By Mitch Lafon
After numerous health issues and a sudden departure from the band that brought him fame (GREAT WHITE), JACK RUSSELL has recruited a new cast of characters for a summer jaunt that will criss-cross the US and hopefully will lead to a new album. BraveWords.com sat down with the singer who's been bitten many times, but ain't shy to chat about his plans for 2012 and beyond.
BraveWords.com: Let’s focus on the positive, the new band and new tour.
Jack Russell: “I’m sick of rehashing all the same stuff anyways. There’s been enough stuff thrown back and forth. I never wanted to be into the mud slinging stuff anyway. Unfortunately, when I told people my side of the story they thought I was slinging mud, but I was just telling what happened. The whole thing made me sad and it really is sad when you think about it. I sit here a lot and think about the early days when Mark and I started out. He’d be at my parents house and we’d do these fake interviews with a little cassette player. ‘How’d the band get together?’ It was just so much fun in those days and it’s weird that it all came to this.”
BraveWords.com: You’ve been off the road for a while because of health issue. How did the new band come together?
Russell: “These are the guys that I’ve been practicing with for my solo project, JACK RUSSELL AND THE SHELTER DOGS. I’ve been working on it for years with my guitar player, Matthew Johnson. I knew him from my ex-brother-in-law and we met back in ’89. We started working together and decided that when I did my first solo record in ’96 (Shelter Me) that he’d be part of it. He’d be my guitarist and we were going to write together, so that’s how I met Matt. He also played with Great White when Mark (Kendall) had quit. We’d been talking about the ‘Shelter Dogs’ things forever and we’d been trying to put a band together while I was recuperating (just to have it for a side thing). My drummer Derrick (Pontier) had also played with Great White for a number of years and knew the bass player, Dario Seixas (ex-FIREHOUSE). He also knew a guitarist named Robby (Lochner). Robby wasn’t supposed to be in the band because we wanted a keyboard player, but that didn’t work out so I decided to give Robby a shot. He can play all the piano parts on his guitar. So, I thought, ‘okay, we have a band here.’ We jammed. We worked on some songs and then that ‘little thing’ came up at Delzano’s in Redondo Beach (a pre-Namm show thing). We got 4/5th of the guys together and we jammed a few songs, but prior to that is when this (Great White) all blew up, so I asked these guys, ‘hey, do you want to do this Great White thing with me?’ And they said, ‘hell yeah!’ Instant band, you know.”
BraveWords.com: How are you physically these days? There are some YouTube clips of you in a wheelchair and you looked really ill. Are you better?
Russell: “I hope so. I’ve been on the road.”
BraveWords.com: But are you on the road simply for the pay cheque or are you able to perform?
Russell: “No no... I’m doing my gig. I’m doing my thing. I’m not as active as I used to be, but at 51 years old it looks a little silly anyway to be running all over the place like a mad man. I’m moving as much as I want to and I’m still doing my mic stand spins. I’m feeling really good, man. Obviously, there’s been some damage to my body that is not ever going to come back. I’ve got a lot of back problems now, but that’s just back problems. My father had them. I have them, so it is what it is. I get around as well as I need to. I don’t have any problems. I walk with a cane, but I don’t need it on stage.”
BraveWords.com: You mentioned before that you were ‘working on songs’. What is the plan for new music and a new album?
Russell: “Right now, we’re just in the writing stage. We have some stuff in the can (just demos). We haven’t played it for anybody yet. They’re just for us, but the stuff we’re writing sounds really good. It sounds like Great White.”
BraveWords.com: So, it would be in the same vein as classic Great White and, now, as a solo artist you’re not going to redefine what you do?
Russell: “Well, I’m not really a solo artist, but that depends on your perspective I guess and it’s up to the legal department to figure out.”
BraveWords.com: I want to stay away from the legal stuff, but let’s just say that musically you want to make a Great White album...
Russell: “With my voice on it and with the way I write, it can’t help but to sound like a Great White album. Even my first solo album, Shelter Me, was reminiscent of a Great White album. I don’t know if you’ve heard it...”
BraveWords.com: I bought and I’ve bought all your stuff...
Russell: “Oh, okay so you know that it was reminiscent of a Great White record. There’s no escaping that you know. I would assume you agree.”
BraveWords.com: Sure, but at that time Great White has stopped existing. You had done the ‘Thank You... Goodnight!’ CD and you were moving on as a solo artist.
Russell: “Yeah, I had gotten tired of it all. John Kalodner had offered us another record deal which I turned down, but I didn’t tell the guys at that time. I told John just to say that he didn’t really want to do the deal because I didn’t want anybody getting upset, but I just didn’t feel like doing any more Great White stuff at the time. I didn’t feel that the music that we had at that moment would have held up to the last album. ‘Can’t Get There From Here’, to me, is one of my all-time favorite Great White albums. It is just an amazing record (sonically, song wise, vocally, Mark’s guitar playing, and everything). There were a lot of elements on that record that really stood out to me and the stuff we came up with for the following record wasn’t quite up to snuff. So, I felt that I just really didn’t want to do it. I said to the guys, ‘I’m just going to go do my solo thing,’ so we just put an end to the band.”
BraveWords.com: Eventually, you end up touring again under the banner of Great White. You recorded a show for a live album at The Palms In Las Vegas for Sidewinder Music. Will it ever be released?
Russell: “I think they (Sidewinder) burned a bunch of people if I’m correct. If I’m not, forgive me. I don’t even know where those masters are. That was never released because of a problem with the label, but I really don’t know.”
BraveWords.com: Mark Kendall is a great guitarist and one of rock’s great unsung heroes. Lawsuits and other stuff aside, what does Mark mean to you?
Russell: “Mark is a great guitar player. He’s really soulful. He’s got a good sense of melody. He’s not a blistering player, but he’s doesn’t need to be. He choses his notes wisely. He’s got a great sense of music and is just a great musical person. He probably farts in tune (laughs). If he wasn’t that good of a guitar player, I wouldn’t have played with him all those years. I could have had my pick of anybody, you know.”
BraveWords.com: Do you miss playing with him and does the possibility that you may never play with him again bother you?
Russell: “Well, of course I do. How could it not? I wouldn’t have sat here waiting to get back in the band all this time and putting up with people not calling me and all that kind of stuff if it wasn’t for the fact that I love playing with the guy. We started this whole thing a long time ago. I was seventeen years old when I met Mark. I have a lot of vivid memories of our shared experiences. How can any real person (who calls themselves human) not reminisce, miss that and hold that to be very dear? Regardless of what’s happened recently, I’ll always love him. I’ll always have love for Mark. He’s a fantastic player and we were really good friends.”
BraveWords.com: It’s a shame as you celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band...
Russell: “Well, I’m not celebrating it. There is no 30th anniversary as far as I’m concerned.”
BraveWords.com: Are you amazed that Great White/you were able to last thirty years in the music business. That’s an exceptionally rare and difficult thing to do...
Russell: “Well, yeah and Great White hasn’t actually stayed consistent for thirty years. The fact is we disbanded for awhile. There’s been different variations of Great White. The one constant has been myself. The music is still valid regardless of whether we broke up and got back together again. The fact is that the music is still here. Both entities are able to tour right now with success and what happens in the future is up to God at this point. I’m not surprised though because as far as our music goes (the albums I’m speaking about are obviously one through eleven)... The music has stood the test of time and there’s something about the songs that is timeless. ‘Rock Me’ sounds as valid to me on the radio today as it did when I first heard it coming over the airwaves when I was younger. The band with time has grown and diversified. We stretched out and went every which way, but we stayed true to ourselves musically. We’ve done a lot of experimentation with our records over the years from ‘Shot In The Dark’ (which is very keyboard-y) to ‘Rising’ (which was a very eclectic record). There’s was a little bit of everything on ‘Rising’.”
BraveWords.com: Are you happy with ‘Rising’? Fans responded mostly tepidly to it...
Russell: “Well, it was a little flaccid/ soft maybe, but still I thought the tunes were beautiful. It wasn’t a balls out rock record, but the songs were beautiful. I think you get songs like 'Situation'… There was a lot of mellower stuff, but I’m not embarrassed by it or less proud. It wasn’t a full blown Great White rock album.”
BraveWords.com: Recently, you were quoted as saying something not so nice about Alan Niven and the next day you apologized. Putting that aside, what does Alan Niven mean to you, your career and Great White?
Russell: “Alan was a good songwriter. He wrote with us a lot. He was a great manager at the time and he had some really good ideas. He helped us to ‘come to fruition.’”
BraveWords.com: He also brought a lot of cover songs to the band. He brought you THE ANGELS’ ‘Face The Day’ and IAN HUNTER’s ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L_y9isEBCs)...
Russell: “Well, ‘Face The Day’... I remember sitting at the Capitol offices with Kick Van Hengle (he was the head of International at the time). He was playing The Angels’ album and I remember thinking, ‘God I got to do this song.’ I don’t know if that was a set up or not by Alan, but the song was so me when I heard the lyrics. It was perfect.”
BraveWords.com: There was a time in your past where you were accused of shooting another person. Have you made peace with yourself and the person involved?
Russell: “That was many years ago and it was a drug thing. I was in a blackout when it happened. I don’t want to get into the details, but it was a tragic thing. Nobody was killed. That’s all history and my life has been an open book. I’ve always talked about it very openly. I just hope somebody can learn from my mistakes and not have to go through those things... I’ve always openly talked about my addictions and what they’ve done to my life. Hopefully, somebody won’t have to tread that same path.”
BraveWords.com: It’s been said that ‘once an addict always an addict.’ I’m assuming you’re sober now, but is it hard to resist those passed temptations?
Russell: “Not at all. I’m so over it. I got sober in 1992 and I was sober until 2000. I went out over a really bad divorce that came out of nowhere. It took me to my knees or I would have still been sober today. I am sober now, but I mean I would have stayed sober until now (the whole time). Like in ’92, I’m so over it today. I’m done and what it was doing to my life... If I had nine lives, I’ve done spent eight of them. I’m the Evel Knievel of rock n’ roll.”
BraveWords.com: Let’s get off the negative stuff - when can fans expect a new album?
Russell: “I’m hoping to have something absolutely out by year’s end. That’s what we’re working towards. We may do a live album and release it for free because you make a record and people just download it anyway. So, what the hell? We may as well just give it away. My whole point right now is that I want people to hear new music. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about making a trillion dollars. It’s about wanting to express yourself through your music.”
For more about Jack Russell and his music visit Jacksgreatwhite.com