By John Benson
Meager beginnings is how most rock bands start out.
For Night Ranger, that included its first headlining gig in the Midwest at the Cleveland Agora. Apparently, it was a show to forget. It’s a good thing no one was there to remember.
“Our debut album [‘Dawn Patrol’] had been out one week, and nobody knew who we were,” said guitarist Jack Blades, calling from his Northern California home. “It was a Sunday night, and it was an absolute blizzard of a snowstorm outside. There were eight people in the audience, one of which was [WMMS DJ] Kid Leo in a full-length trench coat. That’s what we always remember about Cleveland.”
Decades later, Night Ranger is still rocking America. The band’s travels bring it back to Northeast Ohio for a sold-out Friday show booked at the brand-new Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield.
Playing a casino is nothing new to the “Sister Christian” band, with Blades saying gambling venues nationwide have become a great place for classic-rock acts to reconnect with fans.
As for gambling at the Rocksino, Blades doesn’t expect to partake, but he joked he’s more likely to play slots than the ponies. As far as taking a risk or laying bets these days, the cutthroat record industry is hard enough for Night Ranger, which hopes to follow up its 2011 effort, “Somewhere in California,” with a new CD due out this spring.
Though the group is itching to play some new music, Blades isn’t sure whether unreleased material will get stage time at the Rocksino.
“I’d characterize the new songs as an extension of what we did in ‘Somewhere in California,’ which was a straight-ahead, good, old-fashioned, American rock ’n’ roll Night Ranger album,” Blades said. “We did the same thing this time as we did with the last album. We all got in one room and pounded out a bunch of songs like we did in the old days. Then we immediately recorded the track. That kind of kept them all fresh and exciting and live.”
While one could argue whether or not audiences are dying to hear a new Night Ranger effort, Blades couldn’t care less. He said as a working musician, the day he stops creating music is when he starts dying from the inside.
Something fans have expressed interest about is Blades’ super group, Damn Yankees, which includes Styx’ Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent.
“It would be fun to do something again because it’s a good band, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Blades said. “It’s a shame. We were offered a show this year, but the guys didn’t want to do it, which is a drag, but that’s the way it goes.”
So instead, Blades keeps busy with Night Ranger, which often gets pigeonholed as a one-hit wonder despite the fact the group had 10 top-40 rock hits (including “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “[You Can Still] Rock in America,” “When You Close Your Eyes” and “The Secret of My Success”) and sold more than 17 million albums.
“I think it’s nice that people remember [‘Sister Christian”],” Blades said. “That song has sort of like entered into the collective consciousness of the nation, but there’s a lot of other songs. Remember, the show is sold out in Cleveland, so somebody knows we have more than one song.”