MTV gave Night Ranger a boost in early ’80s

By David Yarnell
Special to the News Advocate

MANISTEE — One of the most successful rock bands of the 1980s, Night Ranger, will perform at the Little River Casino Resort on May 19.

Tickets for the concert go on sale Friday.

When Night Ranger came on the scene, it was another rock music newcomer that helped boost their fortunes — the cable channel MTV.

“When we released our first song, ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,’ in 1982, this new thing, MTV, had just come out so we made a video for a minimal amount of money with the help of all our buddies from the UCLA Film School,” said Jack Blades, one of the Night Ranger founders. “We did it really guerrilla style and we gave it to MTV. I think at that time they had that video, Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like a Wolf,’ and maybe one other one so they were playing ours 14 times a day.

Night Ranger is known for songs "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" and "Sister Christian." The '80s rock band will perform at Little River Casino Resort on May 19. (Courtesy photo)

Night Ranger is known for songs “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and “Sister Christian.” The ’80s rock band will perform at Little River Casino Resort on May 19. (Courtesy photo)

“It was crazy,” Blades continued. “We were on tour with Kiss and when we’d go into a town we were like TV stars. People recognized us from the video. Everyone was watching MTV and that was definitely a helpful thing along the road to getting us known throughout the country and throughout the world, in fact.”

Night Ranger was a mainstay on MTV through 1988, having 10 No. 1 videos during that time.

Night Ranger’s first album, “Dawn Patrol,” was released in 1982, ranking number 38 on music charts. Their next two albums, “Midnight Madness” and “7 Wishes,” achieved platinum status in 1983 and 1985. “Big Life” achieved gold status in 1987.

Their most successful singles were “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” reaching No. 4 on the rock chart in 1982; “(You Can Still) Rock in America,” No. 15 in 1983, “Sister Christian,” No. 2 , “When You Close Your Eyes,” No. 14, and “Sentimental Street,” No. 3, in 1984.

Other successful singles were “Goodbye”(No. 16) in 1985, “The Secret of My Success” (No. 12) in 1987 and “I Did It For Love” (No. 16) in 1988.

Through the years Night Ranger has continued touring and creating new music. Last March they released their 35th anniversary CD, “Don’t Let Up.”

“The new CD has some great music, great rock ‘n roll, and we made it very much live like our shows, really rockin’,” Blades said. “The reception of it has been just phenomenal.”

Blades said he and his band mates continue to enjoy touring.

“It’s all I’ve ever done my entire adult life, so I definitely have no problem with it. It’s like we’re all gypsies. I packed my bags in December of 1982 and I think they are still packed.

“That’s all we do, touring and playing,” he continued. “At this stage of the game it’s just wonderful. We enjoy it. We’re having a great time touring all over.”

Blades said the band just returned to home base in California from Texas, will be going to Europe in March and last fall toured Japan.

Blades said Japanese audiences fell in love with them when they first performed there in 1983. Night Ranger has been there 15 times since.

“We had gold albums in Japan before we were presented with our platinum album in the United States,” Blade said. “For some reason our Japanese fans have embraced Night Ranger from the get go. The tours get bigger and bigger and we have a wonderful time going over there to play. Everybody sings in English and out come the American flags when we play. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Blades said after upcoming dates in the United Kingdom they have several engagements on the west coast and after that “we’re going to hit the whole country real hard. It’s going to be non-stop touring. In 2017 we did more shows that we had done in years.”

Night Ranger includes three original members – Blades, bass guitar and vocals; Brad Gillis, guitar and vocals; and Kelly Keagy, drums and vocals. Eric Levy, keyboards, joined the band seven years ago and Keri Kelli, guitar and vocals, five years ago after playing with Alice Cooper for 10 years.

“The band is better than it’s ever been,” Blades said. “It is really firing on all eight cylinders and we’re very happy with the way it is because we just get out there and have a good time. There’s no drama, there’s no this and there’s no that and it makes for a fun show. People pick up on the fact that we’re really having a good time, not just standing up there just to take a check. That’s never been Night Ranger and it never will be Night Ranger, I can guarantee. If it ever starts to be, I’ll be the first one to leave.”

Blades said that a Night Ranger show is an interactive rock concert.

“We get the audience involved. We’ll bust into the songs that they grew up listening to, then we’ll bust in a couple Damn Yankee songs, and from there we’ll play whatever we want to play.”

He said the set list is different every night.

“I don’t think a lot of bands can do that. Everything you hear in our concerts is being played and sung by the five people on the stage with no artificial sweeteners added.”

Blades sang with the group Damn Yankees from 1990 to 1994 with Ted Nugent and Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw. He said a reunion of the group is unlikely.

“You never say never, but each of us are just so busy doing what we’re doing,” he said. “But you know, it would be nice to get together before Ted turns 90,” he joked. “I’m just kidding about the 90, but he is a little bit older than Tommy and me.”

Blades was a senior when he dropped out of pre-med studies at San Diego State University. He said the call to his parents letting them know he was moving to San Francisco to join a rock band went about the way he thought it would.

“I thought my dad was going to get really mad, but it was my mom who was most upset,” he said. “My dad gave me some great advice. He said, ‘Everyone marches to the beat of a different drum, so if this is what you want to do, then go do it with everything you’ve got, with your heart and soul. If it doesn’t work out, don’t kid yourself, but give it everything you’ve got because there’s nothing greater than to be able to use your passion for your livelihood.’

“He was right, and things have worked out very well.”

Blades said it was probably his parents who influenced his music career in the first place.

“I guess if I was thinking quicker when I made that call I could have told them it was their fault, because they gave me that $1 ukulele when I was 8 years old.”

Blades said he is proud of his sons – both are in the music business.

“James is the manager of rock bands because he has a business mind and Colin has a creative mind, so he is a musician and also in the visual arts.”

Blades is also known for his songwriting skills, writing for the groups he’s been in as well as writing or co-writing songs for Aerosmith, Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey and others.

“It’s just something I’ve always done,” he said. “It’s funny, I don’t write songs when we’re on the road. What happens is that we’ll get home and have a month or two off and my brain starts gushing out these pent up ideas from over the course of touring and playing.”

He said he enjoys songwriting as a collaborative process.

“I’m a firm believer in the fact that two or three heads are better than one,” he said “I’ve got my ideas of what a song should be, but it’s always great to have another perspective because someone else may come at that song from a different angle, one that I never thought about. Someone might say, ‘hey, what about this or that or the other thing,’ from a different angle of the Rubik’s cube. That’s why I love writing with other people.”

He said he sees songwriting as an almost sacred enterprise.

“If you listen to a person’s songs, music and lyrics, it’s the closest thing to looking directly into their soul.”

It was Night Ranger drummer Kelly Keagy who wrote one of their biggest hits, “Sister Christian.”

“When he got around to writing down the lyrics, he wrote ‘Little Christie’ on top,” Blades said, “so I asked him why he wrote ‘Christie.’

“He told me, ‘because that’s what it’s about, my little sister Christie, coming of age and motoring up and down the two blocks of our hometown.

“I told him that I always thought he was singing ‘Sister Christian’ and he said, ‘no, my sister is Christie.’

“I said, no, dude, I’m calling poetic license. It’s got to be “Sister Christian,” that’s much better.

Blades said he liked the fact that the word Christian leaves the song open to many interpretations – like an abstract painting.

“I remember this one lady, we were in Rochester, Minn., and she was dishing out the food after the sound check. She said, ‘my daughter is listening to that song over and over again – is it really about a nun who sells dope to school kids?’

“We thanked her while Kelly and I looked at each other wondering how it could be interpreted like that. Then as we walked away we said, ‘yes, ma’am, it is,’ and she was horrified.”

Blades said he enjoyed composing music for several movie soundtracks.

“That’s always fun. It’s great going in, screening a movie, and they tell us what songs they need. It’s a different thing because you’re writing about a story that you’re seeing played out for you that’s largely fiction as opposed to most songs that are true to life things we’ve experienced and observed.

“It’s always interesting to see how the movies turn out,” Blades said. “Some songs are in pivotal scenes while others end up as background songs coming out of a radio.”

Through the years Night Ranger songs have been featured on a variety of television shows.

“It’s great having your songs picked because it shows that you’ve ended up in the collective consciousness of America. It’s such an honor, when you’re sitting there watching ‘American Dad’ and all the sudden your song shows up and you wonder, ‘wait a minute, did we get paid for that?’”

Blades said it’s a badge of honor.

“Here we are 36 years out and we’re still talking about Night Ranger. I’ve got to tell you there’s not a day goes by that we take it for granted. We don’t take the fans for granted, we don’t take the success for granted and we don’t take the joy we get each day on stage playing for people for granted, ever, and we never will.”

 

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