Jack Blades of Night Ranger took time to talk about his life in music, as well as the upcoming show at the Englewood Event Center in Englewood, FL, on March 22, followed by four shows March 24-27 at the America Gardens Theatre at Disney’s Epcot Theme Park in Orlando. The band will have numerous appearances at resorts, fairs and other locations across the country throughout the summer. This tour follows up their live CD and DVD release from Chicago and celebrates 35 years of Night Ranger Music.
Author Marisa Williams: You have had such a phenomenal career in music, but how did you first get started? Did you come from a musical family?
Jack Blades of Night Ranger: I was 8 when my parents gave me a guitar, so I started young. If anything could really have changed my direction at early age, it was when I heard The Beatles, and I said, “I wanna do that!” In high school, I had bands. In college, I was pre-medical, and I left in my fourth year to join a rock band. I’ve been playing ever since, all of my adult life. My father played guitar, worked his way through college in the 30’s. He showed me a few chords, and I took it from there.
Marisa: Was there ever a point when you looked back and thought what if I chose that other path?
Jack: I never looked back. Fortunately enough, I’ve been very successful. I’m doing what I was meant to do, no questions about it. Night Ranger and Damn Yankees were very successful. It’s funny, when I have to go to a doctor. I go to them, and they just want to talk about music, like when I was writing songs with Aerosmith. Everyone probably likes to be something else. When I hang out with sports players, I want to talk about touch downs, and they want to know what guitar strings I use. Everyone wishes that they were doing something else, but I don’t look back; music is my path.
Marisa: Having such an extensive career in music, did you ever expect that you would obtain such an exhaustive career when you were first starting out? I think people are curious if you have any secret to your success.
Jack: It is a real blessing. Here we are 35 years later, 35 years since first album Night Ranger album was released, “Dawn Control.” It’s mind boggling. I look back and think, “it’s been 35 years? Wow.” I think about all the things we have done, along with all the songs I’ve written with other artists, and it’s just great that 35 years later, here were are, playing events. People come to shows, have a great time, and it’s an amazing blessing. Here we are, all these years later. The only secret I can say is persistence. We were passed on by every record company twice when we first came out, but we just keep pounding away at it; that’s what we did. All it took was one gate keeper to say, “I’ll give you a shot,” and we did it. That’s the key: persistence. Song writing very important. Kelly, the drummer, and I – of course, I’m the bass player – but those are usually the first to get fired from a band. We thought, let’s get job security and write a bunch of the songs. That’s the main thing, having songs and writing songs.
Marisa: How do you personally go about writing music? What comes first for you: drums, guitar, bass, a riff, melody, lyrics?
Jack: It’s different every time I start. Sometimes, it’s a melody in my head. Maybe it’s a chorus melody or a verse melody in my head. Sometimes, it’s musical, like when I strum the guitar and a riff comes out. I use all of those facets when I write a song. When I write and approach a song, I’ll take wherever creativity needs me to go. When Kelly wrote “Sister Christian,” it was “Don’t Tell Me You Love me” as the chorus first. With “High Enough,” it was the verses first. Go where the spirit leads you. I enjoy working with different artists and different people. It allows me to hear where their head is coming from. I can always come up with stuff, but it’s fun with another person, because they might approach it from a different angle, a different side of Rubik’s cube. I’ll think, “I never thought of that,” or “I wouldn’t have thought of that.” That only happens with other people, then you get a different perspective.
Marisa: Having played with so many different musicians over the years, has that approached to writing changed when working with other musicians?
Jack: I’ve written with a lot of artists over the years. Each approaches it differently. Kelly, Brad, and I write in a room. Brad might have a riff, and he sends to me. With Damn Yankees, Tommy Shaw and myself might jam and bring something to Ted, and he goes on with his guitar, putting that Ted Nugent stamp of approval on it. Writing with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, Steven Tyler is very rhythmic, and he’s a musical guy, everything is (scatting a beat) a groove. When I wrote with him and Joe, it would start with a groove, then he would put lyrics on top of it. Ozzy is totally different. We threw cards up in air and put words together. Ozzy comes up with different ideas. Alice Cooper is very intellectual and creative; he makes sense with the story. I enjoy all the angles. David foster, musically, is a genius. There’s always a lesson, a lesson learned. Country artists are different, too, and they approach things in a different way.
Marisa: In mentioning country music, I was curious if there were any musical techniques that you especially appreciated, whether it was something you personally used, or even something in a completely different genre.
Jack: I appreciate all kinds of music. There’s some great country music out there right now, like Little Big Town. There’s a lot of great music in general. I listen to Taylor Swift, Katie Perry, and Pink; I love their approach, even Black Eyed Peas and funk. I listen to Tom Petty; he’s a big Beatles fan, too, I think. When there’s music I like, when I hear it on the radio, I turn it up and think, “who’s that? I love it.” I wished I would have thought of when I hear great music. It goes back to the songs. It’s always been about songs to me, like Elton John, and even Simon and Garfunkel. Tom Petty is a great story teller. Songs are everything. That’s what is so fun about coming to Englewood, as we are going to play an acoustic show, and that’s what does it for us. When we do that, we are able to become Night Ranger story tellers. We get to have so much fun. That’s about the show we will be doing down there; we dig deep into the songs, play them around, talk about the story behind them, like what we were doing at the time. We might even tell lies about each other. Time flies, and we have had so much fun doing it. I’m really excited about it.
Marisa: You had mentioned Ozzy, and I know from touring on Ozzfest that he has been known to be quite the jokester at times. Having been in the music industry for so long, playing with so many tremendous people, do you have any stories that come to mind about being in the band, maybe being on tour, or any silly stories that come to mind that you might care to share?
Jack: There’s so many stories; it’s hard to begin. One time, I was left. I had been on the tour bus on the New Jersey Turn Pike, and this was before cell phones. It was one in the morning, and I was wearing a tank top, flip flops, and I had my glasses on, as I had taken my contacts out. We had stopped for somebody to go to the bathroom, and I jumped off. Brad jumped into the spot where I was and put a blanket over himself, and the manager thought it was me. They drove to Virginia before they realized that I was not in the bus. Luckily, I flagged down some cops, who took me to the toll booths, and shortly, I found the crew bus. I took over the back lounge, and nobody ever knew. There was a lot of stuff that happened in 80s…. even in the 90s and 2000s for that matter.
Marisa: Originally, the band was just called Ranger. Didn’t you have to change the name of the band due to a country band with a similar name? That even happens nowadays where someone comes up with a name, then they look on the internet only to find another band in another country with the same name, so how did you find out about it back then?
Jack: Names are tough. It’s really had to come up with names that everyone agrees on. If you’re a single artist, or a solo artist, that’s a little different. If you’re in a band, it’s a democracy. We threw names in a hat and pulled out Ranger. None of us really… but we said ok. We cut the first album, and we had 10,000 album covers printed up. There was a full-page ad in Billboard of The Rangers, a country band, and their fathers had formed the band and had that name, started after the Civil War, had the name forever. I thought we were screwed, but I had wrote a song called Night Ranger. I thought let’s add Night on top of the logo. They said it was terrible, but I said it’d be fine. I hang up and thought we were going to be screwed, but here we are, 35 years later.
Marisa: Were you able to save the album covers by just stamping Night on top of Ranger?
Jack: No, we burned them all. I think there’s still a few out there, and I would love to get a copy of it somewhere. I don’t actually have one myself.
Marisa: You have traveled extensively throughout your career in music. What’s the scariest part of being on the road, and is there anything that you have to have with you when you’re on the road?
Jack: The scariest part is always, I think, making sure you get there on time. Sometimes, we’re flying in the day of the show, sweating bullets to get there on time. We try to get there the day before, but sometimes, it’s not available. The crew has been there a long time, so they have it totally under control. They’re professionals, and we trust them implicitly. It’s like being in the trenches with somebody, and you have to trust your buddy in the fox hole with your life; that’s how the crew is with us. There’s nothing I need like a talisman that I carry with me, like a lucky rabbit’s foot; it’s just get up there and play rock and roll. That’s how we do it.
Marisa: Having played with so many other people in the past, are you working on any other side projects at the moment?
Jack: Night Ranger is the focus with the 35th year anniversary. I’m focused this year on that. We have a new album this month: “Don’t Let Up.” We’re really geared into that. It’s been 35 years. We’re the survivors, still rocking and rolling. We will be releasing new videos, doing the whole thing. I think on the “Don’t Let Up” album, it’s classic in every way, having double harmony guitars, with it being true to form of what Night Ranger is. It’s 2017, and we’ve been talking about Night Ranger since 1982; it’s a celebration of that.
Marisa: Do you have any advice for musicians starting out in the music industry?
Jack: The music industry has really changed a lot. It’s not the same as when we first started out, but I think there are a lot more tools available to a person right now. You can get music instantly from all around with world with social media, Youtube, and everything. It’s a whole different world now. One thing always will be true: a good song is a good song. Any advice? I’d say keep working on your songs. It’s a learned ability; the more you write, the better you get. Keep writing, and one day, you’ll get that great chorus or great melody. My advice is keep up with song after song after song.
Marisa: Do you have any hobbies that people might not know about, or do you collect anything?
Jack: I think pretty much music is my life. I love history, American History, wartime history and things. I’m a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. There was nothing like it when it happened and nothing since then. I collect anything to do with the Rough Riders.
Marisa: Do you have children, and if so, have any of them shown an interest in music?
Jack: I have two sons in their mid-30s, as well as two grandsons: one is 2 and a half, and the other is 4 months. It’s all boys in the Blades’ family. My son James, the oldest, is a manger of a rock band, and he has a really good business mind. The other is an artist, but he had an album at 20, Colin Blades. He has been selling a lot of paintings, which is pretty great. He’s very creative.
Marisa: What else can people expect at the show in Englewood?
Jack: We want to make sure this show in Englewood is going to be great. We are storytellers, and we will pull from songs that we haven’t played in years. When you come to a show like this, it’s interactive. We might take requests from audience, jump into playing a song that we listened to when we were young, might sing “Spirit In the Sky,” might show a few tracks from the new album. We did a live album around Christmas, “35 Years and A night in Chicago.” There’s so much material to draw from, who knows what we will play? It might go on forever.
Marisa: Why did you choose Chicago as a place to perform the live album?
Jack: Chicago is in the Midwest, in the middle. We wanted fans from all over to be able to get to it. Chicago, at the House of Blues, it’s a great city, and we have great friends there. I have a friend there, a main radio guy in the loop in Chicago, and he helped us out a lot. It’s a great thing for the live record and live DVD.
Marisa: Are you planning any live recordings on this upcoming tour?
Jack: Probably no live recordings on this tour, but never say never.
Marisa: You have had a few members come and go over the years, but yet you’ve held a solid foundation. How have you evolved over the years?
Jack: Kelly Keagy, the drummer singer, along with Brad Gillis and I, have played together since 1979. We are the nucleus of band. We first played in a band called Rubicon, which was a funk rock band. We have evolved from where we were, and who we were, to now: Kerry Kelli, who has played with Alice Cooper and Slash – who is a great guitarist and great guy - and Eric Levy, a great guy who has been with us for six years. We have the best of the bunch. We can play anything. Kelli has been with us for a long time, too; both of them are very in tuned to the true nature of the sound of Night Ranger, very much wanting to make sure that this is who we are. It makes for a very good arrangement. This band has so much fun. The way it is right now is the best I’ve been in. We have so much fun on the road, which people relate to, because the fun is real. What they’re experiencing is real; nobody just turns one in.
Marisa: Any final thoughts?
Jack: I just want to make sure that everyone comes out to the show.
For more information on Night Ranger, visit www.nightranger.com, www.facebook.com/nightranger, www.twitter.com/nightranger, www.vevo.com/artist/night-ranger, and www.pandora.com/night-ranger.
Marisa Williams earned her Master’s in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University, and she is a professor in Florida. For more by Marisa, visit www.lulu.com/spotlight/thorisaz and www.twitter.com/booksnbling.