Jack Russell Interview: Vocalist Keeps Great White in Biting Form, Recuperates from Surgery
Hard rock/heavy metal band Great White was founded by vocalist Jack Russell and Mark Kendall about 30 years ago. To date the band has released over 20 albums including the platinum Once Bitten … and the double platinum … Twice Shy.
Great White, with original members Russell, Kendall, Michael Lardie, Audie Desbrow, and Sean McNabb, continued performing in the 1990s, embarking on their first tour of Japan, and turning out studio releases Sail Away and Let it Rock.
“I just love being appreciated for what I do the best. I love making people feel something, anything! It could be laughter, tears, whatever. I just love making them feel.”
In 2000 Mark Kendall announced he was leaving Great White and shortly thereafter both Audie Desbrow and Sean McNabb followed suit. On November 5, 2001, Russell announced the end of the band at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, California.
Russell released a solo album, For You, in 2002; however, later that year he contacted Kendall who agreed to play some dates with Russell’s band under the name Jack Russell’s Great White.
Tragically, the band returned to the national spotlight on February 20, 2003 at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Pyrotechnics used by the band’s crew created a spray of sparks that ignited the foam soundproofing material behind the stage. One hundred people, including the band’s guitarist Ty Longley, died in the fire that followed and some 230 people were injured.
Great White toured until 2005 to raise funds for the Station family Fund which had been set up to help the victims of the tragedy. In 2006, Kendall announced that the band had re-formed its classic lineup and they played their first date together in more than 5 years on January 27, 2007. In 2008, McNabb left Great White to pursue an acting career and was replaced by Scott Snyder.
Great White released their latest album, Rising, on April 21, 2009.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s going on, Jack?
Jack Russell: I’m just sitting in the pool, sucking up some sun with some friends of mine, just enjoying the day … doing the life of Russell. That Riley guy’s got nothing on me, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you in the middle of a tour?
Jack Russell: Yeah, we got a couple of days off. We generally tour on the weekends now. We go out on a Thursday and come back on a Sunday or Monday and take the rest of the days off to wash our socks.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you singing the oldies on the tour?
Jack Russell: We’re doing mostly the hits and we got a couple of new ones put in. We don’t want to bombard people with new stuff because that’s not fair. We let them discover the stuff on their own. But, we’re having a great time. I’m just damn glad to be here 29 years later, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You recently had back surgery, right?
Jack Russell: Yeah, two of them. I’m just recuperating from them. I’m supposed to be recuperating in the hospital actually, but I basically told my doctors to kiss off. There are people out there that want to hear me sing and they’re more important than my back. So, I can grimace a little bit, but that’s more important. My fans have given me a living and it’s time to give back.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it a slipped disk?
Jack Russell: Yeah, I had a bulging disk. I fell off of a ladder on to a bathtub, bulged a disk, and broke two vertebrae. Then I fell again on my birthday on stage. I was unstable because my muscles had atrophied over a couple of years so I broke them again.
I broke my pelvis and I shattered my femur during the middle of a show. They had to rush me to the hospital after the show. I had to have emergency surgery because I was bleeding out and then they sent me back home again. Four or five days later I was back on stage. So, I’m not running around like I used to. I’m going to physical therapy to get my mobility back, but I’m still out there singing, moving around, doing what I’ve got to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What happened when you fell on stage June 16 in San Antonio?
Jack Russell: That was actually … I tripped over my own pants (laughs). I didn’t get hurt that time, thank God.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s good.
Jack Russell: I just have to get my pants hemmed up. They keep falling because I have no butt now due to no muscles so there’s nothing to hold the pants up. There were all kinds of suppositions going around like, “Oh, he’s drunk, he’s drugged.” But, no, I’ve been sober for four months and plan on staying that way. I don’t want to exacerbate myself falling down again because every time I fall down I break something.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So four months sober?
Jack Russell: Yeah, and I’ve lived my life that way for years. I had 8 years at one point and now it’s time to get back to that track again. I’m almost 50. Those are childish things and it’s time to put them away.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Let’s talk about Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant influencing your music.
Jack Russell: I think that anybody that liked that kind of music and says that Zeppelin was not an influence is full of it. They are one of the best bands ever along with The Beatles. They were the quintessential bands and had every element that comprised a great rock band. They had great harmonies, great riffs, great vocals, they just stood for everything that I stood for, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When you met Mark Kendall did you two immediately click?
Jack Russell: Oh yeah, when I met him I knew that was the guy I was going to the top with. I had no doubt in my mind. We were both in bands. We both quit our bands that night and started our own band and the rest as they say is history.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why do you think you work so well as songwriters?
Jack Russell: You know, because we’re so different, but we have the same musical tastes. We’re not afraid to expose each other musically or emotionally when it comes to writing music. I can be very honest with him and vice versa. It’s just a synergy that works. It’s kind of like the Venus Fly Trap and the fly. You may not always like each other but one works because the other one is there. Either he’s sucking off me or I’m sucking off him, one or the other (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have said you like to write about your life?
Jack Russell: Well, I don’t know anything about other stuff like knights and dragons. I like to write about what I know about, what I’ve been through, and what I’ve experienced. Generally speaking, if I’ve been through it, you’ve been through it.
We all go through the same stuff – different times, different places, different people, different faces, but we all go through the same stuff. We’ve all had our hearts broken. It may not be the same chick or same guy. His name may be Mike but in my life her name is Vicki, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In the song, “Situation,” you wrote about where you were at that moment in time?
Jack Russell: Yeah, you know it’s funny you said that because I’ve been telling people that for years. A song to me … all it is is a snapshot of where the band is emotionally and spiritually at that moment in time. Ten minutes later I may feel absolutely different but at that moment when I wrote that song that’s where I was.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You wrote, “Is it Enough,” with an ex-girlfriend in mind.
Jack Russell: Yep. I was going through a bad relationship. The one good thing about that relationship is it made for great songs. The songs I write … I’d rather write a blues song than a, “Oh I love you, you’re so beautiful, life is wonderful, the birds are chirping, the trees are fucking (sorry about that) blowing in the wind, the sun is shining,” kind of song. Who wants to hear that? I want to hear about my heart’s been ripped out of my chest, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What song are you personally proudest of?
Jack Russell: On this new record, “Situation” and “Danger Zone.” To me, overall it’s a really great record. I’m not just saying that because it’s our newest album because sometimes I’ve said that the newest is not the best. But this record (Rising) and Can’t Get There From Here are my two favorites.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was it like playing the Troubadour in Hollywood in 1981?
Jack Russell: The Troubadour back in the day? It was legendary, man, everybody played there. It was a lot of fun. Those days will never happen again. If you missed the 80s you missed out. Rock ‘n roll will never again be that bombastic and large as it was and I feel sorry for the people that missed it. All they can do is hear about it or come to one of our shows and sort of relive it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that Harry Nilsson and John Lennon were escorted out of there once because they heckled the Smothers Brothers.
Jack Russell: Well hey, good reason (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Nilsson reportedly said, “Get one Beatle drunk and see what happens.”
Jack Russell: There you go (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your first gig there was under the name of Dante Fox. How many times did Great White perform there?
Jack Russell: That was one of our mainstays. We played two clubs in the 80s; one was in Orange County and one was in Hollywood. Once a month we played the Troubadour and once a month we played the Woodstock. That’s how it all happened. We didn’t feel the need to play any more shows because we had a really good following and there was no sense spreading yourself too thin. We played enough to pay the bills and keep our name out there. It has been an illustrious career so far.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has the band gotten past The Station nightclub fire tragedy in 2003?
Jack Russell: You know, for the most part, yes. There are still a couple of people that want to blame the band. If that’s the way they want to do it, then that’s the way they want to do it. If they can’t look at the actual facts and digest them, then that’s on them. My shoulders are big enough.
I feel horrible about what happened. I don’t blame anybody. I think it was a combination of a lot of mistakes made by many people. It’s kind of like an airline disaster – who do you blame? There are just so many factors. You can’t say you’re sorry enough because that’s just so trite.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Weren’t the club owners charged?
Jack Russell: Yeah, the club owners (Michael and Jeffrey Derderian) were charged as well as one of our tour managers (Daniel Michael Biechele). That’s the way the government and the people see it so I have to go along with them. If they had charged me I would have had to go along with them as well.
That’s all over and done with. My insurance policy paid for what I had there monetarily and it’s all over and done as far as I’m concerned … as far as I’ve been told. I just hope they can get on with their lives. I know what a horrible tragedy that would be for me. I just can’t imagine.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely. You said you’d never play “Desert Moon” (opening song Great White was playing when the fire started) again. Have you played that song since then?
Jack Russell: Yeah we have and the reason why was, you know, it’s not the song’s fault. What if it happened to Led Zeppelin during “Stairway to Heaven?” What would they do? But, we didn’t play it for a long time. I’ve not heard any negative feedback from anybody. I’m sure there’s been some, but you’ve got to move on.
You have to move on with your life. I know I had to because I was getting to a place where I was seeing a psychiatrist every single day and that’s no way to live.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The fans have been supportive?
Jack Russell: Oh, the fans … if it wasn’t for the fans I would have never gone on stage again. That would have been a travesty because that’s the thing I live for.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jack, why do you think your solo career failed?
Jack Russell: We ran out of money. It was on a small label. It was a great record … still is a great record. Who knows what will happen down the road. I just said, “I really feel like rocking and I miss my band.” So, I just kind of put the fork in it for now. I have another album slated to be recorded and I’m working on that right now.
I’m just concentrating on Great White, concentrating on getting my health together. I’ve got an 80-year-old mom who lives with me and I’m trying to take care of her. She’s got a bit of dementia … my days are full.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have any contact with Sean McNabb?
Jack Russell: Yeah, I spoke to him a couple of months ago. We’re still good friends.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are there performance similarities between him and Scott Snyder?
Jack Wilson: They’re both great bass players, that’s all I can say. I think they are two different types of players, but they’re both great nonetheless … just different attitudes, you know? That’s almost as important as playing. I’m not saying Sean is a bad guy because he’s not. There are just certain people, no matter how nice they are, that just rub you the wrong way a little bit. I’m sure I rub him the wrong way, too (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve been playing with Mark for over 30 years.
Jack Russell: Yep, 31 years.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How long do you see Great White staying together?
Jack Russell: Until I’m tired of doing it, until I can’t sing anymore or I’m just tired of it. Hopefully that’s a long time from now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When will we see a new album?
Jack Russell: I don’t know, haven’t started recording yet. We’re still in the writing process. It could be next year or the following year. I’m assuming sometime next winter.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any particular style?
Jack Russell: I think it’s going to be … you never know. It’s like having a baby – what’s it going to look like? I don’t know until the baby’s born. Each record kind of creates a life of its own. You start out doing one thing and the next thing you know you’re a thousand miles away from where you started.
I just want to write good songs. I don’t care what genre they are. Obviously I want them to sound like Great White, which they always will because it’s Great White writing them. I don’t want to record a Boston song with different lyrics. We’re very careful with that. There are only 12 notes so what are you going to do with them? You can only arrange them in so many different ways. You’ve just got to put your own touch to it and hopefully nobody else has been touching where you’ve touched (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jack, why do you love the life of rock ‘n roll?
Jack Russell: I just love being appreciated for what I do the best. I love making people feel something, anything! It could be laughter, tears, whatever. I just love making them feel.
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