Night Ranger Reflects On Its Cleveland Connection

Night Ranger | 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27 | Hard Rock Live | 10777 Northfield Rd.,Northfield | Tickets: $15-$25 |

The brand new Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park is officially open for business and they're kicking things off in style with musical entertainment from a few veteran bands and artists that have deep history with Cleveland. Joan Jett handled the official opening duties earlier this month with a hard rockin' set that knocked a bit of polish off of the new venue. Snowy December be damned, Night Ranger is poised to do the same thing when they roll into the Rocksino for a sold-out show on Friday.

The current lineup still features three members from the original five-piece lineup that ruled the Billboard charts in the '80s, and includes bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy and guitarist Brad Gillis. These days, guitarist Joel Hoekstra trades searing leads with Gillis in the slot formerly occupied by Jeff Watson. The band has had a few different keyboard players since the silently mysterious Alan "Fitz" Fitzgerald departed from the group in 2003. Eric Levy, the latest addition on keys, fits in well and even has enough of a visual resemblance to Fitz to make you do a double take. Despite the changes in the lineup, the classic Night Ranger sound, from the dueling twin guitars to the harmonic blend of the vocals, remains intact as you remember it.

The members of Night Ranger have always held a special place in their hearts for the city of Cleveland, as Blades explained during a phone conversation a couple of weeks ago. If you've heard the rumors, they're definitely not hype — the Rock and Roll Capital of the World was a vital piece of the puzzle when it came to fueling the eventual platinum-selling success for the band.

"Night Ranger basically, with 'Sister Christian,' broke out of Cleveland with [airplay on] WMMS," he says. "It was the late spring or early summer of 1984 that 'MMS started banging it out and then that was the end of that. We went from playing theaters to arenas. It was pretty amazing. You know, our record company guys [Bruce and Gary Bird], they started as independent promoters in Cleveland. So Cleveland was always [really important]. It's like, 'Okay, we're going to come in there and we're going to really kick ass in Cleveland.' I remember our very first show that we played [there] when we released our Dawn Patrol album, we came down and played at the Agora, and it was when the Agora was still there before it burned down, I think. It was like on a Sunday night and I think it was right when we released our first album and we were on tour with KISS, our very first tour, and 'Don't Tell Me You Love Me' had just hit MTV and the record had been out for about two weeks."

The band played the Agora and Blades says a handful of people, including [WMMS DJ] Kid Leo, were in the audience.

"Kid Leo, he was wearing his long Disciples of Soul leather trenchcoat," he says. "We were like, 'Wow, this is cool,' and it was in the middle of a blizzard. It was an absolute blizzard and the whole city was practically shut down and there we were in Cleveland, completely snowed in and all of that stuff. It was pretty awesome."

"Sister Christian" celebrates its 30th birthday this year and Blades marvels at the fact that Night Ranger is still traveling worldwide more than three decades later, powered in part by the strength of the success that they found with "Sister Christian" and other similarly successful songs that are now considered classics in the Night Ranger catalog. Their 1983 album Midnight Madness took aim at the peak position of No. 115 that their 1982 debut Dawn Patrol had registered and went 100 positions higher. Midnight Madness would peak in the Top 20, landing at No. 15.

There was a lot of hard work that went into the album delivering the payoff that it did and very little time off. The band came off the road somewhat unexpectedly in the midst of touring for its debut album.

"We had been on tour for our first record Dawn Patrol and we had sold a million records [with that album] and suddenly our record company disappeared and went under and that was Boardwalk Records," Blades recalls. "So [management] pulled us off the road and put us right in the studio and we started cutting the Midnight Madness record immediately. We had written 'Sister Christian' previously and, in fact, for some reason, we didn't put it on our first record. You could say that 'Yeah, we had some master plan that we were going to do it on our second record,' but I don't know, for some reason it just didn't go on our first record."

So the band put "Sister Christian" on its second album. The rest is rock history.

"The first single off Midnight Madness, of course, was '(You Can Still) Rock In America' and that took the Midnight Madness album up to about 700 or 800 thousand [units sold] right away, BOOM!" he says. "That became a real rock anthem. But then we decided to release 'Sister Christian' in the spring of 1984, and it just instantly became that song that, you know, every high school graduated to that song. We had two days off at home and [the label] said, 'Well, you have to film a video for this song' and we were like, 'Man, we don't want to go to L.A. or New York to film a video — we only have two days, so [maybe] you can stick something in our hometown,' and they said 'Okay, yeah.' So we filmed it at San Rafael High School here in Marin County in Northern California and that became sort of a hook for that song."

New music also remains an ongoing concern for Night Ranger and the group has been knee-deep in the midst of finishing up a new studio album. The album is untitled at the present moment and set for release next year. Coming on the heels of their well-received Somewhere In California release, which came out in 2011, Blades says that the next album will follow a similar theme. He describes the latest material as "classic Night Ranger stuff [that's] really rockin'."

The band should be done with tracking the album by the time it gets to Cleveland and Blades is excited that Night Ranger is one of the first acts to play the new Hard Rock Rocksino.

"We're really pumped about coming back into the Cleveland area. I don't care if it's snowing or if it's a blizzard, we're going to jack that place up and warm that place up with some real good rock and roll!"

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330=908-7625 | Tickets: $15-$25 |

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