Interview and Live Photos By Robert Cavuoto
Back in the ‘80s, you couldn’t turn on the radio or MTV without hearing Night Ranger’s hits; “Sister Christian,” “You Can Still Rock in America,” and “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” Songs that propelled the band straight to the top of the charts and headlining arenas by their second album. They’re a band that has impacted popular culture and provided the music that was the soundtrack of our youth.
Fast forward 35 years and the band is still going strong! They will be releasing their 12th studio CD, Don’t Let Up on March 24th; a solid rock CD that continues to inspire and entertain legions of fans with their twin guitars work and big hooks.
Night Ranger is Jack Blades [bass guitar, vocals], Kelly Keagy [drums, vocals], Brad Gillis [lead & rhythm guitars], Eric Levy [keyboards] and new addition Kerri Kelli [lead & rhythm guitars].
I had the chance to sit down with Brad Gillis to talk about their hit-making formula for Don’t Let Up and reminisce about his time with Ozzy Osbourne.
Robert Cavuoto: Thirty-five years and you guys are still kicking ass and making CDs. The writing for Don’t Let Up contains the same fire and passion it did with Dawn Patrol. From the band’s perspective does it feel that way when writing?
Brad Gillis: It’s been a long time but the great thing is we’ve been able to withstand each other for 35 years [laughing]. We are still making records and touring the world; you can’t beat that. You also can’t deny the success we’ve had due to the fact that we all get along, have fun on the road, and keep the drama down. We’ve always put 110% into our stage show. As far as the new CD is concerned, we have a formula which we have stuck with; having two lead singers, two guitarists, and big three-part choruses. Not to mention crazy guitar solos!Robert Cavuoto: When I saw you 15 months ago at NAMM 2016 you told me the band was getting together to start writing this CD. How long did the writing and recording process take for Don’t Let Up?
Brad Gillis: Don’t Let Up took longer than normal because we had a full touring schedule last year and Jack had a little trouble with his voice. We had to push our release date back but now it’s coming out March 24th. We’re excited to give it to the fans and get their feedback. The last couple of CDs we did up at Jacks house in Santa Rosa, CA but he sold that house with its big studio and moved to Washington State. He still kept his Pro-Tools recording gear. This time we flew out to Nashville to Kelly’s house where Jack, Kelly, and I jammed on ideas for a few days. We honed in on five or six songs over there. Then everyone came to my house where we wrote a few; then back to Jack’s house to write some more. The next thing you know we had a CD. It’s a lot easier and cheaper nowadays to record a CD. When you have a home studio, the time is not costing you anything. Back in our heyday, we would be flying back and forth to a studio in Hollywood to make a record that would cost $1,000 to $1,500 a day. Now we are able to put more money in our pockets.
Robert Cavuoto: How much did Dawn Patrol cost to make?
Brad Gillis: I don’t remember exactly but I’m pretty sure it was in that neighborhood of $100,000 or more as we spent a couple of months in the studio. Those first few records did put us on the map. I can still remember our second release, Midnight Madness, when “You Can Still Rock in America” became a big hit on the radio and MTV. The record company came to us and said they were going to release “Sister Christian.” The next thing you know it’s getting major airplay around the country and it was a smash hit. They said that it was time for us to start headlining. I’ll never forget pulling into La Crosse, WI for our first headlining show where the marquee read; “Night Ranger: Sold Out.” That was a pivotal point for the band selling out arenas.
Robert Cavuoto: “Comfort Me” is a great rocking track off Don’t Let Up and so far my favorite, what can you tell me about its creation?
Brad Gillis: Awesome, that’s a song that I wrote here at my house and brought to the band. Kerri, Jack, and I worked it up and did some rough demos. We recorded the final vocals at Jacks house. It’s got a cool vibe that we love having on the CD.
Robert Cavuoto: Night Ranger approaches touring a little different than most bands with mostly weekend festivals and shows, tell me about the decision behind that approach?
Brad Gillis: The deal with us is that we don’t want to go out for a couple of months on a bus tour. We usually pick the choice gigs, head out on Thursday play Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday then we are back home on Monday. That allows everyone to be home during the week to do other projects and chill. We usually do a 10 -14 day run of shows in the summer. I do a lot of production music for sport’s TV during the week so it’s fun to wake up at home, fire up my computer to write music, and then head out on the weekends for the live gigs. I have a full dance card of writing and playing music. I’m not the type of guy that can take the day off or sit around watching TV. I’m always telling myself to get off my ass and do something. We are looking forward to getting out there to play new material and see what songs fans like best.
Robert Cavuoto: When you were in Ozzy’s band did you ever write any songs with him or submit songs that never got released?
Brad Gillis: Actually, the tour with Ozzy was so heavy in 1982 we toured the world twice over in those 9 months. We never had time to write. Towards the end of the tour, we recorded Speak of the Devil at the Ritz in New York. Shortly after that Rudy Sarzo quit because Quiet Riot got a record deal. Night Ranger had a pending record deal provided I rejoin the band. I rolled the dice and quit Ozzy and started touring with Night Ranger doing 200 shows a year. It was cool for me personally because in October 1982 they released Dawn Patrol and Speak of the Devil the same week. I was flying high off that. Going out on tour with my friends in Night Ranger was really where my heart was at. You have to remember what Ozzy and the band went through during the tragic loss of Randy Rhoads. They were pretty exhausted and needed to take a break. Being a young guy at 25, I was ready to go back on the road. Night Ranger had a great run until we broke up in 1989 after hundreds of shows a year, only taking a couple of months off a year to make a record; we were fried. We got back together and kicking butt ever since.
Robert: Do you have any funny Ozzy stories you could share from when you were touring with him?
Brad Gillis: I’ve got a lot of great Ozzy stories. One, in particular, was playing Texas Jam in the summer of ’82 and playing in front of 80,000 people. We couldn’t find Ozzy for a couple of days prior to the show. When he did show up the day of the show, he had shaved his head, and Sharon was freaking out. Sharon said, “Oh, my God, Ozzy, we gotta get you a wig.” So the wardrobe lady ended up going out and buying a couple of wigs for him. She cut them to look like his original hair. That show Ozzy put ketchup underneath the wig. He proceeded to rip the wig off real slowly on stage. The red ketchup started coming down his face and it looked like blood. Imagine 80,000 people in the audience with their mouths wide open, thinking that Ozzy is ripping off his scalp. I have pictures of that from the side of the stage which my old guitar tech took.