In the 1980s, Night Ranger burst onto the rock-music scene as one of only a handful of bands that boasted a pair of guitarists who both had blistering playing that was lead-guitar caliber.
But what set the San Francisco quintet apart from all the others was that the band not only had the dual guitar work of Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson, but also dual lead vocals in Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy.
That combination of melodic vocals and virtuoso guitar riffs helped Night Ranger sell more than 16 million albums and come up with some of the biggest rock anthems of the era, including "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" and "(You Can Still) Rock in America." Their 1984 mega-hit "Sister Christian" is arguably one of the biggest power ballads of all time.
Now celebrating more than 25 years since their debut album, "Dawn Patrol," Night Ranger is preparing to release its ninth studio album, "Hole in the Sun," and tour all summer. Speaking to the Deseret News from his home in Oakland, Calif., Gillis said 2008 is the biggest year for the band since the late '80s.
"It's going to be a great year for us. I haven't done this much press since the '80s," Gillis said. "Everyone is excited to go back on the road ... keep the machine rolling for another few years."
Already this year, Night Ranger has performed for U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and played a number of shows in Japan.
Going on tour for Night Ranger nowadays involves mostly weekend trips, flying out to the venue and then back home for the week.
"Back in the '80s, we toured eight or nine months out of the year. We had big tour buses and big tours and big stages. Now, we're just kind of weekend warriors. Everyone has families and stuff," Gillis said.
In addition to families, nearly everyone in the band is involved with side projects, including Gillis, who contributes music to ESPN (he recently finished recording 10 news songs) and helps young up-and-coming artists.
Gillis, who is known for his whammy-bar style of playing, got his first guitar and amp for his eighth birthday.
"It came easy to me, picking up songs by ear," he said.
After graduating high school, he was in a band that got a two-week engagement at a Salt Lake club in 1976. That gig came to a quick end after one night, when the lead singer got into a fight with a heckler in the audience.
But it was just a small bump for Gillis, whose aggressive playing and entertaining style were catching the eye of others in the music industry.
While Night Ranger, known then simply as Ranger, was trying to get off the ground, Gillis received an invitation in 1982 to tour with Ozzy Osbourne, two weeks after Randy Rhoads was killed in a plane crash. For the next 11 months, Gillis toured as Ozzy's lead guitarist. He recorded the album "Speak of the Devil" with Osbourne during that time.
But when Night Ranger signed a record deal, Gillis opted to leave Ozzy in favor of his up-and-coming band.
"It was a very tough decision. But I had to go where my heart was at," said Gillis, who noted he was more of a sideman with Ozzy, but a founding and equal member of Night Ranger. "I rolled the dice, but I felt it was a good decision."
Night Ranger has gone through several lineup changes over the years. In 1990, Blades left to form the supergroup Damn Yankees, along with Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw of Styx. Blades reunited with Night Ranger in 1996.
In 2007, Watson and Night Ranger parted ways, a move that surprised many. In an open letter posted on his Web site, Watson said he was thrown out of the band. Watson's guitar work still appears on the new album.
Gillis said in more than two decades of Night Ranger's existence, there has never been a lot of drama in the band.
"There's not enough dirt to do a 'Behind the Music,"' he said.
But with Watson, Gillis said it simply became a situation of people growing apart.
"For 20, 25 years with the same members, you get along. Then you don't get along. It came to a point with Jeff, everyone was going one direction, he was pulling us another direction. The band almost broke up because of it," he said.
Despite Watson's letter, Gillis said Watson "bowed out gracefully," allowing the Night Ranger to go on.
Watson was briefly replaced by Reb Beach (Winger/Whitesnake/Dokken) before Beach left to tour with the reunited Winger. Joel Hoekstra, whom Gillis said learned to play guitar by replicating Watson's 8-finger technique, is currently touring with the band.After essentially playing the same set list for the past couple of years, Gillis said Night Ranger has been brushing up on some of its older, B-side tunes, and fans can expect to hear some songs not played in many years.
If you go ...
What: MDA Ride for the Cure with Night Ranger
Where: Montego Bay Casino Resort, Wendover
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
E-mail: [email protected]