Brad Gillis’ signature red 1962 Fender Stratocaster with its first generation Floyd Rose vibrato has been all around the world.
It has appeared on stage with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and was used on all of Night Ranger’s recordings during their 1980’s heyday including on “Dawn Patrol,” “Big Life” and the platinum selling “Midnight Madness” and “Seven Wishes.” Gillis can be seen playing it on the video for Night Ranger’s biggest hit, “Sister Christian,” a song that was in heavy rotation when Night Ranger were the darlings of MTV.
But one thing the guitar does not do anymore, is fly.
“When we do a lot of these weekend warrior gigs, there’s no bus involved and a lot of flying involved. Now, I refuse to put my guitar in a road case and fly it underneath a plane because I’ve heard horror stories,” Gillis said during a recent tour stop in Kansas City.
Gillis typically uses a soft case to carry his guitar and straps it on his back after a show, then takes it on a plane as carry-on. But even then, some airlines will try to talk him into putting it below.
“I’m like, ‘No way. No way, that ain’t gonna happen,'” he said. “I always end up prevailing because they know who the band is. These are my tools of my trade and I’ve got to take care of them.”
But after one too many arguments, Gillis’ original Strat stays at home now. During Night Ranger’s (awesome) opening set at Rio Tinto Stadium in 2011, Gillis said he brought his original Stratocaster guitar out of retirement because it was a bus tour. No flying. For the most part today, he uses one of several exact replicas made of his famous guitar.
The way things have been going lately for Night Ranger, however, the guitar may be pulled out again sooner than later. The band has had a resurgence of popularity recently, and by nearly all accounts are playing as strong as they ever have in concert.
“We’re just enjoying all the success. Last year was possibly the biggest year we’ve had since 1988,” he said. “I think the whole classic rock scene is coming back around.”
Tuesday night, on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11th attack on the World Trade Center, Night Ranger will play at Thanksgiving Point. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to Operation Rebound, a sports and fitness program dedicated to helping veterans and first responders with permanent physical disabilities. Night Ranger’s anthem, “(You Can Still) Rock in America” is sure to be a patriotic high point. The concert will be held (of all places) on the driving range. It’s the first I’ve heard of a concert there too. But the promoter says to bring lawn chairs and blankets and it should be a great time.
Gillis remembers the band had a show in New York with Journey the day after the 9-11 attacks.
“It was a pretty dismal feeling throughout the audience. I think it hadn’t really sunk in to everybody yet how horrible it was. It was a heavy experience.”
After the show, Gillis said the band couldn’t get a flight out for several days.
Night Ranger has long been a big supporter of the U.S. Military, at one point even playing for troops stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
Since their debut album in 1982, Night Ranger has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide and produced hits that are mainstays on classic rock radio today including, “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “(You Can Still) Rock in America,” and “When You Close Your Eyes.”
Much of their resurgence in popularity is due to 1984’s “Sister Christian” finding new life on TV. Most recently, the three finalists for the show The Bachlorette had to karaoke “Sister Christian.” The judges for the competition were original band members Gillis, Jack Blades and Kelly Keagy, the man who wrote the song for his sister. The contestants were expected to “sing” the song. But rather than killing it on stage, the couples simply massacred the classic rock song in front of its creators.
“They pretty much butchered it, but it was pretty hilarious. I can write off my bucket list that I was a judge on a nationwide TV show,” Gillis said with a laugh. ” I just deemed it as entertainment. As them not being able to sing it, it was quite hilarious to watch them try and struggle.”
Blades also made headlines lately for appearing at the GOP National Convention. Although Blades is a staunch Republican, Gillis said the band doesn’t spent a lot of time discussing politics at the dinner table or putting political messages in their songs.
“We stay away from that stuff. It’s a rock-n-roll band. We’re out here to entertain people. When politics get involved it’s a whole different story. We come out here, we perform, we do the best we can, and then we all have our private lives after that.”
Night Ranger has a new CD/DVD package coming out in October, “24 Strings and a Drummer – Live and Acoustic.” Even though Gillis is a renowned around the world for his guitar playing skills, he admitted that breaking the guitar parts for songs like “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” and “(You Can Still) Rock in America” for an unplugged project was challenging.
“It turned out great,” he said, very pleased with the album.
When Gillis isn’t writing for or touring with Night Ranger, he’s composing music for the likes of ESPN and EA Sports video games. Gillis has written more than 200 songs for ESPN over the past 12 years.