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Jack Blades Talks To XS ROCK About New Night Ranger Album, His Career and More…
Rewind back to the year 1982. I was in middle school and I had gotten a part time job so that I could buy my first stereo. I picked up the stereo and bought two albums at the same time. One of them was Cheap Trick‘s One On One and the other was Night Ranger‘s debut album, Dawn Patrol. The airwaves were buzzing with their new song “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and MTV was airing it regularly. Believe it or not, MTV actually played music videos in those days. I played those two albums over and over until I knew them forwards and backwards. I was convinced that I was going to join a rock band and be a superstar one day. Okay, so maybe I missed the mark a little on that one, I didn’t really have the talent to make it in a band, but I am still involved in what I really love, and that’s enjoying and spreading the word about great rock music. Night Ranger has sold well over 10 million albums now and became a household name with hits like Sister Christian, You Can Still Rock In America, When You Close Yours Eyes, Sentimental Street and the list goes on.
Fast forward to 2017. Night Ranger has a great new album coming out called “Don’t Let Up” and I’m about to sit down and talk with none other than Jack Blades, the legendary vocalist and bass player for the band. In preparing for my interview, I listened to the Night Ranger albums all day long before ending with my promotional copy of the soon to be released (March 24th, 2017) “Don’t Let Up”. This new album is classic Night Ranger and a must buy for fans of the band or just fans of great rock n’ roll music. So let’s talk to Jack and get the latest….
XS ROCK: So, the new album is called Don’t Let Up. Can you tell me a little about the album as well as your favorite songs from it?
Jack: Well it was a good process with making this album. We’re celebrating the 35th anniversary of the release of Dawn Patrol this year. We decided to go in and create an album that sounds like our live shows. I mean, we really, really focused on wanting this record to sound like a live recording. All of the excitement and everything that people come to expect when they come to a Night Ranger show. And i think that’s what we accomplished from the first notes of the backwards guitar notes on Somehow Someway to the last strings of Nothing Left Of Yesterday. I think from top to bottom this is just a straight ahead American kick-ass Night Ranger rock-n-roll record.
XS ROCK: Seems like you guys have kicked up the guitar driven sound on this a little more, I mean there’s still keyboards, but the guitar sound seems a little more in your face this time around. Was that by design or does some of that come from new guitarist Keri Kelli?
Jack: I think that has a lot to do with the fact that Brad (Gillis) and Keri got together and decided we’re making a Night Ranger record so we’re going to have to have a lot of double harmonies and double leads. And Keri had a lot of pent up energy. You know he hadn’t made a record in a while. He was with Alice Cooper for 8 years and did some things with Slash, but there was a lot of good pent up energy that we capitalized on with Keri Kelli involved in the organization. Believe me, he came in with both guns blazing and Brad was like “Whoa”! Alright Let’s do this”! And you know in my mind, I wish we’d had a little more keyboards on the record. Kerri and Eric really respect the legacy of the band and what Night Ranger is. It’s not to say that they don’t add their two cents, because they do, but they do it with respect to what this band is. I think that’s exciting in a way. Keri gets in there and lays it down hard and rockin. He’s got a great sort of groove, and a great sort of Stones-ish feel and I think we captured all of that on this new record “Don’t Let Up”.
XS ROCK: Night Ranger has always had a kind if balance with the keyboards and guitars. Is that something that you’re always conscious of? Do you always try to keep from going too hard or too soft in either direction?
Jack: I think there’s a point where you kind of have to keep the balance but on this album there’s no “Sister Christian” type ballad and we knew that when we were recording this album. And we discussed if we should write one more song and we decided “nah”, this is Night Ranger right now. This is who we are. There will be plenty of more ballads to come in the future, but we wanted to have an up record for this anniversary. This is a celebration. This year, on tour, every show is going to be a celebration. We wanted a record that felt like a celebration, filled with excitement.
XS ROCK: Night Ranger recently celebrated 35 years as a band. Congratulations on that achievement. If you could do anything differently, what would you change or do?
Jack: That’s a great question. That’s a really hard one. Because when things go this way or that way, like when things happen like in 1989 when the band called it quits, if it hadn’t been for that, then no one would have had the Damn Yankees and we wouldn’t have songs like “High Enough” or “Coming Of Age”, so it’s hard to say what I would do. I think the one thing that I’d do again is I would have focused more and worked harder on the songs on the “Big Life” album. Because, I think we were just on this roller coaster and we were just going and going. It was almost like hamsters in a cage. We go on these whirlwind tours and then go in and record for three months and then go on another 18 month tour. I think for myself, I blame myself. If I had written more songs from the heart rather than writing songs that people will think is a hit. When you’re caught up in all of that crazy ride, it’s hard to get off and instead write things from your soul. I think I learned that lesson. And, I think the Damn Yankees benefited from that.
XS ROCK:Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
Jack: I don’t even think that I can choose. I mean, I love creating and songwriting. I’ve done that all of my adult life, but I love stepping on stage and playing. Right now, Night Ranger is having the most fun that we’ve ever had in the career of this band. In the last few years is has been sooooo much fun! I mean, we laugh and joke sometimes to the extent that…..okay, this is a true story…a manager from another band actually came up to us before a show and said, wow! “You guys actually like each other, don’t you”? It’s an amazing time for us right now.
XS ROCK: You’ve been in quite few side projects such as your solo work, Shaw/Blades, Revolution Saints and of course, Damn Yankees. Is there any chance that the Damn Yankees will record or perform again?
Jack: Boy, I don’t know. I sure would love it. The Damn Yankees are a great band. We had Tommy (Shaw) and I and Ted (Nugent) jamming it out and Michael Cartellone on drums pounding it away. I’ve tried to put that together so many times and right at the end somebody says “Oh, I can’t do it then or this and that. It just kills me that we don’t do that, because I think it would be a fun thing to do for a month or something like that. You know, just go out and do like a month’s worth of dates. Maybe someday we can get it done. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to be happening in the near future.
XS ROCK: Which band or artist originally inspired you to perform?
Jack: Of course there’s always the Beatles. I heard the Beatles when I was 8 years old and I got myself a guitar and that was it. Oh, Sly and the Family Stone. I loved everything that Sly did. I was a big Sly and the Family Stone fan. In fact, that’s really why I moved to San Francisco in 1977. Jerry Martini, the sax player for Sly and The Family Stone was going to form a band and so he got me up there to play bass. But the first thing I knrw I was doing sessions with Sly Stone at the Record Plant in Sausalito. I went over to his house and auditioned. It was pretty wild. It seemed really crazy for a 21 year old kid at the time. And then I heard Bruce Springsteen. My brother was a huge Springsteen fan. He turned me on to Springsteen before Bruce was even famous. My brother went to see them in Phoenix in ’72 or ’73 when Bruce was on stage and said He was glad that so many people had showed up because now we’ll have enough gas money to get us back to New Jersey. The excitement and energy that Springsteen threw down on stage was something that I always thought that if I ever get a chance that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve always been an energetic kind of guy on stage.
XS ROCK: What do you use for lyrical inspiration when writing new material?
Jack: Sometimes I write a riff, sometimes I write a lick, sometimes I’ll have a melody in my head or a great chorus will come out first. It varies. I go where the spirit leads me. Sometimes I’ll see a situation and I’ll go that’s a great idea for a song. I take it anyway I can get it. I don’t try to force it.
XS ROCK: How are most of the songs composed with you and Kelly Keagy splitting vocal duty? Do you each write your own material and then put it together later or is everything a group collaboration?
Jack: For the last three albums we decided to go back to the original way that we did things which was just to all get together in a room and start to jam out on some songs. When we started with the Somewhere In California, The High Road and now Don’t Let Up, that’s basically what we did. When we first started working on these songs, I went down to Brad’s place and I think we wrote Say What You Want, (Won’t Be Your) Fool Again and Comfort Me. And then the next thing we knew, we were over at Kelly’s and that weekend, we came up with all kinds of stuff. A whole bunch of songs just flew out of that thing. And then once we had a vibe going, we kind of grabbed Keri and brought him in then. We wanted it to be a group effort.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Jack: My greatest accomplishment is that we’re still standing 35 years later. And Brad, Kelly and I are as tight as ever. I think that’s a great accomplishment. For me personally, I love the fact that I’ve been married for 40 years. I think my greatest accomplishments are my two sons and now I have grandsons. I think that’s my best accomplishments. Being able to write songs that help people through their lives is one of the greatest feelings. I’ve gotten letters from people where, this one guy said he didn’t commit suicide because he had read lyrics that I had written and I thought to myself, if that is the one reason that I even exist in this world, to come up and create a song that the lyrics kept this guy from doing the worst thing that he could have done in his whole life…then that makes me really happy. I’m very happy at this stage in my life with and what the band has accomplished over the years. I’ve had people tell me that the song “Goodbye” helped them get over a loss and when you write a song, that’s about as close to a glimpse into a person’s soul as you can get. When people can feel the same thing that I felt when I wrote a song then that really gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. That and signing my autograph across women’s breasts (laughs)…sorry I just didn’t want it to get too heavy so, I threw that in to lighten the mood a little.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene? Are there any new bands out there that you like?
Jack: I think there’s a lot of great music out there. Dude, I listen to Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, The Black-eyed Peas. I listen to all kinds of music. There’s a lot of great music, but there’s also a lot of shit too. Nowadays anybody can put out anything and there’s no gatekeepers anymore. But overall, there’s a lot of really great music out there and I love it.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
Jack: Oh, man…that’s an interesting question. My life has kind of been played out online. You can go out and see pictures of me from 1982, 1983 and now too. You know, my whole life is pretty well played out on the public arena for everybody. But, I think maybe people would be interested to know that I’m a big historian. I love history, I love American history and military history. I’m a big history buff. World War I, World War II, The Spanish American War….I’ve got a huge Teddy Roosevelt collection of the Rough Riders. I love going to the Smithsonian. I’ve been back behind the scenes at the Smithsonian. Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead hooked me up with people at the Library Of Congress and The Smithsonian. I have a large military antique collection. A lot of it is in books that the Smithsonian uses to authenticate pieces. I’m a voracious reader when it comes to American history. I think if you don’t study history, people overall keep making the same mistakes over and over. History can teach us a lot of things.
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to say to your fans out there?
Jack: Well, I just want everybody to know that this is a really big year for us. With the anniversary of the release of our very first album, Dawn Patrol. And every show, like I said before is going to be a celebration. A celebration of American rock n’ roll. A celebration of life, music and song. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone coming out to our shows all summer long and the sets are going to be long. They’ll be crazy. We’re going to have fun because we have so much material to choose from. I think people are really going to enjoy the new album “Don’t Let Up” and I can’t wait for it to be released.
Pre-order “Don’t Let Up” and/or stream the first single here: http://radi.al/NightRangerDontLetUp or at the links below: