Last year, Night Ranger celebrated the 35th anniversary of their debut album, Dawn Patrol by releasing an all new record, Don’t Let Up! The album's title is fairly appropriate, once you consider that the band, whose beginnings go back to the early days of MTV, is still going strong in the 21st century.
Proving that they have no intention of slowing down, Night Ranger—which consists of Jack Blades, Brad Gillis, Kelly Keagy, Eric Levy and Keri Kelli—will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the band’s monster 1983 album, Midnight Madness and songs like “(You Can Still) Rock in America,” “When You Close Your Eyes” and “Touch of Madness,” with a tour.
Guitar World recently spoke with guitarist Brad Gillis about all things Night Ranger, his current rig, and his memories of touring with Ozzy Osbourne.
This year is marks the 35th anniversary of Midnight Madness. What do you remember most about that whole era?
In the mid-Eighties, we were we were probably on the road nine months out of the year. Then for the remainder of the year, we’d be in the studio recording another record. It was a yearlong job but we had a blast. I’ll never forget pulling into the Coliseum in La Crosse, Wisconsin in late ’83 or ’84 and seeing the marquee that read, 'Night Ranger—Sold Out.' That was very pivotal moment in our career.
People may not know this, but back in 1982, you had two albums come out in the same week, Night Ranger’s Dawn Patrol and Ozzy Osbourne's double-live album, Speak of the Devil. What made you decide to leave Ozzy and go full-time with Night Ranger?
Although we’d done a lot of shows and recorded Speak of the Devil, toward the end of 1982 Rudy [Sarzo] had already decided to leave Ozzy to go join Quiet Riot. I decided to roll the dice and go with Night Ranger because we also had a deal pending. Radio was changing back then and playing heavier stuff, but I remember, even after “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” had been released, we weren’t sure if it would do well. Fortunately, MTV had just come out and needed content. They ended up playing our video about 25 times a day.
Our record company really did us a favor back then by holding off on the release of “Sister Christian” on the Dawn Patrol album. They knew that it would become a hit and wanted us to come out heavy with our “sophomore” release [Midnight Madness]. That ended up being our biggest record and took us to headliner status.
How did “Sister Christian” originate?
When we first got the band together around 1980 and started rehearsing in Jack’s living room, we threw all of these songs together and Kelly brought in that song. I remember we did a rough demo of it with Gary Pihl [guitarist for Boston] and it wound up getting a lot a of interest from producers and record labels. So, we went in and cut the record but then decided to hold off on it.
Let’s discuss a few more tracks that ended up on Midnight Madness, starting with “(You Can Still) Rock in America."
Jack was noticing that a lot of people had been saying that rock and roll was dead. He was the one who came up with the phrase. He brought it to me and we finished it off together.
Does Glenn Hughes really provide backing vocals on that track?
Oh, yeah. We had a lot of friends hanging out with us back then. I sing the high harmony part in falsetto when we perform it live, but back then we wanted someone to come in and sing it in full voice. He knocked it out of the park.
What about “When You Close Your Eyes”?
We always knew the record company would want a ballad or two. That was one that started out as a ballad and really did well on the charts. It’s a great song and is still a lot of fun to play live.
What are Night Ranger’s tour plans like for this year?
We’ve been touring a lot lately and it’s only getting bigger and better. We’ll be hitting a lot of festivals as well as heading over to Europe before coming back to the States and playing all over. We’ll be doing all the staple songs people know as well as a few songs by Damn Yankees and Ozzy. Our other guitarist, Keri, did a stint with Alice Cooper, so we’ll be throwing in a Cooper tune as well. We’ve also brought back the songs “Passion Play” from Midnight Madness and “Night Ranger” from Dawn Patrol. It’s going to be another fun year.
What’s your current setup like?
I’m still using Boogie amps and cabinets, and [I] bring my ‘62 Strat with me along with my Fernandes BG models that I’ve hot rodded to play live. I’ve added original Floyd Roses on them with modified tuners and PJ Marx pickups from the 80’s.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of your performance with Rubicon at Cal Jam II. What do you remember about that day?
March 18, 1978. The biggest day of my life. I was a young kid heading down in my pickup truck to be with artists like Aerosmith, Heart, Dave Mason and Ted Nugent. It was overwhelming meeting all of the bands and every band’s van had their latest album cover painted on the side. I remember the van taking us to a heliport where a helicopter flew us backstage and a limo drove us to the dressing room. They put us on after Aerosmith and we probably played in front of 250,000 pope. It was a crazy day!
Do you have a good Ozzy story that you can share?
It was summer time in 1982 and I was in Dallas, Texas with Ozzy. We had a few days off and Ozzy just went missing. Everyone was worried because no one could find him. Then when he finally did show up the morning of the show, he had shaved his head [laughs]! Sharon had our wardrobe assistant go out and buy him a wig and I remember Rudy taking a pair of scissors and cutting the wig to the length of Ozzy’s real hair at the time.
Whenever Ozzy came out on stage, he’d always do this thing where he would shake and then rip his shirt off. So, he did that and afterwards, he started tugging on the back of his head and pulling back on the wig really slow, like he was ripping it off his head. I remember we even stuck some red liquid on to make it look like there was blood dripping down his face. To see 80,000 people with their jaws dropped watching Ozzy rip off his scalp was one of the most memorable moments of my career.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.