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Night Ranger is an American rock band from San Francisco that gained popularity during the 1980s with a series of albums and singles. The band's first five albums sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The quintet is perhaps best known for the power ballad "Sister Christian", which peaked at No. 5 in June 1984.
After their success waned in the late 1980s, the band split up in 1989 and its members pursued other musical endeavours including group and solo efforts. Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy teamed up with bassist Gary Moon and released an album without the other original band members in 1995, but the band soon re-united to release two new albums in the latter half of the decade. Despite the departure of original keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald and guitarist Jeff Watson, the band has continued to tour and remains very popular in Asian countries, particularly Japan.
The group's origin can be traced to Rubicon, a pop/funk group led by Jerry Martini, who gained fame as a member of Sly and the Family Stone. After Rubicon's demise in 1979, bassist Jack Blades formed a hard rock trio with two other Rubicon members, drummer Kelly Keagy and guitarist Brad Gillis. Performing under the name Stereo, the threesome added keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald, a former member of Montrose, in 1980. Fitzgerald soon recommended enlisting a second virtuoso guitarist, so Jeff Watson, who led his own band in Northern California, was added to the group. The seeds were sown for a new melodic hard rock band, initially called simply Ranger.
In 1982 the band changed its name to Night Ranger after a country band, The Rangers, claimed a trademark infringement. By this point, they had recorded Dawn Patrol for Boardwalk Records and done opening stints for ZZ Top and Ozzy Osbourne; the latter had employed Brad Gillis as a stand-in guitarist for the recently deceased Randy Rhoads in the spring and summer of 1982. After Boardwalk folded, producer Bruce Bird secured Night Ranger a deal with MCA on their Camel subsidiary in 1983.
Their first three albums struck a balance between hard rockers laden with sexual innuendo and accessible pop ballads to guarantee airplay. Dawn Patrol, Midnight Madness, and Seven Wishes all reached RIAA Platinum status and garnered the band international fame. 1987's Big Life fell short of Platinum at around 800,000 copies. Thereafter, the group's fortunes began to decline.
Night Ranger's overall image tended to be somewhat cleaner than MTV contemporaries like Mötley Crüe or Ratt which helped the band flourish during a decade characterized by PMRC controversy. Moreover, their anthem "(You Can Still) Rock In America" appealed to a patriotic trend in 1980s rock pushed forward by both Ted Nugent and Sammy Hagar (Jack Blades would later form a popular supergroup with Nugent called Damn Yankees).
Negative criticism abounded during the band's heyday; Rolling Stone's review of Seven Wishes took a swipe at Night Ranger's "formula" of "sub-Broadway" ballads. Other critics were even less flattering, with terms such as "poseurs" and "pomp-rockers" put forth in various music guides. But favourable critics, such as Hit Parader, underscored Jack Blades' puppy-dog appeal, which won over female fans, while Gillis and Watson's duelling guitars pleased the same male audience that guitar-driven bands such as Van Halen had already begun to cultivate. Both guitarists also featured prominently in magazines like "Guitar for the Practicing Musician."
Dawn Patrol's first single, "Don't Tell Me You Love Me", received a boost through its MTV video airplay and peaked modestly at No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "Sing Me Away," a concert favourite sung by Keagy fell short of the Top 40 at a peak position of #54 even though it also was featured on MTV. Night Ranger's hold solidified with their second album, Midnight Madness, which pushed the band from opening act to headliner status by the summer of 1984. Apart from "Rock in America," Midnight Madness spun off two hit ballads: "When You Close Your Eyes" (#14) and "Sister Christian," (#5) written and sung by Kelly Keagy for his younger sister, Christine. "Sister Christian" proved to be the band's milestone —as well as a millstone— as it turned out.
According to a later interview with Brad Gillis, "Sister Christian" had actually been completed in 1982. But Gillis said the band chose not to release it on Dawn Patrol because they were afraid of losing their hard rock credentials. "Sister Christian," soon became a prom favorite, as well as a cautionary anthem for teenage girls across conservative Middle America, warning them not to "give it up before their time is due", as the song's second verse urged, and keep "motoring" instead.
In 1985 Night Ranger continued headlining their own tours in support of Seven Wishes which followed a very loose concept of the band flying across the ocean in a WWII B-25 Mitchell bomber. Jack Blades later reported he and Brad Gillis were fascinated by World War II planes. Night Ranger's "Sentimental Street" video even placed them in an Amelia Earhart scenario, which reported the entire band lost at sea. Like Midnight Madness, Seven Wishes was also blessed with three hit singles: "Sentimental Street" (#8; sung by Kelly Keagy); Jack Blades' mid-tempo rocker "Four in the Morning (I Can't Take Anymore)" (#19), the title describing the time of night Blades wrote the song; and the pleasant, acoustic-flavoured "Goodbye" (#17), which saw the band veering toward an overtly folk-rock, even country, direction. According to a 2001 TNN interview, "Goodbye" had been penned by Jack Blades in memory of his older brother, James, who had died from a heroin overdose several years before.
Between 1984 and 1987, Night Ranger branched out into soundtracks, recording or contributing songs to several teen oriented films. In 1984 the band released "Interstate Love Affair" (later appearing on Seven Wishes) for Teachers, starring Nick Nolte. In 1985 they also contributed another Seven Wishes track, "This Boy Needs to Rock," to the soundtrack of Explorers. The band also received exposure on two Anthony Michael Hall vehicles, Sixteen Candles (1984) and Out of Bounds in (1986). "Rumours in the Air" from Midnight Madness appeared on the former, while the latter featured "Wild and Innocent Youth," a rollicking Blades-Keagy composition that has still never been released on a Night Ranger album or compilation.
In 1987 Jack Blades co-wrote the title theme to the Michael J. Fox film The Secret of My Success, which served as the lead-off single from the band's next album, Big Life. Unlike the previous three Night Ranger albums produced by Pat Glasser, this album was produced by David Foster and featured a more polished, keyboard-driven sound, comparable to Journey and Foreigner. Unfortunately, Night Ranger now faced stiff competition from glam rock bands such as Bon Jovi and Poison, while overall tastes had begun to shift toward "bad boy" groups, such as Guns N' Roses. Moreover, some Night Ranger fans perceived the band's Hollywood flirtations as evidence of "selling out", reflected by a slight decline in album sales for Big Life.
Big Life featured some fairly mature Blades-Keagy songwriting, including the nuanced fan favorite, "Rain Comes Crashing Down," inspired by a stormy California afternoon. Sung by Kelly Keagy, "Carry On" was most reminiscent of classic Night Ranger, and featured as the flip-side of "Secret of My Success." However, none of the chosen Big Life singles hit the Top 40. "Secret of My Success" stalled just short of hit single status at #64 on Billboard's Hot 100 despite heavy MTV rotation in the spring of 1987. Night Ranger also openly quarrelled with MCA over choosing "Hearts Away" in lieu of one of the heavier songs. Their label expected another Top 10 ballad, like "Sister Christian" or "Sentimental Street," but despite Kelly Keagy's passionate vocal, "Hearts Away" failed to catch on during Night Ranger's 1987 tour (peaking at #90 on Billboard's Hot 100) — a vigorous series of dates across North America and the Caribbean, featuring the Outfield as the opening act. A third single/video was released for "Color Of Your Smile" but it failed to reach the charts due to limited airplay.
In early 1988, Alan Fitzgerald left during the recording of Night Ranger's fifth album citing his own diminished role in the guitar-driven band, an ironic reason considering that Fitzgerald had originally suggested the addition of Jeff Watson to augment the band's sound in the first place. With "Fitz" gone, Night Ranger acquired a touring keyboardist (Jesse Bradman) to complete the next album, Man in Motion, which promised a return to earlier form with more hard rock to anchor the group's sagging fortunes. However, none of the singles from it were distinguished enough to gain radio airplay, as MCA once again chose ballads over rockers. "I Did It for Love" (written by Russ Ballard) fared poorly, even with a cameo appearance by popular actress Morgan Fairchild in the video. Although the band still views "Restless Kind" as a favorite, this single also failed to chart. "Don't Start Thinking (I'm Alone Tonight)" and "Reason to Be" were similarly unsuccessful in early 1989. Man in Motion thus became the first Night Ranger album not to achieve Gold or Platinum status.
Early 1990s "Moon Ranger"
After a tour in 1988–1989 supporting Man in Motion (including an opening slot for Kansas), Jack Blades left Night Ranger to form the popular supergroup Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw of Styx, and the band broke up.
In 1991, Kelly Keagy and Brad Gillis enlisted Gary Moon (ex-Three Dog Night) to replace Jack Blades as vocalist/bassist and decided to reform as a trio after Jeff Watson decided to pursue a solo career.
In 1993 David Zaijcek (from the group Airborne) was added on keyboards and guitar to bolster the group's stage sound.
The reunited group recorded Feeding off the Mojo in 1995.
1996 - 1999 "Reunion"
In 1996 Jack Blades returned to Night Ranger, which ultimately led to a reunion with all five original members for two studio albums on CMC Records, who engineered a similar comeback for Styx. While Neverland and Seven did not become as successful as the band's early material in the United States, these albums became quite popular in Japan, and the ballad, "Forever All Over Again" (from Neverland) did become a minor Adult Contemporary hit in the States. The band continued to tour in between solo albums and projects, mostly on the summer festival circuit. Jack Blades also began a stint serving as chief counselor for the Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp.
In 1999 they joined other 1980s bands in the second installment of the Rock Never Stops Tour, which also happened to feature Blades' former Damn Yankees bandmate, Ted Nugent.
2000 - 2010
In 2003 Alan Fitzgerald was replaced by Great White rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Michael Lardie. Fitzgerald began handling offstage keyboards once again for Van Halen in 2004.
In 2007, while working on their next release Hole in the Sun, Jeff Watson was fired from the band. His replacement for the remainder of their 2007 tour was Winger/Whitesnake guitarist Reb Beach. Lardie and Beach soon left the band to focus on Great White and Winger/Whitesnake respectively. Christian Matthew Cullen replaced Lardie in 2007 while Joel Hoekstra took over for Beach by early 2008.
Hole in the Sun was released overseas in April 2007 but did not appear in the U.S. until July 2008.
In January 2008, in a podcast interview with Stuck in the 80s, Jack Blades said the band's latest album -- Hole in the Sun—would be released in 2008 and would be supported by a national tour. In addition, Blades said the band was flying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in late January to play a special show for the Navy and Marines troops on the island. To date Night Ranger have sold 16 million albums worldwide.
2011 - Present
When not with Night Ranger, Hoekstra plays guitar for the hit Broadway show Rock of Ages and also Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Hoekstra also did double duty for a stretch of the band's 2011 tour filling in for Mick Jones of Foreigner, who were also on the bill that summer along with Journey .
On March 8, 2011 Night Ranger announced new member Eric Levy and the departure of Christian Matthew Cullen.
Night Ranger released its new album, Somewhere In Californi,a on June 21, 2011. The video for the first single Growin Up in California can be seen on YouTube.
On March 25, 2012 Night Ranger gave an a cappella performance of The Star-Spangled Banner prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
On June 4, 2012 Night Ranger returned to the Islington Academy in London for the second headlining show in twelve months at the 800 capacity venue. And on July 13, 14 and 15th of that same year Night Ranger performed in the small midwestern town of Woodhaven, Michigan for the Uncle Sam Jam.
On July 12, 2012 Night Ranger opened for the German band The Scorpions, at its US Farewell "Get Your Sting and Blackout" Tour at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Alongside their major hits, the band also commemorated Brad Gillis's brief stunt with Ozzy Osbourne's band with a cover of "Crazy Train."
On September 1, 2012 Night Ranger performed as the headlining act for the "River Days" festival in Portsmouth Ohio. Keyboardist Eric Levy was forced to miss this performance due to his wife giving birth. Brandon Ethridge (Rock of Ages (musical) and (We Will Rock You (musical) played the keyboards for this performance.
In the fall of 2012, guitarist Keri Kelli (who resume includes stints with Alice Cooper, Slash, Skid Row, Vince Neil Band, Ratt, Warrant, L.A. Guns, Tal Bachman, John Waite and others) came aboard Night Ranger to sub for Joel Hoekstra while he was off playing for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He likewise returned in the fall of 2013 once again to fill in for Hoekstra when Trans-Siberian called him away again.
Kelly Keagy – drums, percussion, backing & lead vocals (1979–1989, 1991–present)
Brad Gillis – lead & rhythm guitars, backing vocals (1979–1989, 1991–present)
Jack Blades – bass guitar, lead & backing vocals, acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar (1979–1989, 1996–present)
Joel Hoekstra – lead & rhythm guitars, backing vocals (2008–present)
Eric Levy – keyboards, backing vocals (2011–present)
Alan Fitzgerald – keyboards, backing vocals (1980–1988, 1996–2003)
Jeff Watson – lead & rhythm guitars, backing vocals, (1980–1989, 1991, 1996–2007)
Jesse Bradman – keyboards, backing vocals (1988–1989)
Gary Moon – bass guitar, lead & backing vocals (1991–1996)
David Zajicek – rhythm guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (1995–1996)
Michael Lardie – keyboards, backing vocals (2003–2007)
Reb Beach – lead & rhythm guitars, backing vocals (2007–2008)
Christian Cullen – keyboards, backing vocals (2007–2011)
Brandon Ethridge - keyboards, backing vocals (September 2012, filling in for Levy)
Keri Kelli – lead & rhythm guitars (Fall 2012, Fall 2013, filling in for Hoekstra)
Jack Russell (Great White) – backing vocals on Seven (1998 — multiple tracks)
Tommy Shaw (Styx/Damn Yankees) – backing vocals on Seven (1998 — track "Kong")