Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jack Blades: 'Look, dude, I'm a registered American, OK?'

Front left: Kelly Keagy, Eric Levy, Jack Blades, Joel Hoekstra and Brad Gillis of Night Ranger.

It was the summer of 1987 and the Lifestyles editor at The Daily Spectrum newspaper in St. George, Utah, was in the position of having to cut a deal.

I was fairly new to my gig as the sports editor there and had only a year under my belt in the daily newspaper business, and still quite unsure what my exact career path would be. The Lifestyles editor needed someone to cover a local Donny Osmond concert -- still a pretty important thing in that town in those days -- but she was scheduled to be out of town to attend a friend's wedding.

Suffice to say, she was getting no volunteers.

"I'll do it," I said, adding my one condition: That she also let me cover the Night Ranger concert that was coming up a few weeks later. The deal was beneficial to both parties. I loved Night Ranger ... and she didn't.

Since I was covering the show, I also got the opportunity to do an advance phone interview with Night Ranger bassist, vocalist and frontman Jack Blades. I remember nervously prepping for several days. The late-night interview, of course, turned out to be great fun -- I wish I still had a copy of it somewhere.

These days, I don't remember a whole lot about what was said during that initial interview, but one thing has always stuck with me. I found Jack amazingly down to earth, so I asked him how he balanced the demands of his crazy rock 'n' roll lifestyle with everyday life. He explained that all day he was Jack Blades the rock star, but there arrived a certain time each evening -- usually after a show -- where he reverted into just being Jack Blades the regular person. I always liked that analogy.

That chat with Jack was my very first rock-related interview. I parlayed that into a chance to shadow the band at the arena for a feature story on the typical day in the life of a rock band on the road -- getting glimpses into the band's pre- and post-show routines, and even a tour by guitarist Brad Gillis of the bus that would take the band up the road to its next scheduled date.
Some 25 years -- and hundreds of interviews/concerts later -- there's no question in my mind who got the better end of the Osmond-for-Night Ranger package story deal.

In my latest interview with Jack -- the rock star as it so happens since he called while the band was actually en route to the venue for a show in Atlanta a few hours later -- we discussed a variety of topics, ranging from his support of the U.S. troops -- the band's local appearance is a benefit concert for Operation Rebound on Sept. 11 -- to new music by Night Ranger and his Shaw/Blades side project with Styx guitarist (and former Damn Yankees cohort) Tommy Shaw.

But what really had Blades buzzing was his experience at the Republican National Convention, which ended the day before our interview on Aug. 31. Blades had already received a lot of blowback via social media for his decision to perform his new solo single, "Back in the Game," live at the convention and for supporting the GOP presidential ticket.

To say he remains perplexed by today's toxic political scene is an understatement.

"Look, dude, I'm a registered American, OK?" said Blades. "And what's with all the hating anyway?"

Well, read for yourselves ...

DOUG FOX: Well, I've got to say it really is a pleasure to speak with you again. Believe it or not, you were the first rock-related interview I ever did, and I was just figuring it out this morning and that was 25 years ago, so that's been a long time now.

JACK BLADES: Oh my ... it's nice to see we all still have a gig! (laughs)

DF: Yeah. It will be good to have you back in Utah again this year, I don't know if you remember but your very first show of 2012 was out in Wendover.

BLADES: You know, it was. And I can remember ... and I think it was like our second show or something like that was with Journey at (pause) ...

DF: Rio Tinto Stadium last year?

BLADES: Yeah, yeah, that was a great gig. I loved that. It was wonderful.

DF: I think that actually opened your tour last year.

BLADES: That's right. That opened the tour with us and Foreigner (and Journey). That was the beginning of the tour.

DF: My main gripe about that show was you didn't have more playing time.

BLADES: I know, I know. Well, hopefully when we come up and see you guys, coming up on this tour, we're gonna have more playing time.

DF: Yeah, I would imagine. Well, for starters tell me about your experience this week at the Republican National Convention, how did you enjoy that?

BLADES: Oh, yeah. Are you a Romney fan?

DF: Actually I am, yes.

Jack Blades performs "Back in the Game" at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.
 BLADES: Yeah, because he's from your neck of the woods. It was a wild experience. It's something I never, ever experienced. I mean all my life I've watched these things, I mean starting when I was about 9 years old in 1964 watching LBJ against, what was it, Goldwater or one of those kind of guys, watching on a black-and-white TV. And here I am, actually at a presidential convention, you know, and actually playing that ... it was bizarre. It was wonderful.

DF: Now Paul Ryan mentioned that his iPod playlist started with AC/DC and ended with Zeppelin, which I thought was cool, but I've got to think that had he wanted to touch down in the middle of the alphabet, you know he's got to have Night Ranger on there as well, doesn't he?

BLADES: I'm thinking that "D" is Damn Yankees and "N" is Night Ranger. I'm convinced of that. There's no question about that. (laughs) So, yeah, look, man, for me it was like an honor to play at this thing and I don't care what persuasion you are, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, you know what, man? We're all Americans, and that's the whole thing to be involved and sort of engaged in the political process is pretty cool. And what really got me is talking to a lot of the younger congressmen dudes that are like really trying to change things and everything. They're trying to shake up the old guard. You know, "Out with the old, in with the new" that's my theory.

DF: Well, I loved your performance of "Back in the Game," first, it's such a great song but second, I think it's got a message that really fits right now, but one interesting thing -- and you kind of touched on it just now -- is the divisiveness we've kind of seen the last several presidential cycles. But the other thing that's come up is the unapproved use of songs at campaign events to where several bands have come out and demanded that their songs not be used. Since you jumped into the political arena this week, I wondered what your thoughts were on that and also it does seem that most of the complaints come against the GOP, and that a lot of the artists allow their music to be played by the more liberal persuasion.

BLADES: Well, I think a lot of the guys feel real strongly about that sometimes. And you know what, a musician has every right to say, "I believe in this, I believe in that," cause it's the American way to say what you believe. That's what we're all about. You know, some guy writes a song and it's like, "Hey, this person is using my song and I don't agree with that" and stuff like that -- then hey, man, tell them, (but) don't pull the song. It seems like it's always shaded against the Republicans -- you know, I have a theory that it's just kind of one of those deals where they get the rotten end of the stick all the time. And I think it really pisses people off when there's actually Republicans that are looser, it like breaks up the stereotype of what people think Republicans can be. Like everybody's slagging on Clint Eastwood for getting up there and saying something. It's like, dude, I thought it was awesome. I thought it was loose. I thought it was totally awesome. The guy said what he wanted to say. And the guy would go somewhere and just when you think it was going off the deep end, he'd come back with a big zinger, man. It seems like in the conservative world, they're not allowed to sort of do that. I mean it would be OK if it was Harry Belafonte or something like that. But it's like, "You can't do that!" It's like, "You can't have rock 'n' roll, you can only have country music!" Stuff like that. Here's the deal, man, everybody at that place was trying to pin you down and everything like that. Man, I told them, "Look, dude, I'm a registered American, OK?" And what's with all the hating anyway? What's with all the haters? Who taught these people to hate so? Like, who taught them to hate? I mean, the beauty about us is like, I'll listen to your idea if you're on the other side of the persuasion, and I'll listen to that, and if it makes sense to me, I'm in. And that's kind of where I'm at. But it seems like you get shut down if you're on one side. The only way to be free in your ideas is if you're on the far other side. That doesn't get me, I just don't understand the hate. That's what I don't understand. Who taught these people to hate so? Enough of this. Enough of all this stuff. We're all Americans, man, let's just all pull together and do what's best for this country. Let's get those 23 million people that are out of work, let's get 'em working again, that's what I say. And all the other stuff? I think all that stuff is just stuff, and it's all just chatter. Let's get the folks working again, that's kind of my theory on the whole thing. And to tell you the truth, I don't care where the ideas come from, man. I don't care if it comes from Bill Clinton, I don't care if it comes from Obama, I don't care if it comes from Mitt Romney. Let's just get it done. You know, that's where I'm at. (laughs)

DF: Well, you're preaching to the choir ...

BLADES: Yeah, you know what I'm saying? I'm like, it doesn't matter to me, let's just get it done. Get 'er done. That's my take on the whole thing. And down there, I was seeing a lot of the craziness that goes on. You know, I think that these people have just trained everyone ... I just don't understand the hate, that's what gets me, man. It's not in my DNA. It's not in my makeup, spewing vitriol and just utter hatred. I saw it a little bit from people online when I did my song "Back in the Game." I'm like, "Really, people? Really?"

DF: I noticed that on Facebook, that you were asking, "What's with all the hate?"

BLADES: Yeah, I'm like, "Really, people? You try to shut me down?" Anybody that doesn't, if they didn't approve ... well, I didn't even say anything, I just went up there and played my song. (laughs) You know, I didn't spout some political ideology -- I just went up and played a tune. But ... "Really, people? Who taught you to hate?" It's sad, and you know what, that's going to stop because Americans inside are good people.

DF: Right. Well, they should take you out on the stump for the next couple months!

BLADES: Just what I need! (laughs)

DF: You didn't even need a teleprompter!

BLADES: (laughs) Let's get back to the music, man. Sorry we got off on a zag. Let's forget it all happened and get back to what's important. (laughs)

DF: Well, I was going to ask about "Back in the Game" again because that's such a great song and the video especially also, you know with the theme honoring the military and the troops, as the father of a daughter and son-in-law in the Marines, I really appreciate that ...

BLADES: Well you know what? That telegram that's in the video there is actually the telegram that my mother got informing her that her first husband was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, and I still have that, it's up on the wall in my studio. And those are his medals. The medals that are in the video are his medals ... and he's sort of a war hero, got that Silver Star and everything, and a Purple Heart. And so I honor the military for their steadfastness and their defense of our country. I felt like, OK, I've got a solo record, I can do what I want to do on this one, and so I made a mini-war movie, "Saving Private Blades." That's actually my son in the video that gets shot.

DF: Oh, is that Colin?

BLADES: Yeah, that's Colin, my youngest son, so there you go.

DF: Yeah, that was really cool. It kind of ties right into the local show that you will be doing here in Utah which is a benefit concert for Operation Rebound, which I'm not sure you're aware of this this far in advance, but it's a group that helps disabled solders stay active in athletic activities -- but that show is actually here in Utah on Sept. 11 ...

BLADES: I love it! Well, I've got to tell you, Night Ranger is honored to be playing this event, and we're honored to be with you guys, and we're honored to be there on the anniversary of September 11th, and believe me, we're going to be rocking in America with all you people out there, that's for sure.

DF: I know that you're an extremely busy guy with both Night Ranger and you having pretty new albums out, and I'd also be remiss if I didn't get an update from you on the next Shaw/Blades project before we're done here, but where do find the time to write so much? Is it just something that flows out of you all the time or do you really have to buckle down and make an effort? How does that work for you?

BLADES: You know, it's kind of something I've done all my adult life -- I think it's kind of in my DNA makeup at this stage of the game. There's just times of year where my brain just starts getting creative, you know what I mean? And the next thing you know, there's songs coming out. So Night Ranger has a live acoustic DVD coming out on Oct. 22, called "24 Strings and a Drummer," and it has a companion CD with it. So we have that release coming out. And Night Ranger is going to be on this weekend, too bad your thing's not going to be in the paper (yet), but this weekend on "The Bachelor Pad," I think it's coming out on the TV show on ABC on Labor Day. We're on the 3rd, on Monday night. And then two weeks later we're going to be on another show that's a very big show and I can't tell you about it, but it's going to be coming out in two weeks after that.

DF: So I'll have to figure out what that is, huh?

BLADES: Yeah, yeah on the premiere of that show. So there's a lot of stuff going on for Night Ranger. We keep going. And of course Shaw/Blades, Tommy and I are about three-quarters of the way through a new Shaw/Blades record, and we're excited about that. You know, it's just the way I am. I love to write, I love to create. You know, we (Night Ranger) had a new album out last year, "Somewhere in California." That's just who we are. We just keep doing it.

DF: Whenever I talk to Tommy (Shaw), I always try to get some of the new songs you've been considering working on -- how's that selection process going for you?

BLADES: It's going really good. We've got some surprises that will blow some people's minds.

DF: He told me about one song probably a year, year and a half ago, and I haven't said anything about it, but I noticed you mentioned it in a recent interview -- "Going to California"?

BLADES: Yeah, yeah, Tommy sings the hell out of that, man! That's a good story. You know what I mean? And we're doing "Tiny Dancer," too. We did a killer version of that.

Brad Gillis and Jack Blades perform in Wendover, Nev., in 2008. (Doug Fox)
DF: Yeah, I actually talked to you about that -- I last interviewed you four years ago, that's how long you've been working on this record, I probably don't have to tell you that!

BLADES: Isn't that funny, it just seems like it's been four days ago.

DF: I know, it just goes and goes ... but with yours and Tommy's mutual connection to the "Madman Across the Water" album, it just seemed natural that you had to do something off of there. I'm glad you did "Tiny Dancer."

BLADES: Of course.

DF: One of the magical things about Shaw/Blades is how your voices blend so perfectly, I've always wondered, how do you guys end up deciding who's going to sing what part?

BLADES: You know, it just happens. I've been fortunate with Kelly Keagy and me, and everything -- every band I've ever been in has had two vocalists, you know what I mean? And it just happens that way. Like with Night Ranger, it just happens like, "You sing this." "No, you sing this." It's like whoever's voice fits better. It was the same thing with Damn Yankees, with Tommy Shaw and me, and the same thing with us. You know, when he brings a song in or I bring a song in or something like that, it's like "Dude!" Like Tom, he'll kill this one and I'll kill that one. You know, our voices just fit certain things. We look at each other and encourage each other. "No, you do it." "No, you try it." "Dude, you've got it." It's like, "Oh, cool." And everybody, it's always that situation, with Kelly and I, it's just that situation where we go, "Yeah, you got it." It's pretty obvious what works for one person and what works for another one. I've been very fortunate, all my musical career there's been like two lead singers every time I'm in a band.

DF: Hey, since you have those two pretty new albums out, both your solo and the Night Ranger one, I wanted to get your thoughts on the current state of radio. I know a lot of bands from your era are in the same boat where radio stations still play all the old hits but when it comes to your new music, it seems almost impossible to get that on the radio, at least for very long. Have you had to temper your expectations or change your approach at all when it comes to your expected impact when you release new material?

BLADES: Yeah, you know what? We don't have any expectations when we release new material. The reason we keep creating is because we all have a theory, especially the boys in Night Ranger and myself. We have a theory that when you stop creating, that's when you start dying inside. So we're just going to keep writing songs and creating it, and fortunately we have a great record label in Frontiers Records that's totally behind us all the time and just encourages us. "Any new material? What have you got? Come on, let's do a new record. Let's do new material. Let's do this, let's do that!" And so we're so fortunate to have that partnership with them that they give us an outlet to keep creating because I think that's the key to anything -- I don't care if you're an artist, I don't care if you're a painter, I don't care if you're a writer of books. I don't care what you are. You know, when you stop creating, I think that's when you start sort of shriveling up and dying inside, so we're just going to keep coming up with stuff.

Night Ranger will release a new CD/DVD live acoustic package on Oct. 22.
 DF: I also wanted to ask you what you thought of the "Rock of Ages" movie because I remember you played one of the lead roles in the Vegas production of that one time, didn't you?

BLADES: Yeah, yeah, I played what Alec Baldwin played in the movie, Dennis the club owner, in the Vegas one of it back in 2006. I loved it, I thought it was really fun. I thought Tom Cruise did a really good job playing a rock star. You know, I thought it was really kind of cool. You know, I mean, it was fun. I loved the fact that the whole movie started off with the first song, bam -- "Sister Christian!" God love ya! It was supposed to have another one, "High Enough," 'cause "High Enough" is in the Broadway musical, but for some reason something happened and that didn't end up in the movie, which was unfortunate because I thought in that part of the movie it could have really used it.

DF: I was just wondering when we're going to finally see the Night Ranger, Styx, Ted Nugent tour?

BLADES: Yeah, I'm wondering that same thing, man, "When is that going to happen?" Night Ranger, Styx, Nugent, Damn Yankees, right? You'd get it all.

DF: And Shaw/Blades.

BLADES: Yeah, and Shaw/Blades. Shaw/Blades can open it -- you know, we could do it all, bro! We could be like our own self-contained tour, wouldn't you love that?

DF: Yeah, that's the tour I've been waiting for, for five years or more.

BLADES: That would be awesome, man! That would be absolutely awesome!

DF: Yeah, because when it comes to my Jack Blades history of live performances, I have seen you in Night Ranger, Damn Yankees and even Rubicon, but the only thing I'm missing is Shaw/Blades, so I've got to get that crossed off my list.

BLADES: That is so much fun. Bro, it's so much fun. I mean we just, like, sit there bagging on each other and playing acoustic guitars and singing songs -- we have so much fun when we do it. Tommy is the greatest guy and such a dear, dear friend, too.

DF: That's excellent. Is there anything else you'd like to add that we haven't talked about?

BLADES: No. Night Ranger is pumped up, and like I said, we're extremely honored to be playing on September 11th and being with our friends in Utah. I mean, I love it. I absolutely love it. So please, spread the love and spread the word, and we're looking forward to seeing everybody there because I know that every time we come and play in Salt Lake and thereabouts, we have a good crowd and the crowd loves Night Ranger. And I want everybody to know that Night Ranger loves Salt Lake City, and that's the most important thing, man. Keep the love going.

DF: Thanks so much for your time.

BLADES: My pleasure and we'll see you, gosh, it's just like a few days, a couple weeks, right? (laughs)

DF: Week and a half, something like that.

BLADES: There you go. OK, bro.

DF: All right, take care.