great guys like Bernie Torme and Zakk Wylde, guys that have gone on to do great things in their own right but to leave Ozzy and have such immediate success in Night Ranger was and is a little unprecedented.  Did it kind of have you believing in fate at that point?

Brad:  It was satisfying for sure.  MTV played a huge part in that, there were lots of bands on the radio that just weren’t making the transition to MTV or didn’t have the right video or the right combination of video and song.  When we came out the gates so strong with “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and were all over MTV it was just such a new thing and such an exciting time.  I will always remember our first record “Dawn Patrol” came out the exact same week as the live album I did with Ozzy at the Ritz, the “Speak Of The Devil” album.  They were both voted as pick of the week from Album Network and I was playing on both of them!  It was a pretty amazing moment for me and things just kept moving forward at a dizzying speed with Night Ranger from there.  We had an amazing run with the first album touring and on MTV and radio with “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and our dreams were coming true, the tours got bigger and bigger, we went from opening up for all these great bands to headlining our own shows.  When “Midnight Madness” came out and “Rock In America” was a hit it was continuing to build and by the time “Sister Christian” became a top ten hit we were already a headliner.

The cover for "High Road" features nods to many album covers from the bands past

The cover for “High Road” features nods to many album covers from the bands past

LRI:  You are playing a festival gig up our way in McHenry, Illinois this summer, Fiesta Days and everyone from the organizers to the ticket buyers are excited because you’ve played it before and gone over like gangbusters.  I have to imagine at least some of the excitement at a Night Ranger gig is supplied by the fans themselves, there have been loyal fans here in the Midwest for as long as I can remember.  Even though you are a tried and true California band is the Midwest a special place for you as well?

Brad:  Absolutely and absolutely we feed off of their excitement there in the Midwest and everywhere we play.  Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, all of those places have been killer for us over the years.  I can distinctly remember feeling like we made it at one point in 1984 when we pulled into an arena parking lot in LaCrosse, Wisconsin for a sold-out show and saw the sign in front of the building saying “Night Ranger” in big letters.  The fans in the Midwest are hard-working, loyal, they know and love the band and the feeling is mutual.   They come out to the shows ready to have a good time for the past 30 plus years and it is one of the reasons why we are still able to do this, to make albums and tour.

LRI:  It’s great that you are still making records and great that Frontiers is on board for getting your new music out there.  The new album, “High Road” sounds like classic Night Ranger as did your last album. So many bands tell me they just don’t see the point in making new music, what makes Night Ranger different?

Brad:  I think the fact that we are really creative guys, I am always writing, always coming up with riffs at my studio, Jack and Kelly are as well.  We are getting along great, playing great and have been in a groove these last few years and we are all feelin it, I think when people hear “High Road” they will be able to hear how much fun we had making it.  At this point we know the formula to making the kind of high energy rock we make and how to balance it with the harmonies and melodies we are known for.  We are not going to tinker with it too much or stray from what we do too much.

LRI:  I saw the video for the title track and was just struck by how signature your solo is on that song, all those little pyro guitar flourishes are there and then Jack’s verse melody kicks in and it’s 1985 all over again.  Is it true that Jack’s son Colin helped co-write that verse melody?

Brad:  Yes, we heard him fooling around with a portion of that chorus and the verse part, it was just a skeleton part, maybe a line or two of each part.  He was playing it on an acoustic and everyone thought it sounded perfect for Jack so we started to elaborate on it and the song came from there.

LRI:  It’s definitely got that Jack Blades swagger to it and seems like it would be a logical choice for the live show as do many of the other hard rockers like “Knock, Knock Never Stop”.  It almost has that “Touch Of Madness” kind of feel to it and once again takes you back to the early 80s feel but with modern production.  You’re not too old or too mature to dial up that heavy metal crunch are you?

Brad:  (laughs)  No, we love it.  We will always have those loud, fast and heavy moments that balance out the band and that one will definitely be a part of the live show at some point and will be the next video.  Right now, we’re doing “High Road” which has been going over great live.  Some of the shows are festivals with lots of other bands and you don’t always have that luxury of playing as long as you’d like so you have to make sure and get in every important song from the catalog.  It’s a fine line, we obviously want to play the hits that people are expecting to hear when they come see Night Ranger but we also wanna work in a new song here and there.  You just don’t want to play too much new stuff that people aren’t familiar with and look out into the crowd and see them with that “deer in headlights” look. 

LRI:  Is the process of writing a new album radically different than it was back in the day now that everyone has access to computers and individual home studios and all of that?

Brad:  It’s pretty much the same structure we’ve used throughout our entire career although we produced it ourselves this time around. The core of the band has always been Kelly, Jack and myself.  I’ll bring in some riffs, or maybe Jack will have a song idea or Kelly will have a lyric/vocal idea for a chorus. The three of us will usually meet up to hammer down some basic ideas for songs. Then we’ll bring in Joel and Eric to throw in their input and build the material up from there.

LRI:  I was gonna ask about Joel.  Tesla managed to do something similar with Dave Rude replacing Tommy Skeoch and you guys have managed to plug in Joel to that patented twin guitar attack pretty seamlessly. I saw you guys with Jeff back in the day and don’t feel like anything is missing when you and Joel play together.  Was it a little trickier than it seems?

Brad:  Joel is just great, he is just a great player and a complete guitarist but on top of that just a great friend, a great guy to be around and work with.   Both Joel and our keyboard player Eric Levy have been in the band for enough years now that we are really rolling and the band is having fun and enjoying our time together more than I can ever remember.

LRI:  Can you believe that your dream of playing guitar with your friends in Night Ranger turned into a decades long career?  Do you ever occasionally think about it or does it dawn on you that the realization of those dreams is your day to day reality?

Brad:  All the time John, all the time.  I cannot tell you how lucky I am to be able to have a career for 30 plus years, to make new music and play the music our fans have loved and supported all these years, it really is a dream come true and I am a very lucky man to be able to sit here at this point and talk to you about our 11th studio album as a band and another summer on the road playing music for the people we love.  

For more info on “High Road” and Night Ranger visit   www.nightranger.com

 See Night Ranger on tour

06.27.14 COUSHATTA CASINO RESORT KINDER, LA
UNITED STATES

06.28.14 DUNDALK HERITAGE PARK DUNDALK, MD
UNITED STATES

07.02.14 B.B. KING’S NEW YORK, NY
UNITED STATES
07.03.14 MEADOWBROOK GILFORD, NH
UNITED STATES

07.05.14 MARIN COUNTY FAIR SAN RAFAEL, CA
UNITED STATES

07.06.14 ALAMEDA COUNTY FAIR PLEASANTON, CA
UNITED STATES

07.11.14 LA PORTE COUNTY FAIR LA PORTE, IN
UNITED STATES

07.12.14 FIESTA DAYS MCHENRY, IL
UNITED STATES

07.19.14 IWIRELESS ARENA MOLINE, IL
UNITED STATES

07.20.14 CEDAR PARK CENTER CEDAR PARK, TX
UNITED STATES

07.26.14 GRAND FALLS CASINO RESORT LARCHWOOD, IA
UNITED STATES

07.31.14 MONTEITH RIVERPARK ALBANY, OR
UNITED STATES

08.01.14 CLARK COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS RIDGEFIELD, WA
UNITED STATES
08.02.14 LEA COUNTY FAIR & RODEO LOVINGTON, NM
UNITED STATES

08.14.14 NORTHWESTERN MICHIGAN FAIRGROUNDS TRAVERSE CITY, MI
UNITED STATES
08.15.14 JERGELS RHYTHM GRILLE WARRENDALE,, PA
UNITED STATES

08.16.14 RAMS HEAD ON STAGE ANNAPOLIS, MD
UNITED STATES

08.20.14 ZEITERION THEATRE NEW BEDFORD, MA
UNITED STATES

08.21.14 LYNN AUDITORIUM LYNN, MA
UNITED STATES

08.23.14 HARLEY-DAVIDSON DEALERSHIP WABASH, IN
UNITED STATES

08.24.14 HUDSON GARDENS LITTLETON, CO
UNITED STATES

08.31.14 ST. CECILIA`S MUSIC FESTIVAL INDEPENDENCE, KY
UNITED STATES

09.03.14 IDAHO CENTER AMPHITHEATER NAMPA, ID
UNITED STATES

09.04.14 STAR THEATER SPOKANE, WA
UNITED STATES

09.06.14 POPCORN FESTIVAL MARION, OH
UNITED STATES

09.13.14 HOLLYWOOD CASINO – OUTDOORS TOLEDO, OH
UNITED STATES

10.05.14 SHIBUYA KOKAIDO TOKYO
JAPAN
10.06.14 SHIBUYA KOKAIDO TOKYO
JAPAN

10.08.14 NAMBA HATCH OSAKA
JAPAN

 

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Category: Interviews

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