Nostalgia can be a horrible thing sometimes. That was my first thought when watching some of my favorite 80s rockers going through their paces at the M3 Rock Festival in Maryland back in 2012. Without naming names (you know who they are and so do they), there were an array of acts that just didn’t have what they had back in their heyday, and while we all get old, some age better than others.
One of those groups that still had “it” was Night Ranger. A band that will always be remembered for the mega hit “Sister Christian,” they delivered more than just that hit and a few others. These were guys with chops, songs, harmonies, and an energetic stage presence that drummer / vocalist (and the man who sang lead on “Sister Christian”) Kelly Keagy never felt got translated to vinyl.
“One thing about Night Ranger’s records is that they never showed what we could do live,” he said. “I think they were two different things. The production of our records wasn’t always the best, and I always think that the energy that was put on those records and those tracks never came through like it does live. But thank goodness we had hit songs, thank goodness we had Jack Blades and him bringing his writing talents into this band so that we could share them together and then write together and create. And it’s all about the songs. If you don’t have a good song then the band’s not going to go anywhere.”
They also have to care, and the M3 performance showed a band who weren’t going through the motions to pick up a paycheck, and the result was a set that made you remember the good ol’ days while smiling to yourself that the band could still, pardon the bad pun, “Rock in America.”
“We care a lot about what we do, and not that those other bands don’t, but when you’re doing something you love, why would you want to give it up?” said Keagy. “That’s the thing. We always had the mindset that we’ve got to be at the top of our game or we shouldn’t do it. We want to be as good as we can be, and that bar got set a long time ago in the 1980s. And once we set that bar, we pushed each other a lot. We pulled together as a team that way, and we always kept that kind of energy in it and that kind of thought in our head, like ‘how long do you want to do this?’ Forever. Okay, then this is what we gotta do to keep that.”
Two years after that gig, the core trio of the group – Keagy, bassist / vocalist Jack Blades, and guitarist Brad Gillis – are still doing their thing both on the road and in the studio. Tonight, they’ll grace the stage at B.B. King’s in New York City, and with guitarist Joel Hoekstra and keyboardist Eric Levy rounding out the band, there’s still nothing they would rather do than play.
“It’s all about the songs and all about keeping your chops together if you can,” he said. “We have families now, so we can’t sit around and practice six hours a day like we used to back before Night Ranger got together. But it’s a collective energy that we have, especially the three of us because we’ve been together for probably 35 years. And then with the two new members bringing this fresh, young energy into the band, it doesn’t get any better than that. And at our age, still being able to play as hard as you can play like you did when you were younger, it’s a good thing and we’re blessed to have that.”
Touring behind their latest album, High Road, the band that has sold over 17 million records since their first release, Dawn Patrol, in 1982 can still transition between rock, pop, and ballads like few groups of their era. And though they didn’t record in a conventional fashion, it all worked out for the best.
“It took us a really long time – most of last year – to do it because we were on tour and we started it before we went on tour,” said Keagy. “And then we continued throughout touring that summer and into the fall. So it’s weird when it’s all broken up like that because you can’t really focus on where you’re going with the record as far as melodically and lyrically, and production-wise, it’s the same thing. You come back six weeks later and you’re going ‘is that any good?’ But it also made us work harder at the songs. If you just have a six-week slot to do the record, you tend to skip by stuff. So it’s been a long road with this, but I think it’s been a great experience because the record really turned out great.”
Now it’s time to start working on that next 17 million.
“We’re so fortunate,” he said. “When you’re first starting out, you’re thinking all I want to do is sell enough records to make another one. We didn’t think about longevity or anything. You just don’t because you know how things go. Bands come and go, and with that in mind, we constantly look at each other on stage and go ‘really, 31 years?’ And that just makes us have a better time. We’re so energized that we’re still around and still able to make records. It’s unbelievable.”
Night Ranger plays B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill in NYC tonight, July 2. For tickets, click here