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Remembering Warrant's Jani Lane: 1964-2011

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I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

Warrant (Jani Lane: center)

Warrant (Jani Lane: center)

The Life and Death of a "Song and Dance Man"

The body of Jani Lane, former lead singer of Warrant and reluctant poster boy for the '80s hair metal movement, was found in a Los Angeles area Comfort Inn on August 11, 2011 - a tragic and solitary end for a once-beloved performer. For better or worse, Warrant and Lane himself personified the out-of-control success - and excess - of the late 1980s L.A. rock scene. Sadly, as the "hair metal" sound fell out of favor when the 90s dawned, Lane was unable to shake the dreaded "one hit wonder" tag that had been affixed to him despite his best efforts to be recognized as a talented and versatile songwriter.

Lane was born John Kennedy Oswald in Akron, Ohio on February 1, 1964. Young John demonstrated musical skills early in his life, becoming a drummer in a local band at the age of 11. He continued drumming in various bands throughout his teenage years, but maintained an urge to move "up front" and become a vocalist/songwriter. He accomplished this with a 1983 move to Florida, where he adopted his stage name and formed the local hard rock act Plain Jane with his future Warrant bandmate Steven Sweet. Plain Jane relocated to Los Angeles in the mid '80s to take advantage of the exploding hard rock scene in the area. There they caught the attention of guitarist Erik Turner, whose own band, Warrant, was just getting off the ground. Turner invited Lane and Sweet to join Warrant and the new lineup quickly conquered the Los Angeles club circuit.

Warrant signed a deal with Columbia Records and their debut album, 1989's Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinkin' Rich, became an instant hit. The album hit the top 10 on Billboard, sold two million copies and generated the hit singles "Heaven," "Sometimes She Cries" and "Down Boys," all written by Lane. Warrant's songs were slick enough to appeal to mainstream radio and MTV listeners yet maintained a hard-rock crunch that appealed to the headbanger crowd.

Warrant's sophomore album, Cherry Pie, was an even bigger success - achieving a Billboard chart position of #7 and selling over 2 million copies in the U.S. The title track became Warrant's biggest smash and their signature song, much to the dismay of Lane, who wrote the track at the last minute under pressure from the record company to provide a "hit" single. Over the years "Cherry Pie" would become infamous for its hugely successful video, which many feel encapsulated the rampant misogyny of the hair-metal genre. Lane felt that the track overshadowed his songwriting on the rest of the album, but it didn't stop him from marrying the video's mega-babe, Bobbie Brown. Later in his career, Lane was surprisingly vocal about his apparent hatred for "Cherry Pie," famously saying "I could shoot myself in the @#$%ing head for writing that song" in a VH1 documentary. (He later took back this remark, saying that the TV producers had simply "caught him on a bad day.")

By 1992 the hair metal scene was fading due to the newly-popular "grunge" revolution and Warrant's third album, Dog Eat Dog, sold far less than its predecessors, despite it being arguably their heaviest, most mature and accomplished musical work. Lane announced that he was leaving Warrant to pursue a solo career in 1993.

"Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Dog Eat Dog (1992) / Ultraphobic (1995)

Dog Eat Dog (1992) / Ultraphobic (1995)

Struggling through the Grunge Decade...

Lane's exit from Warrant didn't last long. He re-convened with the band (now sporting some replacement members) for 1995's Ultraphobic album, a decidedly "90s" sounding disc that garnered decent reviews and a small cult following but was still a far cry from their success of just a few years prior. The alternative leanings of 1996's Belly To Belly fared even worse than Ultraphobic in the marketplace and after releasing a live album, several greatest hits compilations and a disc of cover songs, Lane left Warrant again -- seemingly for good -- in 2004. Warrant released the Born Again album in 2006 with new vocalist Jamie St. James (formerly of Black N Blue), while Lane attempted to restart his stalled solo career. By the mid '00s, however, Lane was becoming more famous for his repeated stints in rehab for alcohol and drug problems, several D.U.I. arrests (one of which resulted in a 120 day jail term) and his appearance on the VH1 reality show "Celebrity Fit Club" than for his musical endeavors. The classic Warrant lineup attempted to reunite for a 2008 concert tour that ultimately only resulted in a handful of shows before Lane was out of the band again - for the final time. Warrant has since carried on without him, releasing Rockaholic in 2011 and Louder, Harder, Faster with vocalist Robert Mason. Lane was last seen on stage in 2010 as a fill-in vocalist for the '80s band Great White while their frontman Jack Russell recovered from a surgical procedure. At the time of his death, Jani had been continuing to work on new solo material and had just taped an appearance on VH1 Classic's "That Metal Show" in July of 2011 to promote it.

The Los Angeles County medical examiner's office determined the exact cause of death to be "acute alcohol poisoning."

On a Personal Note...

I have to confess that I was a latecomer to the Warrant camp. Like a lot of so-called "true" metal heads, I barely gave the band the time of day during their late '80s rise to fame, dismissing them as just another fluff-rock act. Years later when such juvenile musical prejudices became less important to me I came across a used copy of Cherry Pie in a CD store and thought to myself, "Y'know something? That song 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' was pretty bad-ass," and bought it on a whim. Cherry Pie turned out to be a much better album than I'd expected, and since then I've acquired the bulk of the Warrant catalog and have been impressed by them all. Lane was a better songwriter than most gave him credit for, myself included, and it's a shame that he'll mainly be remembered by the masses as "the Cherry Pie Guy." Take a listen to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Mr. Rainmaker" off of Cherry Pie or "Andy Warhol Was Right" off of Dog Eat Dog and you'll see that he had much more to offer. He'll definitely be missed.

© 2011 Keith Abt

Comments

Freya GUTIERREZ on October 13, 2018:

Im so devastated i just learned of jani's passing.. Me being in a car accident in 94 my brian wasnt the same .. On that note i deadicated and played the song Heaven at my sons funeral in 91 ...and i never Thought of any other song .. But Heaven .. I didnt see him as a one hit wonder and its wrong for anyone to just think of him as the cherry pie boy

Tom from Minneapolis on April 19, 2018:

I don't think Jani was ever known as a one hit wonder. Warrant had 4 top ten hits and sold 10 million records. Just a few of their videos have nearly 100 million views on YouTube. He was a rare talent with true star quality. In my opinion he was simply WAY too good for Warrant. Those guys in reality were cookie cutter musicians who were little more than session players, if that. Jani never had somebody like a Slash, Angus Young, Richie Sambora, Jeff Beck or even a Mick Ronson to bring a unique element to the sound. Jani could outwrite almost anyone from that era but never really had great musicians around him to develop a more distinctive musical style. The songs were fantastic but the production wasn't as innovative as it could have been. The super bands of that era were all truly group efforts whereas Warrant was basically a one man show. There were literally thousands of other guys they could have pulled in off the street to produce that same guitar work but unfortunately Jani was kind of stuck with them. Axl Rose wouldn't have amounted to much of anything without Slash, Duff and Izzy producing the GnR sound. Same goes for Motley Crue, Deff Leppard or AC/DC. Even David Bowie admitted it wasn't until he found Mick Ronson that all those great early songs he had started to take shape as something special. Jani was a gifted songwriter with rare ability both as a vocalist and charismatic front man. It's a shame he never had his own "Jeff Beck" (as Bowie once put it) to catapult him to that next level of stardom. There's no telling how his career might have ended up.

GodsOfRock from United States on May 18, 2016:

I recently found Dog Eat Dog for $1.99 at Goodwill. I was shocked how enjoyable the album was. I never cared much for the their signature hits, though "I Saw Red" is a fantastic ballad on their second album.

Anna-Maria on February 02, 2016:

It's a shame people didn't see that he was a great song writer. Uncle Tom's Cabin is my number one favorite song by them. They were so underrated as a band. It's a shame they will only be remembered for the cherry pie song. I do love the song but they were more deeper then that song. Thanks for the great article maybe this will help create a few new fans to look into there music.

Carleen on August 11, 2015:

I do recall that Cherry pie was there

signature song. However what I remember most was my love of Uncle Toms cabin and ode to tipper gore only on cassete tape I believe. They were great.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on July 30, 2015:

Hi Dredd - sounds cool, I love rock n roll autobiographies, I will have to look into that one.

kethdredd on July 30, 2015:

Definitely a sad story. If you are ever in the mood for some tabloid style reading, I recommend picking up Dirty Rocker Boys by Cherry Pie's own Bobbi Brown. Pure garbage, but a fun read and some insight into Jani Lane.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 11, 2013:

Hey Thief - same here, I more or less dismissed Warrant while they were current but years after their heyday had passed I found myself enjoying their stuff more than I'd expected.

...I agree, Dog Eat Dog and Ultraphobic are both great records!!

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on August 11, 2013:

Nice hub. Despite them being dismissed as just another hair-band, I think I find myself revisiting Warrant albums a bit more than other bands of the same era. A couple of weeks ago I found myself listening to their DRFSR album repeatedly in my car, which is rare for me. I usually avoid repeating albums while driving, but I kept replaying this one two or three times. I even like a lot of songs in the lesser-known albums like Ultraphobic... and like someone else posted above, Dog Eat Dog was a good surprise.

On a related note, I saw Warrant live in 2003. Pretty good concert and the band was pretty cool afterwards during autograph signing.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 11, 2013:

Bumpin' this one because Jani passed away two years ago today. R.I.P.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on January 31, 2012:

It's certainly the one album of theirs that's aged the best.

Theocharis V from Piraeus, Greece on January 31, 2012:

I agree...Dog Eat Dog, was - maybe - their best. Voting UP!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 14, 2011:

As always, thanks for stopping by, Manny...

manny on September 14, 2011:

I am never was a fan of Warrant and still do not care for them, but what I dislike even more is someone dying so young due to their inability to conquer their demons. Despite how I feel about his music, I wish the man had remained an active artist then a dead rock star, rest in peace Jani.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 14, 2011:

Glad you enjoyed it, Justin.

Justin on August 13, 2011:

Nice post. A wonderful tribute to an amazing artist.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 13, 2011:

Appreciate it, Joker. Thanks for stopping by!

theJOKERiv on August 13, 2011:

Great post!!!!!!!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 13, 2011:

Thanx for reading Flora!

FloraBreenRobison on August 13, 2011:

I was never a metal head, but I was a teenager during Warrent's hey-day and remember them very well. (I remember grunge music, too, and I HATE it!) My favourite soing of theirs was "Heaven." Gorgeous. I remember Cherry Pie too.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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