This summer, Night Ranger is out tearing up the road in support of its new album High Road. The new record is the band’s eleventh studio effort, and an album that finds the Night Ranger mining its sonic roots for the signature sound that fans fell in love with three decades ago. Night Ranger exploded in the early ’80s with a string of platinum albums and mega-hits like “Don’t Tell Me You Love”, “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and the monster ballad, “Sister Christian”. Three decades later the band continues making classic Night Ranger magic on their 2011 album Somewhere in California and of course, High Road. This week, guitarist Brad Gillis took time to chat with Idaho Music Scene about the tour, High Road, his third studio album, and he looks back on his life changing moment.
Brad Gillis has been a part of Night Ranger since its inception in 1980. Gillis, along with bassist/vocalist Jack Blades and drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy have been together since the trio’s stint in late 70’s rockers, Rubicon. As Brad shares, Night Ranger has been giving fans a little bit of everything on the new tour, from the debut album to the new record, with a few left turns to boot:
“We play ‘High Road’ during our set and get everyone singing the ‘yeah, yeahs’ on it and it’s coming across really well. You never like to put too many new songs in the set because everybody wants to hear the big hits so we kind of stack the deck by doing two Damn Yankees tunes; and from my stint with Ozzy Osbourne in ’82, we throw an Ozzy tune in there too; of course the big hits, and the new tune, and a couple of b-sides that were maybe videos in the ’80s.”
Touring this month with Boston brings the band back full circle as it was Boston guitarist Gary Pihl who recorded the early demos which helped Night Ranger ink its record deal. Gillis talked about the connection:
“When we first started doing our demos back in 1980—before we were called Night Ranger we were called Ranger and we were recording our demos, and Gary Pihl lived up in the Bay Area. He had this nice little eight track recording studio in his home, and we went up to Gary’s house and recorded our first big time demo with Gary, and that led to us getting our first record deal. We came out with a bang with ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’ and MTV had just started, and we were on our way. Gary Pihl had a lot to do with the conception of the original demos sound for Night Ranger, so we’ve gotta thank him for that.”
The Night Ranger sound is a unique mix of big choruses and melodic harmonies backstopped by memorable riffs and guitar harmonies. This month, Brad’s longtime guitar partner, Joel Hoekstra announced he would be departing the band to join Whitesnake. Given the heavy dose of guitar harmonies Night Ranger employs, Gillis talked about how it impacts the band bringing in a new guitarist to play alongside him:
“It’s a hard one. We’ve used different people in the past, and our choice is going to be great who we pick in the long-term. Joel’s moving on to Whitesnake and he spent a good seven years with us and it’s been great, but whenever there’s a change you always make the best of it and we will prevail. We were used to Joel going out and doing the Trans Siberian Orchestra gig and we’d bring in different people for that. We had Reb Beach in for a while doing stuff and this other guy Keri Kelli. Keri Kelli’s played with Alice Cooper and he’s been playing with John Waite lately, and we’ve got Keri back in the band now.”
Despite finding platinum success with Night Ranger, composing hundreds of songs for ESPN, and playing and recording with Ozzy Osbourne, Brad’s most memorable moment has nothing to do with any of those notable successes. His life changing event predates Night Ranger, Ozzy and all that came after. It goes back to the late ’70s:
“I gotta tell you, the biggest day of my life is still playing with Rubicon at the Cal Jam II, March 18, 1978, with Aerosmith, Heart and Dave Mason, Ted Nugent—and it was just 250,000 people, man, and I was just 19 years old. Just flying in there, and all the people, playing this big show, and they recorded it, and it was released as a double live album, and they put it on TV. I gotta tell you, that started it all when I played that show. I always knew I wanted to play music, but that really set it in my heart that I’m gonna go for it and get it, and make some noise. And luckily Night Ranger came out and got their record deal and then I had my stint with Ozzy for about nine months and released the Speak of the Devil album—We released Speak of the Devil and Dawn Patrol in the same week in October 1982. So I had two big records released the same week which was pretty amazing for me. We’ve had a great career and we’re just gonna keep this train-a-rollin’.”
Gillis also spoke about his upcoming third solo album and the difference between recording the band’s debut record three decades ago and recording the new album, High Road. You can check out the full interview with Brad below.
All photos © 2014 Suzette Mansfield Photography @ EyeRock2 Photography
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