If you’re reading this, you’re probably already a Great White fan or at least a fan of the ‘80s hair metal genre. And, if that’s the case, you probably already know that last year singer Jack Russell had a falling out with the other members of Great White (guitarist Mark Kendall, drummer Audie Desbrow, keyboardist Michael Lardie) and depending on who is telling the truth, either Jack fired the other members or the other members fired Jack. That stuff will all, most likely, be settled in a court of law, but the result is that there are now two versions of Great White out there. Jack, for the time being, is on the short-end and has to call his band Jack Russell’s Great White while the other guys recruited Terry Illous (XYZ) to sing on Elation which was released, under the name Great White, last month by Frontier Records.
Jack Russell’s Great White is hitting the road this summer, headlining the America Rocks tour which also features Faster Pussycat, Bulletboys, Pretty Boy Floyd and Lillian Axe. The America Rocks tour hits the Columbia Music Arena in Portsmouth on Wednesday night ($20/advance) and the Alrosa Villa in Columbus on Friday night ($28/advance).
I’m a HUGE fan of the ‘80s hair metal genre and anytime I get the chance to talk to somebody I grew up lip-synching to in front of my bedroom mirror as a teenager, it’s a thrill. Talking to Jack was no different – the 17-year-old me was pulling a Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney (“Remember when you toured with Whitesnake? Remember you played in Cleveland? I was there. It was AWESOME!”).
Here’s what Jack had to say.
Let’s talk about the America Rocks tour. While it seems like a Sunset Strip, early ‘90s reunion, the reality is that Great White started long before the other bands on the bill and the only real thing in common with the other bands on the bill is that you were all featured in every issue of Metal Edge and had videos aired during the same hour on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. How did this tour come about?
We’re all with the same agency. I talked to Chuck at Artists Worldwide and told him I wanted to do a package. He showed me all the bands and I said, “Why don’t you talk to these guys and these guys and these guys, see if they want to get together and do a tour.” I wanted something that was eclectic and solid and strong. The bands that are on here are all really good in their own right. It all just seemed to work out. It’s going to be a chance to see some old friends and make some new ones. I haven’t been on a tour bus on a real long tour since ‘99 when Great White did the Poison/Ratt tour.
The only part I’m not looking forward to is being gone from the Mrs. We’re really, really close and we’ve never really apart for more than a few days at a time. This is the strongest relationship I’ve been in with a woman. I hate to use the word “soul mate” but that’s what it feels like. I know it’s a word that’s overused at times but I really feel like that. It’s odd for me, I’m not used to that kind of connection with a woman.
Even though you’re headlining, with this many bands on the bill, you’re not going to get your regular headlining set. Have you decided on the setlist and, if so, will it be songs you want to play, deep cuts, the songs that everybody knows, or a mix of all of the above?
I’m still playing around with it, you have to play all the hits. It’s not like we’re playing a two-hour show. But it’s going to be great, people are going to love it. I think it’s got a little something for everybody – it’s got some of the old stuff that all the old-timers are going to know. I think pretty much everybody is going to know about 95% of the songs.
I have to be honest. While I loved the … Twice Shy album, MTV ruined the single “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” for me by playing the video every 15 minutes!
(Laughs) Kind of ruined it for me too, pal. It’s a great song but it’s one of those songs that I don’t rehearse. It’s fun to sing live, I enjoy it but I can see where some people might be like, “Oh man, you’re playing that one again?” It did get played a lot, but it was a big hit. I can’t believe, I never thought that song was going to be a hit. Mark (Kendall) and I were like, “We’ll just put it out and get through it and then get onto the real hits.” That song just wouldn’t stop, which is a great thing but it clearly wasn’t something we expected.
The last time I saw you was when you opened for Warrant, when Jamie St. James was singing, in Cincinnati in 2004. I was there to see Warrant and wasn’t really expecting much from a band that featured you and Mark Kendall and a bunch of young kids that you hired to round out Great White. But, it turns out I was blown away by Great White and nearly left before Warrant started because I just couldn’t imagine that they’d top your set (note: they didn’t!). The thing that struck me during the set was just how many songs I recognized and but had forgotten about.
I think that’s a lot of people. When they hear Great White music they go, “Oh, wow, those guys did that song? They did that song too?” People tell me that a lot.
The band currently using the Great White name has said some less than flattering things about you in interviews recently as they are promoting their recent release. Through it all, you’ve kept your composure, even when they’ve taken some shots at you.
I’m just being myself. There’s just so much I could bring up if I wanted to be that guy but I don’t think airing people’s dirty laundry in public … it’s just not right. These guys used to be my friends. I wouldn’t put their medical records out there for everybody to see. It’s just not who I am. I’ll try to keep it as positive as I can.
You recently reached out to original Great White drummer Gary Holland after having a falling out with him many, many years ago.
It’s been so cool to be reconnected with him. It’s been 28 years. I was going to get a hold of him a long time ago. He was always mad at me, for the wrong reasons. He thought that something was a certain way and it wasn’t. He hated me. I went on his Facebook thing or his MySpace thing and there was this big, long dissertation about what a bad person I was so I thought, “Now’s not the time to try to get ahold of him.” So I just kind of blew it off and then my manager was saying he was on Facebook asking for photos of early Dante Fox/Great White stuff for his book. I thought this might be an opportunity to reach out to him to see if he’s still pissed off at me. I told my manager to send him an email and tell him I had a bunch of old pictures of him and the band and if he wanted them he was free to have them. Just weeks before I guess he had been reading the interviews and watching the way each side was handling it. He just got sense from reading my interviews and Mark’s interviews that he had been incorrect about what he had assumed before. He was glad to hear from me. We talked for almost 2 days straight, on and off. We’ve been talking quite a bit ever since.
You may have talked about this in other interviews, but, I’m wondering … have you listened to the new Great White CD?
I haven’t. I have no need to. I know what it’s going to sound like, it’s not going to sound like what I’d want to hear anyway. It would just kind of make me feel bad because it’s not going to sound like Great White. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s not going to be a Great White album.
I’m a fan of Terry Illous, the new singer in Great White. But when I heard Elation for the first time, it just didn’t sound like Great White to me. You’re the voice of Great White.
You can’t take a lead vocalist out. That’s the one thing that distinguishes each band from another. Every guitar kind of sounds the same, every guitar player that is decent can play another guy’s riffs. There have been a couple of bands that have been successful after changing lead singers – like you look at Van Halen when they got Sammy. He’s a great singer and a friend, but I don’t want to hear him sing the songs of David Lee Roth. They should have changed the name of the band to Van Hagar. That’s the way I feel about any band. There’s been talk from some people that Ronnie James Dio went in after Ozzy and Black Sabbath was still great. Well, okay, great, he did but it still wasn’t Black Sabbath to me.
So, yeah, I’m with you. You can’t change that element in the band without changing the sound.
With a situation like this, and the one with LA Guns where there have been two versions of the band touring, I most likely am going to see any version that happens to roll through town mainly because I love the songs. If I can’t hear the original singer singing them, that isn’t necessarily going to stop me from going out to see the band. If the Terry-fronted version of Great White comes to Columbus, the reality is I’ll probably go see them.
You can have a guy, like the guy that is now singing for Journey. He sounds like Steve Perry, but it’s still not the same. Not everybody feels that way, but whatever they (Great White) do, I wish them the best.
You were able to talk to Gary Holland and mend some broken fences. Do you think, maybe not anytime in the near future, but somewhere down the road, you could get into a room with Mark Kendall, Michael Lardie and Audie Desbrow and work things out and maybe even rejoin the band that you helped form in 1978?
Doubtful. I always liken being in a band like being in the Marines. You never leave a man behind. You never leave him on the battlefield wounded. You always go back for him. I was a wounded man and they left me behind. I don’t think I could ever forget that. And on top of that, when they filed for the trademark, behind my back, that was the Coup de Grace.
When I hear people complain about bands not having original lineups or question why bands don’t reunite for the fans, I always say that there was a reason I left my first job. I wouldn’t go back to it just to make people happy. It wouldn’t be worth it to work with some people again.
It’s always about money, it’s never about pleasing the fans. I could never do that. I could never intentionally put myself in that situation where people didn’t like me. I was close to it the last time Great White was out on tour. I look back and here we are, we were out and I’d call the guys, “Hey guys, let’s go to dinner.” They’d be like, “Sure, we’ll call you.” The phone wouldn’t ring so I’d call them later and be like, “What happened?” and they’d say, “Oh, we went out to dinner and we forgot to call you. Sorry.” That happens a few times and you’re kind of like, “Maybe they just don’t want to hang around you, Jack.” So, whatever, it’s unfortunate but it is what it is. I guess money is more important than friendship to some people. We were such good friends for so many years but there’s a lot of animosity. I understand. I fired Audie at one point and he was out of the band for years. And Michael was out of the band for years. People have hard feelings they can’t ever get rid of.
Let’s talk about Jack Russell in 2012 and beyond. What kind of plans do you have?
We have some great stuff and it’s going to sound like Great White. We’re going to have a live album/DVD out before, I want to say, the end of summer. We’re just going to release it and not charge for it. People have already seen the show and heard the songs again and again and again. We’re just going to put it someplace where people can have it for free. I think that’s kind of cool. For all the things fans have given me over the years, maybe I can give back to them a little bit. And then we’ll put out an album sometime hopefully this year. I’m going to wait until the name thing is all figured out because, honestly, I can’t put my whole head into doing it right now until this is out of the way. I don’t think I could give 100% to concentrating on doing an album with all this stuff looming.
Are you considering the America Rocks tour a trial run to see if you’re up for more lengthy touring? Do you want to see if your body can handle being on the road?
It’s not a health thing at all, I feel fine. I’m in a little more pain that I used to be, but a little Advil here and there and I’m good to go. I have some back pain but that’s because I have degenerative disc disease in my back and my back has been pretty screwed up but pretty much everything else has been healed.
When you decide to go out on this tour, did you have to hire guys to be in the band?
These guys are in my solo band – Jack Russell and the Shelter Dogs. We were working on songs for that. When this all came about, I went, “Hmm …” and called them all up and said, “You want to do this Great White thing with me?” I told them what happened (with the falling out with Great White) and they said, “Hell yeah, let’s go.”
Well, Jack, it’s been a great honor talking to you, I’ve been a fan since the mid-80s. In fact, the first song I ever requested on the radio was “Face the Day”. I called Z-Rock in Cleveland because I had never heard you but wanted to hear what this band I was reading about in magazines like Hit Parader sounded like.
I really appreciate it. Thanks for being a fan and the support.