STILL SHARP – JACK BLADES
Jack Blades may be a Night Ranger and a Damn Yankee, but don’t call him a one-trick pony. As he’s quick to point out, “When someone looks at me, looks at my past, looks at my music, looks at my life, they realize that I’m not just Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” Although the iconic ’80s Night Ranger hit song is one of many of Blades’ musical pinnacles, he’s also had a long, illustrious career as a versatile frontman, bassist, singer, songwriter, and producer. And those many talents are showcased on his newest solo CD, Rock N’ Roll Ride.
Born in California, Blades says with his frequent, easy laugh, “I was born in Palm Desertway back when that was a retirement community. I think my brother and I were the only two children in the entire town at the time.” He was introduced to music via a plastic ukulele his parents gave him when he was 8, later graduating to the real wood, wire, and wattage instrument, and gigging locally while majoring in pre-med at San Diego State University. Deciding to hang up his stethoscope, Blades moved to San Francisco to record with the legendary Sly Stone. From there, he funked things up with the band Rubicon, where he met guitarist Brad Gillis. The two went on to plant their musical flag in rock history with arena rock band Night Ranger, ringing up sales of more than 10 million albums. After Night Ranger, Blades joined forces with Ted Nugent, Michael Cartellone, andStyx’s Tommy Shaw in Damn Yankees, then paired off with Shaw to form Shaw/Blades.
But they all still remain bros before foes — still friends that write, produce, and tour with each other. “Night Ranger had a huge tour last year,” Blades describes. “We were on tour with Journey and Foreigner. We started in Japan, and then we met up with Journey in Europe. July we came back to the States through November and sold out all these huge amphitheaters and had a ball. I’ve written songs with the guys in Journey. Neal Schon and I are very good friends, and we’ve done a lot of work together writing and playing. So it was a really fun tour because everybody knew everybody so well.”
However, the tour sidelined Blades’ weekly radio show, Backstage Pass with Jack Blades, which had been stirring up the airwaves in Denver,Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona. “I had to take a break from that last year,” he explains, “and I haven’t started it up again because last year Night Ranger played so many shows — 130, 140 shows — and we were touring nonstop. I’m trying to figure out when to start that back up again.”
When asked about a possible reunion of his pals in Journey, though, Blades becomes more evasive, nimbly sidestepping the question like a pro boxer. “I don’t know,” he says, then amends with, “actually, I know too much. So you’re going to have to talk to them about that [laughs].”
He’s a bit more direct when asked about Damn Yankees, and the work he’s done with their members at his home recording studio (a converted barn) on his Northern California ranch. “We’ve been on this permanent hiatus for the last 20 years [laughs]. But we’re still all great friends. I produced Ted’s last album, Love Grenade.” Blades adds that Nugent’s visits have an impact that goes beyond music. “All the animals stop moving and the fish stop swimming in the fish tank when Nugent shows up. There’s still an arrow stuck in my chicken coop from 10 years ago when he shot the frickin’ chicken coop, and I just left the arrow up there. It’s kind of a funny thing [laughs].”
When Tommy Shaw visits Blades’ studio, though, the only weapon he shows up with is his six-string axe. “Tommy Shaw was at my place last week,” he says, “and I go down to Tommy’s house — he has a great recording studio at his place inL.A. We’re slowly finishing up another Shaw/Blades record. So we still stay in contact with everybody.”
Blades goes on to say that Styx, REO and Nugent are hitting the stage this summer, and have asked him to play some shows with them. “So who knows?” he asks teasingly. “Michael [Cartellone] said that if I could ever coordinate my touring schedule, Tommy’s touring schedule, and Ted’s hunting schedule, we might get something going again [laughs].”
As an accomplished musician who’s spent decades selling more than 25 million albums, kept millions of fans still rocking in America and worldwide, producing other artists, and collaborating with countless music luminaries, what is the fuel that’s kept Blades’ passion burning so long and strong? “I love music. I love everything about it,” he states with eloquent simplicity. “I don’t know how to do anything else, so I just keep going and going in that. With Night Ranger, I’m the frontman, lead singer, songwriter, and bass player of the band. And then, of course, the Damn Yankees — the same way.
“And I’ve always liked writing songs,” he continues. “I’ve written songs with tons of other people — the guys in Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Nugent, Vince Neil, Ozzy Osbourne. Lots of country acts, too. And I’ve produced people, because I love to be in the studio.”
Blades’ music also lives on in movies, TV shows, a Broadway musical and video games. “Music is my life,” he says, “and I just love every aspect of it. I love recording, producing, playing, singing, performing. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, I love to do it.”
That love is evident on Blades’ new solo CD, Rock N’ Roll Ride, on Frontiers Records, which also showcases the talents of his Night Ranger comrades-in-arms Brad Gillis, Kelly Keagy, Joel Hoekstra and Eric Levy, along with Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander. “I think that it’s fun to be able to do a solo record because then you’re not in the confines of your bands. You don’t have to do something that sounds like Night Ranger. You don’t have to do something that sounds like Damn Yankees — although people expect you to do that. And some people would say, ‘Gee, it’s too diverse. It’s not all hard rockers. It’s not all Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.’ I’ve never been all about just one thing. But this record really is a reflection of me. All the songs, actually, have been autobiographical.”
Even the title of the album is a glimpse into Blades’ world. “Rock N’ Roll Ride — I called it that because basically I’ve been on this for the last 20 years — this great rock n’ roll ride of music.”
The album’s first single, the crunching first-pumper, Back in the Game, and its accompanying military-themed video, starring Blades’ son, Colin, delivers a powerful patriotic salute. “I wanted to do something to honor the troops,” Blades states. “Our troops put their asses on the line for us every single day, and they’ve been doing it ever since this great country began.”
The video also exposes the war wounds left on Blades’ own family, displaying actual artifacts from his mother’s first husband’s tour of duty. “He was killed in World War II,” Blades says, becoming somber. “And that telegram on the wall is the telegram she received the day after Christmas, when he was killed in action. And those are his medals in the video, at the end. He was a war hero. He saved a lot of guys’ lives by giving his life.”
Trying to see the good in the tragedy Blades says, “Six years later, she met my dad, and got married, and then I was born. And then all this music happened. So it’s funny how this works.”
Fans may rally ’round the song, but in these oh-so-politically correct times, what was the reaction when its video premiered on the website of Jack’s conservative and controversial friend, Sean Hannity? “That’s enough to piss off all my friends, right?” Blades responds with a laugh. “I kind of come from the Ted Nugent school of ‘Let me make everybody really, really nervous and piss off a bunch of people.’ But instead of pissing off people, all I’ve been getting is people going, ‘Jack, that’s awesome, man.’ ”
He’s quick to point out that he’s neither on the conservative nor the liberal side of the fence. “I stay out of politics. I’m not for the ideological, ‘It’s this way or the highway.’ I’m one of those guys that’s like, ‘Let’s use common sense.’ I’m just excited that so many people are embracing the track, Back in the Game. We’re approaching over 10,000 people watching it on YouTube, and it’s only been out about three weeks.”
Blades’ excitement is just as palpable when he talks about the other tunes on the CD. “There’s the song, Rock N’ Roll Ride, that’s very much a real kick-ass, AC/DC-type thing — the kind of music I love to play. And then there’s a great ballad, The Hardest Thing to Say. And it ends with Hey Now, which is this bluesy, soulful thing.”
When talking about collaborating with Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, he describes the experience with an awe bordering on reverence. “There’s a song I co-wrote with Robin Zander, which is Anything for You, and it’s very Beatle-esque,” Blades says. “And that was an amazing experience because Robin is so uber-talented, it’s just stupid. He reeks of talent. I had the verses down. I had the music. He came in and started singing this chorus. BOOM! He just sang the chorus, and that was done. Then we started working for about three or four hours, wrote three or four things, and he left. And I turned to my buddy, Will, and we’re like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ It was just amazing.”
Like the proud papa he is, Blades also glowingly conveys the experience of penning a song with his son. “A lot of people think that the song, West Hollywood, was co-written by Robin and myself. But actually, that was co-written with my son, Colin,” he clarifies. “Colin is a musician. He just came in about a year-and-a-half, two years ago, sat in my kitchen, and started singing this verse and chorus. And I’m like, ‘This is frickin’ great, dude.’ I finished it off, and I decided to put it on my solo record. It’s one of my favorites on the record.”
In the meantime, fans can keep up with Blades by going to jackblades.net. And if they want to listen to Blades’ newest tune, he suggests with a laugh, “When your server blocks you from going to hannity.com, just go to YouTube, type in Jack Blades Back in the Game, and enjoy the ride.”With Blades’ exhilaration over the new CD, and the avalanche of accolades already pouring in from cyberspace and beyond, is he going to be taking Rock N’ Roll Ride out for a spin on tour? “I’m trying,” he answers, “because I think so many of these songs are just screaming to be played live. I mean, Back in the Game — if that song doesn’t get played live, that’s a national calamity.”
But before they take that ride, he has a few words of advice to impart upon them. “I just want everybody to embrace the day, embrace music, and just go out there and fricking seize the day. That’s my whole philosophy. It’s what it’s been all my life. And I tell you, I’m gonna carry that to my grave.”