Jack Blades Talks About His New ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride’ And Thirty Years Of Night Ranger
For Night Ranger bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, his new solo album ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride’ is a high octane digital platter of new music which encapsulates what could best be described as a lifetime spent “rockin’.”
30 years have passed in a flash since he released ‘Dawn Patrol’ in 1982, his first album with the San Francisco-based Night Ranger, and one that would open the door to the band’s future rock radio success. Songs from that album such as ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,’ ‘Sing Me Away’ and ‘Eddie’s Coming Out Tonight’ remain setlist highlights for the group to this day.
But there was much more to come for Night Ranger in the form of hit singles and several gold and platinum albums. Blades himself would find additional success outside of Night Ranger, writing songs for numerous artists, from Aerosmith to Ozzy Osbourne.
He even managed to start a band with Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw of Styx and drummer Michael Cartellone — Damn Yankees, if you’re keeping score — and lived to tell about it, scoring a few more hit singles in the process to add to his already impressive resume.
So ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride’ is an appropriate title for the second solo album from Blades, with cover art that celebrates his impressive rock and roll resume of accomplishments. The veteran vocalist is in fine form throughout the record, with a hefty slate of friends on board helping him rock it up once again.
Set end to end with last year’s fantastic Night Ranger album ‘Somewhere in California,’ ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride’ is a mighty fine trip, indeed.
Your first solo album was quite an eclectic bunch of songs. This batch seems to play things closer to home with what people traditionally expect from you. What sort of goals did you have in mind when you went in to record this one?
You know, one of the first songs I cut was ‘Back in the Game.’ I always like to do one song and assess the bar on where the record’s supposed to go and what it’s supposed to be. With ‘Back in the Game’ man, I just rocked it out so heavily and so rockin’ that I was like ‘okay, this is where this record’s gotta go.’
So I just filtered through so many songs going ‘yeah, this one would be good, no this one wouldn’t really be, this one would be good, no, this one’s not right’ and I just sang my ass off on this record and played it and just created the record that I wanted to create here in 2012 at this stage of my career.
That’s why I ended up calling it ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride,’ because it basically didn’t start out that way, but it kind of ended up being [about] my whole rock and roll ride.
With a song like ‘Back in the Game’ which is such a straight on rocker, where does that start for you? Do you begin with an acoustic when you’re first writing the song?
It started with a cool lick that my buddy, the guitarist Pat [Harrington] from Slunt came up with. We got together and we wrote and that lick was so haunting and so frikkin’ rockin’, it just begged to be finished and it begged to be played and it begged to be written and all that kind of stuff. That’s how it started with that one, it was just a killer riff.
What was the recording process like for this album? Did folks come out to your studio to jam or did a lot of it happen virtually?
No, I didn’t do any of it virtually. I didn’t send anything to anybody to finish up anything. I really don’t like to do that, especially when my name is on it. [Laughs] I really want to make sure that I’m there and guiding the process through.
Take for instance when [Cheap Trick vocalist] Robin Zander came up. I called Robin and said ‘I’m doing a solo record, you gotta come out.’ He flew out and was on the West Coast for a gig or something like that and showed up in this big ass long stretch limousine and gets out of that and comes up to the studio and we just frikkin’ rock out for like four hours.
We wrote ‘Anything For You’ together [and] he sang it. We wrote two other things, we put all of the stuff down and then four and a half hours later, he left. I look at my buddy Will [album producer Will Evankovich] and I was like ‘what the hell just happened?’ I mean, that was the most creative four hours I’d spent since I don’t know when….since the weekend we formed the Damn Yankees!
It was insane…and see, I like doing that. When I grabbed Joel Hoekstra to come in and play all of the solos, most of the big rockin’ guitars on the record, he was here doing it. I gotta have the guys here. It was the same thing with [drummer] Brian Tichy, Brian flew up and Kelly was here and stuff like that.
The only person I do trust is Kelly Keagy. He did the drums of I think ‘Say You Will’ and ‘Hey Now’ at his place. He’s the only person I trust…and the only reason is because I’ve played with him for 30 years and he and I are so in sync, we’re so sympatico. He knows what I love and I know what he loves, so there’s never a problem with that.
On ‘Anything For You,’ the song you co-wrote with Robin Zander, that guitar solo really has a George Harrison feel to it…
Well exactly, there was no other place to go with the song. I think to me, Robin was channeling frikkin’ John Lennon when he was singing the song, you know what I mean? [Laughs] But I said we should have a nice slide and Joel said ‘I got it, I got it, relax’ and then he came up with that great slide solo and that was like ‘yeah, that’s exactly it.’
Your son Colin has been doing his own musical thing and he has a song on this record. Where did he first grab the music bug… and was that something that you encouraged at the time?
You know, no. I was very…all of the sudden he starts singing me all of these songs that he had written on guitar and it was never like ‘I’m going to sit down and teach you how to play guitar, this is how you write a song.’ Suddenly, good stuff just came out of his soul and it was like wow.
Like the song ‘West Hollywood,’ he’d written that song a few years ago and he just had a verse and a chorus and I always loved that chorus, man. ‘Are you experienced in love, I got to know, I got to know, oh-oh-oh-oh,’ I love that, man! So he had the first verse and I finished the song and created a whole song.
He just oozes choruses and I think it’s because he grew up around all of the Yanks and Night Ranger. He grew up with songs with choruses, so that’s what Colin is all about. Of course, he sang with me on ‘Back In The Game.’
If that chorus on ‘West Hollywood’ was one that he came up with, he gets five stars, because that’s a trademark Jack Blades chorus.
I know, dude! He had that chorus and I was like ‘damn, this is frikkin’ great.’ So I finished up all of the verses and stuff like that and made it into a full song, because Colin just had the verse and a chorus and I was like ‘wow, where did THAT come from?’ That was one of those where I looked at my son and go ‘I wish I would have written that,’ so I ended up co-writing it with him! [Laughs]
Are there any plans to take this out on the road and perform some of these songs live?
Yeah, I’d love to. I’m trying to figure out how I can get Joel and Will, Eric Levy, our keyboard player and my buddy Anthony Fox or Brian Tichy on drums and just go out and play some shows, because I think all of these songs scream to be played live.
Do you have a good “worst gig ever” story?
I think when we were first starting out with Night Ranger, it was back in 1979 and I think we played this famous punk place when new wave and punk were coming on strong in San Francisco. We were Stereo. Rubicon had just broken up and Brad, Kelly and I and Jim Pew, keyboard player for Rubicon, I think Jerry Martini might have been with us, I’m not too sure.
We formed this band called Stereo and we were playing around and we played this place called the Mabuhay Gardens, which is this famous…it’s like the CBGB’s of the west coast. It was like the punk place to play on Broadway in San Francisco.
Here we are, we started playing these songs and we’re like rockin’ out with all of our rockin’ tracks and somebody in the audience is yelling ‘1977, Deep Purple, f–k you,’ sh-t like that and it was like ‘oh my God,’ and there were about 30 people in the room. It was like ‘um, I don’t think we were meant to play in this place.’
Of course, this was the time when Flock of Seagulls, Haircut 100, the Cars, Blondie and all of those bands were out and everybody wanted us to wear white shirts, cut our hair and have skinny little black ties. Kind of like Huey Lewis did! [Laughs]
What’s on deck this year for Night Ranger?
We’re going to be touring and playing a lot of shows. We’re going to Europe again in June, coming back, hitting the States, playing shows with Boston, playing shows with .38 Special, playing shows with a lot of bands and hooking up with a lot of people and continuing the thirty year Night Ranger…here it is thirty years later for the 30th anniversary of ‘Dawn Patrol,’ the thirty year anniversary.
Your first solo album helped to pollinate the possibilities for what would become the Shaw/Blades ‘Influence’ album. Allegedly, there was a second ‘Influence’ album in the works. What’s the status on that?
Yeah, actually, Tommy’s going to be up here next week and we’re about halfway finished with it now, so we’re pretty excited about it. He’s going to get up here and we’re going to nail it down for another week and then I’ll got down to Tommy’s, to his studio in LA for another week or two and then we should have that thing wrapped up in another couple months between our schedules and everything like that. And then hopefully we’ll play some shows in October/November/December.
What else is good in the world of Jack Blades?
I’m really stoked about the video for ‘Back in the Game.’ I always wanted to make a war movie. I want everyone to see the video and stuff. That’s Colin, actually acting in the video there. He’s the main guy. I’m excited about the ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride’ record getting out there. I’m excited about finishing up a Shaw/Blades record. I’m pumped up about Night Ranger’s 30 years.
Neal Schon and I wrote…Neal’s got a solo record and I wrote a bunch of lyrics for a lot of the songs for the solo record and I think he’s mixing that right now. Neal and I are good buddies and talk about a talented guitarist, whooo! I’ve been blessed to play with a lot of great guitarists.
You mentioned having a couple of extra songs in the can with Robin Zander… where will those wind up?
I hope they wind up on a record! I’d love to make a full record with Robin someday.. That guy is so uber-talented, it’s stupid. It’s stupid how talented he is!