Interview by Amy Harris at The First 3 Songs
Night Ranger is still alive and kicking in the heart of Rock n Roll after 30 years on the road. They have just released their 9th studio album Somewhere in California. The band is celebrating their long and glorious career on the road with 80s music staples Journey and Foreigner on the Eclipse Tour. Over the duration of the band’s time in the mainstream, they have produced seven top 15 singles including the always impressive “Sister Christian” which gets any crowd on their feet when the drums kick in.
Amy caught up with lead guitarist Brad Gillis to preview the show. Brad has great stories of the road and a look at his history with Night Ranger and touring with Ozzy Osbourne.
Amy: I have been listening to Somewhere in California which is your 9th album. I think my favorite song on the album is “Lay It On Me.” Can you tell me the story behind that song?
Brad: It’s funny that you ask because in our short set that we are playing with Journey and Foreigner, that is the opening song for our show. We all enjoy that song too. Our first video came out, “Growing Up in California,” and now we are looking into doing a video for “Lay It On Me.” I’m glad you like it. It’s a song where I brought in that heavy riff and we all got into the studio and started jamming on it and it ended up turning out the way it was and became the second song on the CD. So we like it a lot and it’s coming across live very well.
Amy: I think it comes back to the roots of the original music that you guys did through the years. I saw that there weren’t a lot of ballads on this record so you guys are going back to the rock n roll vibe on the new album in general right?
Brad: Yes, we decided to kind of get back to that kick ass Night Ranger music from the original three albums that made us famous Dawn Patrol, Midnight Madness, and Seven Wishes. We just wanted to get back to the big vocal harmony choruses, the twin lead guitar assault, and we were pretty excited to go into the studio, especially with our new guitar player Joe Hoekstra and our newest addition Eric Levy on keyboard. So it was great to get them in studio and bring the best out of them to create this new record. We took our time recording and spent a little over four months on this record. Usually we do records in two to three months. We just wanted everything right and exciting and the mixes to be great and we kind of went over time on our recording schedule but we all believe the final mixes came out great and are so happy that it is a worldwide release. We have already been to Japan, already been to Europe, and now we are out for three months with Journey, Foreigner, and Night Ranger on the road in the United States.
Amy: Did you guys come together and write it together or do you work separately when you write?
Brad: We all got into a room with musical ideas and started jamming on all these different riffs and stuff and then the vocals came later which is a different process for Night Ranger. Usually people come in with songs or chorus lyrics or some type of hook and we write music around it. But we just wanted to get into the studio and jam on some of these new ideas and kind of focus on the more up-tempo, exciting musical ideas and went on to finish those off. Like you said there is only one ballad on the record, I think mainly because we had so much energy and excitement in us that it is how it turned out.
Amy: You guys are obviously coming to Cincinnati tomorrow and you have been touring through here for years. I was curious to see if you had any crazy Cincinnati memories from the 80s or the original touring days?
Brad: I remember back in 1983 when we first came out, one of the first shows that we did was in downtown Cincinnati at this radio station on the sixth floor. I remember that it was crazy because the crew had to haul equipment up stairs instead of using an elevator to get to this live radio show we did. I remember we had just come out with “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and the excitement was just beginning for Night Ranger and I remember doing that radio show in 1983. Somebody sent me pictures of us at the radio station doing that performance six months ago and it brought back memories of being there in Cincinnati. Cincinnati kind of has a warm place in my heart for Night Ranger because they were one of the first radio stations that put on our first single “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.”
Amy: There are bands that are getting lots of press like Kings of Leon right now who are having all this internal strife and cancelling tours at the peak of their career. Do you have any thoughts on that or what advice would you give bands today going through the process that you have been living for 30 years?
Brad: Well I guess the key to our success and longevity and the reason we get along so well is that we all have a sense of humor. We all like to make each other laugh and keep things positive. When you have been touring as long us, you have to make sure that everyone is getting along. We keep the humor up and joking around. On our days off, we all go sightseeing and go out for a nice band dinner. We just try to get along by keeping each other in check and keep the humor up. Because of that we seem to get along. This is our heaviest touring year since the 80s so we are kind of reliving the old experience of being out on the road for a long time. I think we are going to be up to about 100 shows total this year for Night Ranger and it’s pretty exciting to be able to have that much touring available to us and great packages to be playing on. We thank our lucky stars that we have a new record and a great tour going on and our key is just keeping everybody positive, happy, and keeping the humor rolling around.
Amy: What do you do on your downtime on the road?
Brad: On the downtime on the road, I collect vintage guitars and amplifiers, so I like to hit all the pawn shops and music stores on the road. We try to take in as many sites as we can see in each city, but there is only so much time allotted to us having to travel and having to play the opening slot in the Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger Tour. But when I am at home, I have a Harley that I ride around town. I live in the San Francisco Bay area. There are beautiful roads to ride on and nice back mountain roads. And personally, I do a lot of music for ESPN and Fox Sports. I am constantly writing music at home and trying to place that and spending time with my daughter and gearing up for the next Night Ranger gig.
Amy: You famously replaced Randy Rhodes with Ozzy Osbourne after his tragic death. What was that experience like for you and how did you go about coming back to Night Ranger after that?
Brad: When Night Ranger got together in 1980, we put together our demo with like five songs and we were trying to shop this demo and not having much luck. It was very time consuming with people trying to shop our new material. We did not want to play small clubs in the Bay Area. We wanted to hold off and get a record deal and go in big time like gangbusters with a new song on the radio. In that interim, I put together a band, the Alameda All Stars, and we were playing Ozzy tunes. When Randy’s tragic death occurred, two weeks later I got a call to go play with Ozzy and go to New York and finish the tour up. It was very exciting for me but very scary. I had never been in that type of situation where I was being thrown right into a headline situation where I had to learn all this intense material. I camped out in my hotel room for four days with a live cassette that Randy was on and the fifth night I played my first show, my first sold out Ozzy show in Binghamton, New York for like 7,000 people. It was very,very scary for me because I had never played with the band before and the only time I was able to play with the band was at the sound check the day of that first show. So we had gone on stage and it was very scary for me. After a few weeks, I started settling in and getting into the groove. And I remember doing a live broadcast from Memphis, Tennessee, King Biscuit Flower Hour, and our show was broadcast live throughout the US. I actually had a very good show that night, and after that I actually started relaxing in my position with Ozzy. It was a lot of intense touring. We were out for about 11 months total. Towards the end of the Ozzy tour, our bass player decided to leave Ozzy because his new band Quiet Riot had gotten a record deal. Rudy ended up leaving the band and about a month or two later, we got offered a record deal with Night Ranger. Being a side man with Ozzy, I felt in my heart that I would be more comfortable with Night Ranger because these were best friends of mine that I spent a couple years trying to get this project together and I was a full band member and not a side man. So I decided to quit Ozzy in the end and we had just recorded the live record Speak of the Devil with Ozzy with old Black Sabbath material and Night Ranger, we had our record Dawn Patrol finished in the can. When I re-joined Night Ranger, both records, Speak of the Devil from Ozzy and Night Ranger’s Dawn Patrol were released in the same week in early ’83. It was exciting I had two records charting at that time. Night Ranger hopped on a huge tour and next thing you know we were back out doing big shows opening for a lot of big acts at the time. We were fortunate enough to have MTV behind us so our videos all throughout the 80s were heavily played which helped with the recognition of the band.
Amy: That’s a great story. Do you have any regrets over the years?
Brad: Not at all. My career has always been going in a nice direction. It is just wonderful to see in this day and age 30 years later, after Night Ranger was conceived, we are having one of the biggest years that we have had since the 80s with the all the shows and the new record and the worldwide tour. You can’t ask for anything better than that.
Amy: What do you feel was your greatest rock n roll moment ever?
Brad: When I was 19 years old, when I just graduated high school, I was playing in club bands playing five nights a week. I got picked up by this band called Rubicon, and Jack Blades, our lead singer for Night Ranger was in that band. We got a record deal from 20th Century Fox Records and we did a small tour. The highlight of my life will always be playing Cal Jam 2 at Ontario Motor Speedway with Rubicon and the headliners were Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Santana, all these great bands. I will never forget that day, it was March 18th, 1978. I played in front of 250,000 people. It’s still to this day the biggest day of my life, being flown in, backstage, and helicopters, and taking limos everywhere. All my friends from the Bay Area drove down to see me and hang out with me at the show. After that, they made a live video for TV and showed us and a Double Live album from the Cal Jam 2. That was the biggest day of my career.