Oldschool Sunday: BADLANDS

Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway

In 1987, guitarist Jake E. Lee had parted ways with Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band after two highly successful albums, ‘Bark At The Moon’ and ‘The Ultimate Sin’.

Looking to form a new band, Lee soon aligned with two former Black Sabbath members, singer Ray Gillen and drummer Eric Singer. The trio then recruited bassist Greg Chaisson – whom Lee had met when Greg auditioned for Ozzy’s band in 1985 – and BADLANDS was born in 1988.

The quartet began songwriting and perfecting their live performances, eventually landing a record deal with Atlantic. In 1989, they released a self-titled debut for the label, it would eventually sell over 475,000 units. The band’s popularity was due in part to a pair of singles from the record, “Dreams In The Dark” and “Winter’s Call”, having videos getting a lot of airplay on MTV.

To this day, the ‘Badlands’ debut album is considered a classic milestone, one constructed on bluesy swagger, fantastic songs, and Gillen’s powerful, unmatched vocals. However, the magic captured on the album would soon begin to wane within the band itself and prior to recording a second album, Eric Singer exited the band.

BADLANDS quickly recovered from Singer’s loss by bringing in Chaisson‘s former Surgical Steel bandmate, Jeff Martin – at the time, vocalist for Racer X – to sit behind the kit. Still yet, tensions would build on several fronts, including between BADLANDS and Atlantic Records over the musical direction of a sophomore album. At the same time, Gillen was increasingly at odds with Jake E. Lee who seemed reluctant to allow Gillen increased creative input.

As BADLANDS worked to create what would become their second album, 1991’s ‘Voodoo Highway‘, Gillen desired to go more into a commercially viable style of music, something the other members were resistant to. ‘Voodoo Highway’ was eventually released but things would soon begin to boil over within the band. The turning point began prior to a planned U.K. tour when Lee announced (via a Kerrang! Magazine interview) that he had hired Los Angeles native Debby Holiday from the band Stiletto, to replace Gillen on their UK tour. Gillen promptly quit BADLANDS in 1992.

However, before things completely fell apart, BADLANDS managed to convince Ray to return and perform with them on the U.K. tour. It would be a contentious trek, to say the least, and things pretty much came to a head July 2, 1992, onstage at the London Astoria. Just a few songs into the set, Gillen pulled out a copy of the Kerrang! magazine that had been released with Lee’s story in it and shouted to the crowd “there’s two sides to every story” while Lee stood there and mouthed “It’s all true.”

BADLANDS finished the show, under obvious duress but it did not affect their performance apparently. Later reviews of the gig praised Lee’s guitar work and claimed the band was absolutely superb despite their obvious state of feuding. After the tour wrapped, Gillen was officially fired from the band and Lee repeatedly commented in the press that BADLANDS had hired former Rough Cutt / Artension singer John West as their new vocalist.

Although the band wrote and recorded some new songs, the combination of band discord and a decline in the popularity of heavy metal music led Atlantic Records to drop the band from their label entirely. Ray Gillen soon resurfaced as the singer for Lynch Mob’s ‘Sacred Groove’ album, after which he formed Sun Red Sun with guitarist Al Romano, former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr, and drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult).

Tragically, just as Sun Red Sun was up and running, Ray Gillen was diagnosed with HIV related to previous drug use and on December 1, 1993, he died at his New Jersey home due to AIDS-related complications. Ironically, Gillen’s one-time replacement in BADLANDS, John West, was brought in to finish the Sun Red Sun recordings, and in 1998 toured with George Lynch.

In 1998, the Japanese label Pony Canyon released the third album from BADLANDS, ‘Dusk‘, which contained music originally recorded in 1992-1993 as demos to submit to their label.

In the years since BADLANDS, the band has achieved an immensely popular fanbase and iconic cult status with music lovers. Jake E. Lee has released several critically-acclaimed solo albums and is currently within his newest band, Red Dragon Cartel.

Following Eric Singer‘s departure after the ‘Badlands’ debut, he would go on to replace the late Eric Carr in KISS, where he remains now. He has also performed or recorded with Alice Cooper, Gary Moore, Lita Ford, and his own band, ESP (Eric Singer Project), among others. Greg Chaisson has remained a bit more low-key as a family man and sports coach but has remained active as a solo artist and in the band Kings Of Dust. He has also played with his former BADLANDS bandmate Jake E. Lee in Red Dragon Cartel.

Jeff Martin has either sung or played drums for artists like Leatherwolf, Dokken, Paul Gilbert, and Michael Schenker, even providing backing vocals for Judas Priest.

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