Make that a power DUO when it comes to
By Naughty Mickie
Vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw (Styx, Damn Yankees) and vocalist/bassist
Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees) teamed up to release
"Hallucination" in 1995, it took until March 2007 for them to give fans a
followup. The release, "Influence" (VH1 Classic Records), features a
selection of cover tunes and was supported by a tour. After a rest,
Shaw/Blades is going to be hitting the road again and are definitely worth
their ticket prices.
Blades took some time out of his busy schedule during the first tour to
speak with me. I learned about the tour, the album and, most interestingly,
his life. As is often my wont, we began with the formation of the band.
"Tommy Shaw and I were in a band together called the Damn Yankees with
Ted Nugent, we formed that in 1989. We took a break in 1994 and we decided
to do our project of our own called Shaw/Blades, so we released an album in
1995 on Warner Bros. Records, it was 'Hallucination.' It took us a long time
to make a second one, but we finally got around to it," Blades laughs.
"I started playing music when I was eight years old. My father gave me a
one dollar ukulele-- a little plastic ukulele," Blades says of his childhood
in Palm Desert, California. "I moved to San Francisco in 1975 and was in a
group called Rubicon, the sax player from Sly and the Family Stone started a
band. I wasn't playing ukulele then. I ended up playing a bass because in
junior high school my parents were the only ones who could afford a bass
guitar and a bass amp. There were 15 million rhythm guitar players and nobody played bass so I was, 'All right, I'll play bass. I'll go buy
the bass amp and bass guitar.' So I became a bass player by default. All the songs I write on guitar and piano."
"I play ghetto piano, like bar chords for piano. I play piano enough to
write a few songs," admits Blades, who plays acoustic guitar on "Influence."
"Tommy Shaw plays keyboards really well."
During high school, he worked as a short order cook, as well as a bus boy
and other similar jobs. Blades was a pre-med student at San Diego State
University preparing to become a doctor. He quit during his fourth year to
move to San Francisco and play in a rock band.
"I've been doing music all my life and I just felt that at one point I
had to see what was really going on," Blades explains. "I took a leave of
absence from college and said I've got to give this a chance because I'll
never forgive myself. I always thought I could make it writing songs and
playing music. So that is what I did and it worked out well."
I asked Blades to tell me what it was like writing with Shaw.
"We've written tons of songs together, not all Damn Yankees stuff, we've
written songs together with Aerosmith, for Alice Cooper, for Ozzy Osbourne,
for Cher," Blades says."We've written tons of songs together, for other
"For Tommy and I, I think we think a lot along the same lines, we have
simpatico brainwaves. I can sort of finish where he's going and he knows
where I'm going to go with something and we sing the same way when we get to
it. It's made it real simple." Blades goes on, "It's hard to find someone
that you can write songs with because whenever you write a song you really
bare your soul to that individual and the worst thing you do, is do you
really want your soul ripped out? It's hard when you're sitting there and
you come up with an idea and somebody looks at you and goes, 'That's the
stupidest idea I've heard in my life' or "That's the dumbest lyric line.' If
that happens, it's like, oh, I'll never say another word. It's pretty
"Tommy and I have pretty good rapport when it comes to writing songs that
we can spill our guts out and neither of us judges. We're pretty non-judgemental
when it comes to writing songs with other people too because you want to
hear it all, you want to come out with as much as you can come out with, you
don't want to discourage people," Blades concludes, adding that the two
write music and lyrics equally.
He also offers a short story-- The Damn Yankees' tune, "High Enough,"
began when Blades was doing laundry downstairs in Shaw's brownstone in New
York City and singing a melody line. Shaw heard him, called him upstairs and
grabbed up a guitar. Within 30 minutes the songs was written.
This leads me to wonder why do a cover album?
"I was doing a solo album in 2004 and I had Tommy come up and play the
song, 'Nature's Way,' which is an old Spirit song. We had so much fun doing
it, we looked at each other and went wouldn't it be great if we could do a
whole album of stuff like this? I said, why can't we? We can do this, we
both have studios, we both have the ability, so we decided to do it." Blades
recalls, "Tommy went back to his place and next thing I knew he showed up
with 'I Am A Rock' and 'For What It's Worth.' We just started coming up with
more songs and more songs and it took on a life of it's own."
For Blades, the most influential song on the effort is "Lucky Man" by
Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It's an anti-war song and was so relevant for it's time and is again, Blades said.
"I think they're going to love it," Blades says of their fans' reaction
to the album. "Every song is a great song and it has inspired us and our
music and I think these songs have touched and inspired so many other
millions of people. All these songs are hits already and I think they're
going to love that on certain songs we took liberties and on other songs we
stayed pretty traditional."
Unlike some artists, Blades has a positive view of today's music scene,
"I think it's great. It's different, everything changes and I think you have
to embrace change. So many people fear change, I think it's wonderful.
There's some great bands out there, The Killers, Audioslave, some of Justin
Timberlake's stuff, I like Beyonce's new song."
Blades lives on a ranch in Sonoma.
"Music is pretty much my life. I enjoy playing music and I enjoy writing
songs. I enjoy traveling as a whole. I love just getting out.
I like to waterski.," he shares.
I ask if he has horses on his ranch.
"I had cows and sheep, but I never had horses," Blake responds. "My sons
always wanted horses, my two boys, and I said, 'You want horses? OK, we're
going to put you in a school for six weeks to see what it means to take care
of horses every single day because I'm not going to shovel horse shit.' They
took the classes and lasted about four weeks and said, 'No, we don't want
horses either.' That ended our horse deal.
"I love going to Europe, I love going to Japan, I just love traveling. I
love sightseeing, I'm a tourist at heart. I think maybe I'm a gypsy at heart and that's why I travel. I have no problems on tour,
I really love it. I hit all the towns and cities and see what the town is famous for. I just enjoy it." Blades continues, "You're on
tour and your whole life is geared to that hour and a half or two hours that you're going to play from 8-9:30 or 9-11 or whatever it
is. You spend the rest of the time traveling to the destination and then getting there and sitting around. Instead of sitting
around in my hotel room watching a bad HBO movie I like to get out."
Blades' sons are now 27 and 23 and live in Hollywood. One is a singer/songer
writer and the other works for an entertainment management company.
"They've been around music all their lives. They've picked it up of by
osmosis, they both grew up sleeping behind amplifiers at outdoor festivals,"
On tour, Shaw/Blades try to make the audience feel as if they are just
sitting together in a living room. The two talk about the songs and what
they mean to them-- both original and cover tunes. Blades will also be
touring with Night Ranger and is working on another album with Ted Nugent.
"I never have a lack of things to do, that's for sure. I'm very
fortunate, I feel very blessed," Blades beams.
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