Great White Frontman
Interview conducted on February 27, 2012
By Joseph Suto
Jack Russell has been and always will be the voice of Great White. Recently he and his former mates parted ways. Jack has recently been busy putting together a new line-up of musicians to go out and continue keeping the music he created alive. We recently caught up with Jack and he fills us in on what he has been up to the past while.
Rock Show Critique: After being idle for quite some time, you are finally about to embark on a tour. There have been a lot of changes recently, as you have a new band in place, can you give us a quick rundown about everything?
Jack Russell: Here’s the deal on December 10th right, due to reasons of I can only describe as irreconcilable differences, I called my former band manager and said I’m taking the name of the band I started back in 1978 and I’m movin’ on. In other words you’re fired. He told me I’m staying with these guys and we’ll make your life miserable. Come to find out on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day no less they filed for a trademark without me. That was devastating to me, these guys were my friends, they were like family and I couldn’t believe they would do that to me. But they did so now the legal battle is on. I’m not gonna get into all that right now. I got a new band together and these guys are amazing. We got Robbie Lochner who played with Rob Halford on guitar. Another friend of mine Matthew Johnson who has played with Great White before and who also played on my Shelter Me solo album on guitar. I have Dario Sexias who played with Pearcy and Firehouse on bass and drummer Derrick Pontier who played with Great White for a while is playing with me again. I got some great musicians and we just finished up rehearsals and we start our first show Saturday in Florida. I’m ready to go, we’re primed up and rearing to go. I’m fit enough to go back out on the road again. My health is good and my sobriety is intact. I’m ready to do this all over again. I’ve never heard my songs sound so good. So it’s a good start.
RSC: Do you guys plan on digging deep into the catalog? Can we expect any solo songs from both Shelter Me and For You?
JR: Yeah eventually I’m doing one right now and we’re putting “Shelter Me” in and out of the set. People want to hear the Great White stuff and we’re doing some stuff GW hasn’t done in a long long time. Of course we’re playing the hits everyone wants to hear. And we’re playing songs that are signature to myself. I think people are gonna really enjoy it, I know they will. There’s nothing like hearing a song you know with a voice you recognize. And I don’t care what element of a band and I mean no disrespect to anyone when I say this but if you took Steven Tyler out of Aerosmith, it’s not gonna sound like Aerosmith. I don’t care who you put in there, I don’t care how great they were. If you stuck Steven Tyler in Zeppelin and put Robert Plant in Aerosmith it wouldn’t be the same, although both great singers. That’s one element of a band you cannot really change without changing the whole sound of the band. That’s just my opinion and some people may disagree with me but I think that’s one component you really can’t screw with.
RSC: On the set lists are you gonna try and mix it up throughout the tour a bit?
JR: Yeah absolutely, we have alternate songs for quite a few tunes like one night we’ll play this song and another night switch it out for a different song. That way the set’s not the same exact songs, played every single night in the same order. We have different elements in the show that are completely different than what’s ever been done by this band and most bands. I have two lead guitar players and that enables us to do some really great stuff that other bands can’t do. It’s gonna be a fun night out, not just a bunch of old farts, blowing through the songs one after another. And I include myself in that old fart thing (laughs).
RSC: I feel your most developed album is Let It Rock. The album features several gems such as “Pain Overload” and “Miles Away”, Do you think that the “grunge era” really hurt that album more than any others?
JR: Thank You. Sure the grunge thing came in and did it, but I blame it on the record companies. They signed every single band that sounded even remotely kind of 80s. Oh look they have long hair, they look good let’s sign them and make an album. And the music didn’t stand up. So consequently everything on the radio all sounded the same. Only it sounded lesser than the originals, like 45 Guns N’ Roses, 97 Ratt’s, 24 Great Whites, 33 Dokkens, it was a joke you know what I mean? By the time grunge came in people wanted something different. But Let It Rock that was a great record. I produced the album along with Michael Lardie. We did that record it was like the reigns were taken off of us. I had all these songs I wanted experiment with, different ideas. Like you said “Pain Overload”, “Miles Away” and songs like “Where Is The Love” and all this cool stuff we wouldn’t of be able to do with the other producer. Songs like “Lives In Chains”, “My World” it was a very eclectic record which I love. It was kind of all over the place, but yet cohesive like “Man In The Sky” and “My World”. I was singing the octave on the vocals. I was singing the low octave along with the lead vocal and keeping them the same as far as the focus of the mix. So you can hear them both equally it was really kinda cool effect. That’s one of my favorite records to this day.
RSC: Back in 99’ you guys released Can’t Get There From Here and were back on the big stage again on the first Poison tour, it seems that was the year/area when rock started to pick back up and get back on the map, what’s your take on that particular time?
JR: I think a lot of it was grunge was just so morose and downtrodden I mean what are you gonna do pay to watch someone look at his shoes? I think people want to be happy and entertained. I don’t think they want to go to a concert and be reminded about how screwed up the world is. They want to go forget about it for a while. I think now as we get older our fans and their kids are growing up and their able to spend an evening out. As before when their kids were younger they couldn’t do that. Now we’re classic rock as opposed to the 90s when we were to old to be contemporary and too young to be classic. So we were kind of stuck in a musical no man’s land as it were. Now there’s like three, sometimes four generations of people out there. I see 8 year old kids running around with Great White shirts hanging down to their knees and its pretty awesome.
RSC: Were there any songs that you thought should have been bigger than they were but for one reason or another they weren’t chosen as singles or promoted properly?
JR: (laughs) Just about everyone I’ve ever written (laughs hard again). Songs like “Easy” would have been a huge hit if it had been on another album. Can’t Get There From Here, c’mon “Ain’t No Shame” even John Kalodner said that’s the money song. There’s so many songs and you never now what’s gonna be a hit. A hit is just not a song, its about timing and promotion, so many aspects that makes a song a hit. I’ve written a million hits that haven’t been hits, as have a lot of bands and a lot of writers. Some of my best material from my favorite bands have been later on after their hey day.
RSC: You mentioned Zeppelin and Aerosmith I would guess those are two of your favorite bands right?
JR: Absolutely that would be my number one and two!
RSC: What songs by them are your favorite? I would assume songs that weren’t as popular?
JR: Well I still think to this day as cliche as it sounds that “Stairway To Heaven” is one of the best songs ever written. I mean there’s no chorus it starts off real mellow and ends with this completely bombastic over the top crescendo. You go wow where in the hell did that come from? And I’ve never heard a song written like that since. That song has stood the test of time and always will. That song will be here long after those guys are long gone. Aerosmith I don’t even know where to begin. I couldn’t even put my finger on my favorite song from those guys. It all depends on what day it is you know? (sings title) “You See Me Crying” oh it’s a great song. Actually, Toys In The Attic man, I remember when I was thirteen years old, playing that album, singing into a mirror in our entry way when I was a kid. Dreaming I was gonna be a rock star. The all of a sudden I was talking to Steven Tyler backstage at one of my gigs going Holy Shit I pulled it off. It’s pretty amazing, that whole album has a lot of great memories for me, it was very much in my formative years as far as wanting to become a musician. I started my first band when I was eleven and that album was a very important piece of music to me.
RSC: After all you’ve been through over the years, will you know when it’s time to say it’s been a great ride and sail off into the sunset?
JR: Yeah of course I’ll know. I hope that day is a long time from now. My body will tell me it’s gonna say dude your done. I hope it’s not this year. I mean I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. I’m healthier than I’ve been in years. I’ve been sober six months plus and that’s as long as I’ve been sober in a long, long time. I’m happy, I live in my boat out in the ocean with my wife. It’s wonderful, life is really good. I appreciate every single day I have. Not a day goes by where I don’t thank god. On Saturday I put my Mom’s ashes into the ocean, where I want to be put. I haven’t seen whales all year long, we went out there that morning and there were great whales all over the place. How cool was that. We put her ashes in the water and there was this most beautiful glow. We were all just looking at each like did you see that? God its amazing. It was one of those great experiences where you think there’s gotta be something bigger than us. As long as God lets me draw a breath and lets me continue to use this gift he gave me, I’ll do it. When that day comes yeah I’m gonna know.
Special Thanks to Jack Russell and Valerie Ince for all their help in setting up this interview.