INTERVIEW: Jack Russell – Jack Russell’s Great White

Jack reveals all in a new interview with The Rockpit

Great White was one of the best bands to surface out of the 80’s hard rock explosion, forming in 1977 as Dante Fox they released their first EP as Great White: ‘Out in the Night’ in 1983 putting them ahead of the curve and a good few years ahead of Rock’s mainstream peak. As their popularity grew in the 80’s they hit the heights with ‘Once Bitten’ in 1987 and ‘…Twice Shy’ in 1989. Unlike some bands of that vintage they even survived ‘Grunge’ and always managed to put out some fine records.

There were splits and reformations throughout the early part of the 2000’s the first in that very year before in 2010 Jack was kicked out of the band amidst illness and allegations of drug and alcohol abuse. In 2011 he formed ‘Jack Russell’s Great White’, whilst the remainder of his 2010 band mates with the addition of Terry Illous carried on as ‘Great White’. If ever there was a band that should be the basis of a documentary we’ve only just scratched the surface!

This year saw the release of Jack’s first album with ‘his’ Great White, and it’s an album that might well surprise fans of the Bluesy Rock that he owned back in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s an album of great diversity and scope, and though it might not sound like ‘his old band’ his voice still stands out strong as ever. We caught up with Jack to find out all about the album and what’s on the horizon for him and his shipmates…

Jack: Hey Mark, this is Jack Russell, how you doing?

Mark: I’m good thanks Jack, how are you?

Jack: I’m good, I’m really good. I’ve not been this god in a long time, and every day I keep getting a little bit better, you know (laughs)

Mark: That’s great to hear, thank you so much for talking to The Rockpit today Jack, we’ve been fans from the early days so we’ve been eagerly awaiting the new album HE SAW IT COMIN’. When we heard it a few weeks back, it really took us by surprise, though a pleasant surprise at that! So congratulations on the new album, what’s the reaction been like from fans?

Jack: My pleasure, and thank you. It’s been really great here, I mean all the reviews have been just fantastic. People are listening to it and going “well it’s not what we expected but. Wow it’s really good!” I didn’t want to go out and just rehash another old Great White album, I wanted to do something that was different, but not that was too different it would turn our fans off, but something that hopefully would get more people to like us, you know. And I think it’s paying off, I really do, you know people are really loving the record, I hear a lot of great comments. Of course there’s always going to be the oddball that doesn’t like it, but you know that’s alright, you can’t please everybody.

Mark: We found it really diverse, was that something you set out to do? Push a few boundaries? Or is that just how it evolved as it came out?

Jack: Well we did want it to have a certain sound, and we started from that, what as the word we used – ‘Retro Modern’! I think we accomplished that, but as far as the songs go, you know, the songs kinda write themselves. I’ve always felt a song is basically where I’m at emotionally at that time in my life, like a snapshot of where I’m at, at that moment. And put that together with Robbie (Lochner, guitar in Jack Russell’s Great White) and myself and we both put our ideas together, remember that this is the first time I’ve ever written with Robbie, so I didn’t know how the collaboration was gonna be. I mean I’ve never really written with anyone else except Mark (Kendall, guitarist with Great White) really, except on a couple of occasions on my solo albums, but for the most part it had all been with my old band. So writing with somebody where I had no idea what he liked or disliked was a whole new experience. But when I realised what we both brought to the table was really, really complimentary, plus the fact that it was just so easy, we were just on a roll, and as I said, the songs just started to write themselves.

Mark: were you apprehensive about getting back in the studio and testing that new writing dynamic, it must have been ‘Rising’ in 2009 the last time you recorded an album?

Jack: No I wasn’t apprehensive at all. My voice felt great and we had a bunch of great songs and we just put them down as we had them, then we got ready to mix and we decided to get a friend of ours to mix it as we wanted someone a little removed from it. Robbie recorded it but we didn’t want him mixing it, I wanted us both to be able to listen to the producers and just concentrate on what was going on, and not having the pressure of doing the mix ourselves. I think it came out really good, I was really happy with the sound.

Mark: It’s a great album I love it, I love the freshness, but every time I listen to it there’s a new different favourite song for me. And it really seems like some of your formative influences are coming through on there. Just one example – ‘Anything For You’: a cool jangly ballad, there’s an almost Beatleseque moment on that song, that just elevates it.

Jack: Well, yeah there are definitely a lot of influences on here you know and The Beatles being one of them. That was the first band. That was the band that changed my life. They were really pivotal for me in changing the course of my life when I was a younger kid. So that’s always going to be there. You know I think that everything that you’ve ever liked and listened to somehow will find its way into your music. I mean there’s only 12 notes (laughs) what are you going to do with them!? And you try to make it interesting and create differently but you can always find some resemblances. Like Jimmy Page said “There’s no escaping your roots” and that’s true.

Mark: There are some great songs on there, the title track I think is one of my current favourites, and again there’s an almost early British Rock sound on there?

Jack: Oh yeah, a lot of people say Queen. I love that song too, that’s actually the story of my life as a child when I was given the gift of foresight on my sixth birthday, when my parents bought me The Beatles ‘Help’ album and all of a sudden I knew what I was going to be in life. I mean I didn’t think it, I knew it. For that knowledge to be imparted to a six year old kid, as you can imagine, it was pretty heavy, you know, it was like “Whoa!” It was like nothing short of the skies opening up, it was an incredible moment and I’ll never forget the feeling.

Mark: It’s always interesting when people talk about that one moment when they know their path in life, and for you for that to come so early it’s like a revelation!

Jack: Oh it was, I mean I had this incredible feeling, and, I don’t know, people may not believe in God, but I personally do because I’ve experienced him in my life, and that was one of the moments I experienced him. And whatever any man’s conception of God is, or if they don’t believe in God, I’m just telling my truth you know. That’s what happened to me, think of it what you will, but I believed it was a God shot. Before that I wanted to be an archaeologist, I was like fully into that whole fossil thing, the next thing you know I’m a dinosaur! (laughs)

Mark: (laughing) I love that!

Mark: As someone who has seen Great White a good few times over the years I actually did a bit of a Great White road trip back in 2010, when the whole ‘split’ was unfolding. I came out to see you at the Rock N America Festival with my OKC mates that year, where I thought you were great. Then I got to see you over in Vegas at the Sunset Station, where after the show you and the guys kindly signed some shots I took at the Festival, and that was a great show too.

Jack: I remember that, what a trip!

Mark: Then the next time a few days later I turned up at the Brixton in L.A. (A Redondo Beach venue now sadly closed and where that very night I got to hang with Michael Anthony of Van Halen) and there was a handwritten note pinned to the door saying that you’d been taken ill.

Jack: No kidding… That’s horrible I forget what happened that night. My memory’s real bad you know, I forget that night. I’ve done some mean things to my body and my memory goes “And you want me to remember that, yeah? Right!” (laughs) “Really!?I don’t think so! You’re lucky to get to remember your childhood!”

Mark: That must have been a real horrible night for you being incapacitated in the hospital not able to do anything, and there was a real sense of love but also fear in the room, not just from the fans but the band too.

Jack: There were so many times I was in there you know for various things, I burst my colon I was in a coma for five days, then I was in a coma for three and a half months and I’d get out and have a pulmonary embolism, all this stuff. Then there were the broken bones, I shattered my femur, at one stage they had to put a rod in there. I shattered my pelvis, that’s all wired together now, I have three screws in my right hip, I have three screws in my ankle, I tore my Achilles tendon off the bone. I just was really messing myself up you know and finally about a year and a half ago… I ended up in a coma from drinking and the doctors said, he told me in no uncertain terms that if I drink again I am going to die. Not you might, you may, you could, you absolutely will die. The next time you drink… your liver won’t take one more time. So I decided, well I don’t really have any choice, it’s like putting a loaded gun to my head the outcome is the same thing. So I just stopped. I’m done. You know I’ve had my drinking that’s all there is to it, and now my life is back on track better than it ever was. Things have changed. Today I believe we came out with a really great album and you know I’m happy as a pig in a pile of poop!    

Mark: In a way do you feel like music has saved you again? Is music what gave you the will to do that?

Jack: Absolutely! Absolutely, that and my wife really. I put her before anything and that’s the first time in my life I have put anything before my music. She’s my world, you know without her I wouldn’t have anything. I mean I wouldn’t even be alive, she nursed my back to health every time I was down, and she was my coach and my cheerleader and my inspiration for my songs. You know, I love her Mark, I never had a love so big for any human being. I can’t imagine ever being without here.

Mark: Well were all rooting that you and Heather get many more years together and you make us a lot more music along the way.

Jack: Thank you.

Mark: One of the things I hate, as a fan, about when a band splits is when people just won’t speak. Sure in all our lives we all have times when we feel let down, when people do things we can’t accept, when we feel that we just want to move on. But I always like to think that even if people don’t want to be part of each other’s lives there’s still no reason, especially when you’ve shared so much, that you should still be able to talk?

Jack: That bothers me too. I have nothing against those guys, if Mark called me up tomorrow and said “How you doing” I’d say “I’m doing good, how are you?” but that’ll never happen, so I guess the ball’s in their court. I mean I’ve forgiven them, it’s a long time ago, so… I don’t know. We’ll have to see how that plays out. It’s sad you know because over time you’re not just friends you become family. You know at one point we were closer than brothers, we used to say it was more than a marriage and it was true. But then you know, when the chips were down it all became about money, and I understand that, times are tough, but I’ve never turned my back on anyone like that. Sure I’ve had to fire people, but this was more the way that they did it that upset me, and I see where they were coming from. But like I said I have no animosity to them at all, I hope they do well, I just hope I do a little better! (laughs)

Mark: (laughing) That’s the way! You’ve had such a long and interesting career and been on the road with so many great bands, do you have any particular moments that have stuck in your memory about bands you’ve played with?

Jack: One I’ll always remember, I met Rob Halford in like 1982 at the Troubadour in Hollywood, and I walked up to him, or at least I was trying to walk up to him and one of the road crew was there with him, this little guy named Desmond, a drum tech, and he was really mean to me, I was like “I don’t like that guy”. Anyway Rob let me come into his little circle and I said “Hey man, I just want to introduce myself. You probably won’t remember me, but I’m going to open for you one day”. And he was nice, he just said “Alright man, good for you.” Then in ’84 we were opening for them on ‘Defenders of the Faith’ and I walked up to Rob and said “Hey Rob, you probably don’t remember me, but I came up to you a couple of years ago at the Troubadour and told you I was going to open up for you, well here I am”. And he goes “Wow, that is such an incredible story”. And the funny thing was after that me and the road crew guy became really great friends! That was a really great moment for me that probably only means something to me. Just to be able to see that coming.

Mark: That’s a great story.

Jack: I remember touring with Whitesnake at an old bar in an old hotel near a castle at a piano bar and I’m sitting next to Jon Lord at the piano bar and he’s playing Deep Purple and I’m singing ‘Sweet Child in Time’ and all I’m thinking is “God I’m sat here at the piano singing with Jon Lord!” It’s just one of those great moments.

Mark: I think that must have been the first time I saw you live, was that the ‘Slide it In’ Tour?

Jack: Yep, that was the’ Slide it In Tour’, that was our first tour, period, our first real tour. Unbelievable, unbelievable!

Mark: And the next time I saw you was when you got to play ‘Monsters of Rock’ in 1988! (the German and Netherlands dates sadly not the UK Festival, though it was my first overseas Festival)

Jack: Yeah that was great, that was fun! Iron Maiden, Kiss, Dave Lee Roth! I forget who else (It was Anthrax and Helloween in the Netherlands) We had a great time, in Germany there were 69,000 people and I was like “Oh my God!” That’s a lot of people!

Mark: So what have you got coming up live this year?

Jack: We’re trying to get out to the UK at the moment there’s this Festival we’re trying to get on, so if we can get over and do that and maybe a couple of other shows, but I’m really trying to get a tour of Europe going – I mean why go all that way and only do two shows, you know! Let’s spend a little while, or even a UK Tour?

Mark: So many opportunities, and I guess so many places where Great White never toured back in the day?

Jack: Europe’s great I love it, but I’ve never been to Australia, and that’s where I really, really want to go! That’s on my bucket list you know and I always wanted to go to New Zealand see the scenery then come to Australia see the ‘Outback’ and just trip on the billabongs and the native culture, I just want to go ‘aborigine’ you know!

Mark: There is of course that great Australian connection with those songs that Alan Niven brought to you back in the day from Australian band The Angels (‘Angels from Angel City’ in the US) – ‘Face the Day’ and ‘Can’t Shake It’ I spoke to Rick Brewster a while back and he said that you were the only singer he thought did those songs justice aside from Doc (Doc Neeson The Angels original vocalist).

Jack: Absolutely, tell Rick I said hello. But c’mon that’s too much. Such a great compliment.

Mark: We will have to get you over, to see you both on the same bill!

Jack: Oh man that’s a dream, we never played Australia, never played South America, so why not now! I mean Jack Russell’s Great White – why doesn’t that go to Australia – it screams Australia! We’d love to do that!

Mark: Just a couple of quick questions to close with, the first in truth I’ve been dying to ask you since we started talking. If you could have been a ‘fly on the wall’ for the creation of any great album just to see how the magic happened what would it have been for you and why?

Jack: Zeppelin IV. I would have liked to have been there when they did ‘Stairway to Heaven’ that’s just one of those songs you wish you could have written or just seen being created. When we did that album ‘A Tribute to Led Zeppelin’ when I was singing the songs it was almost as if I could feel how it must have felt to have been those guys, how cool it must to have been Robert Plant at that time! Just having tis catalogue of amazing songs and being almost God-like, it would have been so heavy. It took me to that place where I could almost get just that sense of what it would have been like. I would have loved to have soaked up what was going on. That or Aerosmith’s ‘Toys in the Attic’.

Mark: Yeah not a bad second pick, my favourite band.

Jack: That’s my favourite band too.

Mark: One easy question to close with: ‘what is the meaning of life’?

Jack: What is the meaning of life?

Mark: Yes, always an easy one to close with!

Jack: I think it’s to learn, to learn and become more enlightened, more godlike, that’s what I think. Life is a school and we go through it and we can do it over again or get it right.

Mark: I think that’s a great answer. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you today Jack and thank you so much for your time.

Jack: Oh you too, and to the fans out there I just want to say God bless all of you and if things stack up I can’t wait to get Downunder and do some shows!

Mark: Let’s make it happen.

Jack: Keep in touch, thanks a lot mate! (that last part was of course delivered in an Aussie accent!)

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