The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Warrant's Jani Lane

For many people, Jani Lane was the ultimate hair metal frontman. In an era full of pretty, leather-clad lead singers with huge blonde manes of hair and more makeup than their swooning fans, he stood out. Chuck Klosterman wrote in Grantland that "Lane was an incredible frontman, particularly in 1989. He was loquacious and funny and famous-looking" as he fronted Warrant, a band that Klosterman goes on to note "seemed engineered for joy and hugeness." 

Jani Lane was the perfect example of a sound and look that was briefly, hugely triumphant and ubiquitous in American popular culture, only to be suddenly shut out and mocked by a new sound and look that was supposedly more "real" and "authentic" when grunge took over and eclipsed hair metal. This lead to poor album sales and poor treatment from the public, which seemingly contributed to Jani Lane's very public, long, loud, and sad fall that ultimately ended in tragedy. 

From John Kennedy Oswald to Mitch Dynamite to Jani Lane

Jani Lane's controversies started from the moment he was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1964, and his parents named him John Kennedy Oswald. According to his 2011 self-penned autobiography page, his parents were huge John F. Kennedy fans, were mourning his death, and didn't realize the significance of having the same last name as Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. They soon realized their mistake and changed their son's name to John Patrick Oswald. 

He started playing drums at age six and claims to have started playing in clubs by age 11 using the stage name "Mitch Dynamite."  At 12, he got a guitar and started writing songs, which he would do for the rest of his life. Per a 2011 interview, he and some friends moved to Florida after high school and played in a cover band called Dorian Grey. In 1985, hearing "the Sunset Strip was kicking a**," they made their way to Hollywood and started a glam punk band, Plain Jane, with Jani as lead singer. 

Because he spelled "Johnny" as "Jani," people assumed the man from Plain Jane was "Jani Lane," and he stuck with it as a stage name. Plain Jane opened for bands like Guns N' Roses but wasn't well-received — glam punk was out, glam metal was in, and bands like Poison and Warrant were getting all of the attention. Just as he was planning on moving back to Florida, he and drummer Steve Sweet were invited to join Warrant.

Warrant went unsigned on the Sunset Strip

According to the 2011 interview, Jani Lane joined Warrant as a "total sell out," explaining that as Plain Jane, "We're not getting paid. We're not getting laid. We gotta do something else." Warrant was already a popular Sunset Strip draw, but when it came to getting a record deal, "we still couldn't get a sniff." 

Poison (pictured above) was walking the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet in tuxedos — Warrant wanted to follow suit. In one of the more bizarre musical relationships of the 1980s, a manager introduced Warrant to Prince, who gave them $7,000 to record a demo for possible distribution via Prince's label Paisley Park. According to Lane, Prince's response was "the singer can't dance but go ahead and use the demo's to try somewhere else." One of the demos, the song "Game of War," ended up on the 1989 soundtrack album to the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but they remained unsigned and considered moving back to Florida. 

Months later, manager Tom Hullet, then known for his work with classic rock bands like the Moody Blues and Three Dog Night, went looking for a "hair metal" band to sign at the recommendation of Doc McGhee, famous for making stars out of Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe. Hullet took McGhee's advice signed Warrant to CBS/Columbia Records. AllMusic reports that Jani bought a Corvette with his advance and almost immediately crashed it. The Corvette was reportedly black, not little or red.

Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich

Warrant released their first album, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, in January 1989. It was a hit, eventually peaking at #10 on the Billboard Top 200 chart and reaching #28 for Billboard's top albums of 1989. It also went multiplatinum, selling two million copies, with the live longform video featuring concert performances of the album's songs selling 100,000 copies as well. It makes sense that they were so successful in both audio and video formats because their sound and look was very much of the moment. AllMusic begins their review of DRFSR by noting that, "Other bands were bigger, other bands were better, but no other group embodied the spirit of late-'80s hair metal as much as Warrant" and ends with, "It served its purpose in 1989, and years later, it sounds exactly like that year, both for better and worse.

Warrant further encapsulated the spirit of hair metal by releasing not one but two sentimental power ballads, "Sometimes She Cries" and "Heaven," the latter a fan favorite left over from Plain Jane and their highest-ever charting hit — it reached #2 on Billboard. Power ballads were emblematic of another important aspect of hair metal: They catered to women and the female gaze in a medium known for its bombastic, often toxic masculinity. As a result, AllMusic notes, "this album [sold] to a wider, largely female audience that was also enamored with frontman Jani Lane's pretty looks." 

Not so sweet Cherry Pie?

Of course, Warrant followed up Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich with an album whose title track was a notoriously over-the-top, explicit, and goofily sexist ode that managed to stand out in an era and genre known for its over-the-top, goofy sexism. Cherry Pie was released on September 11, 1990, and was another hit, also peaking at #10 on Billboard's Top 200, charting as the 21st biggest album of 1991, and going multiplatinum.

"Cherry Pie" became Warrant's signature song. The lyrics include a series of entendres that can scarcely be called double ("I mixed up the batter and she licked the beater"), and the video (banned in Canada!) features the misadventures of a grinning blonde repeatedly dropping a piece of cherry pie onto her crotch (an image also featured on the album's cover) and periodically getting hosed down by the entire band via an oversized firehose. 

In 2011, Jani Lane explained that the song was actually a last-minute addition to the album. The president of Columbia Records reportedly called him and said, "Jani, you know I'm a big Aerosmith fan ... can you give me one more track? Something kitchy and sexy like 'Love in an Elevator?'" In fact, Jani once went on record in an interview with VH1 claiming to "hate that song ... my legacy is "Cherry Pie" ... I could shoot myself in the head for writing that song," although he eventually recanted and professed love for the song on his 2011 autobiography page.

When Jani Lane saw red

Jani Lane's problems with women are another important factor when considering his wild early '90s Warrant years. During the making of Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, Jani walked in on his then-girlfriend in bed with his best friend. According to AllMusic, the event was so traumatizing that he had "a nervous breakdown" and spent time recovering in a psychiatric hospital, delaying the album's completion. Jani later used the experience to write the song "I Saw Red," which went on to be another hit single from the Cherry Pie album, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Top 200 in February 1991. 

Jani regularly discussed the autobiographical nature of the song. In a 2011 interview, he groused, "'I Saw Red' is a true story, and I still hate the b*tch. I'm sure she's doing wonderful now." Unsubstantiated rumors on fan and gossip boards such as Dry Country and Metal Sludge claim that the girlfriend in question was allegedly singer Bekka Bramlett (pictured above), and the man with whom she was cheating was Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora. Jani's ex-wife Bobbie Brown said in another 2011 interview, "I think a lot of people know and Jani had talked about how 'I Saw Red' was about his previous girlfriend Bekka Bramlett." However, Jani and Bekka remained friends throughout Jani's life – in a 2010 interview with Metal Sludge, when asked about past loves, he stated "I dated Bekka for a while, we're still very good friends," which casts some doubt on these rumors.

Mr. and Mrs. Cherry Pie

Even more notorious was Jani Lane's whirlwind courtship, marriage, and divorce of his first wife, Bobbie Brown (pictured above), who came into Jani's life when she played the pie-dropping blonde bombshell in the infamous "Cherry Pie" video. In 2011, Bobbie relayed to Legendary Rock Interviews how Jani started pursuing her after they made the video together, ignoring the fact that she was already dating Matthew Nelson of the band Nelson. Jani went on Howard Stern's radio show and reportedly announced over the air, "Matthew Nelson, I don't even care who you are or what you think. I'm gonna marry Bobbie Brown. I love her and she is the one woman in the world for me." 

In 2013, Bobbie described to the New York Post how Jani flew her to Louisiana for a concert for their first date, finally making the "match made in hair-band heaven" come true. Four months later, the couple was expecting a baby. They decided to marry in July 1991 and welcomed their daughter Taylar in early 1992. Unfortunately, the problems started soon after. Bobbie told the New York Post, "I loved Jani, but he drank a lot and he could be mean when he was drinking. When I found out he was cheating on me, I couldn't forgive that. And I left him." The perfect hair metal couple's union was as flashy and fleeting as the rise and fall of hair metal itself.

Dog Eat Dog: a title that signaled what was to come

In August 1992, Warrant released their third album, Dog Eat Dog. It was relatively successful, going Gold by October by selling half a million copies, but it was nowhere near the triumphs of their first two records, and the only charting single was a cover of Queen's "We Will Rock You," which peaked at #83 on Billboard's Top 200. Much has been made about how grunge music killed off hair metal. Louder called out Alice in Chains' (pictured above) 1990 album Facelift as the "first grunge album to hit big," and Jani Lane had his own Alice in Chains story that neatly summed up hair metal's dramatic eclipse. 

Encyclopedia.com quotes an interview with Lane from Musician magazine in which he recalls a marketing meeting with the president of Columbia Records for Cherry Pie: "The first time I walked into the office, and I remember seeing this gigantic poster of our album cover on the wall above the secretary's desk. I thought, 'Wow, I guess we're gonna get a push on this one.'" When he returned a year later to discuss promoting Dog Eat Dog, however, priorities had changed: "I'll never forget walking into [Columbia President] Don Lenner's office seeing this huge poster of Alice in Chains' Dirt over his secretary's desk. And I thought, 'Hello Seattle ... good-bye Warrant.'" In 1993, Jani left Warrant for the first of many times to pursue a solo career, but he was back by the end of the year.

Tough times and ugly stints for Jani Lane

Jani Lane and Warrant were still working from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, but things were "tough," according to his 2011 autobiographical page. Dropped by Columbia, Warrant made four albums for independent label CMC between 1995 and 2001, none of which sold well or charted at all. In 1993, Jani started working on his Jabberwocky project, to which he periodically returned throughout the rest of his life. At one point, bootlegged versions of Jabberwocky's songs sold on eBay for over $100. Jani married his second wife, actress Rowanne Brewer, in 1995. They had a daughter, Madison, and were married until 2005, although on his autobiographical page, Jani mentions the divorce in the same sentence in which he reports, "I left Warrant in '02 due to business differences."  

In 2003, he released a power-pop solo album, Back Down To One, which, according to Loundwire, "tanked." He then entered rehab for alcohol abuse. 2004 was another hard year, and Jani spent much of it in the spotlight, working out his personal problems in front of an often unsympathetic audience. Steven Blush recounted for Spin Jani's "ugly stint" on VH1's Celebrity Fit Club, where he appeared bloated from drinking, as well as his short time on the Bad Boys of Metal tour, which he quit after just a few shows, "bawling that people had come to laugh at him." He even faced legal action from his former band when he attempted to start his own version of Warrant.

"I am Jani Lane"

Jani Lane's alcohol addiction continued to hurt him right up to the end of his life. Louder reported that he rejoined Warrant in 2008, but his lack of sobriety caused problems, and he was back out again in six months. 2009 brought an arrest for driving under the influence that led to a sentence of three years' probation, and according to Spin, he was sentenced to 120 days in jail for another DUI in 2010. Nevertheless, there were some good moments during this time. Also in 2010, he joined fellow former hair metal superstars Great White on tour, about which the band's guitarist Mark Kendall told Louder, "Jani was a complete professional. He was never late, and the fans were saying he hadn't looked or sounded so good in 20 years." He also announced on his autobiography page in 2011 that he had married "the love of my life," third wife Kimberly Nash.

The good times didn't last. 

On August 11, 2011, Jani Lane was found dead of acute alcohol poisoning in a Woodland Hills, California, Comfort Inn at just 47 years old. He had no identification, save for a note in his pocket that read "I Am Jani Lane." His sister Vicky told Radar Online, "Alcoholism is not something he chose. It's something he fought everyday and it just won." 

Did Jani Lane drink to forget a painful event?

In 2020, information came to light that may, in part, explain why Jani Lane turned to alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. While promoting her new book Cherry On Top, a sequel to her 2013 tell-all Dirty Rocker Boys, Bobbie Brown told Fox News that toward the end of his life, Jani had confided in her that he had been drugged and sexually assaulted by another metal band and their manager early in his career. When she encouraged him to speak up and go public, he refused. In the interview, Bobbie relayed, "That affected him greatly his whole life. It was part of the reason he drank. It's sad really." 

Bobbie's story is possibly corroborated by a 2004 recording obtained by Metal Sludge in which Jani is heard saying, "I don't care. I've been divorced, married, raped, I don't care," in response to a question about feuding with Warrant after leaving the band. A "tipster" then came forward to Metal Sludge and reported, "This actually happened and was very traumatic for him. He shared it with me one Thanksgiving at my house." Reportedly, the website reached out to a second source, who "also confirmed this to be true." 

As Jani Lane is no longer with us and can't speak for himself, we'll never know the full story, but if it is true, it just highlights the importance of believing and supporting sexual assault victims and offering care and treatment rather than shame and judgement.