INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Brad Gillis is an American guitarist, most famous for playing with the band Night Ranger. He has also played for Rubicon, Vicious Rumors, Fiona, and Ozzy Osbourne, with whom he released the platinum-selling live album SPEAK OF THE DEVIL in 1982. The man has also released solo albums and appeared in various projects and TV performances, including “American Bandstand” and “Solid Gold, Rock & Roll Tonight.” Night Ranger appeared as one of the special guests for this year’s edition of the KISS Kruise in the Caribbean. I had the pleasure to sit down with Mr. Gillis and discuss Night Ranger’s state, his solo career, and, of course, about the band’s past with KISS because, after all, we were on the KISS Kruise!
KISSIN TIME ON THE CRUISE
Metal-Rules.com: Okay, here we are in the Caribbean and the middle of KISS Kruise. Because this is a special event, I want to ask, what does KISS mean to you?
Brad Gillis: Well, KISS was such a great band back in the ’70s and ’80s and when I left Ozzy Osbourne to come back to Night Ranger, one of our first tours was with KISS, and it was great to play in front of a lot of people, and really get the Night Ranger name out there. Gene and Paul just loved the band, and they treated us well and to come back 30 years later and do the KISS Kruise. It’s great to see those guys again and do a Kruise. The Cruises are always fun. And we are making the best of it, and yeah, our last show is tonight, and then we’re off to Puerto Rico.
Metal-Rules.com: So, because this is KISS Kruise. We have to talk a bit more about KISS than usual. So, how is your KISS past as a fan because almost everybody has some, right?
Brad Gillis: Well, I liked KISS a lot, but I was into more guitar bands like Hendrix and Page and Jeff Beck. So, those are the Led Zeppelin and Hendrix records, and those are the ones that I bought and learned from. But we’ve actually filtered around it, and we’ve played, ‘Party All Night Long’ or what’s it called?
Metal-Rules.com: “Rock N’ Roll All Nite”?
Brad Gillis: “Rock N’ Roll All Nite.” We’ve actually played that with Night Ranger a few times, just goofed around at soundcheck, and that’s always a fun song to play. But with KISS, I didn’t have the records, and as I said, I was in more of the guitar-playing bands because I wanted to play the guitar.
Metal-Rules.com: So, it’s not worth asking, which is your favorite KISS album then…
Brad Gillis: I never owned a KISS record. “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: There’s been many great bands playing at KISS Kruise before and now, of course as well. How did Night Ranger end up here?
Brad Gillis: Well, KISS and Night Ranger are with the same management company, Doc McGhee, McGhee Entertainment. And when they booked the Cruise with KISS, they thought it would be good to put us on the bill, and we were happy to do it.
Metal-Rules.com: Now I know that you don’t have much personal history with KISS, but, as you mentioned earlier, Night Ranger does have some?
Brad Gillis: Right, we have some KISS stories. I remember touring with KISS, and Gene let me put his big boots on, and he had his makeup on, and I had his boots on…
Metal-Rules.com: In ’82?
Brad Gillis: In 1982, yes. And I can’t find that picture, but there is a picture of me somewhere with me wearing Gene’s boots. And Gene is a very smart guy, and I ran into him like 10 years ago, and we run into each other at a venue. And you know, he remembered my name, called me, “Hey Brad, how are you doing?” I thought it was a lot of respect because he meets a lot of people.
Metal-Rules.com: How about Vinnie Vincent, who was their guitarist at the time?
Brad Gillis: So, when we were playing with KISS, I remember one thing. Vinnie would do this thing, where he would hit his guitar and point to the left, and the echo would go to the left. And he hit it, and he did point to the right, and the echo would go to the right, but he was pointing the wrong way. He points to the left, and my sound was on the right. He points to the right, and the sound was on the left, and we thought that was quite amusing.
Metal-Rules.com: In your opinion, how was he as a guitarist?
Brad Gillis: I thought he was a good player. I liked his playing. But back then, it was. He was just trying to get off the ground and get Night Ranger moving, you know. And I’d hang out with Vinnie a few times; he was a nice guy and everything. KISS went through a lot of lineup changes, but Vinnie was a good guy.
Metal-Rules.com: How about Eric Carr?
Brad Gillis: Eric Carr was a great, really nice guy, and I’m a good friend of Eric Singer. Eric used to be roommates with Derek Sherinian. Derek Sherinian was like one of my best friends, and he did the whole GILROCK RANCH record with me playing keyboards of the songs, my first solo record. Derek and I have been buddies for a long time. I met him in Santa Cruz, California, back in the late ’80s. And we got to be good friends, and the next thing he was living with me, Derek was living with me for a while. We were working on my GILROCK RANCH record together.
Metal-Rules.com: That’s something more about your solo career, and do you have plans to release more solo albums in the future?
Brad Gillis: Yes. I had a couple of solo records, one was called GILROCK RANCH, and it was all instrumental except for two songs that Gregg Allman sang from the Allman Brothers. And we had a hit on the radio that was number 18 on the charts in America called ‘Honest to God’, and the rest, as I said, were instrumentals. And the second record was called THE ALLIGATOR, and Gary Moon sang a lot of the vocals on that and played bass. Kelly Keagy was on drums. And those are the only two solo records that I did then, but actually, I’m pretty much done with all the music for my next solo record. And when we get off tour, I’m going to find different singers to come, big-name singers in America.
Metal-Rules.com: So, it’s going to be kind of an all-star lineup on the next album?
Brad Gillis: Yes, there will be many big-name singers, yes.
NIGHT RANGER TALK
Metal-Rules.com: Going back to Night Ranger. What’s going on with the band now?
Brad Gillis: We are almost done with our new record. We’re about 80% done. We just had Joel and me doing a bunch of harmony solos a few weeks ago, and we’re trying to get through these run-off shows right now. And then I’m going to get back home and go in and do much of my guitar solos and stuff that I haven’t done, and then Jack and Kelly and I sing all the background vocals. And then put the lead vocals on, and we should be done by the end of the year.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay, and it’s going to be released by…
Brad Gillis: That will be a Frontiers worldwide release.
Metal-Rules.com: Once again Frontiers, are great supporters of the ’80s bands.
Brad Gillis: Frontiers has really gained a lot of momentum status, and they are a huge record company now. Huge.
Metal-Rules.com: How did you guys get first involved with Frontiers?
Brad Gillis: Frontiers, I think it was through our management company that mentioned Frontiers might be a good label to be with. And the next thing you know, we’ve released a few records with them; as I said, they’ve been getting bigger and bigger. And so, we’re happy to put up records with Frontiers because they’re doing great to Europe, America, and Japan.
Metal-Rules.com: A bit about Scandinavia where I’m coming from … To be honest, we haven’t heard too much about Night Ranger since the ’80s, except the Sweden Rock show last year?
Brad Gillis: Yes. The thing is, we hadn’t been there since… I think that our last time in Europe was in 1986. And then, two years ago, we went over with Journey and Foreigner and did a bunch of shows. And last year we did the Sweden rock festival. So, we’re trying to get back there every year, we didn’t make it this year, but we already had a couple of offers to go back over next year. But nothing is confirmed, so I can’t really elaborate.
Metal-Rules.com: But what was the main reason you didn’t pay too much attention to Europe in the ’80s?
Brad Gillis: I couldn’t tell you that. We were very big in Japan and the United States, and that’s where we worked and kept busy, and often offers came in from Europe, maybe it wasn’t good enough offer to go over there, and we didn’t want to lose money by traveling overseas, over to Europe.
Metal-Rules.com: It could have been different if you had toured more there?
Brad Gillis: If we would have gone there every year, we could have built that up, but it didn’t happen.
Metal-Rules.com: The band lineup seems to be stable now. And I think that you are quite satisfied with it?
Brad Gillis: I think Joel Hoekstra is an amazing guitar player and one of my best friends, and we’re hanging out together and sit down. When he’s in town, we’re at my house, write stuff together, and fill it around. And Eric Levy on keyboards is a monster of a keyboard player, and everybody is a great player of the band and makes a very good lineup.
Metal-Rules.com: You know, there are always some fans asking about the possibility of having the original band together at some point, but you don’t see it going to happen?
Brad Gillis: I couldn’t tell you that would happen because the lineup is so strong right now, and we are releasing records, but never say never.
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL
Metal-Rules.com: Okay, our time is running out, but here’s one more question…the Ozzy DVD came out recently?
Brad Gillis: Yes.
Metal-Rules.com: How do you feel about it now after 30 years?
Brad Gillis: I thought it was great that they released it. It will show people that Irvine Meadows show in California, which we did back in ’82. And so, I like that. I just didn’t know why they wanted to call it SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, which is the same name as the record I did with Osbourne with Black Sabbath material. So, that was confusing to me, but I’m glad they put it out. I’ve been signing a lot of the DVDs, and any press is good press.
Metal-Rules.com: But when you watch it now after 30 years, how does it look and sound in your opinion?
Brad Gillis: It’s great; it’s what I did 30 years ago. And being thrown into that situation and having to take over the late great Randy Rhoads was quite scary to be able to go and pull it off and play that material. But I had to really hone on getting it right to be able to play with Ozzy, and it was a great experience for me, and it took me to the next level.