GREAT WHITE Frontman Jack Russell - "It’s Our 25th Anniversary Next Year And I’m Trying To Pull The Original Guys Back Together Again”
May 14, 2006, 10 years ago
Special report by Mitch Lafon
It’s been nearly 25 years that GREAT WHITE has dotted the musical landscape with their own unique style of hard American blues rock, but before those celebrations begin lead singer Jack Russell reveals his softer side on his new album “For You” (on Sidewinder / sidewinder-music.com). I recently sat down with Jack to discuss his latest offering as well as Great White’s future.
Mitch Lafon: Let’s talk about the new album, For You. What can you tell me about it?
Jack Russell: “Well, for me it’s a step in a different direction from Great White. Great White is it’s own entity and I want it to remain so. I don’t want to convolute it or confuse it with something different. This was an opportunity for me to go outside that box. It’s more of a top 40 adult contemporary album. It’s soft spoken, but it has some elements of Great White that’s always going to be there no matter what I do because I’m such an integral part of the writing process for the band.”
ML: ... and the voice
JR: “And the voice as well – of course. But it’s a different direction and it’s a lot more introspective... the lyrical content is about my personal life and my emotional state at that point in time. It’s one of my favorite albums I’ve ever done and actually it’s my favorite vocal album I’ve ever done.”
ML: Was it by design to be so mellow and laid back or did it just turn out that way?
JR: “For me and the style of writing I do, I just let records take on a life of their own... they tend to do that anyways. You start writing songs and if it’s a good song you record it and if it’s not you throw it away. So, each record develops itself as you’re going along. I never sit down and go ‘I need a mellow song. I need a rock song. I need a mid-tempo song.’ I never do that. I just write and write until I feel I have an album’s worth of material that works all together.”
ML: It is a good album...
JR: “You know I really love and it’s not just because it’s mine. If I heard this album from somebody else – I’d buy it. There’s some good songs on there and the singer is pretty good (laughs).”
ML: Is this the end of ‘Jack’ solo albums or...
JR: “No! I was just working with Billy Sherwood and we talked about doing another record. I’ll probably get it done sometime this year and we’re planning on doing another band (Great White) album as well... with the original members.”
ML: Great White’s original members?
JR: “Yeah! It’s our 25th anniversary next year and I’m trying to pull the original guys back together again.”
ML: Wow! Let’s get back to that in a minute – let’s finish ‘Jack’ first... Do you have material written for a third album?
JR: “No, I’ve got ideas, but once Billy and I get together it’ll just fly. The writing process with him and I is just amazing. Ideas come flying out of nowhere... we were writing almost a song a day.”
ML: What kind of sound would you want on a third album? Rock it out or do the same thing....
JR: “I don’t know. It’ll develop on its own. Once we start writing, we’ll see where it takes us. I like the area we were in on this last record. It was fun and different... I think to do a rock record would be pointless. If I was to do that I might as well just do it with the band (Great White).”
ML: Will you tour for the solo album or sneak in a few songs during Great White’s set?
JR: “I don’t know at this point. I’d like to do a couple of months on my own.”
ML: So, let’s talk Great White - the 25th anniversary reunion tour and album. You’ve got Live At The Palms coming out and ‘Once Bitten Twice Live’ (live at the Galaxy in 2001).
JR: “ ‘Live At The Palms’ is a DVD that is going to be coming out at some point and ‘Once Bitten Twice Live’ (on Sidewinder/ sidewinder-music.com) was the last farewell concert we did before I left the band to go do my solo thing and having no intention of ever doing Great White again until I was away from it for a year and went ‘God, I really miss it.’ I thought I didn’t want to do that rock ‘n roll stuff anymore, but after being away from it for a year I was like ‘what was I thinking? I got to go rock, man!’”
ML: Let’s talk about the live album first... good performance?
JR: “Great performance and a really good record. And another cool thing about it is that there’s a couple of songs that you can only get on the live album, but I believe we’ll take the two songs that are on there and record them for the next record. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity until now. They’re great songs and deserve to be heard in both live and studio formats.”
ML: So, the 25th anniversary – the plan is to get all the originals back...
JR: “Yeah! I talked to Michael Lardie (keyboards/guitar) the other day and he’s into doing it. I just want to get hold of Tony Montana (bass) and Audie Desbrow (drums). I think that would be very special for our 25th anniversary tour to have the same guys... we haven’t played together for a long long time. Tony Montana has been out of the band since 1992.”
ML: Have you even talked to those guys?
JR: “Yeah, Tony jammed with us up in Seattle. He was up there on some business and happened to come to the show so we threw him up on stage. I haven’t talked to Audie in a while though. I imagine I can get a hold of him and say ‘hey, what’s up?’ There’s been some disagreements here and there, but the way I look at it – the past is the past. I don’t hold on to grudges – that’s not the type of person I am. Everyday is a new a day and I don’t try to carry the baggage of my past with me... it’s just too heavy.”
ML: Let’s just hope they don’t hold grudges...
JR: “Well, if they do - there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll just say ‘look – here’s an opportunity to have some fun and make money – so let’s go out and shake it up for awhile.’ If you want to – great! And if not, oh, well. I know Michael wants to, and Mark (Kendall) and myself – so if nothing else you’ll have the frontmen playing.”
ML: It’ll be nice to have Michael Lardie back...
JR: “It will – I miss him... I miss him. I really do. I really miss him and unfortunately when I stopped doing my solo thing and started doing Great White again – I had my solo band already out there and I figured we’ll just call Mark and that will be the band and we’ll just keep the tour rolling and then the fire happened...”
ML: Let me ask you a question about the Station fire – not to turn somber or anything...
JR: “It’s alright.”
ML: The tour manager, Dan Biechele, is facing ten years in jail....(writer’s note – since the interview Dan Biechele was handed down a 15 year jail sentence – four to be served and eleven suspended.) What are your thoughts about that?
JR: “I don’t think anybody in that situation... (pauses) nothing good ever comes out of something like that... you can blame this and blame that, but I don’t know if that even matters at this point. Nothing is going to bring the people back. It was a horrible tragedy and I don’t think anybody meant for that to happen. Nobody maliciously said ‘let’s do this and plan this out.’ You know, it was a horrible accident and I don’t know at what point you decide to say ‘let’s forgive and forget.’ You can’t forget and whether you can forgive or not is up to the victims and their families... I don’t blame anyone per say... there were some bad decisions made... and there were some inspections that... obviously after the forensics report... some things went overlooked... like the fire department didn’t notice the foam... had they noticed it you know maybe this wouldn’t have happened... if the foam wasn’t there... it wouldn’t have happened... you can go back to where the first domino fell, but I mean... (pauses) it’s just horrible for everybody involved. I feel badly for everyone.”
ML: When it happened – you took some time off, but eventually went back on the road and part of the touring money went to the Station Family Fund...
JR: “All the profits...”
ML: Is that something, you’re still doing?
JR: “No. The Station Family Fund and the band agreed last year that it was time to part ways. They wanted to go in a different direction... they wanted to go corporate and I think they were afraid that the involvement of the band might hinder them in some way. So, we decided it was best to part ways, but we’re always there for them. If they ever need anything from us, they know all they have to do is call. We support them however we can, but at this point we are no longer involved with that charity.”
ML: And you personally – you see Dan is facing 10 years in jail. He’s recently married his high school sweetheart...
JR: “He married Mandy? I didn’t know that. I haven’t spoken to Dan in so long.”
ML: He was working for a flooring company... Do you feel any guilt or do you think you should be facing anything?
JR: “That’s a tough question to ask...”
ML: and I’m sorry for asking it...
JR: “The guilt I feel is more like... I feel badly because people came to see us play and they got killed or hurt. It’s the guilt you’d feel if an earthquake were to happen... this was out of my hands. If I could have done something... This kept me awake night after night for the longest time... trying to figure out was there something I could have done or said that would have stopped this from happening? And the answer was ‘no’... unequivocally ‘no’. I walk on stage and sing... that’s what I do and anything else is out of my hands. That’s just the black and white of it.”
ML: I’m sorry for asking that...
JR: “No, that’s ok.”
ML: Let’s go back to the 25th anniversary reunion... Is that the parting shot?
JR: “I hope not. This is still fun for me. I’ve always said that when it stops being fun, I’ll hang it up and this is why I took this year off. I told the guys I don’t want to tour this year. We had a tour planned, but I just wanted to take a break and come back next year with a 25th anniversary tour and we can take time to do another record. I want to get into the studio and do another album and do another solo album. If I’m touring all summer, it won’t give me an opportunity to do that and we haven’t had a studio album since 1999 and that’s the longest this band has gone without recording a studio album. So, it’s time for a new one, but with the tragedy happening it wasn’t like ‘oh, let’s write an album’... it’s been three years and I’m starting to feel like life is almost back to normal (in a sense) because it’ll never be normal like it was before. The longer things go the more normal your life gets...”
ML: So, would this be a reunion album or an album with the guys you have now?
JR: “Don’t know yet. I know myself, Michael and Mark will be working on it though. I don’t know if the other guys will be included or not. We haven’t thought about that or talked to them about it yet. So, I don’t really know at this point.”
ML: Let’s hope they’re part of it...
JR: “Yeah! That would be fun.”
ML: What kind of tour are you going to do? A full year? Package tour or a few select dates?
JR: “I’d like to do a full tour, but we’ll see what happens. I don’t know if it’ll include a package or just us doing weekend warrior dates. Whatever makes sense, but we’ll have to wait till that time and see what transpires.”
ML: Is it just a reunion tour then back to the band you have now or do you want to go on with a reunited Great White?
JR: “Well, yeah! I would to keep the band together if we could. That would be fun. I think if I’m going to go through the trouble of getting everybody back together again and make peace with certain people... I think why not just keep it like that?”
ML: Who’s going to be the toughest person to make peace with?
JR: “Probably Audie. Me and him had some serious words and some disagreements you know and that kind of stuff leads to emotional scaring. He said some bad things about me and I said some bad things about him and I’m over it, but I don’t know how he feels... it’s weird you know because he’s actually my oldest friend. I was in a band with him before I even met Mark.”
ML: Sounds like you might owe Audie dinner or something...
JR: “Yeah – something, uh? (Laughs)”
ML: You might just want to call him up and say ‘let’s go’
JR: “There was a lot of stuff said in the press by him and I never said anything bad about him in the press. Our words were private and I’ve always kept our problems our own problems. I never mentioned any issues we had in public, but unfortunately he took a different turn, but whatever... I’m over it.”
ML: Now, the other project on the back burner is the acoustic show Live At The Palms.
JR: “Yeah, it’s acoustic. It was two guitars (Mark and Tyler) and myself. I don’t know when they’ll be releasing it, but hopefully soon. I watched it the other night for the first time since we did it and it’s really really good. I was impressed. I’m overly critical of myself and when we did the show I thought I did ‘ok’ that night, but when I watched the DVD I went ‘boy, I was really good that night’ (laughs). So, I was pretty impressed and I think people will get a kick out of it. There was a lot of story telling and letting people have a little more insight about where certain songs came from and how they were written and what they’re about... so it was more than just a sit down and play. Sidewinder/Immortal own that and I have no clue when they’ll be putting it out, but I’m anxiously awaiting news because we haven’t had a DVD out... actually it wasn’t even a DVD it was a big LaserDisc.”
ML: So, no touring at all this year?
JR: “We’re doing a couple of shows – one in Brazil with GUNS N' ROSES and one in Puerto Rico with Poison then we’re playing in Trinidad with somebody. That’s it because I really want to spend the time focusing on recording some albums.”
ML: Like we said – the band’s been around 25 years – what do you think it was about Great White that has kept the fans coming back?
JR: “ I don’t know. I think there’s an honesty about the music. We’ve never tried to be anything, but what we are. We’ve never made excuses.”
ML: So, what are you?
JR: “We’re just a rock ‘n roll band, man. We’re the two keg backyard party have a good time enjoy yourself rock ‘n roll band. We don’t take ourselves that seriously. I like to write a good song and sing a good lyric, but I’m not trying to change people’s political views or their spiritual views.”
ML: Regardless of who’s playing on the next CD – what kind of album do you want to make? Classic Great White or something more contemporary...
JR: “Nah, it’ll be rock. Great White is what it is. We never try to step out of our box and say ‘ok, let’s be something else because this is current and cool and hip.’ That’s just selling out and I would never do that. If nobody buys the record, I still want to be able to listen to it and like it.”
ML: So, no nu-metal rap rock for you?
JR: “Ah, no... none of that. We never would – a Great White album is always going to sound like Great White. Of course, it’ll develop if you look at our first record and ‘Can’t Get There From Here’ there’s a huge difference from where the band went, but it’s still the same kind of band... it’s just that the songwriting got better and hopefully the performances got better you know. Hopefully, the next record will be another step above ‘Can’t Get There From Here’ which to me is my favorite overall record. It’s the most representative of the band. I love that album – it’s just real simple production, took twenty-eight days to record it, no stress, just banged it out and had a good time.”
ML: Well, I’m glad to see things are moving forward and you’re not another victim of the ‘80s...
JR: “Nah, we do it ‘cause we have fun. That’s the whole reason you play. My reason for playing music is still the same it was twenty-five to thirty years ago when I started doing this. It’s because I really enjoy it and if I can make some money at it... great! If not, I’d still do it anyways you know.”
ML: Anything else to plug –
JR: “The official site – www.mistabone.com”