by Scott Alisoglu
Guest Writer –
Jack Blades has been a name associated with numerous melodically potent, spirited rock albums over the past three decades, the best known being Night Ranger, Shaw/Blades, and Damn Yankees. Blades took a look back over his storied career and summarized the ups, downs, ins and outs of it on his second solo album, the aptly titled Rock N’ Roll Ride (Frontiers). While the album offers a fair share of Blades’ distinctive brand of upbeat melodic hard rock, he also shows another side of his immense talent in songwriting informed by the 60s/70s influences he holds so dear; everyone from Rod Stewart to The Beatles to The Eagles to Humble Pie. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable and appealingly varied collection of material that any fan of American rock music will want in his or her collection. Blades squeezed out a half hour in his insanely busy schedule to break it all down for us.
Hardrock Haven: Rock ‘N Roll Ride is a very American-looking album. The American flag on the inside is anything but subtle too.
Jack Blades: [Laughs] Pretty much. I’m pretty much an American guy and my bands have always been pretty much American bands, starting with Rubicon and Night Ranger and Damn Yankees and all that kind of stuff.
Hardrock Haven: No wonder you got along so well with Ted.
Jack Blades: [Laughs] yeah, right, exactly.
Hardrock Haven: This is solo album number two and most of what you do has such a positive vibe about it. On this one there is quite a lot of material that seems to be focusing on just being who you are. You’ve got that great line in “Change it’s where I go when I want to be free” on “Back in the Game.”
Jack Blades: You’re actually picking up some good stuff there, Scott. That’s very astute of you; I like that instead of an interview that’s all [in goofy voice] “So what was it like with Ted?” But at a certain point in my life I’ve reached a point where I want to say something and I don’t just want to write lyrics down about whatever. I’m cool with the guy and the girl thing and I’ve written a lot of those and lord knows I’ve had huge hits that way, but at this stage of the game I want to be able to say something. Otherwise, it’ll be like Robert Plant said, that I might as well just sit around and write down the words from the room service menu at the Holiday Inn and call that my lyrics. The lyrics like “don’t give up” and “I was born for this” and “change is where I want to go when I want to be free,” that’s kind of the way I am, man. The lyrics on this record are probably about as close of a glimpse into my soul as I’ve ever dared let out [laughs]. It’s kind of a credo of the way I am.
Hardrock Haven: Over the years you’ve developed, intentionally or otherwise, a sort of signature way of writing melodies; it’s recognizable for the most part as Jack Blades. This album has some of those too, but there just as many or more that are a bit of a departure.
Jack Blades: What’s nice about a solo record is that you can introduce things that you wouldn’t normally do with your band. I’m thankful that I have Night Ranger and it’s just a kick ass American rock band. I’m thankful that after all these years people still come and see us [laughs]. I wanted to make a record where what the title says is exactly what it is. I want everybody to go on a rock ‘n roll ride with me. There are ups and downs, you slow into a turn and all of a sudden there is just this frickin’ 175 mile per hour thing and you’re jamming it, and then you slow down… Almost like a roller coast ride. The title is exactly what this is. This is sort of like my 30 years of my rock ‘n roll ride. The influences that I’ve had have always been… Well, I’m from Southern California so there is the Beach Boys and Eagles and that Southern California sound in my heart and soul. And then I was also a big Beatles fan and then in the late 60s and early 70s I was deep into British metal like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and Cream and Blind Faith and Humble Pie. And then I moved to San Francisco and I got deep into like Sly and the Family Stone. A lot of times when I sit back and want to groove I put on Sly and the Family Stone’s Fresh album and just listen to like “In Time” or “If you want me to stay” and things like that. So this album is this ride of my life and that’s why it’s not all pedal to the metal, straight ahead Night Ranger and Damn Yankee type songs. So I can have a song like “Say You Will” or a song like “Hey Now,” a real bluesy track at the end. That’s why I enjoyed making this record.
Hardrock Haven: In fact, “Hey Now” is kind of folksy and acoustic and it has that bluesy organ in there. When you break it down it almost sounds like something Rod Stewart would have done in the early days.
Jack Blades: Oh, you’re so spot-on with that track! You’re frickin’ exactly feeling what I was feeling there. Of course I was into the Stones and “Wild Horses” and shit like that and when I did that song I played the acoustic guitar part and I thought why don’t I just put a scratch vocal on it, just so we know where the song is going. So I got up to the microphone and it was like 1:00 a.m. and we were in studio getting ready to finish out and all the lights were down, the candles and incense were burning, and I just sat there and sang those lyrics out, man. It was almost like stream of consciousness shit. I changed a few words and it was all finished. After it was all finished [engineer] Will [Evankovich] just looked at me and said “Where the hell did that come from?” I was like dude, fuck I don’t know [laughs]. And we left that vocal; that’s the vocal that is on the record. I listen to the vocal and would try to sing it like two weeks later and I was like “Dude, I can’t beat this.” Getting back to what you said, I think that’s the way a lot those Every Picture Tells a Story kinds of albums came about. I’m sure it was just a bunch of guys sitting their drunk asses in a room laughing and joking; he and Ronnie Wood or whatever. Just a bunch of guys going “Fuck, do that!” [Laughs]
Hardrock Haven: There are a couple of other moments too and this may not have been intentional but on “West Hollywood” and another song that’s escaping me at the moment you can even hear a Tom Petty vibe.
Jack Blades: Like “Don’t Give Up,” yeah. “West Hollywood” and “Don’t Give Up,” that’s the California vibe thing that’s in me. I know Petty is from Florida, but he was out in L.A. for so long and that’s kind of ingrained in me too. It’s kind of like the Shaw/Blades stuff that Tommy and I do too. We did an album back in ’95 called Hallucination and then we did Influence, which was covers of our favorite songs from the 60s and 70s that we put out a few years ago that sold really, really well and we were on the Howard Stern show and did all these shows. Actually, we’re halfway through an Influence II record. Tommy was here a week and a half ago working on some tracks and I was down at his place working on it last month.
Hardrock Haven: Even on the last Night Ranger album, Somewhere in California, that is also so full of that same vibe. You can’t think of anything but sun and driving with the top down and just cruising when you listen to “Growing up in California.” You can’t find a damn cloud in that song [laughs].
Jack Blades: Dude, check this out! That song, I had written for my solo record. I finished my solo record before the Night Ranger record came out and so we were going to release that one first. The song “Growing up in California” I had recorded for my solo record and Kelly [Keagy] and Brad [Gillis] heard it and said that’s a Night Ranger song and I’m like “yeah, you’re probably right” [laughs]. So I pulled it off my solo record and got all the Night Ranger guys to play on it and we put it out and became the first song on the record.
Hardrock Haven: And your son Colin co-wrote “West Hollywood?”
Jack Blades: Yeah, he lives in Hollywood and about a year and a half ago he came up to visit here for a weekend with his girlfriend. He walked into the kitchen one morning and had his guitar and just started singing “West Hollywood.” And I went “Fuck, that’s great, dude!” I always remembered that so when I decided to do the solo record I said I’m going to do that song. I called him up and we finished the song. He’s a real good songwriter and he’s doing his own stuff down in L.A.
Hardrock Haven: Then of course, “Anything for You,” before I even read that it was Robin Zander [Cheap Trick] performing on that it was so obvious it was him.
Jack Blades: It’s quite a difference, isn’t it?
Hardrock Haven: It’s interesting to hear how The Beatles’ influence comes through, like how Cheap Trick channels The Beatles.
Jack Blades: I gotta tell you, man, I’d love to do a whole album with Robin. I called him and told him I was doing a solo record and he was out on the West Coast doing a show or something like that and he shows up at my places in this big stretch limo. He gets out wearing this all white suit and I’m like “damn.” I have the music for “Anything for You” and he just starts singing that [imitates a grand Zander vocal line] and I was like “Whoa!” So we recorded it real quick and wrote two other songs and then he gets in this big ole long stretch, black limousine and drives away four hours later and Will and I are looking at each going “What the hell just happened?” That was just the most creative four hours I’ve spent in years. I’m so proud of that song it’s crazy.
Hardrock Haven: Even with the range of influences and styles the album flows very well. It’s never stuck in one mode for too long and it’s got a good mix of straight rock and deeper material.
Jack Blades: Trying to figure out which song should go where is always a constant struggle with me. I thought the record flowed real well and starting with “Back in the Game” I really wanted to sock everybody right in the chin with a rockin’ track. So I made this video and if you want to see it just go to You Tube and type in “Jack Blades, Back in the Game” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpOPMYadzrE] and it’s like this mini movie. Actually, that’s my son Colin starring in the movie. You’ve got to check it out. It’s really cool. There is a Western Union telegram that’s in the video and some Army medals that were always in my family. In fact, the Western Union telegram is up in my studio and had it there for years; it was something my mom received like the day after Christmas in 1944, saying that her husband was killed in the war. So I’ve always had that and used it in there. At the end of the video I dedicate it to all the troops that have given their last full measure to ensure freedom for the world. I’m pretty proud of that video.
Hardrock Haven: The CD layout is great too. The memorabilia pictured on the cover is all yours?
Jack Blades: Those are all the laminates from the bottom drawer in my closet. I saved all my laminates going back to the days when I was in Rubicon at California Jam II in 1978. It’s pretty wild. Those are all the real deals!
Hardrock Haven: The post-it notes on the inside of the booklet, such as “When Rubicon broke up I thought the world had ended,” pinpoint significant moments in your career.
Jack Blades: Yeah, those are moments in my rock ‘n roll ride. When Rubicon ended I thought my world had ended. That’s the whole thing, man; you never know. The next thing you know I’m in Night Ranger and that’s where I was meant to be and here I am. It’s all these moments that mean something in the grand scheme of things.
Hardrock Haven: There is the one note about Night Ranger and Japan calling in ‘96 after the Shaw/Blades album came out. Were you wondering about whether Night Ranger was still relevant at the time? You seemed shocked by the response from the Japanese fans.
Jack Blades: Well, it was at a time when we were doing Shaw/Blades and Tommy had gone back to Styx and I was sort of like hanging out there going “Well, that’s interesting and I guess we’re not going to do a new Damn Yankees record” and I don’t know what’s going on. Then the next thing you know the guys in the Night Ranger found out about the Japan thing and said why don’t we play some shows there. Then all of a sudden the first show sells out, then the second, then third, and it’s like “Ok, we’re back” [Laughs]. We did something right over there I think.
Hardrock Haven: Some of the Night Ranger guys play on this album, as well as some others.
Jack Blades: Brian Tichy, my buddy that plays drums in Whitesnake and played with Foreigner and Ozzy and everybody else, played on some of the tracks and Kelly [Keagy] played on some. Alan Hertz, a great drummer from up here in Northern California, played on a few of the less rockin’ tracks. Joel Hoekstra from Night Ranger did most of the guitars, Will Evankovich, my buddy from Shaw/Blades, did most all the acoustic guitars and some electric and sang background with my son Colin. Those are my buddies, man and we made a record [laughs].
Hardrock Haven: No Ted Nugent on this one though.
Jack Blades: No, but we had Ted on our Night Ranger album last year [laughs]. We did an extra track, a version of [Damn Yankees’] “Coming of Age” and we broke it down halftime in the middle and Ted recreated the “Stranglehold” solo [laughs]. It’s a bonus track.
Hardrock Haven: Are you going to do any shows in support of Rock N’ Roll Ride?
Jack Blades: I’d like to do some shows. I’m trying to figure it out because I’ve been so busy doing everything else. So many of these songs are just screaming to be played live.
Hardrock Haven: Frontiers is treating you well it seems.
Jack Blades: Oh yeah, I love the guys from Frontiers. What’s neat about Frontiers is that sine the beginning they’ve given me a green light and just say do what you want to do and we’ll back you up, we believe in you. The owner and I are really good friends; I trust him and he trusts me that I’ll give it everything I’ve got. And I know he’s going to give it everything he’s got. We have sort of this mutual admiration for each other and it works out really well.
Hardrock Haven: I think that about covers it.
Jack Blades: Thanks Scott! Make sure you check out that video!
Visit Jack Blades on the web @ www.frontiers.it