For nearly 40 years Night Ranger has been one of America’s great rock bands. They are getting ready to release their 13th studio record, titled ATBPO. Founding member and drummer/vocalist/songwriter Kelly Keagy recently checked in to talk about this record and look back at the history of this great band.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy –
On what the title (short for And The Band Played On) means to him – When we started to put the songs together, it was all about we couldn’t get together because Covid was raging everywhere. We couldn’t fly anywhere to get together and play in a room together. So we started sending clips around to each other and ideas and this and that. It was just so frustrating because playing together is what bands do and how you create together. When it got down to it, we realized that we did have the sense to be able to get put together over the internet and the means to do it and we were just kind of shocked at the way it started coming together and so that was a newfound energy for us and that’s how we came up with the title.
On learning to record in a different way – The fact that we had to be forced to do is Zoom, over just sending your phone clips and audio-wise and stuff like that, I really think it was it was kind of a blessing in disguise because we had to do something totally different from what we normally do. We start out with the three of us getting in the room together and just jamming on ideas. This was impossible, just the weirdest thing ever. I think what it did is make us be creative in a different way.
On keeping the energy of the songs until they could be played live – That was the first thing that we thought of is, “How are we going to recreate this?” It took imagination and took the energy from the songs themselves. The songs when they started coming out, the choruses really started (to give an) “I can’t wait to get in there and play this” idea to everybody. I want to do a studio in Mesa and I had Ken Mary record the drums so I didn’t have to…I usually do my own and everybody else was at home. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the energy actually came out of those choruses and was begging to be played like they got played. We’ve always been a live band, that’s how we got started, before we wrote any songs together we played live. So I think we had to have that imagination like, “Okay, let’s make these slave reels that I’m going to be playing to sound like the guys are sitting right next to me”, and our engineer Anthony Focx did that. He put them together and, for some reason, it just really felt like they were there. I had it in my imagination, so that’s how it came about.
On bringing Kerri Kelli into the band – It came about a few years ago when Joel (Hoekstra) was departing to go to Whitesnake and we needed to find somebody for a tour in Canada took over the offseason when Joel would go and do other gigs. So we originally used Kerri for that tour up in Canada with Loverboy and Journey and it was no rehearsal. What we did was we got ahold of him, and it wasn’t called Zoom back then, and we had him play the solos live, the parts he was going to be playing. It was so apparent to us that this guy could not only play but he had a style of his own that he was adding into the parts. We thought, “This guy’s great. Let’s just get him in here and do the tour and we’ll go from there”. Sure enough, he was the perfect choice because we all really got on board.
On starting the band in San Francisco – We friended Bill Graham back in the day because Fitz (Alan Fitzgerald) played with Montrose, played with Sammy Hagar, so Bill Graham was always around in the early stages of the band. He would come to see us and put us on some shows and we had no record out and we were unknown, and he even brought us on stage and announced us. So we were like, “Are you kidding me? Bill Graham just announced us onstage! We’re in!” Even though we weren’t at that time, it felt like we were. Then we tried to get Bill Graham Management to manage us and it didn’t quite work out, but we still had friends there and stuff like that. So I think kind of coming up in the world with those people around encouraging us was a big, big part of it. Because when you get put on a show, and it’s a stadium show, and no one knows who you are and you have to go out there and make it happen and make them get on board with you, that’s a big deal. It also brings, it brings the group closer together, you become this one mind, and that’s how it got started in the beginning
On not using outside writers as they got bigger – (The label trusted us to write) for a while until we got to do movie soundtracks. So when we actually got to the last record we did in 1988, it was called Man in Motion, and they brought in a writer to do this song called “I Did It For Love”, we were like, “Wait a minute”. Because we turned the album in without a ballad. They were like, “Wait a minute. You can’t have a Night Ranger record without a ballad”. We were trying to grow and expand. So Jack (Blades) and I went back and wrote the song “Restless Kind”, when they wanted a ballad. They loved the song but ended up putting out “I Did It For Love” which was a Russ Ballard song. We’re like, “This is terrible, what’s wrong with the songs that are on the record?” For some reason, they just turned against what we were doing internally. So at that point, we realized that in order for us to be true to what we know and love, what we want this band to be, how we grew up, as we had to keep it within ourselves. We had to write all the songs we had to believe in the songs. That’s the thing when somebody brings you a song, it has nothing to do with your feelings or emotions, your stories have nothing to do with that. It’s that guy’s idea, it’s his story. I get it, sometimes it works, but I think in that situation that didn’t work at all.
On the band’s fortunes changing after Man in Motion – We could see it, they hired Keith Olsen to do that record, which was a joy because Keith, at that point was a good point in his life because he had gotten sober, was really clear thinking. But I think at the same time, even though he was thinking clearly, he didn’t really spend much time with the songs. A producer’s got to get in there and help you see that vision of those songs and help you almost write it sometimes because it ends up being better. But he didn’t get personally involved in the songs. We just went and recorded them exactly like we’d done in rehearsal and I think that they lacked some of that outside ear stuff that those guys are supposed to bring in. We just see disappointment in how the songs, the collection was looking as a whole for an album. Some of the songs just didn’t quite hit it.
On why the reunion didn’t work – Well, I think we were kind of refamiliarizing ourselves, plus, musically we were trying to bring some (new) elements in. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. After being apart for a while we were kind of like, What is this going to be, how are we going to do this?” It might have been thrown together maybe a tad quickly maybe at that point. We did have Sony on board and John Kalodner went to bat for us at the label because he loved a lot of the songs that we came up with for that album but he couldn’t convince the label to get on board with it because a lot of those people have changed and they weren’t the same people that were working in the eighties. A lot of young people didn’t even know who we were. John said he had a meeting and they played the songs and didn’t give up the name. Everybody said they “sounded like good songs, who is it?” “Night Ranger”, “Would they be willing to change their name?” They thought we were a new band. That’s when we noticed that things were a little odd now. Where do we fit in anymore? We realized we just have to make ourselves happy. Once we started to do that, the songs started to come better and better and the albums were better. We did experiment with modern music a little bit on the album following Neverland (Seven) which was kind of cool. I thought some of those songs were really good, there are some really good songs on that album too. We were still kind of trying to find our way and kind of start over again.
On the burst of creativity over the past decade – Well, I think it’s just what I was hinting at before. We did take that break after that record and what we did is we back in touch with playing live again and that transferred over into playing in the studio together better and writing better songs. You go out and play shows together you get so tight and you realize that you want to make a record again. There’s that need to write and create some new songs and go back in with that energy from the road. It was like in the beginning and we have to start over again. It was all the live playing that we did early on that got us in the studio to do Dawn Patrol, Midnight Madness, and 7 Wishes, just playing every night.
On upcoming live dates – We’re just going to just keep our head down and hopefully, ultimately we want everybody to stay well and be safe whatever happens. At least, we got the play these shows and we got that energy back again to want to just keep going. Some bands might want to just hang it up and just wait this thing out, we couldn’t do that. We got some offers even in the middle of Covid. We went out and played Sturgis of all gigs. It was like being In a road warrior movie because it was like, “Hey, man, there’s no Covid out here”. People are ready to play. But if it happens, God forbid. They’ll get that booster out there and maybe It’ll knock it out quickly, whatever happens we just want everyone to be safe and well.