BRAD GILLIS (NIGHT RANGER): “[Hear ‘n Aid] Was One Of The Great Highlights Of My Musical Career Doing That With RONNIE JAMES DIO”

Brad Gillis

While many bands have been put on hold by Covid, Night Ranger, despite being spread across The States, took the opportunity to create a new album over Zoom. Mick Burgess called up guitarist Brad Gillis to talk about the making of their new album ATBPO.

How have you been coping with Covid over the past year and a half?

It’s been tough for everybody but Night Ranger seems to have prevailed through everything. We actually went in last September and decided to do a new record. As we live so far apart, we started off doing Zoom calls between Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy and I. We all got together different ideas and started throwing them around and next thing we knew we had 17 or 18 good ideas over a couple of weeks of doing Zoom calls. We then got Keri Kelli the guitar player and Eric Leavy our keyboard player involved and they started to add their input and it worked out great for us. With everybody having home studios we were able to pass the files around and get things done. Kelly lives in Arizona and went into a big studio and did his drums once we knew the arrangements and had that foundation. Keri and I got together and figured out lead and rhythm parts and the harmonies. We then kept passing the files around for a couple of months until we got it done. The whole process took roughly five or six months from start to finish.

You’ve had almost a year off the road due to the Covid restrictions. Have you started playing live again?

We did a bunch of big shows over here in The States. We headlined the M3 Festival on the 4th July and we did Rockfest and Summerfest. We’ve done all the big festivals that have been on since the lockdown lifted. We’ve done a short run of our own shows too so we’ve tried to get out there and keep working as soon as we could. We had to make sure that we stayed healthy so we had the masks and got rid of the Meet and Greets and everybody has their shots so we’re doing the best that we can.

Onto better news, you released a new album, ATBPO, just a few weeks ago. Are you pleased with the reaction so far?

Yes, it’s been great so far. We’ve had a great response and I’ve been reading some great reviews. The first single “Break Out” was released on YouTube and has been doing really well. We’re all happy with the response from the reviewers and the sales and we’re all delighted with it. We’re actually charting pretty well around the world too.

“ATBPO” stands for “And The Band Played On”. Is this your defiance to Covid?

Exactly. We were able to keep working during this Covid situation and we’re happy with the outcome. We were all sitting at home with nothing to do musically so we decided to get this record done and released and give people something new to hear.

Did you have any ideas that you’d started working on for your previous album Don’t Let It Up or did you start from scratch?

We all started from scratch knowing that we’d speaking over Zoom. When Jack, Kelly and I got together we flushed out the good and bad and decided on 11 or 12 to finish off. It was to the advantage of everybody on board as we had the luxury of time to do our best performances on this record. Back in the day we’d be paying $2000 or $3000 dollars a day and we’d have a limited amount of time to get everything done. I was able to work at home in my studio and being a vintage guitar collector, I was able to use vintage guitars and amps to get different sounds. On “Can’t Afford A Hero” I pulled out my 1957 Fender Stratocaster and played it through a 1965 Fender Blackface reverb unit to get that classic sound. It just enabled me to try something different to get some different sounds on the album.

Did you find that the adversity actually stimulated your creativity when you were working on ideas?

I think so. I had a blast here at home. The other luxury I had was to be able to work on my guitar solos here at night, to be able to sleep on it and wake up the next morning and see where I was at and pick it up again where I left off.

What was the plan for the record when you started work on it?

The plan is the same as it always is. We want to have great lyrics and a big hooky chorus, the twin guitar harmonies and the trade-off between me and Keri and also the great vocals of Jack and Kelly and the killer harmonies too. I think we achieved that here.

How do you work on the guitar harmonies together? Do you just jam and see how it goes or is it more methodical than that?

Basically it’s phone calls back and forth sending across different files and agreeing what to put where. Sometimes the harmony solos are half done by the other guitar player, as has happened in the past and half done by me or we infuse them both together to integrate both styles.

You mentioned working on 17 or so songs during the writing and recording sessions. What will you be doing with those that didn’t make the album?

They were on the back burner as we had to concentrate on the big ones and while we are getting out playing shows, those songs will sit there until we need something or when we start the next record. We put out a record every two to three years so we’ll see what comes around at that point and whether we can use these ideas or do new ones.

Were you able to get together at any time during the making of the record?

We didn’t get together once at all as everyone lives in different parts of the country and we weren’t really able to fly or travel at that point. We decided to do everything at home and keep everyone safe so that we could put out the best album that we could.

This is the second album that you’ve made now with Keri Kelli on guitar. Do feel that with the extensive touring you’ve done since his first album with you in 2017, that he’s come into his own now as a creative force in the band?

Keri is a fantastic player. Not only is he a great player but he sings well and has a great demeanour and attitude. When you’re touring together and spending a lot of time on the road together you want to make sure you are with people you get along with. Keri is so positive and with the second record he’s done he branched out so much more with his playing.

You’ve played alongside Jeff Watson and Joel Hoekstra and also Reb Beach too. Do you find that when a new guitarist joins the band, it raises your game as they bring in new styles and techniques?

Of course. Every guitar player is different but we’ve had the luxury of having the best of the best. Our heyday with Jeff Watson was great and that’s where our big hits came from. We did a tour with Reb Beach which was great and then we got Joel Hoekstra and boy, that guy upped my game a lot as he’s such a fantastic player. He decided to move onto Whitesnake with Reb Beach and Keri had done a few shows for us a few years earlier while Joel was doing Trans-Siberian Orchestra and that’s when we first hooked up with Keri. We thought he was a great player and would be a great addition to the band so when Joel left, Keri was the natural to step in.

ATBPO is your 12th album. Is it important to you to stay creative and release new music?

Yes. It keeps us mentally on top of our game by releasing a record every few years. I think if you stop creating, that spark inside dies and you lose that sense of spontaneity. It’s imperative that we stay creative. It’s always a blast not only to play those big hits live but to pop in a couple of new tunes into the set. There’s always a lot of “deer in the headlights” when you first play it but once they hear it a few times they start getting it. We’ll keep these new songs in the set and by summer time next year they’ll have a great fan appreciation.

A lot of older bands don’t seem to want to put out new records yet when say Blue Öyster Cult released their first new album in 19 years, they were blown away with the fan’s reaction to it.

I love hearing new music. Let me tell you that when I was growing up, Blue Öyster Cult was one of those band in High School that I’d play five of their songs like “Harvester Of Eyes” and “Astronomy” and all of these great tunes. I was a huge Blue Öyster Cult fan. Once we toured together, I got to be friends with Buck Dharma and I let him know that he was a major influence on my style.

Didn’t you play together on the Hear ‘n Aid project in the mid ’80s? 

Yes, everybody was there. That was one of the great highlights of my musical career doing that with Ronnie James Dio. People still ask me about this and it’s great re-living that time and hanging out with Yngwie Malmsteen, Neal Schon and George Lynch and all of those great players. It was just amazing. When everybody got together for the “We Are Stars” gang vocal, it was unbelievable. It was for a great cause. I just watched the video a few weeks ago and it brought back some great memories.

Back in 1982 you stepped in to help Ozzy following the death of Randy Rhodes. Was this before you’d released the first Night Ranger album?

We had got together in 1980 and written all these songs and decided to go into a pro studio and do some master demos and start shopping our demo to get a record deal. We were known as Ranger back then but we had no following and didn’t want to play. I put together a band called the Alameda All Stars and I started playing all of these different songs and a load of Ozzy songs. I remember in 1981 going to The Day On The Green and seeing Ozzy with Randy and I was blown away.

When I got the call to join Ozzy, we were still shopping the Night Ranger demo in mid-1982 and I decided to do the tour. I did the tour but when Rudy Sarzo left at the end of the tour to go with Quiet Riot, I decided to leave too. We had recorded the Speak Of The Devil record and we were able to finish the Night Ranger record and they were both released the same week on October 15th 1982. That was quite an accomplishment for me to have these two records come out and then jump straight out on big American tours with all these big bands.

How did a relatively unknown guitarist end up getting such a high-profile gig?

I was playing around the local Bay Area with the Alamda All Stars and after watching Ozzy and Randy playing live, I put a couple of Ozzy songs in the set. I think they were “Crazy Train” and “Flying High Again.” One night we’d heard that Randy had died in that awful plane crash. We dedicated the Ozzy songs to Randy that night. On another night one of my friends, Preston Thrall, came in. He said that he might be able to get me an audition with Ozzy. Preston’s brother is Pat Thrall and he’d played with Pat Travers and Tommy Aldridge was the drummer.

Long story short, Preston told Pat, Pat told Tommy and Tommy told Sharon. I got a call early the next morning saying “Hello Brad, this is Sharon Arden, Ozzy Osbourne’s manager, and we’d like to fly you to New York for an audition.” It was early and I was grumpy and I told them to stop goofing off and asked who it was. She said it was Sharon and asked if I wanted her to put Ozzy on the phone and I said, yes, put him on. Sure enough this growly voice came on and said “Hello Bradley, this is Ozzy”. At that time my father was a pilot and I knew when he phoned home from New York there was a one second delay so when Ozzy said he was calling from New York and there was a one second delay, I knew it was him. I just went chalk white.

He gave me a list of 18 songs to learn. That was at the weekend and by the Tuesday they flew me to New York. I toured with the band and practised every day to a live cassette of Randy and I learned the set while Bernie Torme was temporarily on guitar. On the fifth day I let them know I was ready to go on stage with them. I’d never played with the band before. I did a 7-song soundcheck and Ozzy didn’t even show for the soundcheck so the first time I actually played with Ozzy was that first night on stage. That was quite a heavy situation to be in before going out and playing in front of 8000 people.

Did Bernie Torme help you bed into the band before he went back home?

Not really because he wasn’t really going through the correct motions and solos that Randy did whereas I had to get more intricate and focussed into the actual solos. By having the live cassette, I knew all of the segues and learned them the best I could. I learned them by ear so I was able to pick them up and learn them little by little. I watched the show from the soundboard so I could see the castle stage set, the pyro and the wild, crazy crowd so I knew what was expected of me. I actually screwed up on my first night and went into the fast section of “Revelation Mother Earth” too soon and Ozzy and Rudy looked over me with that “you’re screwing up Brad” look on their faces. I stopped playing guitar and regained my spot in the song. That was my only big screw up on the night but the next night Sharon came over and said to me “Bradley, you’re doing great but tonight, don’t screw it up”.

Was it a good experience for you to look back on?

Yes, it was a heavy experience because Randy had just passed and I was trying to fill his very big shoes. It wasn’t until 2 weeks later that we did the King Biscuit Flower Hour live broadcast that I played fairly well that night and started to get some love from the audience where ever we went after that. We ended up doing the video at Irvine Meadows which was broadcast on MTV then we went onto the Ritz in New York to record the Speak Of The Devil record. After that, things started getting a little heavy after Rudy left and I decided to leave and we went onto our respective bands.

Next year is the 40th anniversary of the release of your debut album, Dawn Patrol. Do you have any plans to celebrate this occasion?

We’ll be doing a 40th anniversary tour and possibly a new box set with the best of Night Ranger. Hopefully things will ease up next year so we can get out there and show them that Night Ranger is still a viable force and celebrate our 40th anniversary. We’re also doing the KISS Cruise. We’re starting to book shows for 2022 and have just been booked to open for Guns N’ Roses at the Sweden Rock Festival next summer and there’s a couple of festivals that we are hoping to do to make a nice little European run. I’d love to get back to the UK as we’ve always had a blast there and we all love taking a few days off there too and seeing the sights so I do hope to get over there next year.

Night Ranger’s new album ATBPO is out now on Frontiers.

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Interview By Mick Burgess


  • 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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