Feature: Call Collect – An introduction to NIGHT RANGER

Andy Nathan favourites Night Ranger remained a largely USA-based phenomenon until their reformation in the late 1990s.  Their UK gigs from 2011 onwards would make grown men cry…

Night Ranger - HRH AOR – Pwllheli, Wales, Friday 9 March 2018

When Night Ranger played their first-ever headline show in England at the Islington Academy, grown men (mainly) in their forties travelled from all over the country and were almost reduced to tears by seeing them. What took them so long and why the excitement?

The Californians released their debut Dawn Patrol in 1982, settling on one of its songs as their band name. At that time the only big name was guitarist Brad Gillis who had the unenviable task of filling Randy Rhoads’ shoes at short notice in Ozzy Osbourne’s band.

Their style instead was a straight ahead melodic approach, yet distinguished from many of their US contemporaries by a more aggressive twin guitar attack of Gillis and Jeff Watson, meaning  the keyboards (from the beret wearing Alan FitzGerald) were never allowed to become dominant. Another distinctive characteristic was the way vocal duties were shared between bassist Jack Blades and drummer Kelly Keagy.

The latter’s forte was the dramatic power ballad and it was one such, ‘Sister Christian’, which earned them a top  5 hit in the USA and helped their follow up album ‘Midnight Madness’ to gain wider traction, before ’7 Wishes’ repeated the formula of hit ballads and feel good rockers.

Their home country lapped them up to the extent they even wrote the title track to the film ‘The Secret Of My Success’.  However like many of their contemporaries they never got the airplay on the UK’s rockphobic radio waves to get that elusive hit single over here. So, despite a one-off support to Foreigner at Wembley Arena in 1985, touring was never economic, contributing to their cult status this side of the pond.

Night Ranger - HRH AOR – Pwllheli, Wales, Friday 9 March 2018
Night Ranger in 2018

Success was not sustained in America either and by the end of the eighties, after two less successful albums, the original line up split, and while Blades enjoyed equivalent success in the supergroup Damn Yankees, Keagy and Gillis plugged away with a new member in Gary Moon.

The original quintet reformed for a pair of albums in the late nineties, which bore some of the hallmarks of Blades’ co-writes for Aerosmith in the meantime,  and the band have continued to tour ever since, albeit with a few  line up changes including both current Whitesnake guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra passing through the ranks at various points.

The last decade started with a real return to form in Somewhere in California which has been followed by two other studio and a couple of live albums.

However, it is in concert where they really shine, with the twin guitar attack led by Gillis’ shape pulling, Blades’ exuberance and manic humour and Keagy attacking both his kit and the mike with gusto from a position on the right of the stage.  Fortunately that emotional night in 2011 was not just a glorious one-off and led to regular festival or London dates for the rest of the decade.

Recommended albums

Even though they are best experienced as a live act, here are some essential albums:

Dawn Patrol (1982) – their first and rockiest album. The guitar duel on opener ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’ is a classic to this day.

Midnight Madness (1983) – ‘Sister Christian’ is one of the ultimate eighties power ballads but the title of opener ‘You Can Still Rock in America’ showed where their intentions still lay.

7 Wishes (1985) – a little lighter and closer to mainstream AOR in approach, but their strongest set of ballads and breezy rockers.

Man in Motion (1988) – a commercial flop that hastened the original band’s demise, but actually a very strong album.

Somewhere in California (2011) – NR have never made a bad album, but regained their focus on a signature sound on the first album with Joel Hoekstra as Brad Gillis’ guitar partner. Follow-up High Road is not far short of the standard.

Simon Dunkerley

© 2020  Andy Nathan/GRTR! All rights reserved.

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JAIME KYLE Driving With The Brakes On (Conquest Music)
SCARLET DORN Born To Suffer (SPV Recordings)
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