Remembering Warrant's Jani Lane: 1964-2011
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"
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 the Rockaholic album in 2011 with new 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. Lane leaves behind a wife and two children from previous marriages. After an autopsy, 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 several of their other releases (including the mostly-hated Ultraphobic and Dog Eat Dog) 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.
Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich - Columbia, 1989
Cherry Pie - Columbia, 1990
Dog Eat Dog - Columbia, 1992
Ultraphobic - CMC, 1995
Belly To Belly - CMC, 1996
The Best of Warrant - Columbia, 1996
Rocking Tall - Columbia, 1996
Warrant Live 86-97 - CMC, 1997
Greatest & Latest - Deadline, 1999
Under the Influence - Downboyrecords, 2001
Then and Now - Sanctuary, 2004
Born Again - Deadline/Cleopatra, 2006
Rockaholic - Frontiers, 2011