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Wednesday, Jun 2 2004
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At around the turn of the millennium, if you were a DJ and you spun Journey out at a hip nightclub -- as increasing numbers of slick DJs were doing -- the crowd could safely assume that you were making a joke, ironically embracing the band's epic hooks and sentimental lyrics. The same went for all manner of expired rock, from AC/DC to Hall & Oates. But in the past year or so, as more and more dance floors were drenched in the sounds of Foreigner, Air Supply, Boston, and such, us kids started to forget that playing those bands was a detached, ironic gesture; before long, we changed our stance, shedding the aura of irony and embracing butt-rock with a straight face, so that by the time the Darkness arrived last year wearing its cock-rock-loving heart on its sleeve, we were ready to embrace the fact that you don't need to smirk to "Believe in a Thing Called Love."

Well, duh. That's what Night Ranger has been saying this whole time!

Who's Night Ranger? Come on! Night Ranger is one of the raddest bands in the entire Bay Area. Ever heard of a little tune called "Sister Christian"? Or ... what was that other song the guys did? Oh, wait, they only had one hit (well, two if you count the title track to the Michael J. Fox movie The Secret of My Success). Still, since 1982 Night Ranger has made nine records, and frontman Jack Blades also co-founded -- with none other than Ted Nugent -- the supergroup Damn Yankees. Here's a moment of sharing about DY: The act's single "High Enough" was my all-time favorite song in the seventh grade -- I danced my first slow dance to that shit! Now, at long last, Night Ranger is receiving the recognition it deserves: a lifetime achievement honor called the California Gold Award at this Sunday's California Music Awards in Oakland (www.californiamusicawards.com), where the band will perform alongside, um, Hieroglyphics? This seemed as good a reason as any to catch up with Blades himself.

Garrett Kamps: How are you?

Jack Blades: If I was any happier I'd be twins. How's that sound?

GK: It sounds weird. To be recognized as an important part of California's musical history like this is a big deal. Where do you see Night Ranger fitting in?

JB: I think that we carried the banner for the Bay Area in the '80s in some respect. The Starship kind of morphed out of the Airplane in the '80s, and they had a lot of hits and stuff, but I think Night Ranger, Huey Lewis & the News -- we did, we carried the banner for the Bay Area throughout the '80s.

GK: So has VH1 ever done a Behind the Music on Night Ranger?

JB: No, they never have. It would be an interesting thing, too, because it could be great.

GK: Let's say there was a Behind the Music, what would be the most dramatic moment?

JB: There's been so many crazy moments. ... Did you see the movie Boogie Nights? That was sort of our life for the first three or four years.

GK: You had pool parties?

JB: Oh, yeah. You have no idea how crazy it was in 1983.

GK: What about these days, are you still hanging out by the pool with the chicks?

JB: Well, you know, we all kind of grew up. I've been married for 27 years, so I have to plead the Fifth on this line of questioning. ... Now I have a 15-acre ranch in Sonoma County. I have a recording studio in my barn, and I produce records and write songs for people. I've co-written songs with the guys in Aerosmith, with Ozzy, I've written songs for Cher, everybo --

GK: -- so you have a pool?

JB: I do, I have a pool. So I do hang out beside the pool. And nine times out of 10, it's my wife who's floating next to me in the pool.

GK: When you were writing "Sister Christian," did you have a feeling at the time that it was going to be one of the biggest hits of the '80s?

JB: Originally that song was called "Sister Christy," because Kelly [Keagy], our drummer, who wrote the tune, his sister's name is Christy, and I always thought he was singing "Sister Christian" till one day he wrote down the lyrics and I was like, "What? What do you mean, 'Christy'?" I took poetic license and changed it to Christian, and then in the video we had nuns and Catholic schoolgirls, and, you know, the rest is how everybody interpreted it. I remember one time ... this lady was like [in a Minnesota accent, à la Fargo], "Hey, my daughter's been listening to that 'Sister Christian' over and over. Is that about a nun who sells dope to schoolkids?" And we were like, "Yes ma'am, it is." Where do people get this stuff?

GK: Maybe we should set the record straight: What is "Sister Christian" about?

JB: "Sister Christian" is about Kelly's sister growing up in a small town in Oregon, and on the weekends they'd be cruising, or motoring -- you know [he sings it]: "Mo-tor-in'." So that's what it's about.

GK: Here's something I've always wanted to know: You have a few songs with parentheses in the title, like "(You Can Still) Rock in America" and "Don't Start Thinking (I'm Alone Tonight)." That's a common trick in rock music, the parentheses. Why do people do it?

JB: I think the parentheses is when you just can't figure out what to name a song. Like, should I call the song "Rock in America" or "You Can Still Rock in America"? And some guy at the record company has a brainstorm, saying, "Let's put 'You Can Still' in parentheses, then we'll call it, 'Rock in America.'" And "Don't Start Thinking I'm Alone ..." [he tries to hum a few bars]. I can't even remember that song. That had parentheses, too?

GK: Yeah. "Don't Start Thinking" and then "(I'm Alone Tonight)."

JB: Well, that's too long of a title. Maybe I typed it out for me to remember the title. I don't know; that's a good question. I just think that it's like, that's the way that stuff is: You can't figure out what to do, so you put it in parentheses, so it's like, you're kind of not putting it all in there.

GK: I've always thought it's like a way to slip a little surprise in, so it's like, "Don't start thinking [long pause, drops voice two octaves] ... I'm alone tonight."

JB: I like that idea, too.

GK: On one of your newer records, Seven, I was looking at the album notes and you have a guy, Ricky Lawson, who is credited solely as the cowbell player. You really hired someone just to play cowbell?

JB: You know what that was? We were probably in a studio somewhere and a guy was just walking by, and he was probably, like, a drummer, and he said, "Hey, you could use some cowbell on that." So we said, "Well, get in here. Grab your cowbell."

GK: It seems to me that pretty much anybody could play the cowbell.

JB: Well, that's one of those union things where you gotta look in the roster of the American Federation of Musicians and you look under "C" for cowbell --

GK: -- wait, there's a list of professional cowbell players?

JB: Can you imagine? This guy's known for his cowbell playing. Ricky Lawson and his cowbell!

GK: I'm dying to say this: Damn Yankees ... "High Enough" ... awesome.

JB: [Gracious whisper] Thank you.

GK: When I was in junior high, that song came out, and man, it was a winner. Can you tell me about shooting that video? It was, like, in black-and-white and the cops have you pinned down in an old shack, and there's a shootout and the Nooge [Ted Nugent] had his guitar solo ....

JB: That was a fun video. We shot that video in New Orleans, and the cops all love Ted. [He goes on to tell a long story about driving in the back seat of a cop car with the Nooge.]

GK: Night Ranger, Damn Yankees -- you've had an illustrious career. Any regrets?

JB: [Pause] No. ... Careerwise I feel like I'm one of the luckiest guys, I feel very blessed. You're usually good for one band for about four or five years. And here I had a great run with Night Ranger, we sold millions of records, then I'm in another band for another five or six years that sells millions of records again. Then I've written songs that have been million-selling records for outside artists. Then I produced bands that have done really, really well. I played with a Beatle [Ringo, for some VH1 special]!

GK: Now you're getting a California Gold Award!

JB: Yeah! I'll tell you one thing, I always look to the future. I never look at the past. The past is passed.

GK: Great. Well, thanks for talking to me.

JB: Sure thing, Garrett. Anytime. Just say the word if you need anything at all, if you want to do an '80s exposé, or an attitude thing [?], or if you just can't come up with something and you gotta fill up some pages. I'm always good for a few lines.

About The Author

Garrett Kamps

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