Tag: Night Ranger

Brad Gillis Talks Night Ranger, ‘Midnight Madness’ and His Time with Ozzy Osbourne

Gillis3Thirty years ago, Night Ranger were transformed from an opening act to a headliner with the release of their album Midnight Madness. The 1983 record became a smash hit within months of its October release, thanks to tracks like “Sister Christian,” “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and “When You Close Your Eyes.”

For Night Ranger guitarist and founding member Brad Gillis, the time between then and now seems like a lifetime. Over the years, in addition to recording and touring with Night Ranger, Gillis has released solo albums and written hundreds of songs for the ESPN network.

Although his greatest fame came with Night Ranger, Gillis is also remembered for replacing Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band immediately after Rhoads’ death while on tour with Ozzy in 1982. At the time, Night Ranger were still unknowns, whereas Osbourne was a star. Eventually, Gillis would be forced to choose between staying with Ozzy or continuing with Night Ranger.

Guitar World recently caught up with Gillis to talk with him about Midnight Madness, his tenure with Ozzy and his and Night Ranger’s forthcoming albums.

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Read my interview with Brad Gillis by Clicking Here!

Some Final Thoughts on The Grammy’s

I’ve got some final words to say about this years Grammy Awards. Truth be told, I haven’t had much interest in watching them anymore.

Now you would think that as a musician The Grammy Awards would be something always on my agenda of things to watch. To see the best of the best get their due. But sadly, the ceremony, much like the AMA’s, CMA’s and any other “MA’s” I may have missed, seems to have become nothing more than just a lackluster showcase for the music industry to pat itself on the back instead of awarding real talent.

Don’t get me wrong, this year Adele easily deserved to sweep everything. She is a true diamond in a sea of the same old same. But outside of her obvious and most deserving win, every year the awards seems to turn more and more into something that can’t be taken seriously.

Consider the way Chris Brown was graciously accepted back onto the stage again and won a pair of awards after his most recent shenanigans. Or the way Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters was blatantly cut off during his acceptance speech when he started telling the truth about how music should come from the heart and not a computer. And lets not forget the fact that a group of “old men” (The Beach Boys) schooled everyone who hit the stage before them with true vocal harmony.

But I’d really like to focus the meat of this blog on the list of artists from the “Rock Performance” and “Metal” categories. Because, you know me, it’s all about the Rock and Metal.

First, here’s a list of winners from thirty years ago:

Record of the Year: Rosanna: Toto
Album of the Year: Toto IV
Song of the Year: Always on My Mind: Willie Nelson
Best New Artist: Men at Work
Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female: Pat Benatar-“Shadows of the Night ”
Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male: John Cougar Mellencamp -“Hurts So Good”
Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal: Survivor-“Eye of the Tiger”
Best Rock Instrumental Performance
: A Flock of Seagulls – “D.N.A.”

And now, here is a list of Grammy winners for 2012:

Record of the Year: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele
Album of the Year: “21,” Adele
Song of the Year: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth
New Artist: Bon Iver
Pop Solo Performance: “Someone Like You,” Adele
Rock Song: “Walk,” Foo Fighters
Rock Album: “Wasting Light,” Foo Fighters
Rock Performance: “Walk,” Foo Fighters
Hard Rock/Metal Performance: “White Limo,” Foo Fighters

Look at the variety of artists from three decades ago. All with hit songs and all deserving. Where is that variety today?

Please don’t misunderstand me, I love the Foo Fighters. Really, I do. But three different songs winning Grammy awards? And one Grammy for Best “Metal” performance? The Foo Fighters aren’t “Metal”.

It really upsets me that there seems to be a lack of true nominees in these categories whether by accident or deliberate intention. Every time you see the list of nominations you pretty much know who is going to win. And why is it that groups you’ve never heard of always seem to get a nod and bands that have Grammy history and new albums get ignored?

Consider artists like Journey, Foreigner and Night Ranger for example. Ok, I agree that it’s been years since any of them had songs that topped the charts. But all of these bands have released albums of brand new music, most of it very good and all within the time frame of nomination, but their body of work wasn’t even acknowledged by the academy.

Now I’m not saying any of these artists should win. Hardly. All I’m saying is that wouldn’t it be nice to at least recognize the efforts of bands that have stood the test of time and continue to deliver music for their fans? But instead, true musicianship gets over shadowed by the need for computer generated beats and auto-tuned vocal performances.

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised though. I mean lets face it, this is the same awards show that gave the very first Grammy in the Hard Rock/Metal category to Jethro Tull instead of Metallica.

And don’t get me started on that whole Milli Vanilli incident.

The Album Experience

A few weeks ago I was perusing iTunes looking for songs to buy on a gift card I received. I chose a few Foo Fighters songs from their most recent album (I didn’t really care for the previews I had heard of the whole thing) and the Bon Jovi anthem “It’s My Life”. I’m not even sure which record that track was on. My guess is it’s probably on several of them but I just wanted the song for when I do cardio at the gym so it didn’t really matter.

I mean, you can’t play Eye of The Tiger consecutively for thirty minutes straight while on the treadmill. Well, I suppose you can but I like to mix it up a bit.

Speaking of Bon Jovi, I read an article not too long ago from Jon Bon Jovi himself. He made the outrageous claim that Steve Jobs and iTunes had single-handedly ruined the music business. This coming from a guy whose band has made millions of dollars off of it. Including quite a bit of it from me over the years I might add and more than enough money for him to one day become part owner of a billion dollar NFL team. A guy who still continues to sell his music on iTunes and profit off of it. Just who is he trying to kid anyway?

But the more I thought about it and looked at the receipt for my downloaded songs the more I realized….he’s right. The entire “experience” of getting and listening to new music is gone.

Back in “the day” if you heard a cool song on the radio from a band you loved you had three choices…

One:  Call the radio station 24/7 and beg them to play it.
Two:  Try and find the 45″ single of it somewhere.
Three: Buy the album, which was always readily available.

In my case, the choice was easy. I would always buy the album because I LOVED the experience (ok, and also because I didn’t want to sound like a sissy calling the request line).

When you first heard the new “hit” from the band on the radio and the brouhaha that followed you knew the countdown to the new album was officially on. It was almost like Christmas was coming.

There was nothing quite like getting that new album (or CD) and taking it home for the first time. Especially if you’ve waited the habitual two years since your favorite group’s last record. A literal lifetime when you are growing up.

My ritual was this: I would get the album, lock myself in my bedroom, tear open the shrink-wrap and put new vinyl on the turntable. Always first song, first side (or first track on a CD – I’m not THAT OLD). I knew the “hit” was always about the third song in and I didn’t want to just skip to it. I wanted the build up.

As the first notes of the record started I knew ‘the boys were back’ and I’d  begin to immerse myself in the liner notes. The smell of new ink would invade my senses and the troubles of the day would soon fade away.

Even though the guys in the band had absolutely no idea who I was (at best just a little dot in the 23rd row at their last concert) it felt like a reunion with old friends. Friends that had inspired me, comforted me and consoled me with their music.

“Boys, where have you been? What’s new?”

I’d read all about the musicians and where the album was recorded and who any “special guest” musicians that had played on the album were. The thank-you notes would always include references to God and family and as a musician myself I’d always think that maybe some day I’d have the opportunity to make these same decisions for my own album.

But most important of all, I read the lyrics.

I loved reading about the pain, heartache and reckless abandon the band felt when creating this record. I tried to relate what I was going through in my own life with what I read and listened to. By the time the “hit” started playing I was already in some distant utopia. (which coincidentally, was the name of the store in downtown Easton where I bought a lot of my records).

When the record was over it was almost like you had just gotten off an amusement park ride. Sure, some of the songs weren’t as good as I had hoped but there were always some gems on there. I liked to guess which song would be the next one released to radio and I’d start wondering just how long it would be before these guys came to town and I could go see them again. The whole thing was indeed an experience.

Now, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I had the whole music experience. I too find myself falling into the same routine that everyone else does. Getting the quick-fix by downloading the one “hit” song. Quite frankly, I even believe most artists these days are perfectly happy with just getting the 99 cents for that one song and ignoring the “album”. But taking Jon’s advice, I decided to pass the digital quick fix and try the album experience again. I chose to buy a physical album from a favorite band whose records spent many months on my turn table growing up and one who coincidentally had just released a brand new album: Night Ranger’s “Somewhere in California”.

I sat there in my office, put the CD into the computer, fired up the media player and started playback on the first track. It was so easy to fall back into the groove, read the liner notes and get lost in thought. And although there were some really great songs on there I know that in today’s music business not a single track on this album will ever get airplay. But the experience of listening to an album from start to finish was as wonderful as I had remembered it to be.

So Mr. Bon Jovi was right in a way. I guess iTunes has changed the game. And sure, I’ll probably take the Night Ranger album and throw it on my mp3 player to take with me. Will I listen to it day and night? Probably not. But favorite songs aren’t meant to be just some digital file on an iPod.

They’re meant to stay with you for a lifetime.

 

Extra: Be sure to check out my other Night Ranger blog article here

Friday Night At The Mall

Long before Katy Perry sang about dancing on table tops and getting kicked out of bars I was mastering the art of Friday night. And there’s one particular one that I’ll always remember.

It’s a Friday night in the early 1980’s and my friend Mike and I are hopping into the back seat of his Mom’s old blue station wagon and being chauffeur driven to the Palmer Park Mall. Thirty years ago, being a teenager at the mall on a Friday night was on par with going to the “Dip-and-Dances” at the Palmer Pool in the summer or hanging out with a bunch of classmates after a school event at Penn Pizza. Even if you weren’t popular, if you made it to the mall on Friday night you were part of the in-crowd.

You see getting dropped off at the mall and left alone by your parents moved you up three notches on the coolness meter. Personally, it was also the perfect opportunity for me to showcase my chiseled teenage abs and Sylvester Stallone looks. My red Members Only jacket and my Jordache jeans. Ok, I made up that last part. I really didn’t wear Jordache jeans.

But a typical Friday night excursion to the mall was always exciting for me. It was a chance to see all the kids from school outside of the element. No teachers, pencils or homework assignments. More importantly, it was also a chance to see the hottest girls from school too. Oh sure, I’d always see a few of them here or there roaming the halls all week but in the mall environment they ALWAYS gathered together in some kind of sorority. And although I knew my shyness would inevitably hinder any chance I had at any real conversation with those of the female persuasion, I’d still be polishing up my “Hey Baby” lines as we’d pull into the parking lot.

It wouldn’t be long now before the smell of pizza and feel of Orange Julius running down my arm would put any thought of romance on hold as there were more “male” dominated matters to attend to. Mike’s mom gave us the usual time and rendezvous point to meet up with her for our journey home and at this point, the entire mall was ours.

With no I-Tunes or Internet access of any sort, unless you consider the useless modem that I had for my Commodore Vic-20 computer, being at the mall was the only chance I had to stop into the Listening Booth record store and seek out new music. On good days, today being one of them, I had extra money and with that, the opportunity to buy my very first record album which I eagerly did.

With new music now in hand, Mike and I made our way down around the furthest corner of the mall. Well past The Gap, Pearle Vision Center and Waldenbooks store. A place that was always dark and mysterious. Kind of like some seedy back alley. One of those places where there might be a bunch of people playing an illegal poker game in some smoke-filled back room and you needed a special knock just to be allowed entrance.

Only one thought came to mind as we approached: My pockets have gone through six days of pregnancy with quarters and it was now time for delivery.

I could not wait for the chance to open a can of whoop ass on Mike again playing Space Invaders or Pac-Man. I was feeling particularly lucky this evening which wasn’t a good thing for Mike. Tonight was going to be a good night. I pictured my initials being emblazoned upon all of the top spots of the machine. I was more than ready to place my quarter on the console while someone else was playing and reserve it. You see, there’s a certain unwritten rule about strategically placing your two-bits on the machine that even the meanest of children abide by. It’s the customary thing to do to indicate to the kid currently playing that: “Dude, once your ass is dead, this machine is mine!”

As we slowly entered the darkened Fun Attic arcade it sounded like a scene right out of The Empire Strikes Back. Machines beeping and flashing as far as the eye could see. Teenage Boy Nirvana. Nothing but kids congregating with each other around machines in an attempt to dominate at Pole Position or vanquish the evil Donkey Kong once and for all.

I was always conservative when it came to my video games. Although most kids were now on to bigger and better things I relished being one of the last old school players who much preferred dominating on mindless games like Space Invaders. So you can imagine the shock when I discovered that the Space Invaders machine had been replaced. Apparently, the brilliant minds at Fun Attic had decided to take away the only game I’d ever love.

But that’s when I saw it: Dragon’s Lair.

It sat alone in the middle of the arcade, right where Space Invaders once sat. Beneath a single spotlight that I’m sure was always there but some how never noticed before. It was almost as if it were the Hope diamond on display in some museum.

The machine read “50¢ a play” – fully DOUBLE the cost of three lives on a traditional machine. But as I stood there in awe watching the movie preview enticing me to dump Mario and Ms. Pac-Man to save Daphne the princess and defeat the dragon, I realized I had no choice.

I spent every last quarter I had on that game and loved every minute of it. As I progressed through the levels I took notice that a gaggle of girls from the Palmer Mall Sorority were now lining up around me to watch and cheer me on. Something that never happened while I was playing those “other” games, or at all for that matter.

It didn’t take me long to realize that in addition to this game being the coolest thing ever, it was also a chick magnet. I felt like a rock star maneuvering through the catacombs of the dungeon to the delight of those observing.  Even Mike, my loyal compadre, who normally would have beckoned me over to play pinball by now still stood by my side: my wing man.

When the last of my quarters was gone without rescuing the princess and the girls went back to doing whatever it was girls did my life suddenly had new meaning: I needed to defeat the dragon and impress the ladies.

We soon met up with Mike’s mom at the rendezvous point and were en route back home. And although I had originally planned to just listen to my new music all weekend I couldn’t help but also think about how I needed to double my quarter intake in six days.

Because next Friday night, we were going to do it all again.

Night Ranger Still Rockin America

I still remember the first time I ever heard Night Ranger. My neighbor Mike, who lived next door to me growing up, called me up one Friday night and asked me if I wanted to go to the Palmer Mall. Back in the early 1980’s, having your parents drive you to the mall was all the rage. I suppose it still sort of is today but not like it was back then.

On the drive over in his parents big blue station wagon Mike asked his Mom to put in this beat up white cassette tape that he had. Mike had copied the tape from someone else and it was old school music piracy at it’s finest. “Jim, Wait until you listen to this band” he said.  And from the time the first sounds of “You Can Still Rock in America” started coming over the scratchy speakers I was hooked.

“Who is this?” I asked Mike. I had no idea who this group was but it was different from anything the two of us had ever heard before. We had always been more of a Cars, REO Speedwagon and Rod Stewart type of fan that never let anything “new” enter our musical world. But this was different…and exciting.

“They’re called Night Ranger and they are friggin awesome!” Mike responded and I couldn’t agree more. All the way from our homes on South Side to Palmer Township we listened to that bootlegged tape. Hearing “Sister Christian”, “When You Close Your Eyes” and “Rumors in the Air” for the first time was thirteen year old male audio euphoria.

Upon arriving to the mall our first stop was to the Listening Booth, the only place in town to buy records. That’s where Mike redeemed himself and purchased the full on copy of the vinyl “Midnight Madness” record for us to enjoy as we played video games in his basement.

A year or so later I made one of  my own very first vinyl album purchases. A copy of “Seven Wishes”, which was the follow-up to “Midnight Madness”. I remember Mike and I wearing that album out as well. We were so hooked on this band and were fortunate enough to see them live in concert at Stabler Arena. One of the best shows ever.

So now fast forward a few decades. Adult life has taken over for me and I’ve  become the one listening to my daughter’s music as I drive her to the mall. As for Night Ranger? Well, they are still touring on occasion and releasing albums every so often. Some of it really great music although sadly, nothing on par with the success of the ones I mentioned earlier. The music industry has changed so much they’re just not welcome in the mainstream any more.

In March of this year, I discovered they had released another new record and were coming to my hometown for the first time in twenty some odd years and knew I had to be a part of it.

Additionally, they were offering ticket packages that included an awesome seat and a meet and greet with the band. In 1985, I probably couldn’t get anywhere near these guys. And now, for a C-note, you could get up close and personal. Which was right up my alley.

Seeing Night Ranger perform this past Wednesday night in Allentown was surreal. Most people today would have no idea who these guys are. Unless you play them a few bars of “Sister Christian” which has become they’re trademark. I found myself being taken back in the 80’s watching them perform those songs. I thought about Mike and that Friday night drive. Listening to this music for the first time. We were young, and everything was new.

Suffice to say, I was ecstatic to be ushered back to meet the band. Even though they had no idea who the hell I was, it was an emotional experience to shake hands with the guys that were indirectly a part of my teenage years.

I still had my “Seven Wishes” album that I managed to dig up from an old box in the basement. The album had sat in silence for years collecting dust. But now it too has become new as the three original members who played on it autographed it for me. The album will now be framed and adorn my wall to always remind me of that night.

The meet and greet also included one photo opportunity with the band and it was at that point that I made an odd request. I didn’t want the photograph to just be a pic of me smiling with the guys in the band. That would be too typical. No, I wanted it to be different. Something to remind me of my childhood. So in the end I brought along an empty box of Count Chocula, my favorite cereal growing up.

The band was very receptive to having the box in the picture with us. In reality though, I suspect they probably thought I was crazy because everyone I’ve shown the picture to tells me so. But the more I think about it, it’s probably a good thing if they think that way.

Because somewhere down the road, someone is going to interview them about their long, stoic career and ask them what was the oddest experience they’ve ever had with fans. And I can just picture them laughing and saying to each other:

“Hey, do you remember that guy that wanted his picture taken with a box of Count Chocula?”.

Is Anyone Listening to “New” Music?

Have you heard? The new Night Ranger CD, Somewhere in California, was released a few weeks ago. It’s probably their best studio album since Midnight Madness when Sister Christian peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts.

Oooh, has anyone given a listen to the new Whitesnake CD, Forevermore? The single, “Love Will Set You Free” is simply infectious. As for the new Journey CD, Eclipse? Eh, I can take it or leave it. I mean, I’m really not as big a fan since Steve Perry left a few years ago.

I am still looking forward to the new Van Halen record this fall though. There’s sure been a lot of buzz about it on their Facebook fan page since David Lee Roth came back. I can’t wait to see if Eddie still has those guitar skills. If only this were 1987, it sure would be a great time to be a music fan. For me anyway.

But alas, here we are in the middle of 2011, and although everything I’ve said about those bands above is true (they all have already or will have new studio albums and tours this year) I bet 75% of the fans they had back in their hey day do not even know it.

To them, as to everyone else who are fans of the synthesized robotic voiced artists, the bands they once loved and adored a quarter century ago broke up years ago and the members are now active AARP recipients.

And if you really want to get that old album you wore out on the turntable signed, well you might just find them at a convention signing autographs and taking pictures. The ones former childhood stars and “B” movie actors also attend. The same artists, whom you couldn’t get near when their music ruled the air, will now even have lunch with you (if you’re buying of course).

Truth is, by the way today’s music business works, that’s probably the way it should be. These bands, who once dominated the charts, are still releasing quality product but no one is listening. Sadly, some of the songs on these albums, which would have been sure-fire chart toppers twenty-five years ago, won’t even get airplay.

I already know what you’re thinking: Get over it. Times have changed and so has music. And you may be right. I just might be turning into something I always said my parents were when it came to music, an old fuddy duddy. I really miss seeing my music on store shelves and being talked about.

But I think Mom and Dad would agree with me on something else: a lot of the songs that are popular on radio right now sound exactly the same. Today’s pop/rock music is driven primarily by the same old beat and tired cliché’ lyrics.

Meanwhile, bands like the ones I’ve mentioned are finding no outlet for their new music and are relegated to signing exclusive deals with Walmart or foreign record companies to peddle them while they embark on tours (most times in groups of two or three together) playing their hits just to stay relevant.

One of these record companies, Frontiers Records, seems to have landed the motherload of these now “classic” rock bands. If you look at their artist catalogue, it reads like something you’d see on the program from Live Aid in 1985.

Although I am saddened to no longer see their records on the shelves, it only reinforces the fact that these artists are still in it for the music. There’s really no need for them to try and put out new material that will sell nowhere near what their old records did back in the day.

I’m just glad they continue to do it for fans like me who appreciate everything they’ve accomplished.

Article first published as Is Anyone Listening To “New” Music? on Technorati.