By Jeb Wright
Jack Blades is a busy man. He is a member of Night Ranger, a sought after music producer and he has been busy making another album with Tommy Shaw of Styx. Now, somehow, he has squeezed in a new solo album.
Blades is a music machine and he continues to write music with that perfect mix of hard rock, pop sensibility and good time, hanging at the beach with your girl music.
For his latest effort, Blades reflected back on this thirty-some year musical career, blending all of his influences and styles into one album, cleverly titled Rock ‘N Roll Ride. The music is a throwback to the days when every song didn’t need to sound the same. This one has hard rockers, ballads and pop songs all intertwined, telling the tale of Blades musical life.
In the interview that follows we discuss the new album, its inspirations, Night Ranger, Shaw/Blades and why the Damn Yankees left their last album in the can, never to see the light of day.
Jeb: Somewhere in California may be the best Night Ranger album, beginning to end, ever. Now, you have a new solo album, Rock ‘N Roll Ride.
Jack: I have been busy.
Jeb: You have never quit, as you always have something going on, but you are on a role right now. Have you reflected on that at all?
Jack: To be honest, I don’t really even think about it. Creatively, I thought it was the right thing to do, to release the Rock ‘N Roll Ride record. It was like doing an album that was an overview of this crazy and insane thirty year rock and roll adventure that I’ve been on.
One day, I looked at the bottom of my closet and there were all my laminates and stuff like that and I thought, “That would be a nice cover for an album.” It kind of went from there. The next thing that you know the album is being written recorded and is now out. It has all the influences of everything that has influenced me over the years, like Southern California music, like the Eagles, and there is a British Metal vibe and a funky vibe and a bluesy vibe. It really is like the rock and roll ride of my life.
Jeb: This album would have been a killer follow up to the last Night Ranger album.
Jack: Actually, this record was finished before we even started the last album, Somewhere in California. We decided to hold it back until after the Night Ranger album. In fact, this record, the week after it was finished, actually, it was the same week that I was mixing it, we started working on Somewhere in California.
One of the songs, “Growing Up In California,” was actually written for my Rock ‘N Roll Ride record. Brad [Gillis] and Kelly [Keagy] heard it and said, “Dude, we’ve got to have that one.” We cherry picked that one off my solo album and put it on Somewhere in California.
Jeb: Are there a lot of ideas left over for the next album or did you use it all on this one?
Jack: There are always some ideas leftover. I really just wanted to make a record that summed up the last thirty years of rocking and rolling.
It is not all hard rock and it is not like Night Ranger or Shaw/Blades. If you listen to this album, then you will find that these songs are all of what makes up me. I think that is why I feel so good about this album. I think it was time for me to make an album like this.
When I make a solo album, then I can take musical liberties that I can’t make with Shaw/Blades or Night Ranger. I can do things that are a complete departure from anything Night Ranger has ever done. For instance, I can sit down with Robin Zander and write a song like “Anything for You.” Robin was basically channeling John Lennon during that song. You can do that on a solo record. It is not all up tempo rock. Some people go, “This is album is all over the map” and blah blah blah. I want to say, “Dude that was the idea behind it. It is called ‘Rock ‘N Roll Ride.” It is like an old school album where you can put on the first song and play it all the way through to the last song, which is “Hey Now” and it literally takes you on a rock and roll ride. I really think I accomplished what I set out to do.
Jeb: You are getting very close to doing a concept record.
Jack: I know, that’s scary isn’t it.
Jeb: Cheap Trick is one of the best bands in the world. I have never interviewed Robin Zander. Tell me what it was like working with him.
Jack: I have known the Cheap Trick guys for a long, long time. I first met Robin back in 1985 when we played shows with him on a Night Ranger tour. We’ve been friends since then. Robin and I have become pretty good friends where we have hung out and stuff.
I called Robin and asked him if he were going to be on the West Coast any time over the next three months and he told me that he happened to be on the Coast doing a show with Cheap Trick.
One day, he shows up in this long black stretch limousine and pulls up to my ranch. He gets out and he is wearing this cool white suit and I am like, “Wow!” We sat down, and I’m telling you, we dug right into the song. I played him the music for “Anything for You” and he just started singing, “I will surrender…” We started recording and we came up with two other songs. We did this insanely creative four hours of writing and singing and then he just gets in the car and leaves and I was like, “What just happened?”
Robin Zander is so insanely talented that I would love to make a whole record with him. Robin is funny and he is brilliant. He just grabs it out of the air and he puts that voice of his on it and it becomes a beautiful song.
Jeb: Is it just a fantasy that there will ever be a Jack Blades band to go out and tour this music?
Jack: I would love to do that but I don’t know when that would be. Night Ranger is really busy right now. We are going to be filming a concert this week for future release and next week we are doing an unplugged, acoustic, Storytellers like DVD. We are going to Europe in June. I think a lot of these songs are screaming to be played live and I would love to do that.
Night Ranger had a great year last year touring around the world with Journey. I had not toured that much since the Damn Yankees. This year is not slowing down a bit.
Jeb: You are playing, recording, producing…
Jack: I like producing other people’s albums, doing solo albums, doing Night Ranger, doing Shaw/Blades, or this or that. I just like to keep working and to be busy; that is my MO, it is who I am.
Jeb: Talk more about your influences. Are there any surprises?
Jack: When I first grew up, it was the Beatles, when I was like nine years old and I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I, then, got into British rock like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I love Thin Lizzy. Night Ranger is very influenced by Thin Lizzy. We have the duel harmony guitars and we have a singing bass player. We were putting the band together in the late 1970’s when Thin Lizzy was really smoking.
When I moved to San Francisco in 1975, I was hanging out with Sly Stone and my first real band, Rubicon, was formed by the sax player in Sly & the Family Stone. I found myself sitting in a recording studio in Sausalito, in 1975, playing bass with Sly in the other room. It was pretty crazy.
All of those influences come out in Rock ‘N Roll Ride. We have the British stuff like “Say You Will” and then the Lizzy thing with the duel guitars. We have Beates-esque harmonies on
”West Hollywood.” The blues comes out in “Hey Now” and things like that. It is all on the different tracks that I put out on that album.
Jeb: Talk about Frontiers Records.
Jack: Things couldn’t be better with them; I love those guys. I’ve got a wonderful relationship between them and myself. The owner of the label, Serafino Perugino, is such a music fan that I love being around him. He flew to Paris to meet me when I was playing there years ago. We became friends. He lets me do my thing and I listen to him when he has suggestions because he has very good suggestions. He and I have an unwritten thing where he trusts me with the music and I trust him with the label stuff.
Jeb: Did you even have to play him a note of music for him to want to release your solo album?
Jack: There were no demos sent back and forth. We really have built up a measure of trust over the last nine or ten years. He trusts me to give my highest level of output with whatever I do; whether it is a Jack Blades record, a Night Ranger record, or if I am producing someone else. He knows that every ounce of being in my heart and soul will go to that project. I think he appreciates that.
Jeb: They are really doing well and they are making a presence with their American side of their business but it is still a tough sell in the USA.
Jack: At this stage of the game, we are making records for our fans. Radio is not even an outlet anymore, as classic rock stations refuse to play anything new. I think it is the nature of what the music business has become. Instead of saying it is such a drag, we are just going to keep playing and having an output of new music. I think it is important for artists to keep creating because when you stop creating then you start dying inside. As long as I keep creating, then my soul is fine. When I stop creating is when I will start to die inside. I feel that I must be creative and that is why I keep doing Night Ranger records, my solo records, Shaw/Blades records and other people’s records.
Jeb: I heard there is a new Shaw/Blades being worked on.
Jack: We are about halfway through the album. We have about seven or eight songs recorded. We have done some work over the last couple of months and we are putting it together. I am hoping to have something by the end of the year to release.
Jeb: Tell me about being on stage with Rubicon at the Cal Jam.
Jack: I was twenty-four years old when I did that. It was pretty crazy as there were 250,000 in front of me. I really thought we were on our way. Rubicon had an album out and we were on the charts and I thought we were going to hit big. In 1979, the band fell apart and I thought it was over.
It’s funny how when one door shuts, another door opens. In Rubicon, I was not a main songwriter and I was just a bass player. If that band hadn’t have broken up and fallen to pieces then we would have never formed Night Ranger. It is funny how it all works.
Look at Brad, he was in Rubicon with me and then we played in a band called Stereo. My roommate at the time was Alan Fitzgerald, who played with Montrose, Gamma and Sammy Hagar. He said we should take our three guys from Stereo and get with him and this guy he knew from Sacramento and put together a band; this was in 1980. We were getting ready to go and record our first record when Brad got the call from Ozzy to go fill in for Randy Rhoads after he passed away. We thought Brad was never coming back, but he did and we released Dawn Patrol.
Jeb: Last one: I talked to Nugent recently and he told me there is an entire Damn Yankees album that has never been released. Is that true? Why have you not released it yet?
Jack: It is true. It was not released because it sucked. The album was all done wrong and everything was bad about it. The producer was bad and everything about it was bad; it just wasn’t right. Some of those songs have appeared on different albums. The last Styx record has one of the songs on it. My first solo album had a song on it called “Shine On” that was one of those songs. Bits and pieces of songs, maybe three or four of the better songs, have snuck out there.
Jeb: You guys did an impromptu Damn Yankees reunion at NAMM a year or so ago.
Jack: That was fun. The Damn Yankees are a great band. I am always hoping we will do something else with them. It is just a matter of time before we can do that, but we have to figure out how to get everyone’s schedules to match. That band is a fun band; end of story.
Jeb: It would be awesome to see a Night Ranger/Damn Yankees/Ted Nugent/Styx tour.
Jack: For some reason, those managers always fight over stuff like that and that is really too bad, as it would be a blast.
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