It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled….
Well, as I was saying, when I was so rudely interrupted, welcome back!
Let’s rewind back to the early/mid 1980s; if you were paying attention to the hard rock and metal scene, a few minor incidents happened with veteran acts, which, on the surface, meant little, but ultimately laid the groundwork for a metal “supergroup.” (To use that term loosely.) It all started with the 1982 plane crash that killed Ozzy Osbourne’s wunderkind guitarist, Randy Rhodes. After running through two temps (Bernie “Don’t Call Me Mel” Torme and Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis), the Oz camp finally settled on Jake E. Lee (narrowly beating out George Lynch, later of Dokken fame) as the permanent replacement.
Lee lasted two albums (Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin) and tours; his overall treatment, lopsided contract and firing is well documented. (Google it if you don’t know that long, drawn-out tale.) Wanting a fresh start, Lee looked to put together his own band.
Concurrently, the 1984 resumption of the Mark II version of Deep Purple also played a major role; it forced Black Sabbath’s one-off 1983 lineup of original members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward and former (and soon-to-be future) Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan to split in March 1984, with Ward and Butler also bailing.
Iommi’s next release, The Seventh Star (1986), featuring vocalist Glenn Hughes, was “forced” into using the Black Sabbath moniker, but there remained the minor task of finding a new band to tour as Sabbath. (Iommi did manage to nick a couple of players from Lita Ford’s band, who happened to be his girlfriend at that time.) Unfortunately, Hughes was sacked a few dates into the tour; local joker Ray Gillen was selected as his replacement. Hiring an unknown vocalist to front a legendary band mid-tour probably wasn’t going to work; needless to say, things broke down quickly. An attempt to have the touring outfit record new material was DOA; all the members went their separate ways, once again, leaving Iommi as the last man standing.
But Gillen got noticed, and soon enough, he (along with ex-tour mate, drummer Eric Singer), signed up with Lee. Rounded out by ex-Steeler (a failed band that launched the careers of Yngwie Malmsteen and Ron Keel) bassist Greg Chaisson, the band was quickly signed to Atlantic and released its debut album in 1989. (Around this time, Mr. Big and Blue Murder, both odds and ends collections of semi-famous rockers, debuted.)
The resulting debut, Badlands, was released mid-1989 and was a moderate success, peaking at #57 on the Billboard Top 200. Critical reviews were good – Rolling Stone magazine eventually ranked it #35 on the list of top hair metal albums of all time. The album, a blusey hard rock disc, quickly became a hit for fans of the genre, as well as a cult favorite.
But from the word go, things went wrong. First, Eric Singer bailed for greener pastures; playing with Alice Cooper, Paul Stanley’s solo band, pre-production sessions for The Cult’s Ceremony album and soon after landing the permanent drummer in KISS. Eventually he put on the makeup and became the fake Peter Criss. Then, of course, by 1990, the type of music embraced by Badlands fans had pretty much had run out of steam; 1991’s follow up was a flop.
So why, as a fan favorite and cult status album put out of print? Wouldn’t a label like Rock Candy or Music for Nations be interested? Why are prices on the used market such as Amazon or eBay sky high?
It’s all because of the reprehensible behavior of singer Ray Gillen. Ray, it seems, at one point, got into some heavy-duty drugs, which is not an aberration for a rock star in the 1980s. (Or any other decade, it seems.) But luck wasn’t on his side, and he contracted HIV, most likely from an unclean needle. Again, not altogether uncommon; CCR’s Tom Fogerty contracted HIV via a tainted blood transfusion in the Bay area, mid-1980s, during back surgery.
But – Gillen, knowing he was infected, knowingly slept with multiple woman, passing the virus along and ruining the lives of those women and their families. Although details are sketchy about the number of women involved, the end result was that Atlantic discontinued production of both Badlands albums and locked up the master tapes. Although this was normal practice for a slow-selling catalog album, the band always maintained a solid fanbase and there were always requests for a reissue. Although some indy labels expressed interest, due to lawsuits brought by the infected women have forever prevented the album from being reissued.
Badlands received some renewed interest when Lee finally surfaced with his new band, Red Dragon Cartel, in 2014. The tour featured new material, Ozzy tracks that Lee originally played on, and yes, Badlands favorites. A follow-up album is due out in late 2018.