I love Night Ranger – I hold my head up high, raise my fist, bang my head, and rock the hell out when I hear songs like “Rumours In The Air” “(You Can Still) Rock In America,” and Don’t Tell Me You Love me.” Thirty five years and twelve studio discs later these guys are still rocking on their latest opus Don’t Let Up. Bassit, song writer, and co-vocalist Jack Blades took time out his busy schedule to chat with us about the new release, the bands current incarnation, missteps, and more. Sit back and enjoy this Rock N Roll Ride with the one and only Jack Blades…
Toddstar: Hey Jack – thank you so much for taking time out for us man…
Jack: Todd, how are you?
Toddstar: Oh, man I’m awesome. I’m talking to Jack Blades, how much better can this get?
Jack: All right. Let’s rock and roll.
Toddstar: Let’s do it, man. Don’t Let Up the newest disc from Night Ranger, dropping March 24th on Frontiers Music – what can you tell us about this disc Jack that the common rock and roller or even a hardcore Night Ranger fan might not grab the first or second time through?
Jack: I think that this is truly kind of where Night Ranger is 2017. This is our 35th anniversary, and we’ve been doing this for 35 years since we released the Dawn Patrol album. It’s who we are and where we are and just the fact that we just keep creating and doing it. And we’re so proud of the record with Keri Kelli, our new guitarist playing with Brad [Gillis]. And to me it’s the classic Night Ranger sound of twin guitars, two lead vocals, big choruses, it’s all those kind of things. I think it’s everything that a Night Ranger fan would love.
Toddstar: As a Night Ranger fan I’d have to agree with you. This album, from top to bottom, from the opening licks of “Somehow, Someway” down through the end of “Nothing Left of Yesterday,” it’s just a solid rock record that has all those components you mentioned. But it seems to have something more. To me, it seemed more cohesive as a band than some of the previous releases may have been. Is that something you guys kind of went into this writing process thinking, “How can we do this and just make this feel like a unit deal?”
Jack: Well, you know what we did was, with the last three records that we’ve done, Somewhere in California, High Road, and now Don’t Let Up, we’ve gone in a room and started jamming songs together, as a band. And with this project, Brad, Kelly, and I started… in fact, Brad and I started at his house, jamming out a couple songs and a couple ideas. Then we went to Kelly’s in Nashville and we wrote about three or four of the songs. Out of that came “Day and Night” and what else? Oh, “Nothing Left of Yesterday”. And at Brad’s place we did “Not Your Fool Again” and “Say What You Want But I Won’t Go Away”. We got really on a roll. You know what I mean? And we just started coming up with songs and coming up with ideas and running out of time, just all those kind of things. And then after that, we got together up at my place, with Keri Kelli, and we came up with “Somehow, Someway” and “Truth” and a couple other ones. What we wanted was to make a record that sounded like what the band sounds live. You know what I mean? A live-feeling record. And I think that’s what we accomplished with the Don’t Let Up album. And that’s even why we call it Don’t Let Up. From the first notes of that guitar coming in, backwards guitar coming in on “Somehow Someway”, like you said to the last notes of “Nothing Left of Yesterday”. It’s kind of like our live show. It’s just kick-ass, straight ahead American rock and roll.
Toddstar: I’d have to agree with that as well, Jack. With these songs, you run through the process that you guys did on these, were there any of these songs that really fought you guys tooth and nail, morphed a million times, or did a lot of these just come straight out and they are what you guys originally thought they might be?
Jack: I think that most of the songs kind of came straight out and they were what we wanted. We really didn’t have to struggle. I’m trying to think if there was anything. You know, I can’t think of one that was a struggle. And I know what you’re talking about. Through the years I’ve written songs that I’ve rewritten a song about 6,500 times and usually the songs that you keep trying and struggling with and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, they end up a song, but they’re not your best songs. It seems like the best songs come with the excitement and the energy… they’re almost like you channel something. Take for instance when Tommy Shaw and I wrote “High Enough”, that song was finished in a half hour, lyrics and music and everything. The good songs just come out that way. I had this idea for “Don’t Let Up”. And we just had this thing, and actually, with a song like this, they would come out a certain way and then Brad was like, “the lyrics in the chorus on “Don’t Let Up”… it was very much like [singing] ‘don’t let up on the good uh, uh, uh’. Everything was like that and Brad said, “I think we should change that up a bit.” And Kelly and I came up with [singing] ‘there’s a whole world just waiting for you’ you know, we kind of changed the melody a little bit and we did things like that. And that’s what’s so great when you’re working with five people and everybody’s got an idea. Let’s try this idea! Let’s try that. Never being satisfied with just what it is. We try everything. And sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t.
Toddstar: It seems to be working for you guys. You mentioned Somewhere in California. I love that disc. Somewhere in there you had the acoustic set, which I also love. But this just really takes me back to when I grew up in the early to mid-80’s with Night Ranger. With these songs and with the legacy that you guys have, what is it that you think the current incarnation of the band with Eric Levy and Keri Kelli, what is it that they bring to the table that kind of fit right into that Night Ranger mold, that helped you guys put together a great album like Don’t Let Up?
Jack: Well, I think the good part about it is that Keri and Eric are very cognizant of the legacy that Night Ranger has established over the past 35 years and they’re very respectful to that legacy. That’s not to say that they don’t add their own two cents, you know what I mean? What they create and everything like that. But they do it in a way that tips its hat constantly to exactly who and what Night Ranger is, was, and has been and will be for the last 35 years. And I think that that’s what made it a very sort of cohesive… like a record. When Brad and Keri come up with ideas like, you know Keri comes up with an idea but it’ll be a double harmony idea, ala what we did on “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”. When Eric comes up with a keyboard part, he’ll want it to sound like something we did on “Four in the Morning”. They’re very respectful. And I think that, coupled with Kelly, Brad, and I just being who we are. This stuff’s in our DNA right now. We’ve been doing this for 35 years, so this is literally who we are. Those two combinations make for a very potent, potent record, which we have in Don’t Let Up.
Toddstar: Again, I love the album; I can’t get enough of it. I can’t wait until the public can wrap their hands around it as well. You’ve mentioned a few times 35 years, and we’ve talked about legacy. 35 years ago, when you started kicking us around and then we you guys released Dawn Patrol, did you think in a million years, 35 years on, 12 studio albums later, you’d still be hyping the new album to the press?
Jack: You know what? I thought about that the other day. I was thinking about that to myself like, “Here we are 35 years later and I’m just doing another interview about a new album.” Look, Night Ranger was passed on twice by every record company. And finally all it took was one guy, one gatekeeper guy to go, “Okay, we’ll give you a shot.” And we knew that we could play music, go on tour, and people would like what we did. You know, we just knew it. And we just kept pounding it, and pounding it. So, when we got our first chance with the Dawn Patrol record, you know, that’s basically what happened with “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and “Sing Me Away”. The album sold a million copies immediately. Here we are, 35 years later and we’re still doing it. And I feel like I’m probably one of the luckiest guys in the world. Last survivor standing, right?
Toddstar: You mentioned you’re still doing this, you’re a lucky man, but if you didn’t have this, what would your dream job be or what would it have been at one point, Jack?
Jack: Boy, that’s a tough one. I mean I was a premed student in college; I was going to be a doctor.
Jack: I can’t imagine doing anything else because I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do. Which is write songs, and sing songs, and play music. I was born for this. In fact I wrote a song on one of my solo albums called “Born For This”. It’s who I am and I would have no idea what I’d be doing if I wasn’t playing music, and thinking about music 24/7.
Toddstar: You mentioned a solo album and you’ve been all over the board. You’ve done so many things, Jack. If you could pick a collaborator, because you do a ton of writing for a ton of artists, you do a ton of producing, is there a collaborator out there that you had on your hit list that you just haven’t been able to pin time down with yet?
Jack: Boy, that’s an interesting question. I’ve been very blessed to work with so many people. I’ve written songs with… Tommy and I wrote songs with the guys in Aerosmith, Steve and Joe, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Ozzy, Alice Cooper, songs for Vince Neil, Roger Daltrey, David Foster, the big producer guy. I’d love to write with Paul McCartney. There you go. I’ll be simple and dumb and lame. Paul McCartney. How about that?
Toddstar: First of all, nothing lame about wanting to write with McCartney. Second of all, like you said, you’ve got a veritable who’s who of people you’ve just written and produced. The list has got to be getting shorter every year. Jack, looking over the past 35 years, everything you’ve achieved with Night Ranger, everything you’ve done solo, and you mentioned “Born for This” which is off of Rock N Roll Ride which is a great disc. You did “High Enough,” you did the Shaw Blades material. But looking back over all that stuff, is there anything that you would consider a misstep, or something you would just like to do over?
Jack: That’s a very interesting question. Yeah, I would have liked to have done over the Big Life album. I think that right around that time we had our three great albums with Night Ranger – Dawn Patrol, Midnight Madness, and Seven Wishes and I think the Big Life album, I think it was one of those things where we were just on this treadmill, perpetual motion, just going and going and going. We do 18 month tours, we come home for a month, and then we go right into the studio and cut for three month. Then we go out on another 18 month tour and then we’d go and go and go and go. And at a point it’s almost like, you start writing songs instead of from your heart, you’re writing songs that “I think that people will think this song is a hit”. Instead of “I’m going to write this song that’s in my heart”. It’s in my soul. I’m not saying that all the music was bad, but I think we got pushed so much with that record and that, coupled with the fact that our record company would only release ballads from Night Ranger, after we had so much success with “Sister Christian”, that we got pigeonholed with the label. I think I learned that lesson kind of when we went into the next album… those last two albums that Man in Motion and that album Big Life. I think it started with the Big Life album, but then the Man in Motion album… and I think I learned my lesson because when we went in with the Damn Yankees, it was like let’s go for it. Let’s just write stuff that’s from our heart, which is what we do.
Toddstar: Sure. Getting back to Don’t Let Up – I know you’re a busy man, so I got to eventually let you go, which is heartbreaking, as a fan – going over the songs on this disc, Jack, you guys pack your set list with just classic rock and roll. What songs on here do you see standing the test of time alongside “Still Rocking America” or “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” in a live setting?
Jack: I’m trying to figure that out right now. We’re discussing that like, which songs do we need to play live? I think that “Somehow, Someway” is just going to be… it’s a classic Night Ranger song. I think that “Day and Night” Kelly sings the crap out of that. And I also think “Say What You Want” he does a great job. “Comfort Me” is really good. Brad’s favorite song is “Truth” on the record. I love “Running out of Time” and I love “Don’t Let Up”. I think “Don’t Let Up” is right into the “Four in the Morning”, it’s so Night Ranger it’s ridiculous. It’s going to be difficult to figure out which songs to play live and fit into the set, because you can’t sit there and play six or seven new songs. Our audience is going to sit there and stare at us. They’re going to want to hear the hits that we’ve had from the other 11 albums and things like that. And it’s already difficult as it is, with throwing in a couple Damn Yankee songs and this and that and the other. We have so many more songs to run with. It’s going to be a difficult choice.
Toddstar: I’d agree with that the 11 songs that you drew out here. And you mentioned “Somehow Someway”. If it wasn’t one of those new songs that you wouldn’t expect a show to start off with, that one would get you coming out of the gates as hard as anything you guys got out there. One last one before we let you go, Jack. If you could go back in time, and be part of recording session of any album out there. It doesn’t matter whether you’re recording, producing or just a fly on the wall. What album would you have wanted to be a part of, and why is that album important to you?
Jack: Man, that’s a great question. What album would I want to be a part of? Oh man, there are just so many great records. I would have loved to have been a part of Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain album. I thought that was just a killer album. Fleetwood Mac Rumors. Do you know what I mean? I would just love to have been a fly on the wall, sitting in there. You know I almost was… when I first moved to San Francisco, in 1975 and I was doing sessions with Sly Stone at the Record Plant in Sausalito, and I think they did their record around the same time down there. In Sausalito. I mean it’d be easy to say some of The Beatles records, but I wouldn’t want to touch those. You know what I mean? I wouldn’t want to even get near any of those things. That’s like sacred ground as far as I’m concerned. I think Springsteen’s Born to Run record would have been a great record to sit back and be a fly on the wall and all that stuff. I thought that was some incredibly, incredibly creative, creative music, you know what I mean, going on in that. I think I’d have loved to have been around on Nirvana’s Nevermind. Just to get the vibe from that thing and feel it. When I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I was like, “Shit man. I wish I would have written that.” You know what I mean? I loved it. It just had a feeling. It was just like, “Wow”. It just captured everything. I mean, there are a lot of records. If I sat around and thought about it, I’d have a list a mile long.
Toddstar: I can only imagine. Well, can the fans get ready to wrap their arms and hands around a live tour to support Don’t Let Up? You guys putting something together for the summer, Jack?
Jack: Oh yeah. We’re going to be working nonstop this summer. It’s going to start the end of May, and who knows when it’ll end. I mean, I know we’re going to Japan; we’re going all over the place. I hope everybody’ll come out and see us. We’re celebrating. This is the year of celebration. So every show this year in 2017 is going to be a celebration. It’s a 35 year celebration, a celebration of Night Ranger, and a celebration of rock and roll.
Toddstar: Well, I can’t wait to raise my fist when you guys hit Detroit and help you celebrate 35 years. We wish you well with the launch of Don’t Let Up on March 24th and look forward to speaking you again, Jack.
Jack: You got it, bro. Man, anytime. And if you need anything else, just call our people and they’ll hook it up and everything like that. Okay?
Toddstar: Awesome, brother. We’ll talk to you soon.
Jack: Okay, see you. Bye.
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