By Andrew Catania
Catching up with Brad Gillis from Night Ranger was reliving my childhood. I remember everyone burning their cigarette lighter when they’d play Sister Christian in concert. 35 years later, Night Ranger sounds better than ever. Their upcoming record, due out March 24th,2017, titled Don’t Let Up, is some of their best work. I caught up with Brad to discuss there new CD, guitars, and other fun stuff.
Hey Brad, how are you doing?
Hey, Andrew! I’m doing fine man. It’s been a busy day of interviews and you’re the last one so everything’s good.
There you go! Congratulations on this new album Don’t Let Up, I like it. You guys just seem like you never age.
Well, we definitely age but try to come out with fresh music at least.
This album was self-produced by you guys. Did you guys do anything different with this album versus the ones from the past?
Well, the only thing different is the new guitar player Keri Kelli being involved, but we always stick to the same format of writing and recording which is what we’ve done in the past few years, which is basically Jack, Kelly and I get together and jam around. We start jamming with a couple of riffs, and we start humming different melody ideas. This time we flew to Kelly Keagy’s house in Nashville where he had a full set of drums, amps, and a PA system in his living room. I knew this was going to be fun. We just jammed around for a couple days and came up with 6 or 8 ideas and then we started recording them. Then we added Keri Kelli and Eric Levy, on guitars and keys. Keri and Jack would come to my house in the Bay area and we’d go up to Jack’s house in Washington state and record some more. Since we all have our own home studio we were able to transfer files.
So everybody’s got their own studio per say? Or their own version of a studio?
Yes everybody has their own setup and at my house, I have everything I need. Since I’m a guitar and amp collector, I’ve got everything you can imagine here to record with which is a lot of fun. The fun part of it all is towards the end when you’re throwing down solos, the lead vocals, and chorus’. Then everything starts coming together that’s when you realize whether you’ve got something or not. We probably wrote a good 18 – 20 songs and embellished on about 12 of them for the record
I was listening to your last couple albums. You guys just keep getting better and better each album.
Wow! That’s so funny Andrew I’ve got to say we’re getting a lot of spark off this record and it’s not even out yet. I’ve probably done 30 interviews in the past two weeks from reviewers, online sites, radio stations, and magazines. Everybody’s seems to be digging the new record which is really exciting for us. We’re waiting to release it to our fans and get a reaction. What we normally do is pick out a couple songs that everybody likes and start rehearsing them to play live.
Yes, this album really does it has a lot of excitement to it. Jack’s voice sounds fantastic. Your guitars always sound amazing. I really do think that your fans are going to appreciate this. I was just listening to your live album earlier today that came out over Christmas and you can just tell the energy from when you guys were playing up in Chicago with that. You know we’re all getting older. You know I grew up with you guys just like everybody else did but your guitar playing is still A+ Are you doing anything differently in terms of playing? Different amps you’re using to record? Have you changed anything in the process of recording a Night Ranger record for you personally for the guitars?
I always fiddle around with different amps and guitars, but mainly I play my ‘62 red strat on mostly everything. That’s been my staple guitar throughout my career with everything from Ozzy Live to Speak of The Devil record to Night Rangers big hits and mostly everything in our catalog in the ‘80’s. I go through different amplifiers, but mainly it’s the songs and I just try to incorporate my style and just fitting into where it would be memorable. I’m really not a shredder kind of guy where I just go on and rip and burn. I always left that for the other guitar player whether it be Jeff Watson, Joel Hoekstra or Keri Kelli. I like to incorporate my ideas with theirs to create cool guitar harmonies. There’s nothing cooler than having somebody say, “hey man, I can totally tell that’s you on that solo.” In this day and age, everything’s been done and when you have a niche you’ve got to roll with it and that’s always been my thinking.
You don’t consider yourself a shredder, with your time with Ozzy, especially after Randy passed away you had your time with Ozzy. Your name is kind of mentioned in there with some of the guitarists that consider themselves shredders.
Well, I appreciate that but I think I mainly come alive when there’s a song with a melody. Like Sister Christian. I really like to bear down and grind into a solo and sing out a note, or throw down a core harmonic note and go crazy with it. That’s the biggest compliment to me.
You were driving that Datson 240z when you were filling for Ozzy after Randy passed away. Would you have such a successful career with Night Ranger? Are you still doing all of your ESPN music??
Yes, in fact, that’s what’ I’ve been doing with my time at my home studio. I’m still fortunate to wake up in the morning and fire up my computer, write something new and be able to place it somewhere. Whether it be for Night Ranger, a solo record, or collaboration with somebody else or TV or commercial use. I live, eat and breathe music I was the kid who was lucky enough who’s father bought him a guitar at 8 years old. I started my first band when I was 10 years old and to played with all seniors when I was a freshman in high school. I went right out of right out of high school playing five nights a week in nightclubs around the San Francisco Bay Area. I wasn’t even old enough to be in clubs, I was discovered in the clubs to play in a band called Rubicon We did a couple records and a small tour but had a top 20 hit on the radio when I was 19 years old We played to play the Cal Jam 2 at the Ontario Motor Speedway on March 18, 1978for over 250,000 people. Other bands on the bill were Aerosmith, Heart, Dave Mason, Santana, Ted Nugent. I’ve got to tell you, I’m still living the dream.
Don’t forget your band Stereo
Stereo? Did you say Stereo?
That was in between Rubicon into Ranger. I’ve got to tell you a great story which a lot of people don’t know, we got together with Night Ranger with the five original members we all put names in a hat because we couldn’t figure out a name. Everybody in the band picked two names so that’s ten names for the hat. We picked out the name Ranger and we thought, ok, simple, cool, let’s go with it right? So when I finished with Ozzy to come back to Night Ranger, we signed a record deal and finished our Dawn Patrol record. I remember opening up a Billboard Magazine and there’s a two-page ad on a country band called The Rangers.
I thought, are you kidding me? So the record company thought it was too close and we had to change it. Jack had written a song on that first record called Night Ranger. So we changed our name to Night Ranger. The record company had printed up 30,000 album jackets with Ranger on it and they just threw them all away and we redesigned the logo with Night Ranger on it.
Wow! Do you still have that single I’m Going To Take Care Of Everything around? Do you still listen to that or is that kind of tucked away?
Yes, I still have that. That was our single from Rubicon that actually did well on the charts and we did a small tour a little bit around that. Being in a funk band in the late 70’s, we were trying to bridge the gap between funk and rock. We had a funky rhythm section with a rock guitar and a three-piece horn section. We thought that would be the perfect way to bridge the gap between these two genres of music, and it really didn’t fly. We ended up breaking up and getting together Stereo, and that worked into Ranger and that’s when we got Jeff Watson and Alan “Fitz” Fitzgerald into the band. The first day we got together in Jack’s living Jack’s living room, we started jamming. We wrote 6 songs in a day. We had great ideas for the record and one of them was Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and that was originally half time. At one point, we said, hey let’s double time the music make it faster and keep the chorus halftime and that’s how that song was created.
What was one of the things you took away with your experience with Rubicon?
Playing at Cal Jam 2 was such a big event for me, the biggest day of my life except for my daughter being born. What I took away from it was how huge a band could be and how much excitement you can generate. We were the only unknown band on that bill at Cal Jam 2 but seeing the crowd and all the big A bands that were performing, I’m just looked at all the other bands thinking, I want to be that big someday. We’ve had an illustrious career selling 17 million records and we’re still touring putting out new CD’s and going to Japan. We have great shows coming up and it’s just good to know there is a place in rock and roll if you’re lucky enough. The secret to our success is to get along and enjoy each others company and just have a lot of fun on the road. I think that exudes through the audience. When they’re looking up at you and you’re smiling and having a good time, you’ve done a good thing.
Are you changing anything for your rig set up for this tour for this album versus your other tours?
Basically, I’ve been going through different amps. I’ve been bringing my ‘62 red strat out on the road once in a while playing it here and there. Mainly the guitars I’ve been using are Fernandes Brad Gillis models that came out in the mid-80’s. They built about 100 of them and they pretty much look like my red strat with the humbucker and two singles and of course, I use the original Floyd Roses with no fine tuners. I only use the originals Floyd built in his garage back in the late 70’s. Out of the 25 that he made I probably have a dozen of them.
I try to find them, collect, and buy them to install them on my guitars. I take my wirelesses out of the shell and I build them into my guitar so I don’t have that cord hanging out and a pack on my strap. I build cavities into the guitar, one for the wireless, and the other for a 9-volt battery with a switch on the front and a light on the front so you know when it’s on. That way you can never worry about breaking that cord or losing your signal because your strap falls off and yanks the cord out of the body. But I’ve been going through different amps and buy them and grow them on my guitars. And what I’ve done for many years is what not many people seem to do is I take my wirelesses out of the shell and I build them into my guitar so I don’t have that cord hanging out and a pack on my strap it’s all built into the guitar, a little cavity and another small cavity with a 9 volt battery with a switch on the front and a light on the front so you know when it’s on. That way you can never worry about breaking that cord or losing your signal because your strap falls off and yanks the cord out of the body. But I’ve been going through different amps you know Boogie Mark V, Saldano Decatones and I’ve been checking out the Blackstar amps lately that my buddy Bagel over at Blackstar sent me to try out
How are you liking that?
I haven’t really had enough time to tell you that because I really need to plug it in and slam it out. But I was playing on the Monsters of Rock Cruise this year, a month back and the guys from Slaughter were playing and asked me to come up and play and Mark Slaughter handed me his guitar and I went up and standing next to Jeff Blando and he goes, “oh no, you’re playing out of my rig!” His tone was unbelievable and I was blown away with it. And so when I grabbed his guitar, so when I grabbed his Les Paul and started playing, every note I picked hard had that nasty bite to it.
So when I got done playing I said, “Dude what kind of pedal you got on here? I love your tone!” He goes, “Dude that ain’t a pedal that’s my amp!” I go, “What are you using?” he goes, “Well back in 1990ish Crate put out this all tube amp called the Crate Stealth and mine is a 50 watt because of my low wattage selection speakers and you should try to get one!” I said, “Hey man I’ll look for one.” When I got home I started looking around for one and there is not one to be found. About two weeks ago I saw one on Reverb from some guy down in LA that was selling one and I picked it up and got it in the mail a couple of days ago. I’m waiting to take it downstairs and slam it! $375.00 for this amp that screams like that! I can’t wait to try that puppy out!
Do you have any guitarists of the younger generation that you listen to these days?
Yes, there’s a lot of bands out there that I like. My daughter is kind of into all that stuff and she turned me on to bands like The Used Seether, and 30 Seconds to Mars. Different bands like that which are still playing real hard but have that new vibe to it. And of course a lot of these bands are sonically huge on their recording so I try to emulate a lot of that mixing and sound on some of the stuff I do at home only because a lot of the producers are that are putting their music out are really kicking ass on production and everything it just sounds likes it’s on 11 and it’s in your face on guitars and drums you know are just nuclear. So you know I really don’t listen to a lot of classic rock because I grew up with it and when I’m at home I don’t even listen to the classic rock stations. I just go through everything, every other genre of music what’s going on around me and what’s hip. The only drag is you know with classic rock being so prevalent there’s really not much room for these classic stations to play new music by bands like us. So we rely pretty much on our fan base, our touring and jumping on with a couple of big headliners to try to sell 10,000 to 20,000 seats. A classic example in 2011 doing 65 shows with Journey and Foreigner around the world. You know ever night was pretty much sold out. We jumped out and went to Japan on our own and right after that went straight to Europe and toured over there with those two bands and just kicked ass. So when you put together a couple of classic rock bands you’re able to sell a lot of tickets because you know these people who grew up in the 80’s and their kids are growing up now you just want to relive some old memories. Go out and sing these songs so classic rock is huge but as far as airplay on new records, there’s not much going on. You rely on your fan base
What are your plans for 2017 either solo wise, your ESPN stuff, Night Ranger or any side projects you’ve got going on?
We’re going to do another 40 to 50 shows this year. I think we already have 35, still booking stuff. We’re heading over to Japan. We booked a couple of resorts we’re playing where we get four or five days off on the beach, which is always kind of fun and a little-added bonus. And I’m actually home working on my music library as we speak because I’ve had a lot of luck placing material in a lot of different places. And you know there’s nothing better than waking up and firing up your computer and just write music and getting it placed and hearing it. I’ll never forget the first time I was watching a Raider game on Monday night football and when it went out into commercial I heard one of my songs I gave them two weeks before! I thought well how cool is that? So they got me motivated to keep writing that stuff. It’s good money doing that and I’ve been getting into different genres of music you know like writing different styles of music. I actually wrote some hip hop stuff and some country stuff and flamenco stuff just to step out of the box. That’s pretty exciting for me doing that stuff. I’ve been working on this solo record for years now just getting different ideas together but you know I start getting into it and all of a sudden I’m going back out on the road or find the right singers to sing on this or that. The lucky thing for me is I am surrounded by music. That’s what I do night and day, that’s what I live and breathe and I thank my lucky stars!
Awesome Brad! Congratulations on your new album. You guys got another super album on your hands and your fans are going to love it!