1964 – 2011
I sit at a neighborhood pub on a Thursday night. It’s way past midnight….nearing closing time. At a sound system along the south wall stands my pal Jeffery Danger, playing songs all night for beer and dough. The bar is nearly empty, except for a few final patrons getting their last drinks in before final call. The same ritual happens every Thursday night at around this time.
“Hey Danger. Play Cherry Pie” I yell at him.
“No Sammy. I’m not playing Cherry Pie” he says. Danger is one of only a handful of people who can get away with calling me “Sammy.”
“C’mon man. It’s the GREATET SONG EVER WRITTEN” I taunt him.
“No it’s not. Cherry Pie sucks. Pick something else.” He replies.
“Ummmmm…how about Warrant’s other hit – Cherry Pie Acoustic!”
“No. I’m NOT playing Cherry Pie.”
“How about Cherry Pie Live?”
Danger never relents. He never plays Cherry Pie. It doesn’t really matter I guess. I really don’t like the song that much anyways. But now maybe things will change. Now perhaps people will listen to Cherry Pie just a little bit different because the guy from Warrant is dead. His name was Jani Lane. No, his name was not on the tip of my tongue. I had to look it up. Most of those late 90’s metal band guys all look and sound the same to me. But while I may have a certain amount of cynicism when it comes to the musical prowess of Warrent, Jani Lane lived the rock n’ roll life style from the day he was born until the day he died with a certain amount of back breaking dedication that never relented….just like Jeffery Danger wont relent to my song requests. Something has to be said for that.
Jani Lane was born John Kennedy Oswald in Akron, Ohio in 1964, a year after JFK’s assassination. Yes. His parents obviously had a very sick and twisted sense of humor. The youngest of five, Johnny learnt to play drums at the age of four through the guidance of his older brother Eric, kick starting what would be a life long love for rock n’ roll. By the age of eleven he had changed him name to Mitch Dynamite and was already playing drums in local clubs with various bands. All throughout high school he continued to master his drumming technique, but sometime right around graduation he decided that he’d had enough of sitting in the back ground. Lets face it. Unless you’re Keith Moon or Ringo Starr, drummers don’t get noticed. He wanted the glory of the screaming crowd and all the sex, drugs and women that he could get his hands on. Relocating to Florida, John/Mitch changed his name to Jani (based on a pronunciation of “Johnny” by his German grandparents), and formed the band Plain Jane with Steve Sweet. Now everybody knows that you’re not going to be a rock star if you live in Florida. I mean, how many bands have actually came out of the “orange state”? I think Jim Morrison was from Florida, but even he went west to LA. Anyways, Jani and Sweet picked up their guitars and headed towards Los Angeles where they worked menial jobs while pursuing the rock n’ roll dream. For Jani, that meant working in a pornographic video warehouse. Obviously he was almost there.
Now you gotta remember that near the end of the 1980’s the musical tide was changing. The pop groups of the era, such as Wham!, Duran Duran and Spandeau Ballet were starting to fade, and Seattle’s grunge scene was still a few years away. So, discontented youths from the Regan era were plugged into commercial metal – aka hair bands. Standing on a foundation built by Ozzy Osborne and Iron Maiden, by the end of the decade the two most successful groups were Motley Crue and Guns n’ Roses, which naturally spawned dozens and dozens of imitations. Anybody that could grow his hair long and play a guitar wanted to be part of that scene because it had plenty of what all young testosterone driven angry hedonists wanted – expensive drugs and cheap women. Jani and Sweet were no different and in 1984 they met Erik Turner who had just formed a new band called Warrant. Turner invited the pair to join, and Jani stepped in as lead vocalist.
Warrant’s rise to stardom wasn’t immediate but in 1989 they hit gold with their debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich. The album found an audience amongst hard rock fans, and produced a couple of hits. What where they? I dunno. I’ve never heard of any of them. But somewhere placed between Slaughter and Whitesnake, Warrant found it’s place amongst the interchangeable hair bands fighting for attention on MTV with Jani as their good looking, if not slightly cliqued, lead singer.
But things would change. Oh yes. Warrant would make their mark on rock n’ roll forever in 1990 with a little single called Cherry Pie.
Warrant was in the studio recording their yet to be named second album. The group had worked hard to put together an album of exceptional quality, and figured that they were putting together the Sgt. Pepper of hair band albums. However, Columbia Records president Don Ienner wasn’t so sure. Listening to the album he just didn’t feel that there was an anthem for the group yet. The biggest hit in America at the time was Aerosmith’s Love in an Elevator, so Ienner paid the guys in Warrant a visit and said he needed a song more like that. Immediately Jani jumped into action. Grabbing a pen and a discarded pizza box he got to work and fifteen minutes later he had written Cherry Pie, a plucky little ballad about a guy bragging about how much he nails his nymphomaniac girlfriend. Ienner loved it. The band wasn’t so sure. However, Ienner devised an entire marketing campaign around the song, and the name of the upcoming album was called, simply Cherry Pie.
Now as everyone knows, in today’s modern music market, the strength of a single doesn’t depend on if it’s good or not. It depends on if it has an attention grabbing video. Well, Cherry Pie’s video didn’t win any MTV video awards. The video lacked any real concept, and it featured far to much mugging from the band. However, what Cherry Pie DID feature was voluptuous model Bobbi Brown (not to be confused with the wife beating rapper) who turned up the heat while turning heads. In one memorable moment during the video Warrant even got to spray Bobbi with a water hose. Now that’s not phallic…is it? Anyhow, Bobbi’s appearance, paired with memorable and fun lyrics and a catchy tune, had people “swinging” all summer long. Cherry Pie became the rock anthem of the summer of 1990. The album was a hit, and the video even managed to get itself banned in Canada. Yet the song left a bitter taste in Warrant’s mouth, as the group felt that the song overshadowed some of the more “legitimist” songs on the album. Jani would say later “I could shoot myself in the fucking head for writing that song.” But Jani had nothing to complain about. Not only did Cherry Pie become Warrant’s biggest hit ever, he ended up marrying Bobbi Brown and the two had a daughter. Yet, as often happens in the world of rock n’ roll, Jani and Bobbi split up after only a few years. Obviously that smile on his face, ten feet wide, didn’t last very long.
BTW – side note to the story. If you want to see a truly legendary piece of rock n’ roll memorabilia, head on down to the Hard Rock Café in Destin, Florida where the original pizza box on which Jani wrote Cherry Pie is on display! That’s a reason to travel to Destin. In fact, I’m putting that destination on my personal “Bucket List” right now.
Anyhow…if Warrant had any other big hits beyond Cherry Pie I can’t say for sure. Jani left the group in 1993, but returned a year later and stayed with them until 2004, although he did a reunion tour with Warrant in 2008. However, Jani’s main post-Cherry Pie activities seemed to be just drifting through the hard rock sub-culture where he did a lot of demos, a few failed solo projects, performed on tribute albums, wrote a song or two and appeared on a number of VH1 shows. He was just one of dozens of former heavy metal lead singers that were remembered for only one song, but he made himself available wherever he was needed for that one last spike of fame.
But Jani Lane’s rock n’ roll journey ended last Thursday night as many journeys do, when his lifeless body was discovered, all alone, in a Comfort Inn Hotel Room. Prescription pills and a bottle of vodka lay nearby. Jani was only 47. In the hours that followed a number of members from his hair band sub-culture began to pay tribute to him, including Slash, Bret Michaels, Nikki Sixx, Sebastian Bach and Michael Sweet, but what became painfully clear in their messages was that none of them really seemed to know him that well. Their sadness and condolences was aimed towards his family and daughter, and they realized that Jani was just another causality of the rock n’ roll lifestyle. Meanwhile, Warrant took the stage in South Dakota the following night, with Erik Turner stating “We never thought that when the song Heaven was written we would be playing it some day in the memory of Jani’s untimely death. This is a very sad day for rock and roll. One of the great things about music is that it lives on forever.”
So this Thursday I’ll wander to my local pub and throw back a cherry flavored shot for Jani Lane, and perhaps this week….just maybe….Jeffery Danger will play Cherry Pie for me.
Maybe…but I’m not counting on it.