The Jack Blades Interview
Jack Blades is nothing if not enthusiastic about his job. I had the occasion to speak with the singer and songwriter whose resume includes membership with both Night Ranger and Damn Yankees, songs for TV and movies, an ongoing musical partnership with Tommy Shaw, and a solo career with two albums under his belt, including his latest Rock 'N Roll Ride.
In the following interview, we touch on the new album, Night Ranger’s upcoming UK tour, and that wonderful scene in the film Boogie Nights featuring Mark Wahlberg, a coked-up Alfred Molino, firecrackers and “Sister Christian.”
On listening to Rock ‘N Roll Ride, I sense first and foremost that you had a lot of fun making this record.
I had a ball! When you get to make a solo record, you get to stretch out and do all the things that you kind of wanted to do that you can’t do when you’re with your band. That’s why I call it Rock ‘N Roll Ride — that’s basically what it is, it’s a rock ‘n roll ride with me through my adventures that I’ve had now for like the last 30-something years.
Am I wrong or do I hear some Beatles influences sneaking through on some of the tunes?
There’s Beatles influences, the Eagles, British metal influences. There’s Nigh Ranger, Damn Yankees influences. For instance, on “Anything For You,” Robin Zander (of Cheap Trick) happened to be on the West Coast and came to my place, and I had some of the music done and he came up in like four hours — probably the most creative four hours I’ve spent in years actually — and he nailed that song with me, singing the chorus. So we had to play a (George) Harrison-like solo on that to match what Robin sang.
What I liked too was how you subtly change your voice for a few of the tunes. How does that come about? Is that a conscious decision to want to sound different or does the song dictate how you will sing it?
Alice Cooper and I have talked about that a lot before. He says he has different voices, like the angry Alice, (sings) “I’m eighteen!”, then the (sings) “Only women bleed” voice. I just went where the songs took me. Like a song like “Hey Now” — that’s the last track on the album and it was late at night when we put down the guitar parts and I thought let me just put down the scratch vocal. Other than a few word changes that is the actual demo vocal and I was like, “Dude, I can’t beat that!” I just really go with the song, where it needs to go.
Night Ranger is about to go on tour in the UK, so how to do you fit in the solo stuff?
I’m hoping to play a few shows with these songs because I feel these songs are screaming to be played live. I would hope we’d be able to get them out there, that’s what I am looking forward to. I’d like to do some solo shows as well. Actually, I had this record finished before the Somewhere In California album (Night Ranger’s 2011 release), so it was a conscious effort of not releasing this record first and releasing Night Rangers’ last year and tour behind that and release my solo album after that.
Do you ever face the dilemma then of trying to decide if a song is a Night Ranger song or a Jack Blades song?
I don’t think that ever comes into being. I am sure in certain instances I hold out…like I think that’s a real Night Ranger song (or) that one is for me. But there’s enough songs out there; there’s enough ideas going around I don’t have to worry about that.
You live in Sonoma County, right? That’s quite a beautiful place to be…and I say this is a dyed-in-the-wool New Jerseian.
Yeah, it’s pretty nice out here. I moved to Northern California in 1975 from San Diego, where I was in college and I have been up here since. I moved here to Sonoma in 1980 having lived in San Francisco and then Mill Valley.
I guess the reason I asked about location as it relates to you is because out of all the tunes on Rock ‘N Roll Ride, my favorite is “West Hollywood.”
Dude, I love that song! Each day I have a different favorite…today that’s my favorite.
It’s a great, great tune.
Thanks bro. About a year and half ago, my son Collin, who is a great singer and songwriter in his own right, came up to visit us with his girlfriend, and he walked into the kitchen one morning as I was making a cup of coffee and he started singing the chorus to “West Hollywood” (he sings the chorus) and I was like, “Dude, that’s fantastic!’ And that registered in my brain and he never finished it I was getting ready to do my solo record, and I called him up and I said, “Collin, I’m going to do ‘West Hollywood’.” So, we finished it.
You have been in the business now for a while. What has changed for you personally, if anything at all, in how you approach music now?
Right now, I feel we don’t have to prove anything. There were some times in the 80s when there was so much pressure on us to write another hit song that we were writing things for what we thought people would like. The pressure was so intense — you’re chasing the dragon’s tail. The only thing I want to do now is say something in my songs. Otherwise, I can sit down and do what I think Robert Plant said, “Just write the room service menu.” I want to say something that’s not just bullshit, like songs like “Don’t Give Up,” “Rise And Shine,” “I Was Born For This.” That’s me from the heart; that’s about as close to my soul as you’re going to get.
I love what I do. I love music. I love being in front of people, playing live. Creating when I love it so much it’s not even like work.
When I told some people I’d be interviewing you, almost everyone brought up the “Sister Christian” scene in the movie Boogie Nights. What did you think of that when you saw it?
Kelly (Keagy, Night Ranger’s drummer and singer on “Sister Christian” ), my wife and I went to see the movie and when that scene came down, when he’s in that room with the guy shootin’ off the firecrackers, they are all jacked-out of their minds on coke…Kelly and I started breaking out in sweat across our foreheads. We came out of the movie and looked at one another and we’re like, “Dude, we were in that house in 83 or 84!” Like that was LA in 1984, a coke dealer with a pile of coke in the middle of the room, guys like up for four days, playing songs, some bodyguard with a gun…I’m telling you dude, that was way too close to home for us!
They told us it was going to be in that movie and we’ve always been a fan of Mark Wahlberg, so we said run with it, that’s going to be something good. But man it was fantastic, oh yeah.
You talked about how Thick As A Brick is a satire. However, there is a story, I think, and with all the effort you put into the cover art in 1972 and choosing a young man to portray Gerald Bostock in the photos, did you ever explore the idea of making a feature film based on Thick As A Brick?
No, I didn’t because it seemed to be very much a standalone thing where you had this precocious young schoolboy who was writing this sort of rambling and slightly disturbing poetry full of imagery that was redolent I suppose of growing up in England at that time…the slightly odd mixture of romanticism, of frustration, the blood, the gore, the military, lots of little elements. When I came to revisit those ideas today and to re-examine my own little bit of autobiographical contribution to the original album, because clearly what was written supposedly by an eight-year-old school boy, I was putting some of myself into that. But when it came to writing this new one, I put a lot more of myself into it. I think with the benefit of looking back 50 years, or a little more, I had a kind of a clarity or vision about my own growing up, my own school days, and more importantly in terms of what it leads on to, thinking about the various things that could have happened to me.
So some of the possible Gerald anecdotes that I explore on the new record are indeed things I know something about because either I had nearly gone down that route myself or I knew people who did. The new thing is written really from more of an autobiographical perspective. The original one was me trying to fantasize about a precocious schoolboy kind of just going over the top. Someone I guess we wouldn’t really like. He wouldn’t have been a popular kid; he would have been picked on, he would have been bullied. He was probably pretty bright and people would be, on the one hand, jealous of his academic ability, but at the same time, probably despised him because he probably wasn’t good at sports, he wasn’t a good social mixer. You can imagine all those things about this rather precocious child. In a way, a little bit of that is my own experience, so it was kind of fun exploring those ideas.
But to make a movie out of the original — there was no substance. It wasn’t about real things. It was like a tapestry; it was like a tapestry of disconnected events and little vignettes of different aspects of life, as it might appear, confusingly, to a young boy growing up too quickly. I don’t think there was a movie there. It was a series of snapshots.
And speaking of movies…or video…?
Oh yeah, go check out my “Back In The Game” video. This is my Saving Private Blades movie and I dedicated it to our troops.
I can’t thank you enough for this sit down and I wish you lots of luck with the Night Ranger tour and Rock ‘N Roll Ride.
Thanks bro, really. Keep rockin’!