ROCKERS to their roots

Part of the long-gone hair-band era, Warrant has defied the odds and remains on the ever-changing music scene.

March 16, 2002|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,SUN STAFF

Their hair was big, their music was loud and their lyrics were oozing with double-entendres.

They've come to be known as "hair bands," and in the late '80s and early '90s, their pop-metal sound, consisting mainly of infectious party anthems and melodic "power ballads," flooded the airwaves of radio and MTV and sold millions of albums.

Hair bands, so dubbed because of their ridiculously puffy, hair sprayed coiffures, celebrated the excesses of rock stardom. Their outlandish personas were defined by a life of fame, money, groupies and hangovers.

Then the grunge movement out of Seattle exploded onto the scene, and the party was over. Bare chests and leather pants gave way to flannel shirts and ripped jeans, and the pop-metal bands became an instant rock cliche. It was a case of hair today, gone tomorrow.

In reality, though, some of the hair bands never went away. You might not hear their songs on the radio anymore, but that doesn't mean they aren't still recording and touring.

One such group is Warrant, which makes a stop in Baltimore tonight to play a show at Thunder Dome. One of the most successful bands of the pop-metal era, Warrant had two multi-platinum albums (Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich and Cherry Pie ) and three Top 10 singles (including "Heaven," which reached No. 2) between 1989 and 1991.

Warrant probably is best remembered for the song "Cherry Pie" and its suggestive accompanying video. With a catchy, sing-along chorus and sex-crazed lyrics that were intentionally over the top, perhaps no other song better typified the hair-band genre.

Unfortunately for Warrant, "Cherry Pie" also left a stain that the band has been unable to wipe clean. In creating an image that wasn't meant to be taken seriously, Warrant's subsequent attempts to shed that image with an edgier sound fell on deaf ears.

"It's one thing if radio stations would listen to our music and then say it stinks. But they just won't even entertain the idea of playing stuff from a so-called '80s band," says Warrant bassist Jerry Dixon, who, along with lead singer Jani Lane and rhythm guitarist Erik Turner, was in the group during its glory days. "We've done some really good records. A hit single is just something that the radio and MTV plays. Whatever they choose to play is what the audience is told is a hit."

The hair-band label has been a stigma for Warrant, but it's also kept them working. Warrant, which does about 80 to 100 shows a year (down from 300 at the height of its popularity), still has enough of a following to be a successful club act, occasionally playing arenas and outdoor venues with bands like Poison and Ratt as part of a pop-metal nostalgia package.

"I don't think we're washed-up dinosaurs, but I don't mind being called a nostalgia act," says Dixon, 34. "A band like Warrant gets to be a nostalgia act because that's what promoters want us to be, and that's what we're going to get paid to do. You either accept it or you quit and go get a day job.

"Every show is different, though. One promoter might bill us as a serious songwriting band, and the next day we might be doing the "Hair Fest" in Milwaukee. Bill it however you want. Bands from the '80s like Warrant are lucky to be playing and have a career that's lasted this long."

So even though these days the members of Warrant no longer have hair that requires hairspray, they aren't ashamed of their roots.

"We were pretty cheesy, the white leather that we wore in the "Heaven" video and stuff like that, but it paid for my house and my car," Dixon says. "The reality, though, is that the type of music that we did then isn't going to ever get big again. It will never be on MTV" - although you can catch them on digital channel MTVX, which plays only hard rock videos - "and the chances of an '80s band signing with a major record label isn't good."

Dixon vividly remembers the day he realized Warrant's run at the top of the charts was over. It was in 1992, after Warrant had released its third album, Dog Eat Dog. The band walked into the offices of Columbia Records, its label at the time, to find an Alice in Chains poster hanging on the wall where a Warrant poster used to be.

"That was a dark day," he recalls. "All the offices had been filled with posters of Warrant and our gold and platinum records, and then we went in that day and everything was `grunge-ified.' I remember when I first heard Nirvana, I was blown away, too. I wanted to hear more of it. But I knew it was going to kill us."

Dog Eat Dog, which had a heavier sound and was more lyrically sophisticated than the band's first two efforts, was supposed to be the album that legitimized Warrant as more than just another hair band. But without much promotion by Columbia and a cold shoulder from radio stations, Warrant had trouble getting its message out.

The album failed to sell as well as the previous two (although it did achieve gold status), and Columbia dropped Warrant in 1993.

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