Right in the Nuts

Some musicians are satisfied with past accomplishments, basking in the gold and platinum records collecting dust on their walls. Others look at the past as exactly that, and move toward new beginnings, new directions, particularly the direction that leads toward the top of the charts.

Guitarist and singer Ted Nugent is one fourth of a celebrity rock band venturing in that direction. Guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw, formerly of Styx, drummer Michael Cartellone, who played with Shaw on his solo tour, and vocalist/bassist Jack Blades, formerly of Night Ranger, make up the rest of the line-up. These four aren't looking to dwell in the spotlight of past glories. That seems like another lifetime. These grizzled rockers are in a decade of decadence, touring, recording, and going by the collective name Damn Yankees. The name came to Nugent while he was sitting around one day and someone asked him how he'd describe the band. He replied with "sounds like a bunch of damn Yankees to me."

Since recently finishing up work on the video for the new single "Silence Is Broken" in Los Angeles, the Damn Yankees are doing nothing but looking forward. "This band tours 'til we drop," says Blades. "We're in the groove right now. Shredding."

After the success of their self-titled first album, the boys proved to the industry that they're not a fad, a project, or an industry assembly-line outfit like other collaborative fizzes of the past. These guys mean business, and have two chart-topping albums to prove it. The latest is Don't Tread, and according to Blades, they've gone from a garage band to a quintessential barn band with the new release. Blades converted his barn in Northern California to a recording studio.

The creation of the megagroup began when Blades went to New York to meet with Nugent and Shaw five days after Night Ranger broke up. "I was thinking, What's happening?" Blades says. "The guts were taken right out of rock and roll for Night Ranger. There was more to us than ballads. Finally, I said this is the end of the line for me. I'll be off to my own thing." After his decision to leave, he fell right in with the other two, then was joined by Cartellone.

In the past, Blades and Nugent have played outdoor festivals, so they were acquainted with one another. Shaw and Blades had met before in New York. Blades is an avid fan of Styx, and since the inception of the Yanks, the two have become best buds. "Tommy and I are always giving each other shit. He's my best friend, and I guess I'm his," laughs Blades. When the two of them get a free moment they go skiing, exchange wardrobes, or check out local bands.

The two also recently sat down with bad boy Vince Neil to help him write a song for his solo album. Shaw and Blades also contributed two tunes to the upcoming Aerosmith record and lent their writing skills to Cher (you know her, the advocate for Lori Davis hair care who doesn't use sugar or the pink stuff) for an album that has already sold more than two million copies in Europe.

The Yankees have done their part to support the U.S. military as well. They played for 10,000 troops in Norfolk, Virginia, back in April '91. "It was really emotional for us," Blades says. "What's totally amazing is that the first shell fired in the Gulf War was by a sergeant who was a Damn Yankees fan. He put the band's name and logo on the barrel."

The band doesn't stop there. They also carried an eight-foot wooden effigy of Hussein during their first tour so Nugent could sling his bow and arrow, nailing the dictator right between the legs. The band has brought the wooden dummy along on this tour, just in case anything flares up again in the Middle East.

For now, Nugent has taken up a new pastime: blowing up guitars on-stage with a flaming arrow. According to Blades, his little hobby landed him in jail three weeks ago while they were playing in Cincinnati. "Nobody told us that in Cincinnati we weren't allowed to light and have an open flame where we were playing," says Blades.

Besides being involved in world politics, Blades is concerned with what's happening in the music industry. "MTV used to be a great rock thing, where bands would be played a lot during the day," he says. "You'd go into a town to do a gig, and everyone would know who you are because of the exposure. It's really hard to hear new music, and this is especially true of radio stations. I have to sift through a lot of Led Zeppelin and Who to find new music. Things go in cycles, and I'm hoping that classic rock will burn out and stations will loosen up and play new stuff."

With three singers in the band, one would think the guys might get into each other's spotlight once in a while, but it's quite the opposite. Blades and Shaw both come from bands where they shared vocal time with another singer. "Vocalwise, it's easy to split them up," Blades says. "We actually fall over each other encouraging the other to go for it. As far as Ted's concerned, he's into playing the guitar, being the ultimate guitarist that he is." Blades is quick to add, "But if Ted wants to do the vocals and there's any conflict, he'll just get out his bow and arrow and solve the problem."

Damn Yankees perform with Jackyl tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:30 p.m. at Sunrise Musical Theatre, 5555 95th Ave, 741-7300. Tickets cost $14.75.

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Christina Henriques