RUSSELL / GUNS Vocalist JACK RUSSELL – “I Tried To Put Myself In The Song”

March 9, 2024, 4 months ago

By Aaron Small

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RUSSELL / GUNS Vocalist JACK RUSSELL – “I Tried To Put Myself In The Song”

“It took me a while to really get behind it, which is good for me cause when I like a record immediately, I tend to burn out on it real quick,” begins Great White vocalist Jack Russell, speaking about Medusa, available now via Frontiers Music. Medusa is the debut album from the collaboration between Russell and L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns, appropriately named Russell / Guns. “When it takes me a little while to get hooked by it, then it sticks with me a long time; it’s one of those records I’ll always like. I really am happy with it. I’m happy with everybody’s playing. Tracii’s guitar playing is phenomenal. My voice came out pretty good. It’s a good, solid record.”

The Medusa album came about in a very different way. It wasn’t like Jack and Tracii bumped into each other at The Rainbow and decided to make a record together. In fact, it was Italian record label Frontiers Music and keyboardist Alexandro del Vecchio (Jorn, Revolution Saints, Edge Of Forever) that brought Russell and Guns together. They had 11 songs ready to go and were looking to form a project in order to release them. Jack and Tracii seemed like the appropriate singer and six-stringer. 

Russell picks it up from there. “They got a hold of me, and they got a hold of Tracii, and asked us the question, ‘Do you want to do a record with this cat?’ Obviously, we both said yes, or there wouldn’t be a record. So, we both did the best we could, and I think it came out sounding alright. It’s different than anything I’ve ever done; at least to my eyes and my ears. It’s more poppy, I think. But then again… I can’t describe it really. What would you say about it?” There’s some blues, there’s some classic rock, there’s some ‘80s. Then when you get the keyboards and the Hammond Organ in there, it really lifts it to another level. “That makes sense.” There’s certainly variety within the songs. It’s not a three-chord band; there’s plenty of peaks and valleys in Russell / Guns. “You’re right, I absolutely agree with you. Tracii, at least in my opinion, he puts his heart and soul into everything he does. He’s a phenomenal guitar player; I love the way he struts his stuff. He just puts it out there and he kicks ass!”

What brings Medusa even closer to home for Tracii, is that apart from Alexandro, the rest of the people playing on this are part of the L.A. Guns family – you’ve got Johnny Martin, who is the current bass player for L.A. Guns, and Shane Fitzgibbon, who is the former drummer for L.A. Guns. It’s like Great Guns Alexandro. “That was funny. Or, Great Alexandro Guns.”

In the press release for Medusa, Russell was quoted as saying. “Initially, I had my reservations about making this record, but in the end, it kicks ass.” That’s completely understandable because it was almost like a Covid album. Everybody did their parts on their own, at home. That methodology of bringing songs to life is incredibly unusual compared to what both Russell and Guns have built their careers on. 

“Right. Everything I’ve ever done has been the traditional way. Stick a bunch of guys in a room, lay down the basic tracks, and send ‘em home. Use the guitar for scratch tracks, keep the bass and drums; or don’t keep the bass. At least you got the drum tracks down. Record the bass over again if you want to, or just do some fixes. Then bring the guitar in and do the guitar. Then the keyboards, the other guitar, whatever you want to put on. Then you lay the vocals down. It’s all done in stages. But it’s not like everybody’s in the same room all the time. It’s not like it was in the ‘50s with two tracks to record on – your backing track and your lead track. It’s not like that, thank God. You wouldn’t have as good sounding records as you do. But I’ve always been old school that way, as far as ‘70s / ‘80s old school. But this is Tracii recording wherever he recorded, me recording in Denver, having it flown through the Internet to Italy; and the rest of the band, I don’t know where they recorded. It was all mixed down and produced in Italy. I think it’s a testament to the technology we have nowadays. It’s pretty amazing. It doesn’t reflect negatively on the sound. I would never listen to it and go, ‘That sounds like it was pieced together.’ You wouldn’t know, it’s just a recording.”

Another unusual aspect of Medusa is the fact that Russell, known for the hit songs “Lady Red Light”, “House Of Broken Love”, and “Rock Me” to name a few, did not write any of the lyrics. Alexandro penned them all. “Yes sir, there’s a first time for everything.” That must have been really different. “It was really different. But I guess not really different, it’s kind of like doing a cover song.” But when you’re doing a Led Zeppelin tune, everybody knows that song; they’ve known it for decades. These songs are covers that nobody has heard. Looking at these lyrics, singing them into the microphone – are you as passionate about them as your own lyrics? Did you rewrite any of them, or just go with what Alexandro put forth? “No, I just went with it. I sang the album. I tried to put myself in the song. Whatever the song was about, I had somebody I would think about and use that as a guide. A song about a chic doing this… yeah, a chic did that to me one time; not one time, ten times,” chuckles Jack. “I’d reminisce about that. Fortunately, we all have the same basic thoughts and reactions to things. We’re all human, so the responses are bound to be similar at least. If you’re writing about something we all go through, chances are, you’re going to strike a chord with somebody. Hopefully that worked and people got the message.”

The use of Medusa as a title, along with the artwork, was a little puzzling because that’s Greek mythology. The Clash Of The Titans movie comes to mind. Looking at the lyrics to “Next In Line”, “Tell Me Why”, or “Living A Lie”, those songs are so far removed from the concept of a snake-headed woman. What were your thoughts when you learned that the album was going to be called Medusa, and then presented with the artwork? “Ah… I was a little puzzled myself. It’s a cool cover. I don’t understand how it relates to the songs either, but hey, it is what it is. Medusa – we’re talking about chics that can be pretty snakey. You’ve got to think of that, you know what I mean. I don’t know if that’s what he was thinking about when he wrote the title, but I can think of it that way easily. I’ve had a lot of snakes in my life; not just the ones in the aquarium.” Or on your boots. “Yeah, right. Not just on my boots. That’s funny.”

Great White released their self-titled debut in 1984. L.A. Guns released their self-titled debut in 1988. Did the two bands play together much? “We’ve done quite a few shows together over the years. We did tour once together in ’99. They opened up, we came in after that. Then Ratt was direct support, and Poison was headlining. It was the four of us and it was a great tour. L.A. Guns – they’re a great band! They’ve got some great songs. They’re all really good at what they do. I enjoy watching them. I’ve always been a big fan.”

Last year, Tracii released Solsorte, the debut album from Blackbird Angels – his collaboration with Todd Kerns and Adam Hamilton, which also came out on Frontiers. Did Russell / Guns ever try to come up with a band name like Blackbird Angels? Or were you always going to go with the two surnames? “This was just a total side project. Frontiers came up with this. We had no idea about this, at least as far as I know. I was approached by Mario from Frontiers, and he said, ‘Do you want to do an album with Tracii?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ Mario said, ‘We’ve got a record that we want you to sing on, and Tracii’s playing guitar.’ I go, ‘Well, let me hear it.’ So, they sent some over. I listened to it and checked it out – this is pretty damn good! We went back and forth and came to a conclusion; I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do it.’ They’ve got me signed to another record. I’m assuming it’ll be another Russell / Guns album, but I don’t know that for sure. Don’t cast that in stone, cause they could put me on an album singing with Bozo’s grandkids. I don’t know. But we’ll see, I’m sure it’ll be something good.”

L.A. Guns has tour dates booked throughout April, and Jack Russell’s Great White has tour dates booked throughout August. Both yourself and Tracii are pretty busy on the road with your main bands. As such, it doesn’t appear that Russell / Guns will be able to play live. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m just too busy with my own band. I think it would be fun, but I’m just too busy. I’ve got too much going on with Jack Russell’s Great White. We’ve got another album coming out; we’ve got to finish that. I’ve got a book coming out, and that’s going to require a press tour. The older I get, the busier I get. I don’t get it. I think I have to slow down, but my body’s going to tell me when it’s time to slow down. Right now, I’m in an argument with it. ‘Slow down – no, I’m not going to slow down.’”

You mentioned new music from Jack Russell’s Great White. “Yeah. These songs are different than the last record. I don’t know if you heard He Saw It Comin’ from 2017. We took our time getting to this new one. It’s different. But when I say different, it doesn’t sound like two different bands. We’ve evolved. We keep evolving. I keep making the band more than it is, and more than it was. I don’t want it to sound like the same old stuff. There’s a lot of albums we’ve done in the past that sound more than remotely like the one before it. Not that that’s a bad thing. You’ve got a great song on one album, you put a great song on the next album; they sound kind of similar – you’ve still got two great songs. Look at Boston; I’m not saying to take that as an example, but you can kind of see where I’m going. They had some songs that sounded similar. And that’s not bad, they still are great tunes. But I’m trying to do something that’s different. This next album, I want it to have more blues in it, a little more rock. But also, some unpredictable stuff too. You go, ‘Wow – that’s Jack!’ I’m looking to do something like that. It also happened on the last record; people were just kind of stunned.”

Let’s talk about the new album from Jack Russell’s Great White a little bit more. Do you have a potential release date? “Ah… I have no idea. I want to get it out this year some time. It’s going to take whatever time it takes with this record. I don’t want it to be rushed into production and take a great album and turn it into a turd cause I rushed it.” Are you going to independently release this? Will it come out on Frontiers, or another label? “We don’t know yet. We’ve got offers, but we haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet. It’ll definitely get released. It’s not going to come out on our own label. I don’t have the kind of distribution, and all the other stuff you need to make a record happen. It’s so hard these days to get something even semi-successful. You need an entity to help you with that. I don’t have the money or the people to make something like this go over. We’ll leave the doctrine in the doctor’s hands.”

The aforementioned book is your life’s story. “Yes, but I didn’t write it myself. I have a co-writer, Katelyn Doty is her name; she’s Chip Z’Nuff’s wife, and she’s an amazing writer! She can take a pen and do things I can’t even do with a microphone. She’s just amazing! I’m so blessed to have her doing this book. I had a few people take a shot at it, and it was just crap. It was horrible. So, finally, we ran into each other via my guitarist, and it’s just worked out great. We’ve been working on it now for three years. It’s so readable. I’m so happy that she’s telling the story cause I’m a musician. I’m a writer, to some extent. I write songs, I write poems; I’m not a book writer. I’m not a master of the English language.”

Going back through your life, while creating this book with Katelyn, was there anything you were surprised to learn that you had forgotten? “Oh God, there’s so much that’s not going to be in it, because the book would have to be a Tolstoy (War And Peace) book. It would have to be nine feet thick. Everybody’s life, there’s so much involved in it. It would be really difficult to even come up with half the stories, half the feelings. So, I’m just happy that we got the ones we got out, and it may end up actually being another book come out afterwards; just stories, random stories. Cause there’s a lot of crazy, funny sh*t that happened in my life, and I don’t want to rip anybody off from it. There’s some really good laughs in this thing, I’m telling you. I have to laugh at myself all the time because some of the stuff I’ve done in my life is so stupid. But it’s weird when you look at your life from an outside perspective, which is kind of what I’ve done when we were writing this thing. I got to tell the story to somebody, and have them start laughing, or tell me what they thought of that. It’s weird the responses you get. Sometimes it’s not what you think. It’s been a fun experience. I think I might even do one just on Great White stories.” The million-dollar question, when’s the book coming out? “It’ll be out this year. I’m counting on that cause my limit is four years on writing a book. I want to read it too. Actually, I’ve read most of it, it’s really good.”

2024 marks the 40th anniversary of Great White’s self-titled debut album. Obviously, you haven’t been on the same stage as Mark Kendall for many, many years. “Who?” (laughter). “I haven’t talked to Mark in, oh God, 14 or 15 years. It’s horrible. It’s sad. It’s really sad to me. It makes me very sad for my part in it. I had a very big part in that, and I really apologize. Maybe he’ll read this and maybe he’ll understand that I actually, truly want to make amends to him.”

Are you aware of any plans that Mark may have to celebrate the 40th anniversary? Will there be a reissue? Who owns the masters to that album, and thereby able to put out a special version? And what, if any bonus material would be on it? “Well, I think Mark owns the masters right now; Mark, Audie (Desbrow – drummer) and Michael (Lardie – rhythm guitarist). Cause there’s three of them, there’s two of us; so they would own the masters by virtue of that. They could do whatever they want with them, I don’t know. I guess I would have to go with them. If they wanted to sell it to Cleopatra, they could. If they wanted to sell it back to Capitol, they could. I just would hope that somebody would advise us of what they want to do, cause I have a couple ideas that might mean more money for them, for us. I don’t want to get in this big legal battle over it. It’s such a waste when some bands do that, spend so much money on legal hassles when you could have just said, ‘Hey, you do this, I’ll do that.’ I mean you never know… well, I know what would happen if Great White did get back together as far as attendance. But whether we could stand each other or not would be a whole different run of the ladder. I’m just trying to get by every day. I love my band; I think they’re the greatest. They’ve got my back, which is something that I’m really getting used to. And they’re great musicians. I can count on them, always.”

It seems like you’re just as eager in 2024 as you were in 1984. “Yeah, pretty much. Making music keeps you young. It makes me excited for every day. I think this is pretty true for everybody – you could be in the worst of moods, you think of a song and put it on, all of a sudden you’re just jamming to it, and everything’s going to be alright. It just turns your whole world around. Being a musician is not easy, but I think it’s one of the most fulfilling jobs you can have. It’s escapism at its finest. I can escape into any mood I want to, in any song I want to; any feeling I want to have, there’s a song for it.”

(Photos by Enzo Mazzeo)

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