GREAT WHITE's Jack Russell: "You Can't Blame A Song For The Fire"

July 26, 2007, 15 years ago

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Peoria Journal Star has issued the following report from John Sharp:

It's been over four years since rock band GREAT WHITE performed the song 'Desert Moon' for an audience, but that could soon change.

The 1980s hard rock band known for songs like 'Once Bitten, Twice Shy', 'Rock Me' and 'Save Your Love' is also known for a song interrupted February 20th, 2003, by a fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. The fire killed 100 people and injured about 200.

Great White lead singer Jack Russell, 46, said the song hasn't been played since, but admits he has been toying with the idea of performing it again. He's just not ready yet.

"I love the song and people love to hear it," said Russell, who escaped The Station unharmed but whose band has struggled with legal issues since the fire that also killed Ty Longley, the band's guitarist at the time. "You can't blame a song for the fire. If (the fire happened during) 'Once Bitten, Twice Shy' . . . then what? It wasn't the song's fault."

Russell said he is moving on the "best he can" from a tragedy that has scarred Great White and prevented the band from touring on the East Coast.

But one way to move on, Russell said, is by touring to mark the band's 25th anniversary, and the release of Great White's first studio album in eight years.

The reunited original members of Great White will make a stop at Peoria's Exposition Gardens for a Saturday night concert during the annual Ham 'N Jam Music Festival. Organizers say the money generated during the event will go toward helping sick children. The gates open at 3 PM, with Great White taking the stage around 9 PM. Tickets are $20.

The Exposition Gardens show will be held outside, organizers say, and without pyrotechnics.

"We never were really a big pyro band," Russell said, referring to The Station fire, which began once pyrotechnics set off by the tour's manager ignited flammable soundproofing foam lining the walls of The Station. "Our manager (Daniel Biechele) decided to use pyro on that tour and we said fine."

Russell declined to comment about Biechele, who he described as a friend,

"I just feel bad for everyone involved," Russell said. "No one wanted this to happen."

Biechele pleaded guilty to 100 counts of misdemeanor manslaughter for his role in firing off the sparks that ignited the deadly blaze. He was sentenced last year to four years in prison.

While Russell and the rest of his bandmates were cleared of criminal wrongdoing, a civil lawsuit against the band remains. "My lawyers are dealing with that," he said.

Moving on from the tragedy hasn't been easy for Russell, but reuniting the original band members (only original guitarist Mark Kendall was with Russell during The Station tragedy) has helped the healing process, the singer says.

"The 25th anniversary was coming up and I wanted to do another record and wanted to do it with the original members," Russell said. "I got a hold of everyone on the phone. Some of us had personal issues that had gotten blown over. We decided to let bygones be bygones."

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