Recently AXS had the opportunity to talk with master guitar shredder Brad Gillis from Night Ranger. Since first hitting the road as a teenager, Brad has played with some of the biggest and most influential names in the music industry in his amazing 35 years as a rock guitarist. (click here to read part one)
AXS: When Night Ranger was first starting out Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist Randy Rhoads was tragically killed in a place crash and you stepped in as his replacement for the Diary of a Madman tour. Was it challenging to shift from playing with Night Ranger over to Ozzy? Different styles of music and all.
Brad Gillis: Randy Rhoads was such a great player. It was an honor for me to get picked but it was a big challenge to conquer. I sat in my hotel room for four days with a cassette, boombox and guitar learning the songs. 12-14 hours a day of practicing. Rudy Sarzo helped me out a lot. On that fifth day was the show in front of a sold out crowd in Binghamton, NY, it was a very scary situation. Out of the 18 songs we played I screwed up on this one song called “Revelation Mother Earth,” which is a ballad that halfway through kicks into this metal chunk groove. I ended up going into that section a little too early and Ozzy turned to me and gave me this look of death which said, “You screwed up!” I stopped playing, regained my composure and got back into it and finished the song out. The next night Sharon Arden, now Osbourne, came up to me and said, “Bradley, you did great last night, but tonight don’t f**k up.” No pressure there!
The more we were on the road the more I smoothed into that gig. Two weeks in we were in Memphis, TN, and did a live King Biscuit Flower Hour nationwide broadcast. That was pretty scary too. All I could think about was the whole country is listening to me including all my family and friends back home as well as the Night Ranger guys. It turned out pretty good and actually gave me a lot of cred with the fans. They began accepting me more in that position. At the end of ’82 the tour was pretty much over, Rudy Sarzo left the band to join Quiet Riot and Night Ranger had an offer on the table. I decided to roll the dice and also quit Ozzy and return to Night Ranger. Here I am now 35 years later with the same band, I think I made the right decision.
AXS: Tell us about your guitars.
B.G.: I collect guitars, I have about 130. Many are replicas of my main ’62 Strat that I have played throughout my career. In 1986 a Japanese company called Fernandez made about 100 replicas of my red ’62 Strat. I had been using my main guitar on the road for all those years but at one point I began to get nervous about bringing it on the road so I ended up bringing these replicas out. They have the original Floyd roses on it, the exact same pickups and built-in wireless systems. Night Ranger has two full rigs on the road, one in Nashville and one in Phoenix, and I have guitars in both locations. Wherever I go I have my favorite guitar. I retired my red ’62 Strat but I am thinking about bringing it back on the road again because people identify me with that guitar.
AXS: You have had an amazing career, is there anybody you have always wanted to perform with or a milestone still on your bucket list?
B.G.: You know, I really have already been fortunate to play with some really big bands on these three-act bills we have been doing that are drawing anywhere from 8,000-23,000 people. In 2011 we toured with Foreigner and Journey and played 65 great shows that year, even toured Europe. We branched out on our own that year and played Japan as well. That really was a great year, hard to top. Playing with Def Leppard was great, Boston too. We did a Sammy Hagar gig in Florida a few weeks ago which was so much fun! I don’t know if you know this, but Sammy gave us one of our first big breaks in 1981 when we were still Ranger. From that we got to play with everybody from ZZ Top to Cheap Trick and Kiss. We have played with everybody.
AXS: Night Ranger is out on the road, you guys have a jam-packed touring schedule. What do you enjoy doing in your down time?
B.G.: I play my guitar! I do something with my girl, go out to eat. People look at musicians and think that’s an easy job, they only play for an hour and a half a night and that’s it. Playing is the fun part! The worst part is the travel! Sometimes it takes 20 hours just to get to a gig and back! It is always nice to get to hang out at home for a weekend and not have to hop on a plane.
AXS: What is coming up for Night Ranger?
B.G.: I am really looking forward to the Annapolis, MD, show on December 13 we have coming up at Rams Head On Stage. We are kind of changing things up and doing two acoustic shows there. It is going to be a lot of fun, sitting around telling stories, playing songs. People love it. It is a different animal for us you know doing a full night of acoustic like that. But we have been doing a few of them and we are having a blast. It really changes up the whole dynamic of playing a guitar solo acoustic. I do a lot of warm-ups before those shows and break in my fingers, need to get those calluses moving. I have a nice routine for how to pull off my “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “Sister Christian” and “Still Rockin’ America” solos. We really do some nice harmonies in there, all five of us are singing. So I am really looking forward to that gig.