Without including his achievements as one of the lead vocalists and bassist for Californian hard rockers Night Ranger, Jack Blades has had the uncanny habit of joining forces with some similarly prominent talents in bands which have fallen under “supergroup” status.
Damn Yankees rose to superstardom during the early 1990s, a period where many other well known rock groups were on the decline, however it was the group’s all-star unification of Styx‘s Tommy Shaw, Ted Nugent, Blades and Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Michael Cartellone, and their habit of formulating anthemic rock songs which attracted more than two million sales of their debut album.
When the members of Damn Yankees decided to return to their respective projects in 1994, Blades continued his songwriting relationship with Shaw in the appropriately titled project, Shaw/Blades, while continuing forward with his commitments to Night Ranger. While past years have shown the vocalist making a more prominent appearance in the studio alongside guitarist Neal Schon, Blades has just recently participated in one of the highlights of his career.
Revolution Saints unifies the hard rock frontman with vocalist and drummer Deen Castronovo of Journey and guitar virtuoso Doug Aldrich from Whitesnake and Dio fame, for a formidable trio of monumental talent. The band is currently preparing for the release of their self-tilted debut album, due for release via Frontiers Records on February 24, which presents a proud compilation of striking melodic rock centered upon exemplary musicianship.
I recently sat down with Jack Blades to discuss the new Revolution Saints effort, his stance on guest appearances, his thoughts on the newest member of Night Ranger, the unreleased third Damn Yankees album and the possibility of a Damn Yankees reunion later this year.
William Clark: Considering your status as one of the more easily recognizable lead vocalists in hard rock, some fans were surprised when it was announced that Deen Castronovo would be handling the main microphone on the debut Revolution Saints album. However, with the album now complete and some material finding it’s way onto the airwaves, more and more people are realizing that this was a wise decision. Was it interesting for you to switch from being the frontman to Night Ranger to mainly providing bass and backup vocals with Revolution Saints?
Jack Blades: You know what, it was an absolute pleasure, you know what I mean? On this record, I don’t have to be all things to all people, and when you have a vocalist like Deen who for the life of me, I can’t figure out why he waited so long to come out as a lead singer. (laughs) Deen’s finally coming out of the closet, you know what I’m saying?
The guy’s just unbelievable, the way he sings. I was in the studio, man, and he’s laying everything down in the first or second take. It was just effortless for Deen, just absolutely effortless, and it was really great – I really feel like my job in Revolution Saints is to make Deen and Doug Aldrich look really good. That’s my goal.
William: Alright. When were you made aware that Deen Castronovo is essentially the equivalent of a Steve Perry/Ginger Baker hybrid?
Jack: You know, I’ve known Deen for probably thirty years. Our manager for Night Ranger, or our lighting director for Night Ranger actually managed his band, the Wild Dogs, back in the early 80s, when they were out of Portland, Oregon. I’ve known Deen, I’ve known about Deen. He and I have been friends for years and years and years, and of course, Night Ranger has toured with Journey all over the world – Europe, Asia, everywhere. I’ve known Deen through all his incarnations of Bad English, when he played with Ozzy [Osbourne], everything. It was sort of easy for me to be involved with something like this.
Originally, it started out as – I thought, basically that Deen was going to do a solo album. You know, like a Deen Castronovo solo record, but it sort of morphed into a band, like an actual Revolution Saints. It was just easy for me. I was asked, “Hey, do you wanna play bass and do this with Deen? He’s going to sing lead.” And I knew how he sang, I knew how Deen sang because when I’ve toured with him and I know everything he sings with Journey and everything. Also, he kind of scratched the surface last year, when Neal Schon released his ‘So U’ solo record, Deen sang lead on three or four of those songs. I was in the studio with them, I co-wrote most of the lyrics with Neal on that record. So I was in the studio the whole time down in Hollywood in Fantasy Studios when they were cutting the record. I knew what Deen could do, so when this all came up, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.
William: There really isn’t a weak point in the Revolution Saints lineup. Aside from your and Deen’s contributions, Doug Aldrich introduces some rather impressive guitar work throughout the album. Was there ever a moment in the studio, say during the recording of “Turn Back Time” where you had to nudge him to just relax a bit?
Jack: (laughs) Oh, Doug? Well no, quite the opposite! I had a conversation with Doug, and I said, “Listen, man. This is going to be your first record coming out of Whitesnake, so as far as I’m concerned, you just go for it. Do everything. Go crazy! Get insane! Play all of the stuff you’ve always wanted to play. Go wild. Go nuts, and follow your instincts!” You know, when you work with guys that you trust – this is a big thing, you know what I mean? When you work with guys who have been doing it the way Doug and the way Deen have been, and the way I’ve been doing it, there’s a mutual trust in there. And with Doug, the way he plays is the guitar, man, he’ll just shred!
He’ll just be blazin’, and then he’ll sustain a note and pull off of it right at the right time, a lot like the way Neal Schon does. They have just this inherent ability, you know, they’re not just shredders, which they can do all day long, but it’s like emotion, and that’s what Doug did on this record. That’s what so impressed me with it, his playing, and of course Deen’s drumming is, like, stupid. I mean, it’s off the charts. This guy’s just a crazy, insane – like you said, Ginger Baker, just nuts. Wild, like some Keith Moon drummer, or something. Deen’s just amazing, so… just throw us all three together, and there you have it.
William: Throughout the making of Revolution Saints’ debut album, were there ever times where you were tempted to step up and take control of the lead vocal duties?
Jack: Nah. Never, never. I never wanted to, you know? There was no point. With Deen laying it out – that was the idea from the very beginning, with Deen breaking out and doing the leads and everything like that with vocals. In fact, it was the suggestion that I should do a duet with him on “Turn Back Time.” I wasn’t really interested. I was like, “Why? What’s the point? Let’s just have Deen sing.” “Nah, let’s do that.” So I’m like, “Alright, we’ll do that.” They also had me sing on… ah, what was it? “Weight of the Sun.” Whatever! I want Deen to shine on this thing, and he sure did.
William: Even taking into account Deen Castronovo’s current commitments as the drummer and occasional lead singer for Journey, was it surprising to have Neal Schon and Arnel Pineda make guest appearances on the record?
Jack: Nah… I’m just so used to that kind of stuff. Hey man, when you’re in a band as long as Deen’s been in Journey, and I’ve been in Night Ranger, I was with Damn Yankees, you just do things like that. They’re just your friends, your buds, you know what I mean? It’s just like, “Hey man, I’m doing this record. You wanna play?” “Sure! Why not?” (laughs) It’s that kind of thing. Neal’s played on my solo records, I’ve had Ted Nugent play on Night Ranger records. That’s just kind of the way it is when you’re in a band and you’re buds and everything like that. It’s just like, “Yeah man, sure. I’ll sing on that, I’ll play on it. Why not?”
William: I was going to say, you seem to have made a welcome habit of working alongside similarly well known rock artists throughout your career, what with your previous efforts with Damn Yankees and Shaw/Blades. Do you find it liberating to continue to collaborate with other talents outside of Night Ranger?
Jack: Well you know what? I love it. I think it keeps me sharp, I think it keeps me on my toes. There’s a tendency in this world that we live in… there’s a tendency where you’ll get real familiar with what you’ve been doing. You get real happy and content in this position you play, and you don’t strive to achieve anything else. I think that for me, I like to keep myself on my toes. When you’re playing with guys like Deen and Doug, who are out there just kicking it – and of course the same thing with Tommy, when I play with Tommy Shaw or with Ted, you know what I mean? It just keeps you sharp and keeps you going. That’s what I love, I love collaborating. I love playing with different people. Just last month, I was in Phoenix. Night Ranger played Alice Cooper‘s Christmas Pudding, and I got together with Nils Lofgren, the [Bruce] Springsteen guitarist, and Johnny Lang and Alice’s drummer [Glen Sobel], and we put together this thing for his charity. I love doing that stuff, you know? It was just frickin’ awesome.
Jack: Just not really happy experiences. (laughs) It was kind of shoved down our throats, it was all done wrong. It was like… it wasn’t meant to be, as they say. It was supposed to be this way, then it was that, this went that way, that sort of went left-footed. The best part about it was getting to meet Damon, but nothing was right.
William: Do you feel that there can’t really be an authentic Damn Yankees lineup without Tommy Shaw in the band?
Jack: Yeah. You know, Damn Yankees was Tommy and me singing, the Nuge playing guitar. I don’t see how that could work. That’s what the Damn Yankees is. It’s like Ted, Tommy, me and Michael [Cartellone]. We were just all talking about trying to pull something together, because it’s the 25th anniversary of the release of the first album, so it would be kind of a nice year to do something.
William: Are you talking about putting together a Damn Yankees reunion for this year?
Jack: Well, I don’t know if it would be a reunion, as it were, but we would… I would love to all just get in a room and start slamming around with some ideas and just put out a song. I think that would be really fun. I doubt it will happen. (laughs) But it would be a blast for us and the fans, you know?
William: While we’re on the topic of unreleased projects, what is the status of the second Shaw/Blades album, ‘Influence II’? The last we heard on the effort was that it featured new takes on some Crosby, Stills & Nash and Elton John material, but that was nearly four years ago.
Jack: I know! Isn’t that stupid? It’s just, like, sitting there. It’s sitting there three-quarters of the way finished. (laughs) I think we should finish it.
William: Yeah, I agree. Turning back to the new Revolution Saints effort, you and the rest of the band did a commendable job at keeping the album almost evenly paced out by anthemic hard rock songs and reflective power ballads. Was the goal to create a more varietal album?
Jack: I think the goal was just to create a great rockin’ album. The goal was to create something that had a tip of the hat to everything that we’ve done in the past, while trying to pave some new ground. You know, get into some new territory, and I think that’s kind of what it did.
William: While you all have your own prior commitments, are there currently plans to head on tour in support of the effort?
Jack: Well, we had conversations last week about that. We’re trying to figure out a time when we could actually put together performances and stuff like that, because of Journey’s schedule and Night Ranger’s schedule and Doug’s schedule with Burning Rain, and everything else that he does, like Raiding the Rock Vault and all those projects that he’s involved with. So we’re trying to figure a time frame for when we could do that, which we think would be like maybe in the fall. I think it would be a fun thing, because I think it would be a great thing for fans.
William: Concluding with your work with Night Ranger, the band recently announced that former Alice Cooper guitarist Keri Kelli, who’s previously sat in with Night Ranger on several occasions, would serve as the permanent replacement for Joel Hoekstra. What are your thoughts on that transition?
Jack: It was like the most seamless thing that ever happened ever, for me at least. I mean, Keri is so fuckin’ good! (laughs) You know what I mean?! Years of playing with Alice Cooper and Slash. He brings this, like, sway and swagger to the music that – we started out, the first shows we played this year, we played last weekend in Cleveland and Oaklahoma City, and it was just nuts. The shows were sold out and everything, but it was just so fun and so great. Keri fits in very easily, it was one of those things that because he’s played with us before, there was no sort of transition period. There was no “just checking it out” or this, that or the other thing. He toured with us two years ago when we did a Canadian tour with Journey. Neal loved him, everybody. He’s just a great player. He’s a great player and a great performer.
William: Are there plans to bring the current Night Ranger lineup into the studio to work on the follow-up to ‘High Road’ in the near future?
Jack: There is. You know, we’re talking about that right now. I think that we’re going to be touring a lot, but I think that would be great. I think that would be a good thing to do, so we’re trying to figure out… (laughs) Oh, our schedules, man! There’s just so much going on, when you try to shoot another thing in, it’s like, “OK. Well, let’s give it a shot.”