Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Classic ’80s rock band still motorin’


Chris Hupe

Whatzup Features Writer

Published July 11, 2019

Heads Up! This article is 3 years old.

Sweetwater Pavilion to host Night Ranger.

Night Ranger are quickly closing in on their 40th anniversary as a band, having released their debut album, Dawn Patrol, in 1982. Famous for several hit ballads during the ’80s, including a few that were featured on movie soundtracks, the band has figured out a way to remain relevant as they traverse their way through an ever-changing music climate and continuing to release new music on a fairly regular basis.

They return to Fort Wayne for a third consecutive year with an appearance at the Sweetwater Pavilion July 19 with special guest Horizon Arcs.

The Song is the thing

Reflecting on the band’s longevity, singer and bassist Jack Blades credits the band’s ability to write memorable songs as the main reason they remain popular.

“I think it’s the fact that a good song is a good song and it will always be a good song,” he told Antihero in an interview last year. “I mean it’s something that we’ve always focused on; we need to have good songs on our records. Whenever I write a song, I sit down and I start writing, but if it doesn’t come across with me just singing it and playing it on acoustic guitar, then it’s not a good song. I think if you look at the bands that have stayed around and have kept touring, the songs are the main things. The songs are the things that last and I think Night Ranger have always had those kinds of songs.”

Night Ranger will play more than 90 shows this year. While the older songs and hits keep the band on the touring circuit, new music is what keeps the band’s creativity flowing. The members of the band have been involved in a lot of different projects with Blades, guitarist Brad Gillis, and drummer Kelly Keagy all releasing several solo efforts over the years, while Blades also branched off into side projects like Damn Yankees and Revolution Saints.

Gillis has a solid gig writing for TV and has a new solo album coming out later this year, while guitarist Keri Kelli, who joined the group in 2014, has been in something like 72 other bands over the years, give or take a few, including the newly formed A New Revenge, also featuring Tim “Ripper” Owens and Rudy Sarzo.

Their main focus, however, always remains on Night Ranger.

Still releasing new music

Today, the Night Ranger albums are spaced farther apart than they were in the ’80s, but they still keep coming. The band released Don’t Stop in 2017, with the title of that record becoming a bit of a credo. The band has plans to write and record a new album sometime early next year.

“I know a lot of bands can, and very well they might, just sit back and rest on what they’ve done and rest on their laurels,” Blades told The Morning Call. “But, we have a philosophy that you gotta keep creating, you keep using your brain. As long as you keep creating and keep moving forward, then you’re going in the right direction, It’s when you stop using your mind, when you stop creating, I think that’s when you sort of like shrivel up and die inside. So we just keep creating.”

At just about any Night Ranger live show you’ll find a band that isn’t afraid to mix in a healthy dose of cover songs like “School’s Out” from Kelli’s days in Alice Cooper’s band or “Crazy Train” commemorating Gillis’s time with Ozzy Osbourne. They’ll usually include a couple of well known Damn Yankees songs as well, providing variety for fans and keeping it interesting for themselves.

When reflecting back on those Damn Yankees songs, Blades said that the audience still enjoys them and “you know, I co-wrote them, so why not? Damn Yankees aren’t playing anymore. Those are great songs that were big, huge number one records.”

Can’t go through the motions

Those songs aside, when you head to a Night Ranger concert you’ll get plenty of Night Ranger songs you already know by heart played by a band that seems to have as much or more energy than they had during their most successful run a little over a quarter century ago.

With high-impact songs like “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and “(You Can Still) Rock in America” included on the set list nearly every night, the band has to always be ready to perform to the best of their ability.

And they rarely disappoint. Blades says they owe it all to a good work ethic and the desire to give the people what they want.

“I think the deal with us is that we don’t know how to do anything but give 110 percent. That’s all we know how to do. We just know how to give everything we’ve got. I can’t just get up on stage and turn one in. That would be impossible for me, to kind of get up there and just go through the motions. We’re not capable of that.

“We’re not as severely medicated as we were back then, that’s for sure, but the band is just fun now,” Blades said. “We have nothing to prove. We just get out there and have a fun time. And when the audience sees us having a fun time, then they have a good time. I think that’s the key. We just enjoy it. And we’re just going to keep doing it, as long as it’s fun. When it stops being fun, that’s when we’re going to stop doing it.”

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