Jack Russell, Great White, Interview, Shot in the Dark, Rock Me, Alan Niven, Face the Day
Great White – Self-titled Album
Full in Bloom: Here’s something I never understood. In an era when record labels usually gave you three albums to succeed, why did Great white lose their record deal, with EMI, after the first self-titled album (1984)?
Jack: Gary Gersh was the one that signed us. Now Gary Gersh had eyes on the presidency. He had signed the hottest new band….then the label took a dump and he used it as an opportunity to say, hey look, this president is no good, we just signed the hottest band and he couldn’t even get a single to hit. Consequently, he got his job. We were just cannon fodder. We were just a tool for his vision of greatness…..and Gary, if you read this, screw you.
FIB: It never made sense. I remember the single, ‘Stick It’, getting a lot of airplay.
Jack: We didn’t even want to be with those guys anymore. I remember playing on the Judas Priest tour, I believe we were in Louisiana, and I walked across the street and went into this record store and I said, ‘hey, where’s the new Great white album’ and they said ‘Who?’. I said, “Great white, we’re playing tonight, across the street, with Judas Priest’…..’oh, never heard of you guys’…..I was like ok, this isn’t looking good.
Shot in the Dark
FIB: Then your second album, ‘Shot in the Dark’, was released independently.
Jack: Right. We were on our own again, we put out the ‘Shot in the Dark’ album and sold a bunch of copies. Then Capitol (Records), their (EMI) sister label, signed us, re-released ‘Shot in the Dark’, they released the single ‘Face the Day’. ‘Once Bitten’, I thought, was where the band finally found its niche. We weren’t really exploring at that point. “Shot in the Dark’ was pretty much an exploration album….it was too keyboard-y, it was too lite. There were some good songs on there but it wasn’t one of my favorite records. I think our best record is ‘Can’t Get There from Here’. It was the best produced album we’ve ever done. It was mixed by a guy named Noel Golden, who was just incredible. Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees) produced it and he was amazing. The drumming on it was fantastic. Myron Grombacher is one of the best drummers on the planet. Fortunately Audie (Desbrow) was able to copy what he did, for the most part, so we could play the record. It was a really great record. Even some of the newer ones. It’s one of those things…..it’s hard to pick your favorite record. Usually you just pick the latest record because you’re sick of hearing the others. ‘Once Bitten’ was a fantastic album, as was ‘Twice Shy’. ‘Hooked’….in my opinion, everybody should have taken a year off and gone to rehab. We were rushed to do it and I think it showed. There were some good tracks on it but the production wasn’t really that good, it was just too weak. We used to put our contemporary’s records on and then put on our records and it would be like 5 dB lower. Me and Mark used to always bag on that like,’man, this sucks’……Everytime I put a record out it’s all wimpy. Not that Michael (Lardie) was a bad engineer and Alan (Niven) did a great job. Part was the console and the other part was how they recorded it. It just didn’t sound as bombastic as like a Cinderella album, or something like that. We used to call our console the anti-rock console…..it sucked all the rock out of our songs (laughs).
But speaking for Michael, when you’re not doing a record every week, or month….you only do one every couple of years…..your chops aren’t going to be as good as a guy who is in the studio all the time. We always wanted to get an outside producer, we always wanted to get an outside engineer…..but we didn’t want to ruffle feathers. Plus, it saved us a lot of money…….AND don’t get me wrong, Michael has done some brilliant stuff over the years, he really has……he really has.
Great White – “Face the Day”
FIB: On the lp insert for ‘Shot in Dark’, Michael is actually pictured and listed as an engineer on that album.
Jack: He wasn’t in the band at that point. He didn’t join the band until the ‘Once Bitten’ album. That’s why those guys (Great white) going out there saying ‘this is the original band’…..there is no original band. The original band was Mark Kendall (guitars), myself, Lorne Black (bass) and Gary Holland (drums)…..that was the original Great White. Both bands have a bunch of former members and one band has a real lead singer. Two of my guys (from Jack Russell’s Great white) played in Great white, three of their guys (from Great white)…..we have the same amount of members…..except they are former members because I fired them. Maybe they don’t understand what the word means….Maybe they think it’s a good thing, I don’t get it.
FIB: The change in sound from the self-titled album to ‘Shot in the Dark’ was quite drastic. Was that a conscious decision? Did you think you had to go in a more commercial direction?
Jack: No. I wanted to have a keyboard player and a rhythm guitar player so we could expand the sound of the band. Mark never did. He did not want another guitar player and he especially didn’t want a keyboard player. He didn’t want to wimp out the band. ‘Shot in the Dark’ definitely wimped out the band. We were experimenting with keyboards…..like when you get your first yard tool, you get a pair of hedge trimmers, you end up trimming your whole yard down into nubs because it’s a new toy. We kind of had to find that balance and I think that balance was achieved on ‘Once Bitten’. Keyboards were there but they weren’t as prevalent. They were mostly for color. It sounded great. It had its uses but I didn’t want to be this big keyboard heavy band. ‘Once Bitten’ kind of nailed it all together. That was a turning point album for me. We finally had arrived at our musical destination. Now we just have to explore around this area. We’re in our own backyard, explore around there – all we can.
FIB: Your voice changed too.
Jack: Oh yeah. It was great, I was able to sing like me. Not like what some producer wanted me to sing…..like ‘Jack Evil’….can you imagine me singing (harshly) ‘Sweet little babe, you don’t have to go’ (laughs). It would have killed it, you know what I mean? Rob Zombie singing ‘Rock Me’….it’s not going to happen. My voice, and I mean this with all humility, is very diverse. I have different styles of my voice and different colors, different Timbres. I can sing clean, I can sound like a 10 year old kid, or I can sound like an old pissed off guy, a lot of variables in my voice. Consequently it enables me to do a lot of different material. Like my solo album, ‘For You’, that was like Elton John meets Sting meets Rod Stewart and it was a beautiful record.
Great White – Led Zeppelin
FIB: Why haven’t you done a record with Jimmy Page?
Jack: I think Jimmy Page just lost my phone number (laughs). Here’s a funny story. My ex-girlfriend, she was married to the drummer for Whitesnake (Tommy Aldrige)…..she and I became friends and had a little fling, for a minute, then kind of stayed friends over the years. She ended up divorcing Tommy and I got out of my second marriage and we hooked up and became friends again and became lovers. We were engaged for a long time. Anyhow, she told me of a story about how one night Robert Plant took out all the guys from Whitesnake, just to piss David Coverdale off. He was sitting there bagging on David Coverdale, about how he was stealing his shit. And then he goes, ‘but you know what? That Jack Russell guy, he sounds more like me than I do.’ He was very complimentary. I was like, ‘damn man, he knows who I am’. It was really, really cool. That’s the great thing about this business. After you’re in it a long time, you start meeting some of your heroes. Like Steven Tyler. He has always been there for me when I needed his help. August 11th was my last surgery for my shattered pelvis. I woke up, my wife goes, ‘Jack, your friend Jani Lane (Warrant) just died of alcohol poisoning. I went, ‘oh my God, I’m next’. Steven Tyler calls me a couple of days later and says, ‘Jack, what the fuck you doing, man?’….I go, ‘Steven, I don’t know’, he says, ‘you got to get sober, buddy, we don’t want to lose you’. So I did. My life has gotten so much better, so fast. I am able to make decisions again; I’m in charge of my business. Everything I do is the way that I want to do it. It’s working out really well.
FIB: How have you managed to keep your voice over the years?
Jack: If you don’t warm your voice up, if you don’t take care of it right. You’ve got to nurse it like a baby. I still have my voice because I still warm up and I do things right. Now, it’s better than it has been in ten years. I was taking these steroids, they were like super-duper-anti-inflammatory. So my voice would feel a little squeaky, ‘well take some steroids and it will make your voice perfect’. After awhile, the steroids start to make your muscles atrophy. So my voice, instead of getting better, it was getting worse. It was also causing me all these other problems like Osteoporosis and other kinds of crap. I’m doing all this just so I can stay on the road. I should have taken some time off. I told my former manager, ‘man, I need some time off’. He goes, ‘Jack, no problem, we’ll shut it down now and you can get your rest, no big deal, I’m behind you 100%….but I got to tell you, as a friend, you do that and you’ll probably end your career because the promoters will never trust you again. So whatever you want to do, let me know’. I’m thinking, ‘ok, end my career or take a bunch of pills and stay on the road’. Ok, I’ll take a bunch of pills…..and it fucking killed me, man. I’m four inches shorter in my back because it’s pretty much bone on bone. I have pains everyday. They’re never going to go away. That’s because I wanted to be on the road. I didn’t want to lose my career. I loved singing that much that I beat the crap out of myself.
FIB: Are there any other surgeries they can do?
Jack: No, I’m beyond surgery at this point. My bones are too brittle but they are getting stronger, I’m taking some really good medications for them. I’ve fallen a couple of times on my boat, as people do when they’re on a boat, and nothing happened. I’m just taking really good care of myself. I’ve got a trainer, I eat well, I take all my vitamins. A mutual friend called me up and said that they were asked, by one of the guys (in Great white), to go to Vegas and take pictures of me all fucked up, because the manager wanted them. I’m thinking, take all the pictures you want because I’m not all fucked up. But if you’d like a picture to blow up and put in your room (laughs), you’re more than welcome. That’s just a horrible thing to do. I just wish they would have called me. At least give me the courtesy of calling me. Especially when I was dying. They could have at least come by and said, ‘hey, is he ok?’ I’ve known the guy my whole life. We grew up together and we accomplished all these things together.
FIB: Life’s too short.
Jack: Exactly. I’m still not over it. I am still very, very hurt by it…..that my friends would do that to me. That was the measure of their friendship; it was different than mine because I would have died for any one of those guys, and I almost did…..just to stay on the road. I remember one time when I was in rehab and Mark came to me, in rehab, and says ‘dude, can you get out of here for a few days and do some shows with us?’ So what do I do? I leave rehab and go do the shows, and they were horrible because I was in no shape to be doing anything. I couldn’t believe he even asked me to do that. I kept thinking, why would you do that? Money. Just because of money. Money is evil.
Great White – Alan Niven
FIB: Alan Niven played a key role in the success of Great white. Didn’t he help write a lot of the songs?
Jack: Yes he did, but here’s the thing. Let’s say Alan, Mark and I write a song together. You figure it would be split where each person gets a 1/3. What did he do? Alan would take 1/2 because he’s an outside writer and then he would commission 20% of ours. What? I didn’t find that out until we fired him. I couldn’t believe he did that. It’s perfectly legal but it’s a little unethical.
FIB: You never questioned it whenever your were selling millions of albums?
Jack: No, we never even thought about it. We trusted the guy. Then after we fired him, we found out all kinds of crazy shit. Whatever. Things happen. People do shit. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, he really isn’t. I have a lot of love for him still. We have our own issues and we probably won’t be friends again.
FIB: Why did the band finally part ways with Alan?
Jack: There were two reasons I fired him. One, he came up to me one day, we were at his office. He says, ‘Jack, you need to stop moving around so much. You look silly at your age’. I’m like thirty-something, right? I said, ‘what about Steven Tyler?’, he says, ‘he looks ridiculous’. We definitely weren’t on the same page. Two, we were on the road doing some shows, I was doing some interviews and he calls me up screaming at me about something I had said in an interview…..and I thought, you know what, I don’t need this shit anymore. I don’t need somebody telling me how to dress……what to say in interviews, for God’s sake. This is my band, I can speak for myself. So, I called the guys and said look this is what I’m going to do. I called up all the other important people, like the accountants – this is what I’m going to do, just be aware. We went to his house at 7 in the morning and he said, ‘what do you fuckers want?’ and I said, ‘do you remember when you used to tell me that if we ever wanted a different manager that you wouldn’t have any problem with it? We really feel that we need a change right now.’ He goes, ‘I can expect that from a deceitful little fucker like you Jack Russell. Get the fuck out of my house. Michael, you can stay here.’ Michael goes, ‘nah, I gotta go with these guys, man’ (laughs). Kudos for Michael. It was not fun. I don’t enjoy telling that story. You asked and that’s what happened. It wasn’t because he was a bad manager. We had just grown apart. His vision for the band was different than my vision. I just felt it was time for a change….and I’m glad we did because we came out with ‘Let it Rock’, which I think is a brilliant record. Then there was ‘Can’t Get There from Here’, which as I said earlier, is my favorite Great white record. I love that record. Everything came together sonically, great songs, great melodies, great lyrics.
FIB: Someone sent me an interview where they were talking to Alan Niven (Managed Great White & Guns n Roses) about how wasted everyone was in Guns n Roses, at the height of their fame, and he said something like, ‘bitch please, I had to manage Jack Russell.
Jack: (Silence) When did he say that?
FIB: I’m not sure, I think it was something recent. I’m exaggerating, he didn’t say it quite like that.
Jack: Everybody partied like that back then. He and I spent so much time partying together, the amount of cocaine that we went through in our days.
FIB: Do you still smoke cigarettes?
Jack: You know what? I just quit today. I gave it to my wife for our anniversary. She said, ‘Jack, you’re twelve years older than me, I’m going to lose you soon enough. I want to spend as much time as I can with you’. Oh God, how do you argue with that?
FIB: It’s amazing that the cigarettes haven’t damaged your voice.
Jack: Yeah, it really is. I’m blessed. I thank God at least five or six times everyday. He’s probably saying, ‘Jack, enough already, Jesus Christ, quit bugging me’ (laughs).
FIB: Your wife is from Denver, right? We’re in Colorado Springs, at the moment.
Jack: I love the Springs, man. Yeah she’s from Denver. She’s a nurse, thank God. She really saved my life.
FIB: How have you grown as a lyricist?
Jack: The lyrics I write now….I’ve gotten away from the ‘I wanna fuck you baby’ to talking about my real, personal life. Not so much the ‘Mista Bone’, ‘Lady Red Light’, ‘Rock Me’ lyrics. I’m not saying ‘Rock Me’ is a bad song. It’s a beautiful song, I love that song….it’s one of my favorites…..all those are great songs, but the lyrics have gotten more introspective. Back in those days that’s all it was about…..it was about pussy, man….having fun with chicks…..partying and pussy, that’s all it was…..So we were writing about our lives. But now we’re older. I have more interesting things in my life and more things that people can relate to. We all go through the same shit. Whether you’re a singer, or a french fry guy, you go through the same things. You have the same heartaches, the same problems, same stress, same pressures. To be able to reach a person through the song, it’s a real gift to be a part of. Sometimes people want to put a sad song on and cry their eyes out because they just got out of a relationship. Or sometimes there’s a song like, ‘oh, I don’t need that bitch’. (laughs) There’s something for everybody. People will come up to me and say, ‘what’s this song about’ and I’ll say, ‘what do you think it’s about’ and they’ll tell me and even if they’re wrong, I will tell them they’re right…..because they are. Whatever the song means to that person, that’s what it means.
FIB: And even what it means to you. I’m sure that even changes over time.
Jack: Oh sure. Absolutely. I just start writing. I never sit down and go, ok, I’m going to write a song about this. I just start thinking of melodies and music….then maybe I write a line and that line might be the third line in the third verse. I normally don’t start with the first line. The song just kind of evolves. I know it is divinely inspired because I can’t think of crap until I have to.
Great White – “Rock Me”
FIB: Did you know that ‘Rock Me’ would be the song that launched your career?
Jack: Oh yeah, dude. I remember sitting in the studio with Mark and listening to ‘Rock Me’ on playback and I looked over at him and go, ‘dude, this could be really big’ and we’d start giggling.
FIB: Do you remember writing the song?
Jack: Absolutely. I remember they gave me the music and after two weeks, I’m trying to figure out what to sing to it. (Jack starts singing the lyrics to ‘Rock Me’ and then humming the melody) ‘Sweet little babe, you don’t have to go’….etc. It started with the melody and then the lyrics. Alan wrote some great lyrics and Alan and I wrote some great lyrics together. It was a great band at that time. It still is a great band, for me. I hear that other thing and it’s just not Great white, it’s a tribute band. If you close your eyes it’s going to be a tribute band playing songs by Great white.
FIB: Hopefully you guys just need a little time away from each other and will eventually come back together again.
Jack: The unfortunate thing about this is there is no going back. I will never entertain the possibility of going back with those guys, not after what they did to me. Watching my wife cry because my friends never called. It destroyed her as a person because she is not like that, she doesn’t come from my world. She’s never smoked a cigarette, never drank, never had a drug. She’s like ‘these guys are your friends?….you’ve been with them for thirty years and they don’t even call you?’ I tried to make up excuses for them, they’re just mad at me, they still love me, but I was wrong, she was right.
If you found this first, make sure to read Part I w/ Jack Russell