Jack Blades (Night Ranger)
Photo: Ash Newell

It’s their 35th birthday this year and Night Ranger have celebrated with Don’t Let Up, their most energetic album in years. Mick Burgess called up Jack Blades to talk about the album, how the band formed and what happened to the Damn Yankees.

Your latest album Don’t Let Up came out just a couple of weeks ago. How’s the reaction been so far?

The reaction has been great. Everyone seems to enjoy the record and I think we accomplished what we set out to do. This is our 35th anniversary and we’re going to be playing a lot of shows and what we wanted to do was put an album out that reflected who we are live on stage. On this album the drums are more out front and there’s more energy and it’s just much more like we play live. We’re just a straight ahead kick ass American Rock ‘n’ Roll band. This really is a Rocking record that’s more like our live shows. That’s what we tried to do and I think we accomplished that.

When did you start work writing for the record?

We started in February last year. Me, Brad and Kelly sat down in a room and started jamming and the first thing that came up was Brad playing the riff to Day and Night. That song came really quick and that set the tone for the whole album. There were no ideas left over from previous records; everything was created fresh for this album. It was a complete blank slate. Like the song at the very end of the album says, There Was Nothing Left of Yesterday. Everything was fresh, everything was new, every idea, melody and lyric was completely new. We went to each other’s houses and worked on ideas together and before we knew it we had the record written.

Back in the early days of the band you wrote the majority of the songs with Kelly Keagy writing a fair few too with Brad Gillis chipping in a couple of co-writes on the albums. That seemed to change with 2011’s Somewhere In California where there seems to be more band co-writes. Was this a conscious effort to change your approach to songwriting?

It was. We just wanted to get everybody in a room. There’s nothing worse than someone trying to push their bad idea onto you just so they can get their name on a song. When we did the Damn Yankees everyone’s name was on everything so we shared the credit so only the good ideas get on the album but everyone is credited so we thought that was the way we wanted to go. We’ve done that ever since the Somewhere in California record. I think it’s the right thing to do. Even when I bring in complete lyrics, melodies and song structures everybody still wants to be involved to make it the best that it can possibly be. I think since we’ve written this way we’ve got three of the best Night Ranger albums since the first three we did.

Did having all of you co-produce make it tricky to make final decisions on arrangements or sounds that you wanted for the album or was it all pretty democratic?

Everybody had the vision and everybody kept it going. The end result when everything was in was we all sat down and said what we felt worked or didn’t work. We knew what we wanted and knew how to get it. We have worked on enough records to know what we are doing so we just felt it was right that we did it all ourselves.

You’ve worked over the years with the likes of Ron Nevison. What did you learn from working with him?

I learned so much from Ron, he did Night Ranger records and Damn Yankees records. The best thing Ron told me was to make the decision on the track. With Pro Tools it’s too easy to put down 20 takes and think you can fix it later. He said get the best track, make that decision and then move on. That’s what we do with Night Ranger. He taught me so many vocal tricks too. Ron is a brilliant man and I had such a connection with him. We’re still good friends.

This is Keri Kelli’s first album since first of all filling in for Joel Hoekstra on and off for a couple of years then joining full time when Joel left in 2012. How did you first meet Keri?

My wife and I are friends with Alice and Sheryl Cooper and Keri spent a few years with Alice so I knew him from then. When Joel was with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra I asked Alice and he recommended Keri right away. It was a natural progression for us when Joel left to join Whitesnake. There were no auditions. We know him and Brad gets on with him great. We didn’t really miss a beat. Within a week he was playing shows with us.

What does Keri bring to Night Ranger?

Keri brings in a great groove and attitude with a very organic rhythm and lead style. He plays really good and compliments Brad so well. Eric and Keri are both so respectful of the Night Ranger sound and what we have accomplished over the 35 years that we have been playing together. So when they are writing or playing they put their Night Ranger helmets on and go at it like they’ve been in Night Ranger since 1982. They just don’t let up and I think there’s more double harmonies on this record than on the last 8 or 9 albums. I love it.

Going right back to the roots of the band you were in a band with Brad called Rubicon that featured Jerry Martini from Sly and the Family Stone. How old were you when you were playing with Jerry?

I was 22 when I joined Rubicon and Jerry brought me up to the Bay Area. The first thing I did was go over to Sly’s house to play. It was insane. The next thing I knew I was recording with him. Jerry then put Rubicon together and Brad joined too and Kelly came in towards the end. When the band broke up Brad, Kelly and I stayed together. We formed a club band called Stereo and Jerry jammed with us then Fitz, who was my roommate at the time and was playing keyboards with Hagar, said he knew a kid from Sacramento called Jeff Watson. We suggested forming a band so we did and that was back in 1980.

Jerry played on all of those early classic, groundbreaking albums including There’s A Riot Going On. What did you learn from him during those early stages of your career?

I was such a young and impressionable guy but Jerry looked out for me and he knew when it was time to go. Sly was an interesting guy too. There were two human beings with him. There was Sylvester Stewart during the day who was the nicest guy in the world. Then later at night when the drug dealer turned up he became Sly Stone who was a vicious, very mean spirited person. It was not pretty. It was a Jekyll and Hyde thing.

He played with bassist Larry Graham in Sly and the Family Stone. Did you ever get the chance to meet Larry?

I never got the chance to meet Larry. I loved Graham Central Station. Larry Graham was my hero and that was my world. It was Fitz’s idea for me to use a thumb pick like a banjo guy so I’d play the bass with my thumb like Larry.

Outside of Night Ranger you’ve written songs for a whole bunch of other people from Aerosmith and Alice Cooper amongst others. Do you approach your songwriting differently when writing for others?

It’s very different to when I’m in Night Ranger. If I’m writing for Alice Cooper I can just close my eyes and think of Under My Wheels and I try to write to suit his style. It’s really fun. It was the same when I worked with Ozzy and Aerosmith. That was such a blast.

Do you tend to have complete songs ready and you offer them to other artists or do they tell you what they want and you go away and work to that order or is it a case of sitting down and working through a song together?

I always write together with the artist I’m writing for apart from the time Tommy Shaw and I wrote a song for Cher. We just wrote it for her without her being there. She loved it. Most of the time we sit down with the likes of Steven and Joe from Aerosmith and jam and come up with great ideas. It’s the same when I jammed with Journey and we came up with Higher Place. I love to sit down with the individuals and come up with ideas on the spot and that’s when the magic happens.

Who would you like to write with if given a chance?

Who wouldn’t like to write a song someday with Paul McCartney? I’d also like to work with Dave Grohl. I think he has a great mind for melodies and lyrics. I think it’d be awesome to write with him.

A couple of years ago you did the Revolution Saints album with Deen Castronova and Doug Aldrich. Those songs were mainly written by producer Alessandro Del Vecchio. Were you all just brought in a sort of session musician capacity or do you see yourselves as a band?

We pretty much came in as session players on that. Alessandro is doing the second album but I think this time he’s working with Doug on the songs. I’m still just the bass player mate. I love it.

Was it quite therapeutic just turning up and recording rather than concerning yourselves with writing, arranging and producing?

I love it. Usually when I’m involved in a project I have to be all things to all people. I’m writing, creating, producing and singing. The beauty about Revolution Saints is I don’t even have to sing, I just play bass. It’s just great. Doug’s a lot more involved this time and I think that’s going to be a very positive thing. I think the new album will be out towards the end of the year.

Outside of Night Ranger, your most successful project was the Damn Yankees. On paper it seemed an odd combination teaming Night Ranger and Styx with Ted Nugent but it really worked. How did you first put the band together?

I think it worked so well as we were so different. People could see Tommy and I together but Ted was something altogether different. He was Terrible Ted, the Motor City Madman. He didn’t fit the mould of what Tommy and I did at all. It was the brainchild of John Kalodner, the legendary A&R guy. When Night Ranger broke up in 1989 he called me up and said he had Tommy and Ted working on some songs together but something was missing and he thought I might be the catalyst. It was about two weeks after the split and I’d just come back from hanging out in Vancouver with Vince Neil while they were recording Dr Feelgood at the same time as Aerosmith were recording Pump next door with Bruce Fairburn. That was pretty cool. I got the call asking me to come to New York, it sounded like a great idea and that was the start of the Damn Yankees.

You had two Top 20 albums and a Top 5 Hit Single. Why did you bring it to an end in 1994?

I’d been on tour non-stop since 1982 and I went straight from Night Ranger into the Damn Yankees and we went right into recording and touring so I’d been touring and recording straight through from 1982 to 1994. Ted wanted to take a hunting break and everybody else wanted a break too. Music was changing a lot then too with Grunge. The record company suggested we do something else so that’s when me and Tommy did the Hallucination album. We had planned to return to the Damn Yankees after that but that’s when Tommy got the call putting Styx back together and soon after Night Ranger were asked to do some shows in Japan around 1996 and that was the rebirth of Night Ranger and we’ve been together ever since.

There’s been rumours of you working together since then. How close did you come to making a third Damn Yankees album?

We’d started working on a third album and we had a lot of material for it and recorded it with a producer but it was just complete crap. The producer was the wrong guy who pushed everything in the wrong direction and it sounded nothing like the Damn Yankees and it was a strange situation and nothing worked out. Some of the good songs from that record ended up on other records but the rest of it was shit. It was just a total mess.

Is there still a possibility of an album or a tour sometime?

I’d love to do a third album. Me and Tommy are also sitting on three-quarters of the next Shaw Blades album, that’s been done for the last 5 years but we are both just so busy with Night Ranger and Styx and obviously Ted with his solo stuff that we just don’t have the time to do it. I’d love to get together and play a few shows and put out some new songs. The fans who missed us the first time round would really enjoy it.

You’ll be busy touring behind the new Night Ranger album over the coming months. Do you have time for any other projects at the moment or is Night Ranger keeping you more than busy.

Night Ranger will be my number one priority for this year but I’ll have plenty of time to work with the Revolution Saints too. We are celebrating this year with Night Ranger. We are celebrating 35 years as a band and with the album Don’t Let Up and the great reaction we’ve been getting it’s going to be a really fun year and we’re really looking forward to it.

Don’t Let Up by Night Ranger is out now on Frontiers Records.

See nightranger.com for more.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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