Sadly, late last night Jani Lane, former Warrant lead vocalist & main songwriter, was found dead in a hotel room in Woodland Hills, California. As of this writing, the cause of death had not been determined but a bottle of vodka and prescription pills were found in his room and it’s been said the authorities are treating his death as an accidental overdose. It’s no secret that Jani has been battling his addictions for many years. On more than one occasion it even seemed like he had won the fight only to relapse some time later.
Born John Kennedy Oswald in Akron, Ohio on February 1, 1964, Jani was exposed to music at an early age by his brother Eric who played guitar. At age 4 Jani was an amateur drummer and by the age of 11 he was playing in clubs as “Mitch Dynomite” and drumming for various bands. He continued to do this all throughout high school but soon decided he would rather be a singer and songwriter instead of a drummer. After graduating high school, Jane played in a few bands in Ohio (still drumming) before relocating to Florida in 1983 where after another stint as a drummer he formed the band Plain Jane with future Warrant drummer Steven Sweet.
Lane & Sweet later moved to Los Angeles still using the Plain Jane name and playing the local club circuit until running across Warrant guitarist Erik Turner in 1986 when they were then invited to join the band.
Rightfully or wrongfully, Jani Lane was known as and will always be remembered as “the ‘Cherry Pie’ guy”. At one time, that was a distinction that Jani loathed. He detested the song and hated himself for ever having written it because he knew that he and Warrant had so much more to offer the world than just one song written literally in a matter of minutes at the behest of some music execs. Warrant was not a one-hit wonder. Though “Sometimes She Cries” and “I Saw Red” were radio hits, the band had massive success with the power ballad “Heaven” in 1989 (which actually charted higher than “Cherry Pie” ever did) but it was in 1990 that “Cherry Pie” hit the airwaves and MTV and went on to become one of the essential and best loved songs of its genre and era. Loaded with innuendo, the song and the accompanying music video (featuring Bobbi Brown, model & future wife of Jani’s) helped push Warrant into a bigger spotlight.
With the rise of grunge and the stagnation of the pop-metal scene, Warrant found themselves “only” selling roughly 500,000 copies of 1992’s Dog Eat Dog (compared the double platinum sales of both 1988’s Dirty Rotten Stinking Filthy Rich and 1990’s Cherry Pie album). That’s a feat that I think is pretty impressive considering the musical climate at the time. Funny how in ’92 going gold was considered a disappointment whereas today that’s a success story. Dog Eat Dog was the band’s final major label release and Jani would leave the group in March 1993.
For more than a year the band sat in limbo until Jani returned in the fall of 1994. Faced with a shrinking fan base, a changing culture, music snobs and a lack of interest from the major labels, the band spent the mid ’90s in confusion. They managed to release two studio albums during this time — Ultraphobic (1995) and Belly to Belly (1996) on the independent CMC International label (which for a few years was a safe-haven for ’80s rockers). Both have been unfairly overlooked and while they feature a band perhaps trying too hard to fit in with the times, I still think they are solid efforts and serve as a testament to Jani’s songwriting abilities.
In the late ’90s/early 2000s, hair bands became a nostalgic treat for many people and many summer package tours were being put together and music magazines such as Metal Edge and music channel VH1 were paying slightly more attention to ’80s rockers. Warrant was one of the main bands to reap the towards of this mini-comeback and though they did not release a studio album of new original material during this time (a missed opportunity, in my opinion) they released the live album Warrant Live 86-97 in 1997, Greatest & Latest in 1999 (re-recordings of their biggest hits with a few unreleased tracks) and an album of covers called Under the Influence in 2001. It was also during this time that Jani Lane was working on a solo project called Jabberwocky which has not yet seen the light of day (and now may never) although he did release an unrelated solo album called Back Down to One in 2003.
Sadly, Under the Influence would be the last album Jani recorded as a member of Warrant. Personal and business matters would force Jani to leave the group for a second time in 2004. After a four-year run with Black N’ Blue vocalist Jaime St. James (where they released Born Again in 2006), Lane returned to the group in January 2008 but by September of that same year he left yet again with both sides agreeing they were better off without each other. Unlike the split in 2004, this final exit seemed to be a bit more amicable. Robert Mason (Big Cock vocalist/ex-Lynch Mob vocalist) would go on to join Warrant, touring with the band and recording the excellent Rockaholic which was released earlier this year.
Outside of Warrant, in the last decade Jani kept busy writing songs for himself & other artists, touring solo, appearing on various tribute albums and even was on a season of VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club. In 2008, a side-project called Saints of the Underground (featuring Lane, Bobby Blotzer, Robbie Crane & Kerri Kelli) released the album Love the Sin, Hate the Sinner which also went unnoticed but was a great mix of ’80s hard rock with a modern feel.
In the summer of 2010, Jani began filling in as vocalist for Great White at live shows while lead singer Jack Russell recovered from surgery. It was during this time that Great White played a show with Warrant and by all accounts everyone was cordial and got along even if the situation was a bit awkward.
There will be much speculation until an official autopsy is released but there is no question that Jani was a very talented man who was held back by his addictions and the fact that he could never completely sober up. After all these years of abuse, it’s really amazing that his voice still held up. Even as late as last year, he was still pulling it off live (though years ago there were times that he would take the stage drunk and stumble and slur his way through shows) and was he personable and entertaining. Just imagine what he could have accomplished without all of the vices.
I’ve always said Jani was the best songwriter from the pop-metal field. Amazing lyricist. His ballads are second-to-none. He could obviously write the fun, brain-dead, sex-fueled song when he wanted to (or was told to) but “Sometimes She Cries”, “I Saw Red”, “Blind Faith”, “Let It Rain” and “Stronger Now” are all fantastic and some of my favorite ballads from ANY band. Those songs show a much deeper, thoughtful side.
Jani was much more than “the ‘Cherry Pie’ guy” to me. I know there are plenty of people who don’t like Warrant. For whatever reason, they seem to be one of the least respected of the major glam-metal bands but just because Jani’s dead I’m not going to sit here and now say that they were a Top 5 of All Time band for me. They weren’t. But I’ve always liked Warrant a lot. They were one of the first glam bands I became a fan of and I have often found hope, inspiration and entertainment in Jani’s lyrics.
Like most of the millions of mourning today, I did not know Jani personally but other than his addictions and the actions caused by them (such as drunk driving), I can’t recall ever really hearing or reading anything negative about him. Sure, egos explode and bands implode but from every interview I’ve read or live clip I’ve seen of the guy, he always came across as a really likable, charming, fun-loving guy who enjoyed performing. It’s heartbreaking to think that his final night on earth was spent with pills and alcohol alone in a hotel room. Obviously, for that situation to occur, there is a bigger, darker story at play but I’ll leave that to his family and close friends to ponder and investigate as it is none of my business. As for myself, I can only say that we lost a great musician much too soon and much too needlessly.