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11 May 2015

Night Ranger

“You will have 20 minutes with the three original members of the band…you’d been trying to secure this interview for many months and we really appreciate it”, Night Ranger’s tour manager tells us and of course we couldn’t be happier! Mr. Dolas prepares the cameras and puts the final touches to the setting and I am taking one last look to my questions before Jack Blades, Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy approach us with a smile on their face…needless to say that we had a big smile, too!
A huge thanks to: Todd Confessore and Geno De Lora for their invaluable help.

Interview: Sakis Nikas & Yannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Guys, did you have a good trip to London from USA?

Jack Blades: Yeah, it was an easy trip but it was a crazy trip getting up here to Wales…it was like “where are we?”! This is wild up here, isn’t it?

Brad Gillis: Yeah, the scenery is beautiful, the old architecture…way too many sheep!

Jack Blades: (laughs) We are happy…we are actually happy that we are doing two shows in the UK this year; each year we are gonna try and do one more show…like, maybe next year we are gonna do three shows…we are trying to build up, you know what I mean. That’s our plan.

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Rockpages.gr: Maybe you will do two shows in the UK and one in Greece…

Jack Blades: Yeah, one in Greece! In the summertime…to get a nice weather.

Rockpages.gr: After all, you grew up in California where the weather is similar to Greece.

Jack Blades: There you go! Growing Up In Greece (Jack singing the chorus of the Night Ranger song “Growing Up In California”)!

Rockpages.gr: It’s been almost a year since the release of “High Road”. How do you feel about the record now and what’s the feedback that you received from press and fans alike?

Jack Blades: Well the highest compliment is…we started playing the “High Road” record and somebody came up to me after the show and said: “That first song you played…it was a hit record! (From) what album that was? It was your first or second album”? And it was one of those songs…it was “Knock Knock (Never Stop)” or “St. Bartholomew” or something of the “High Road” record. And so it was like really a compliment in that respect. I mean the “High Road” goes down great.

Brad Gillis: The thing is that we still sound like Night Ranger so you know the only difference is that the production is a lot better from back in the day. Things are louder and we have the luxury of Pro-tools and everything and we are kind of having control of what’s going on in the production. We took our time with “High Road”; took a long time with “High Road”! We recorded something, went out on the road, then we went back and listened to what we had and then back on the road. So we had the luxury of doing that. The bottom line was when the finished product came around everybody was happy.

Rockpages.gr: Although I love the up-tempo songs on “High Road”, my personal favorite song is definitely –and this goes out to Kelly- the ballad “Don’t Live Here Anymore”. Would you care to tell us a few things about this song?

Jack Blades: Yeahhhh! How was that in London? Wasn’t it great? Were you surprised when we played it? You weren’t expecting it, right?

Rockpages.gr: Absolutely not!

Kelly Keagy: That’s a departure a little bit; the way that song…the way it was written actually. It’s a totally different song to us so we enjoyed playing this song just for that reason…cause it’s different. I love the message in it. I think the message is great about letting go of anger; letting go of negativity and building yourself up to a higher level. So that’s what I think the song and its message does to me. That’s we are trying to do.

Rockpages.gr: I loved the cover sleeve where you had references to all your 80s albums. Was it just for fun or do you see this record as the completion of a circle?

Jack Blades: You mean on the cover with all those pictures from the other albums. How did this come up…? We had one picture; one thing…and then we said “wouldn’t be great if we put (on the cover) something of each of our albums and have everyone trying to find it”? You have to look down very hard; go deep. We wanted something different. We wanted something that we would enjoy doing as fans of buying a Led Zeppelin record and searching on the cover for different meanings; something like that. So we thought “let’s do that with stuff from our own records”. That was the idea.

Rockpages.gr: “Somewhere in California” is already considered a classic one although it has only been released four years ago. What’s your comment on that?

Brad Gillis: It’s classic rock!

Jack Blades: (laughs)

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Rockpages.gr: It’s a classic Night Ranger album, too.

Brad Gillis: Yes! We tried to stay in the same formula. Night Ranger is known of having two lead singers and two lead guitar players. And also in our records we got these big choruses and the twin harmony etc. We tried to stick to the same formula that works for…75 years (laughs)!

Rockpages.gr: Over the years you had been labeled as an AOR band. Personally, I consider you to be a melodic hard rock band. Nevertheless, you had the distinctive element of having two lead guitars and a keyboard player whereas the majority of the AOR bands featured just one guitarist. Do you think that this was an important feature in creating your trademark, melodic yet hard rocking, sound?

Jack Blades: Yeah, I think it is.

Brad Gillis: That’s a good analogy.

Jack Blades: I think that Night Ranger…the fact that we have two lead singers, two twin guitar players and the keyboards…really, when we put the band together it was like a Thin Lizzy kind of band. I was always a big Thin Lizzy fan, you know what I mean. Twin guitars, harmonies and stuff like that. But I think what separates us, what makes us unique is that we are unique! We have two guitar players, two lead singers. I mean I don’t know many other bands out there…maybe, one band has one singer with two twin guitars…like Judas Priest. Styx has two lead singers and not two guitars. But we did it both! And we had the big drum sound…that was important, too.

Rockpages.gr: The other distinction, of course, is having Kelly Keagy’s drum set on the side of the stage. I can’t think of any other band…

Jack Blades: That was a mistake!

Brad Gillis: Yeah, that was a mistake (laughs)! We were opening for Sammy Hagar and he had so much stuff on stage that…

Kelly Keagy: He had a car on stage!

Brad Gillis: He had a car on stage, that’s right! When we set up the drums, there was only one foot distance to the edge of the stage. Jack’s like “well, that’s not gonna work”! We decided, just to get through these shows, to put Kelly on the side…

Kelly Keagy…facing the keyboard player. We had more room that way.

Brad Gillis: And then everybody said: “wow! You, guys, have a great look on stage”…which was by accident. So we said: “let’s go with that”. So, we’ve been doing that for the whole 75 years (laughs)!

Jack Blades: (laughs)

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Rockpages.gr: I have asked Kelly back in 2011 if there is a possibility of reuniting with Jeff and Alan and his reply was and I quote: “Never say never”. Do you see it happening in the future?

Jack Blades: Never say never.

Brad Gillis: You never know.

Kelly Keagy: We are still thinking about that.

Brad Gillis: It comes up very often especially from fans. But you know, we got the machine rolling on right now and the machine rolls on well. Kerri Kelli, Eric Leavy…Eric is a sweetheart; a hell of a guy! These guys are technical and know how to work.
Kelly Keagy: We are very happy where the band is right now.

Brad Gillis: Of course, we are the nucleus.

Rockpages.gr: Is it true that the first copies of your debut album “Dawn Patrol” were printed under the name “Ranger” and not Night Ranger”?

Jack Blades: Yes, it is. And basically we called ourselves “Ranger”. We played shows around the Bay Area when we were called “Ranger”. But right before we were ready to release our “Dawn Patrol” album from which they put out 10.000 copies that just said “Ranger” on the cover. It was “Dawn Patrol” by Ranger, you know what I mean…we did that and we opened up a Billboard magazine and there was a band called The Rangers…a huge country band. And they had this name…their fathers, their grandfathers, their ancestors from the Civil War had it (laughs)! We thought: “this is horrible, this is bad”. We had the song “Night Ranger” on the album so we said: “let’s just put “night” on top of (the word) Ranger”. I called up Kelly and said “we just put “Night” on top of “Ranger” and Kelly thought it was a horrible idea. I hang up the phone and said “this is a terrible idea…this is horrible; it’s gonna destroy everything”. But we put “Night” on and it was the best thing that ever happened.

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Rockpages.gr: Plus the logo looks better!

Jack Blades: Exactly!

Kelly Keagy: I don’t know if it even exists…if there are copies of that very first pressing.

Jack Blades: Yeah, one guy has it…Kevin Russell, a guitar player from the Bay Area. He still has one…he won’t give it up (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: You don’t have that record yourselves?

Jack Blades: We don’t…no.

Brad Gillis: They destroyed them all…well, except for one.

Rockpages.gr: “Midnight Madness” is the best selling record of your career. Do you think that the success of “Sister Christian” was the key factor…

Brad Gillis: Oh yeah! And the song “You Can Still Rock In America”. But yeah, “Sister Christian”.

Rockpages.gr: By the way what did you think of the movie “Rock of Ages” and especially the scene on the bus where everyone sings “Sister Christian”?

Jack Blades: No, we don’t know about that...what’s that? (laughs) It was wonderful.

Kelly Keagy: It was like the movie “Almost Famous”…it was great…everybody singing “Sister Christian”.

Jack Blades: (Jack imitates all those voices from the scene). It was pretty wild…we loved it.

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Rockpages.gr: Did you try to recapture the success of “Sister Christian” with the next record and especially with the song “Sentimental Street”?

Jack Blades: Our record company at the time, MCA…when we released “Sister Christian”, it became such a huge huge hit. At that point, our record company only thought of us as a “ballad band”. So for the next album, on the “Seven Wishes” album, we wrote the song “Sentimental Street” but we also wrote “This Boy Needs To Rock” and a lot of other rocking songs. But to them we were now a “ballad band” and they only wanted us to release ballads. Ballads, Ballads, Ballads…“Sentimental Street”, “Goodbye”…it was kind of a two-edged sword. We don’t mind now because a hit is a hit.

Kelly Keagy: One album that we did in the late 80s called “Man In Motion”, we turned the album in without a ballad and they just laughed and said “if you want this record to come out, you need to have a ballad”. So we went back in the studio and wrote a song called “Restless Kind”. We put that on the record and they said “thank you”! But we had actually turned the record in without a ballad. They didn’t like it that much.

Rockpages.gr: Despite the fact that you had an excellent collaboration with producer Pat Glasser, you decided to work on “Big Life” with Kevin Elson opting for a more commercial sound. In retrospective, do you think that this was the right move for Night Ranger?

Jack Blades: I think that we wanted to work with a different producer because we were listening to a lot of our contemporaries and we thought that their records sounded better than our albums. The songs were great; we really love our songs but they way they were recorded we felt that we would be better off with…sounds were changing that drastically at that point and we were listening to those big records from Journey, Def Leppard, Van Halen…all this great stuff. We wanted our albums to sound like that and we felt that was holding us back…the sound that Pat Glasser was coming up with. So we moved to the guy who worked with Journey, Kevin Elson, on the “Big Life” record. And of course we also had Keith Olsen who did Pat Benatar, Whitesnake and so many other bands for the album “Man in Motion”. That was the idea. I don’t know if it was that the times were changing or whatever but that’s what we wanted to do. Sonically, I think we made the right choice but maybe the albums weren’t the greatest (laughs).

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Rockpages.gr: “Big Life” featured the song “Secret Of My Success” from the movie with the same name that Michael J. Fox starred on it. Did you have the chance to meet him back then?

Jack Blades: Yes, we did…great guy! Big Night Ranger fan!

Rockpages.gr: Guys, how come you don’t play more songs or even one song, for that matter, from “Man in Motion”…?

Kelly Keagy: Yeah, I know.

Jack Blades: Yeah…we always wondered about that (laughs).

Brad Gillis: We’ll get back to you on that one (laughs)! The first three records…that’s were all the big hits are for us so we gotta play those songs. And we are having fun playing the songs from “Somewhere in California” and “High Road”. Because it’s fresh and we are having a blast playing them…we just can’t play everything. In London, we played over two hours and we still cut five songs from the set cause we had too many songs. We are still thinking about which songs we’re gonna play tonight.

Kelly Keagy: Which song do you wanna hear?

Rockpages.gr: How about “Penny”?

Kelly Keagy: “Penny”! How about the album “Man In Motion”?

Rockpages.gr: “Don’t Start Thinking”…

Brad Gillis: We haven’t played that since the 80s…literally.

Jack Blades: (laughs)

Rockpages.gr: How about “The Color of your Smile” from “Big Life”…?

Brad Gillis: I remember that one.

Jack Blades: Oh yeah! We did a video for that one, didn’t we?

Brad Gillis: OK, we are gonna play that tonight (laughs).

Jack Blades: Oh man, you are going deep.

Brad Gillis: OK, we’re gonna cut “Sister Christian”, “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and “You Can Still Rock In America” (laughs).

Kelly Keagy: And we are gonna replace them with “The Color of your Smile”, “Don’t Start Thinking” and “Night Machine” (laughs).

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3 comments

  • Charlie Blackwell

    Samuel is a good friend and we have watched many videos...Ive never seen Night Ranger but I do have several LPs . One nite I got to see Brad do Crazy Train.. it blew my doors off..intenseity like Ive seldom seen. I was playing air guitar..getting down then WHOA..this guy brings it my air amp blew up and my ears were ringin......man that dude can rip....CCCCC

    Charlie Blackwell Wednesday, 13 May 2015 08:10 Comment Link
  • Brad Kok

    Nice to see the clip from Rock Am Ring in 1985. I was at that show as I was serving in the U.S. Army in Germany.

    Brad Kok Tuesday, 12 May 2015 02:17 Comment Link
  • S.M. Chernoff

    These guys play music that makes me feel good. I feel like ive been listening to them for 75 years. I never tire of listening to them.

    S.M. Chernoff Tuesday, 12 May 2015 01:32 Comment Link

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