Saturday, August 9, 2008

Those Damn Yankees Are At It Again

The concept of the rock ‘supergroup’ came into being in the late 60’s, and arguably Cream were the first among the fraternity, and certainly one of the most successful. Regardless of the individual talents assembled, even rock ‘supergroups’ need that one key ingredient that’s essential for any music group to work - chemistry. The 80s had already seen a deluge of rock supergroups, from Asia in the early 80s, through The Firm during the mid 80s, to arguably the most high profile supergroup of them all the Traveling Wilburys. Around the same period as the Traveling Wilburys stormed world charts, the U.S. power rock supergroup Damn Yankees came into being.

Forming in 1989, the Damn Yankees quartet consisted of vocalist/guitarist Tommy Shaw (ex of Styx - ‘Come Sail Away’), vocalist/bassist Jack Blades (of Night Ranger - ‘Sister Christian’), guitarist Ted Nugent (of Amboy Dukes and solo fame - ‘Cat Scratch Fever’), and Michael Cartellone (future Lynyrd Skynyrd) on drums. The origins of the group’s name are reportedly attributable to a phrase used by Ted Nugent in reference to how he and Tommy Shaw sounded when they played together - “like a bunch of damn Yankees”.

Not surprisingly Damn Yankees didn’t exactly have to shop around for a record deal, so by early 1990 they had recorded their eponymous debut album. Produced by Ron Nevison (The Who, Survivor, UFO, KISS) the band released the archetypal hard rock/glam metal album. Ted Nugent’s guitar acted as the thread that sewed the tracks together, but it was the vocals of Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw that stood out, both as solo and harmonies. Blades handled the lead vocals on the lead out single ‘Coming Of Age’ (US#60 - #1 Album Rock Track) which announced to the south, north, east and west, the arrival of them Damn Yankees.

The song that would prove Damn Yankees as worthy of the tag ‘supergroup’ was ‘High Enough’. It was the classic sweeping rock ballad, with majestic string arrangements and lush vocal harmonies that were tailor made for the AOR radio networks. Backed by a quality promotional video, the song was a guaranteed hit and it didn’t miss the charts in America, climbing to #3 on the mainstream Billboard charts and #1 on the AOR charts (OZ#47). The style of song wasn’t foreign territory for the likes of Shaw and Blades, whose respective group’s of origin were astute exponents of the power ballad, but for Nugent it was an odd way to finally ascend to the summit of the charts.

On the strength of ‘High Enough’ in particular, ‘Damn Yankees’ the album peaked at #13 on the U.S. charts (OZ#93), and realised one more minor hit single in ‘Come Again’ (US#50) in April ‘91. Damn Yankees did what rock supergroups should, but don’t always, do and that is go on a mammoth world tour.

By mid 1992 they were ready to re-enter the recording studio to lay down tracks for their follow up album. ‘Don’t Tread’ was released late in 1992 and enjoyed the same platinum success as its predecessor (US#22). The first single lifted was ‘Where You Goin’ Now’ which reached #20 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with ‘Mister Please’ reaching #3 on the Rock Charts. ‘The Silence Is Broken’ featured in the motion picture ‘Nowhere To Run’ (as had several Damn Yankees tracks in other films), the power ballad sound proving popular for the medium, but less popular on the singles charts (US#62).

With the union apparently still solid, them Damn Yankees started preparations for a third album in 1993. By this stage Tommy Shaw had reunited with his old bandmates in Styx, so to supplement his presence in the recording studio, Brother Cane guitarist Damon Johnson was added to the rock battalion. But prior to the album being completed ‘motor city madman’ Nugent took the decision to return to his own solo career pursuits. Shaw and Blades continued the studio work, finally resulting in 1995’s ‘Hallucination’ credited to Shaw Blades. The album was released into a market no longer as receptive to its power rock style (though in truth a stronger acoustic sound was evident), instead still enamoured with grunge and the burgeoning indie rock movement, and consequently was overlooked by most. As a result Shaw and Blades both returned to their respective ‘home’ teams, Styx and Night Ranger.

1998 saw the trio of Shaw, Blades and Nugent once again have a simultaneous gap in their individual schedules, leading to plans for another Damn Yankees album. But they couldn’t get the musical chemistry right to their satisfaction, so the provisionally titled ‘Bravo’ was consigned to the studio archives to gather dust. Though some of the material has since emerged on the members future solo albums. 2007 saw Shaw Blades release their second album ‘Influence’, featuring covers of songs from the 60s and 70s that influenced each of them in their formative years.

All three, Nugent, Blades and Shaw, have continued to work in their respective careers of origin, as well as crossing professional paths intermittently, but rumours continue that a third Damn Yankees album will one day come to fruition.

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