JACK BLADES: IN CONVERSATION ABOUT NIGHT RANGER AND DAMN YANKEES
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
This guy has earned his stripes in the Universe of Rock music thanks to the consistent and constant work he invests.
Night Ranger are well respected for their style of refined Melodic Rock and became a commercial success in the U.S. thanks to hit singles like 'Sister Christian', 'Sentiment Street' and 'Goodbye' amongst several others. If you then decide to take a look elsewhere, you may note how he provided backing vocals on a couple of tracks featured on Mötley Crüe's seminal album 'Dr. Feelgood'.
I'm personally impressed by these credentials already, but then you realise he's been credited for co-writing songs for Cher, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper amongst others – the saliva is dribbling from the corner of my mouth! So to have the pleasure of chatting with the good man was an opportunity too great to dismiss.
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I kicked off our conversation by explaining how the band must have said it all by the time they're on the 11th studio album 'High Road'. What is left to say?
Jack: "Well that's a very interesting question because if you've had ten albums before that and you've said a lot of things on your records and you can't start repeating yourself, know what I mean, so in a lot of ways it's a little bit more challenging. Especially the fact that 30 years ago you could write a song like – C'mon baby, I wanna give it to you, you know, let's go, let's do it or something like that. You write something like that now with who we are and where we've been and everybody would go – creepy, that's kind of weird. You've got to think about the dialogue you want to convey lyrically on your record.
"I mean musically it's a wonderful thing because you have an open palette you can just paint these broad brush strokes and these bright colours and come up with these crazy things. Lyrically I think it's a little bit more of a challenge at this stage of the game because you want to say something that's relevant and valid, yet you don't want to be redundant, stupid or creepy. In a lot of respects it's a bit of a challenge.
"I think we've risen to the challenge. I mean with a song like 'High Road' – Tell all my friends I'm heading out to the desert this weekend, I'm on the high road, got the freedom and I'll never let go. It's kind of interesting; the same thing with all the lyrics if you go down the line with the lyrics on the album 'High Road' you'll see that.
"'Knock Knock Never Stop' is about rocking and rolling and partying to the end, and 'Rolling On' till the day I die, yes 'I'm Coming Home' is all about how we all we do is spend our time travelling all over the world and it's great when you're close to home, and you're coming home man. A song like 'Only For You Only' is a ballad you know, these words I've written are for you only.
"Even that man 'Don't Live Here Anymore' is about addiction and how you can change and you can be a different person, and that person you used to be doesn't live in the frame of your soul anymore."
"It's a different world, but I think we've accomplished it on the 'High Road' record."
Acknowledging their last album was unveiled in 2011 and went by the name of 'Somewhere In California', I quizzed Jack about the recording approach and how long it took.
Jack: "We actually started recording this in the beginning of 2013 and then we stopped. We did about five or six songs; kind of finished them all up and then we stopped and went on tour for all of 2013. Stopped touring like the end of November early December and then we said – oh, wait a minute, we've got to make a record here; we've got to finish this album. So we went back in and started working again and started coming up with ideas for more songs. Actually, got rid of two or three of the songs we'd written before and replaced them with better songs that we'd come up with this year. One of which is the song 'High Road' which we named the album after. That actual song was the last one we wrote."
I shared my observation about how another track title like 'Rollin On' could have been an ideal title for the album.
Jack: "You know what, you're absolutely right. In fact 'Rollin On' was the second choice. It was between 'High Road' and 'Rollin On' but we were so happy with 'High Road' and the way it turned out. 'High Road' says what Night Ranger is all about. We've always taken the high road - I'm on the high road after midnight and I don't think I'll ever go home. We're just going for it.
"You know, I'm on the right road, got the freedom and I'll never let go. I think you're right about that; that was the second idea because titles of albums are so very difficult to come up with a good title that everybody likes. 'The Rise And Fall Of Night Ranger', the this and that, let's call it 'Hanky Panky' or let's call it 'Slap Down!' or 'Jump On This!' It's difficult and we all just thought 'High Road' was a great way to come out with all guns blazing."
I wanted to dig a little deeper and find out how the band approached the songwriting process.
Jack: "What we do is we just get in there and we all bring ideas in. What we've done on the last couple of albums 'Somewhere In California' and the 'High Road' record, we just all got together with songs and sat in a room and jammed them out. We all look at each other and go – I like this or I don't like that and let's move on to something else. The creative process sort of takes care of itself in that respect, and we just kind of like hone it in to where we really feel good about something then we go for it."
Pouncing on this information, I asked Jack if he felt that the creative spark that he, Brad (Gillis – guitarist) and Kelly (Keagy – drummer and vocals) had as a unit was the secret ingredient making Night Ranger the band they are.
Jack: "Maybe so and at this stage of the game we're definitely not afraid to like, hey if somebody else has a good idea let me hear it! We have no problem with that. We've always had fun with just doing it the way we do it and it's worked out okay so far."
I asked Jack which songs from the new album are likely to be incorporated in their live set.
Jack: "Well, definitely 'High Road', we debuted that in Milan, Italy about two weeks ago and that went over great and I think it fits right in with Night Ranger does with all our classic songs. I think 'Rolling On', 'Knock Knock Never Stop' and I think 'I'm Coming Home', there's a lot on this record that we could play and I feel very good about."
The noticeable enthusiasm about Night Ranger was more than tangible but I changed gear and asked about what sent him to work on Damn Yankees back in the day.
Jack: "We were at a point with Night Ranger where everybody was going in a different direction and I said fine, everybody just go do what they want to do, so in 1989 I basically left the band. Five days later I was in New York City with Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw and I still had to feed that fire with music and creativity. I just turned it in with Tommy and Ted and then the Damn Yankees came about and we had a very successful run and we sold millions of records and that was a real fun band. It still is."
Thrilled to hear Jack say the band still "is" fun, I wanted to know where things stand and if there was any opportunity for new music?
Jack: "It's too bad, unfortunately I don't think because of whatever, you know, situations; I don't think that thing is going to fly again which is really unfortunate. I'd love to do it again but I think there's certain factions that don't want to do it anymore."
His tone of voice changed notably and I felt the conversation was suddenly under an ominous grey cloud, so acknowledged the Shaw/Blades collaborations 'Hallucination' (1995) and 'Influence' (2007) and changed the subject.
It was a very interesting and insightful encounter and whatever the future holds for Jack Blades, music and creativity won't be far away that's for sure.