A Conversation With Jack Blades – Part 2
Below is the second part of my two-part interview with the lead singer and bassist of Night Ranger, Jack Blades. Read part one of this interview here and check out my review of Night Ranger’s new album, High Road.
Following the release of the 1988 album, Man In Motion, Night Ranger split up for several years. What led to the break-up?
Everybody was kind of going in different directions. Everybody wanted to write the songs. Everybody wanted to do this. Everybody wanted their own songs. I had done the majority of the songwriting…just the typical BS that happens with bands. You’re young and you’re making a lot of dough, and all of a sudden you’re really famous. Everybody’s ego is like blown out and everybody is thinking it’s them that’s making everything work. There’s a lot of drugs and alcohol going on and everyone’s going a million miles an hour and finally I just said, “All right, everybody. Just have fun. Do your own thing. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy it. Have a nice life. Have a nice band,” and I quit.
And about five days later I got a call to go to New York and hang out with Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent, and that’s when we formed the Damn Yankees. So I just went straight from Night Ranger, right into the Yanks. Boom. Right into another band. Right into what I was doing, and it was a beautiful thing.
And in 1996 everybody had done their own thing and everybody said, “Hey, maybe we should go play some shows in Japan as Night Ranger. Yeah, OK. Let’s go play in Japan as Night Ranger.” So, we did that and we’ve been doing it ever since.
During this time you, Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent formed Damn Yankees and you guys had several hit singles, including the biggest one, “High Enough.” How did it feel to achieve multi-platinum success with another band?
It was pretty seamless. I went from being a band member in Night Ranger to being a band member with Tommy and Ted. And, like I said, the three of us checked our egos at the door. The first weekend we got together, we wrote three or four songs off that first record. We just put our heads down, plowed ahead and forged our way. That’s the thing, man. I’ve been in bands since…I had been with Night Ranger since 1980 and the first record, Dawn Patrol, came out in 1982. And then I went right into the Damn Yankees, and then we went right into touring 18 months and right into playing. I mean, I didn’t have a break until we stopped touring in 1994 or 1995. I said, “Gosh, man, let me frickin’ breath a little bit.” And that’s when Tommy and I did the first Shaw-Blades record together, Hallucination. And then Tommy went back with Styx, Ted started to do his solo stuff again and I went back to Night Ranger. That’s the story.
Kelly and Brad recruited Gary Moon to replace you as the vocalist and bass player for the 1995 Night Ranger album Feeding Off The Mojo. At the time did this bother you?
No because they had been working on that since 1992 or 1993. I remember, Tommy and I went and saw them at a club somewhere while we were on tour. I was doing my thing. I was in the Damn Yankees. What did I care what they were doing? I mean, I think it wasn’t truly…everybody’s gotta’ do what they’ve gotta’ do. So, they were doing their thing and I was doing my thing with Damn Yankees, and that’s how it was.
During this time you and Tommy Shaw formed your own group and released an album called Hallucination. How was it being in Shaw-Blades compared to Damn Yankees?
Realistically, it was Tommy and me doing everything (laughs) in Damn Yankees, anyway. Ted would come in and be like, “Yeah, I’m going to be recording for a week.” And what that meant was he would show up Monday night around 9 o’clock at night, start working Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and take the first bird out at 7 a.m. on Friday morning. Tommy and I, we pounded away on all the records with Ron Nevison, the producer on the Damn Yankees stuff. We were constantly doing it ourselves anyway, and Ted would come in, play all the guitars and do this, that and the other. And, of course, he would rehearse the songs and come up with ideas, and everything like that, but it wasn’t that much different.
In 1996 you reunited with the original members of Night Ranger for a tour and two studio albums. Around this time period, Styx and Journey also had reunions with their original lineups. What do you think led to this mid-90s renaissance of 1980s rock groups?
I don’t know. I think it maybe just happened at that time. Just a lot of people getting back together and forming up the old crew and everything. I just think that’s the way it was. I don’t think there was a plan or anything. Time heals all wounds. I think time is a friend in a lot of respects.
But it’s funny, some of those bands didn’t have the same dynamic five or six years later. Like, Dennis DeYoung blew up with Styx and Steve flew out of Journey. And with Night Ranger, Brad, Kelly and I are the guys that are still here. A lot of times if people don’t move on, old stuff crops up again and sometimes that causes problems.
In 2012 Night Ranger released 24 Strings & A Drummer, a fantastic acoustic performance, as a DVD and album. What made you guys want to capture your music in this kind of a setting?
Night Ranger had never done an unplugged record. We had never done MTV Unplugged. The Damn Yankees did it when it first started out, but we had never done an unplugged show. Night Ranger’s done some acoustic shows before and we had a great time doing it because our songs translate to an acoustic format really, really well. Singing along, strumming acoustic guitars, everything like that. They work out really well, so we thought why not get together 100 of our good buddies in a room – and we went to TRI, Bob Weir, from the Grateful Dead, his studio in California and recorded this thing. It was all acoustic and we were telling stories about the songs. We just had so much fun doing it. Then we threw on the song “Boys of Summer” because it was always one of our favorite songs from the 80s. We had never done anything like that, and a lot of people were shocked that songs like “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and “(You Can Still) Rock In America” could translate to an acoustic format. But, actually, they worked out really well.
I thought it was terrific, especially the harmonies. It reminded me of the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over concert. And when you guys did “When You Close Your Eyes” and “Forever All Over Again,” I thought they were superior to the studio recordings.
Ya know, I kind of like the way those songs turned out too. And what’s fun is when you do something like that, you have the ability to look at what you would have liked to have done with the songs. The break in “When You Close Your Eyes” – the breakdown before the last chorus, and things like that. The vocal breakdown in “Sing Me Away,” we did this kind of scat thing. “The Secret of My Success,” turning it into a completely different animal. It was really enjoyable.
It kind of harkens back to Eric Clapton fooling around with “Layla.” Taking this classic song like (sings fast guitar rhythm from the original “Layla”) to (sings the slowed-down guitar rhythm of the unplugged version of “Layla”), ya know what I mean? It’s like, what? (sings) “Layla, you got me on my…” I just love that. It’s almost like you’re taking a song that was a known entity and a big hit and you’re making it a big hit again but in a different way. We really enjoyed it.
Night Ranger is on tour this year throughout the U.S. and you guys are also going to Japan in the fall. How do Japanese crowds differ from those in America?
It’s interesting. They’re really great fans and they love to listen to everything you sing. You finish playing a song and the audience cheers for about 10 seconds and then it stops. Right after it stops you can hear a pin drop. It’s like they’re hanging on every word you say. It’s kind of interesting. They enjoy and really focus on everything you’re doing.
You released your self-titled debut solo album in 2004 and followed it up with the terrific Rock n’ Roll Ride in 2012. Do you plan on recording a third solo album?
I love doing solo records, they’re fun. But right now I’m in the middle of doing a project with Doug Aldrich, the guitarist from Whitesnake, and Deen Castronovo, the drummer for Journey. We’re doing an album right now and…who knows? I’ve never been in a trio before. Everything I’ve ever done has been four guys or five guys, so a trio is kind of cool. I kind of like that. But I’ll just keep creating. That’s what I love to do.
When you’re not singing, writing or producing, what kind of music do you enjoy listening to?
I’m all over the map when I’m listening to music. I love listening to Rihanna. I love listening to Katy Perry. I love listening to Ozzy. I love crankin’ up Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and then I’ll go to Vivaldi. It’s crazy. I’m all over the map.
Streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora seem to be creating a shift in the way people consume music. What are your thoughts on this digital evolution in the music industry?
It’s a brave new world out there, man (laughs). And it’s like, embrace it or be left behind. that’s my opinion on everything, and that’s the way it is.
KISS’ lead singer, Paul Stanley, recently released an autobiography he thought he’d never write and it shot to #2 on The New York Times Best Sellers list. Considering how fascinating your life has been, would you ever consider writing an autobiography?
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of stuff I could write about that. As long as it’s interesting, ya know what I mean? As long as it’s something I think the fans and the people would enjoy. I think that’s the key. You don’t want to just write something for the sake of writing it. Like you don’t want to create a record just for the sake of creating a record. You have to do something the people will enjoy, so that’s what I’ll probably do.