However, when there’s a death in the rock ‘n’ roll family, the citizens of Bootleg City find that it’s our civic duty to present a memorial to a fallen comrade. Therefore I’d like to say a few words in memory of John Kennedy Oswald, a.k.a. Jani Lane, the lead singer and main songwriter for Warrant, one of the more popular acts of the “hair band” era. Lane died of an apparent overdose on August 11 at the age of 47.
For a group like Warrant the key was to get your brand set up quickly: put out a hard-rocking stadium anthem as the first single, then immediately follow it up with a killer power ballad. Warrant followed the formula to a T, debuting with “Down Boys” and segueing into the awesome earworm “Heaven,” both off their first album, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989). Their sophomore LP, Cherry Pie (1990), went the same route: the title track paved the way for “I Saw Red” on the Billboard charts.
“Cherry Pie” wasn’t the band’s choice for the lead-off single — it was written by Lane at the request of Columbia Records president Don Ienner — but it led to a controversial and highly popular video that cemented Warrant’s reputation as the latest band willing to rock out with its collective cock out. In other words, they were the latest Led Zeppelin knockoff. (It didn’t hurt that the “Cherry Pie” video used iconic ’80s video vixen Bobbie Brown, who’d previously appeared in Great White’s “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and Hurricane’s “I’m On to You,” to seal the deal.)
Warrant became a popular band — they even got to lip-sync during halftime on an episode of RollerGames, a staple of Sunday-night college life at the time — in part because hair metal was a popular type of music from the mid-’80s through the early ’90s. It was so popular, in fact, that ’70s icons like Kiss and Aerosmith (and, to a lesser extent, the Scorpions) reinvented themselves as hair bands in order to become relevant again. Unfortunately, the genre was critically panned throughout its heyday, and by 1992 a downpour of gloom-and-doom grunge music from Seattle had washed away whatever popularity hair metal had left.
But enough with the history lesson. You either like Warrant or you don’t. You like that style of music or you don’t. Either way, you know the basic story. So let’s move on.
Some of you may remember that whenever I present a show here in Bootleg City I try to give listeners a bonus. (And if you’ve ever worked in the mayor’s office, you know that I don’t believe in bonuses. —Mayor Cass via prison) But this time I want to do something a little different by presenting the bonus first: today’s featured bootleg is an audio rip of a show the band recorded in front of cameras in the spring of ’91 on a tour stop in Japan. As far as I can tell, the “Live in Japan” video is long out of print and long out of mind, but with a simple Internet search I found a copy of it on — where else? — YouTube. The audio quality on display here isn’t the best, but you’ll get the idea.
For the Cherry Pie tour Warrant headed out with the now classic lineup of the band: Jani Lane on vocals, Erik Turner and Joey Allen on guitars, Jerry Dixon on bass, and Steven Sweet on drums, with touring keyboardist Scott Warren rounding out the talent onstage. This particular concert was recorded on April 21, 1991, at Nakano Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo, a venue that’s always welcomed hard-rock and metal bands with open arms (the Scorpions’ 1978 Tokyo Tapes album was recorded there).
Like most hair bands who emerged during MTV’s golden years, Warrant paid special attention to the visual elements of their live show. They had their patented “knee dance,” for which Lane, Turner, Allen, and Dixon would line up on their knees and bang their heads in unison. Climbing up on each other’s shoulders wasn’t uncommon either, nor were the required actions of hair-metal frontmen at the time, namely Lane’s sophomoric sexual innuendos and gestures, which become tiring after a while in the Tokyo concert video. It’s too bad, because there’s actually some good music here; all the hits from the first two albums are featured, of course, but as usual it’s the live surprises that make this boot so enjoyable. For example, a three-minute cover of Blackfoot’s classic “Train, Train” becomes a surprising 13-minute jam. Then there’s the spectacle of a drunken Jani doing his Elvis impression on “Jailhouse Rock” as well as Cheap Trick’s “Baby Loves to Rock” during the encore. And since this show took place in Japan, the audience is awesome — vocal and enthusiastic yet always respectful.
Billed as a “special guest,” Scott Warren was a larger fixture on the Cherry Pie tour than the usual hidden touring keyboardist. His synth arpeggios in lieu of a banjo on “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” are a highlight of that awesome track, but where he really stands out is his piano work on “I Saw Red,” the best song Jani Lane ever wrote (and Warrant ever recorded, for that matter). Watch this performance on “Live in Japan”: Warren and Lane work as a duo while the latter drinks a beer, obviously still anguished over the song’s subject matter. The story behind “I Saw Red” is well known, and I firmly believe that if another rock ‘n’ roll songwriter — one who didn’t front a hair band, that is — had come up with the imagery contained in those lyrics, the song would now be considered an all-time classic.
So RIP, Jani. You wrote some good songs, you had the usual rock-star personal problems, and you even got to be married to Bobbie for a while. But, most importantly, you did your job as an entertainer, and no matter what the critics and the general public thought of you and Warrant, you guys were one of the better bands out there.
So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against the Law)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Sometimes She Cries
Love in Stereo
Song and Dance Man
I Saw Red
[Joey Allen guitar solo]
Sure Feels Good to Me
Baby Loves to Rock