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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Great White Vocalist Jack Russell

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Tuesday, March 1, 2005 @ 12:25 AM


Still Bitten: Kerby's Exclusiv

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Each day is a fragile endeavor.

I happened to see Great White at sound check about a month before the devastating fire in Rhode Island two years ago. At the time, the band was having problems getting the mix to sound just right, and Jack was obviously more than a bit chagrined by the technical issues they were dealing with that night in Albuquerque. While the man working the soundboard frantically adjusted assorted knobs and dials, Russell authoritatively instructed the rest of the group in the confident manner indicative of one in control. If there were ever any question as to his ability to lead this band, it would have been quickly dispelled by anyone viewing the scene. That isnít to say Jack was being an insufferable dictator at the time or anything like that, more accurately, it was simply a case where it was obvious that a certain pecking order had long since been established, and Russell just happened to be the person best equipped to deal with any particular malady that might arise. The part of this episode that surprised me the most though was that even with the irritation and low-level turmoil surrounding him, Jackís voice remained intense and soulful throughout. That nightís performance ended up being a typically solid Great White performance and in fact was the type of concert that fans have always known they could count on the band to perform.

A stellar show is exactly what those who came out on that cold February evening two years ago were anticipatingÖ what they didnít expect was a night of terror that would result in many never making it out alive. It was a painful realization: the people who met their end that night would never see their loved ones again or view their childrenís faces or even have a chance to say a last goodbye to those around who meant the most to them. If that wasnít enough, there are still hundreds more who managed to survive the incident but who now live with various scars and injuries that serve as a constant reminder of what occurred on that disastrous night when all this group of people wanted to do was go to a club and hear some metalósomething many of us have done a countless times.

How people deal with a catastrophe of that magnitude tells much about themóafter all, there simply is no manual to deal with how one is supposed to cope with the guilt of having even a tangential role in the death of upwards of a hundred people, and thatís true regardless of who specifically is to blame. Since the catastrophe that night, Jack Russell has been both blamed and vilified by a press who would like nothing better than to locate a specific scapegoat and find an individual with which to place blame. The result, of course, is that Jack lives every day knowing the reality of what happened that night while also being forced to temper that understanding with the realization that no one wants to hear him complain about fateís cruel hand when so many related to this event have had it so much worse--at least heís alive. After a period of time following the fire that included extensive interaction with a psychiatrist, the singer was finally able to begin the task of trying to pick up the remnants of what was left of his life. Part of this process of moving into the future for Jack Russell and Great White has included touring and raising money for The Station Family Fund as well as contributed a version of ďSave Your LoveĒ for the recently released collection VH-1Metal Mania Stripped.

That this could have happened to an individual who I previously considered to be one of the most well adjusted figures to come out of Ď80s metal just goes to show how tenuous life is and how on any given day an event can happen that will not only alter everything that is to come, but also cast a dim shadow on what has come before it as well.

KNAC.COM: How has your attitude towards the press changed over the last two years?
RUSSELL: [Laughs] Gee, what do you mean by that? You know, some of the press has reported the facts, but others have definitely sensationalized the story. I understand that, but when youíre on the receiving end of that type of thing, it definitely pisses you off. Itís like, ďJust report the fuckiní facts,Ē you know?

KNAC.COM: Was dealing with the mainstream press different than dealing with those who normally cover rock or metal? It seems as though the latter would be a little more sympathetic.
RUSSELL: In general, when this first happened, people didnít really know what went down until later on, and then they started correcting themselves. When something of that magnitude happens, people donít really know what is going on except for what is happening right at that time.

KNAC.COM: By then, the damage is done, isnít it? Nobody pays attention to retractions do they?
RUSSELL: Exactly. Itís not something that happens all the time, so I get itóI understand. I also know that everybody is just trying to do their job, but there are some reporters, though ,that after I listened to what they said right after the fire, that there is no way I would ever speak to them again. They just donít know what theyíre fucking doing.

KNAC.COM: Well, and writing about a catastrophe such as that one should probably be done with a bit more care than composing a write-up about a bake sale.
RUSSELL: Definitely. These are peopleís lives here and there are all kinds of feelings involved. Unfortunately, some want to sensationalize things more than they care about the people they hurt. Itís not going to bother them. Itís almost as if they donít have any morals at all. Some though, were very honest and reported the facts--they didnít get into what their opinions were or anything like that. Like you said, a lot of initial damage was done before people even knew the facts.

KNAC.COM: Iím sure that there had to have been a time during all that when you just wanted to hide from television, the newspapersóbasically everyoneóand escape or disappear.
RUSSELL: Yeah, I swear I spent two straight months on the psychiatristís couch. I was just in hell. I was so upset and bummed outÖ I was just crying all the time. These were friends, and it really hurt. It took me about a year though to figure out that there wasnít anything I could have done to have avoided what happened other than stop what I do for a living--which is sing. It took me a long time to figure that out and come to terms with it. Of course, Iím always going to feel bad about it though.

KNAC.COM: What is the proper way to get over something like that?
RUSSELL: I donít know. Thereís no book that tells you how to get on after something like that happens. There wasnít even anyone to askóthis was almost unprecedented.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that the mainstream press is guilty of treating the fire as well as the recent Dimebag shooting differently than other tragedies because they involved metal? I mean it almost seemed as though the victims of the fire were somehow deemed more expendable because they were labeled as ďworking class rock fans.Ē Would the press have reacted differently if the incident had happened at a Rolling Stones show?
RUSSELL: You know, I couldnít really say. I donít have a clue. I just look at me and sometimes think, ďWhy me?Ē Well, I was one of the lucky ones though because I walked out of there. Iíve got no complaints. My life is that much sweeter now because I really appreciate everything I have. Things that were important to me two years ago arenít that important to me now. Itís all about family and friendsónothing material. I could give two shits about that stuff at this point.

KNAC.COM: Thatís interesting as well because any time something happens, people start discussing lawsuits--this was no different. The problem I had though was that many made it sound as if they thought you had unlimited resources or were obscenely wealthy. Thatís not the case.
RUSSELL: No, exactly. That part though isnít a really big deal in my life. Material things just arenít where Iím at right now. Whatever people need to do to relieve their grief is fine with me. If you want to sue me, sue meóIíve got big shoulders.

KNAC.COM: Can you describe the first time you took the stage after the fire?
RUSSELL: I was a little apprehensive because we didnít know what to expect. It was a packed show though, and the people were really gracious and supportive of us and what we were trying to do. It really reinforced my belief in humanity in a way because there was a time in my life where I didnít care about anyone else, and now, for me to see people caring about others is inspiring. Our fans really are blue-collar type people, and to see some of them putting $500 towards The Station Family Fund was great. I mean, that might be a weekís salary for that guy. It really is like the people who can afford to give the least, give the most. Where are the Donald Trumps of the world? Why arenít they down here helping out?

KNAC.COM: Arenít there more glamorous charities though, or ones that other people see as being more glamorous to champion than helping out the victims of this fire? Obviously, the tsunami that just occurred was greater in scale, but in many ways, it seems as though that cause is accepted in a different way--why do you think that is?
RUSSELL: You know, I donít get that either. For me, I think charity begins at home. I think some people are always more willing to help people overseas but when it comes to taking care of their own backyard, theyíre a little more reluctant. It seems as though instead of taking care of their own yard, some people would rather look over at his neighborís yard and start pulling his weeds. Itís almost like some people feel as if they are donating to someone at home that they arenít giving in some way. Itís like, ďWow, this is for somebody over in Thailand!Ē

KNAC.COM: Another dimension of this also appeared to center around the question of ďWhat were they doing out at a rock show anyway? Were they out drinkingÖ beer?!?!Ē
RUSSELL: I just donít understand what makes people think the way they do. My only goal right now is to raise awareness of the fund and get people to keep donating and realize that this thing isnít over. Yeah, itís been two years, but there are people out there who are going to need long term help. Itís not like, ďI gave five bucks two years ago--letís forget about it.Ē This isnít something you can just put a Band-Aid on and walk away from.

KNAC.COM: How does your desire to raise the profile of the fund affect how much or even where you tour?
RUSSELL: Itís been two years, and it has almost gotten back to a place of normalcy with regard to what we do. Every night we take donations for the fund, and weíre always donating part of our own income to that. We will continue to do so. For the most part, you donít want to forget it, but you also donít want to relive it every day of your life either. There was a time not so long ago where that is where we were at though. It was every day--thatís all we thought about. It was like you never got a respite from it. Now itís like I have a little peace in my life. Iíll never forget it, nor do I want to, but I just donít want to continue to live it over and over again every single day.

KNAC.COM: Realistically, when do you realize that nothing you ever do is going to be enough? You just canít make up for the disaster that occurred--can you ever even hope to make a dent?
RUSSELL: Absolutely not. You just have to hope to do the best you can.

KNAC.COM: That being said, let me ask you about the song Great White did for the VH-1 compilation. Did you realize that your ďSave Your LoveĒ would be closing out the record? Were you even aware of the sequence?
RUSSELL: No, but I thought that was really cool. It was like big, ďThank you.Ē Actually we knew Jani from before because he used to work with our old manager. When the guys from VH-1 presented the idea, we thought it was cool, and they even left on the little rap at the beginning. That was kind of nice.

KNAC.COM: What did you think of the collection of bands who are also on the disc? Were they groups you enjoyed listening to?
RUSSELL: I thought it was great. I really like the cd, and Iíve played it quite a bit at my house. I love Night Rangerís version of ďSister ChristianĒ, and there are some other great versions of songs on there as well.

KNAC.COM: The aspect of this project I liked the most was how cool some of the songs sounded on this disc that maybe I didnít enjoy in their previous forms.
RUSSELL: No, I know what you mean.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, when you describe this project and say that uh, weíre gonna have White Lion and Winger rock the house acoustically, I donít know how receptive everyone would initially be to that--but the results are definitely positive.
RUSSELL: I agree with you. Itís not like this is some kind of half ass thing where the bands were just offering whatever versions they had laying around. They were really well thought out, well played songs.

KNAC.COM: Who decided which groups would record their songs in the studio and which ones would do them live?
RUSSELL: It was pretty much left up to the bands themselves. They asked if the groups if they had any versions that would be good to use. For us, we had a live version of ďSave Your LoveĒ that we were doing that is going to be released on a DVD later this year. It was one of the songs that we did at The Palms in Las Vegas.

KNAC.COM: Do you try to block out the fact that you are being recorded live in a situation like that?
RUSSELL: No, not really. I mean, after this long, you kind of forget about it. Itís just another show. On the other hand, if youíre concerned about the tape rolling, youíre sure to mess things up. Itís like red light fever, you know?

KNAC.COM: I had wondered about that--there are quite a few bands at this point who are hitting the twenty-year mark, and sometimes I just donít know how often some of you guys even need to think to perform some of these songs. Itís like it is on Ozzyís show--it doesnít even look like he can form complete sentences half the time, yet when you see him live, he carries his end. How is that possible?
RUSSELL: [Laughs] I think itís that whole left-brain, right brain thing. I think itís just something that youíre so used to that you automatically go into it. Itís just like a reflex or breathing.

KNAC.COM: When you perform certain songs, is the act as normal to you as sayÖ eating lunch?
RUSSELL: Yeah, yeah. It really is like breathing. Itís like you just get up onstage and do what youíve always done.

KNAC.COM: Throughout the duration of your career, have you come to enjoy performing certain songs that maybe you didnít originally like doing years ago?
RUSSELL: Absolutely! ďOnce Bitten, Twice ShyĒ is a perfect example. I never liked that song.

KNAC.COM: How is that possible?
RUSSELL: I liked the idea of the hook and everything, but I never thought it was going to be a hit. First of all, it only takes forty-five seconds to get to the chorus. You just donít do that. In my head I was thinking that there was no way this would work. Over the years though, I have grown to really respect the writing there a lot. Itís because it is a little different that makes it kind of cool.

KNAC.COM: Did it ever seem like that song is the antithesis to the album version of ďRock MeĒ where it takes like an hour and a half to get the chorus? [Laughs]
RUSSELL: To me, that one was almost completely different because I thought that song could be really cool and that we had something special there. Of course, part of it would depend on what the label did with it. I knew in that case that we had something pretty interesting with that one.

KNAC.COM: I assume that at some point though that a person from the record company came to you wanting to shave some of the introduction off of ďRock MeĒ--did that bother you or did you not even care?
RUSSELL: Oh yeah, it didnít bother me. I understood, so we did an edit for the video. It was like most of the songs on the disc were four minutes long, and then, here was this other one coming in at over seven minutes.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of videos, everyone will always remember the one for ďOnce Bitten, Twice ShyĒ because of the chicks. Was making that video as fun as it appeared?
RUSSELL: Yeah--it was a blast. We had a great time. It was one of the few videos that was actually fun.

KNAC.COM: What would make a video not be a fun experience for you?
RUSSELL: Itís like the status quo was for you to show up at 6 AM, and then they would toss all this make up on you--I was hating that anyway. Then, after they got you all painted up and ready--you didnít do anything until three in the afternoon. Itís like, ďWhy was I here that early then to sit here for nine hours or whatever?Ē

KNAC.COM: Did you ever get to experience the pleasure of acting in your videos? I canít recall any one that you did.
RUSSELL: No, I never did that. I never liked that.

KNAC.COM: Were you ever approached by anyone who went, ďOk, you need to move over here, and this is where you change into the detective costume.Ē?
RUSSELL: Yeah, they asked us to do stuff like that, but I always told them that I wasnít an actor. I didnít want to be an actor either. I am a singer--I told them that if they wanted an actor to go and get an actor. Iíd rather see a band play live. Let the actors do the acting. Iím a lead singer, Iíll just sing.

KNAC.COM: Donít you think that approach to making videos wears better over time?
RUSSELL: I think so, you know, you do what you do. Donít try to be an actor if youíre not. Itís like, ďIím not a waitress, Iím an actress.Ē Címon.

KNAC.COM: Why do you think that actors many times believe they have license to be musicians, and vice-versa?
RUSSELL: I donít know. It just seems cheesy. It never appealed to me. I just had no interest in doing that.

KNAC.COM: For those who now have to endure clips of themselves chained to walls and pushing over pillars on VH-1, is there any other way for them to view those videos other than with laughter?
RUSSELL: [Laughs] If you look at the first videos that came out, they were just so hokie. Eventually, things got better and the technology improved.

KNAC.COM: How much, if any, do you think the advent of videos hurt music?
RUSSELL: It ruined music. It was like the gold rush. People who were huge for five minutes were suddenly gone. There were people who looked good on T.V. and maybe had a good video, but then they just went away because their music was horrible when it was played on the radio. People got sick of listening to that type of music and the bottom just fell out of that genre of music. What was the first video MTV played? ďVideo Killed the Radio StarĒóthey knew what they were doing from square one.

KNAC.COM: Donít you think that another problem with metal in the late eighties and early nineties was that the first power ballads that made it big emanated from groups that rocked firstóbut later, poser groups were just releasing albums with six or seven ballads and some mid-tempo rockers that sucked?
RUSSELL: I agree totally.

KNAC.COM: In the end, you have to have songs that appeal to the ladies, but at the same time, having the respect of the guys should be kind of important too, right? No self-respecting dude wants to say that he was rocking a Danger Danger t-shirt back in the day.
RUSSELL: [Laughs] I know exactly where youíre coming from, and I agree. One of the parts of the music that I thought was important was that kind of blues influence. Cinderella was one of my favorite bands of that era because of that. I thought they had some really great songs.

KNAC.COM: Donít you feel like that influence makes the music more substantial? Did that initially spring from your love of Zeppelin?
RUSSELL: You know, not really because I didnít discover true blues until I got older. It actually came through a comment Joe Perry made through a friend that basically said, ďGo back a little further.Ē Thatís when I started discovering Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Howliní Wolf. I figured out pretty quickly that there was this whole other thing out here. Then, that led into a discovery of country music for me as well.

KNAC.COM: What kind of a revelation was that for you?
RUSSELL: It was amazing because I got to see where rock and roll really came from.

KNAC.COM: Isnít that funny that within the metal community for so many years there was this perception that everything except hard rock sucked, yet it definitely owed so much to these other musical forms?
RUSSELL: Absolutely. The roots are all the sameóespecially in the United States. They all start from a certain point, and then itís just a matter of which branch grew in what direction.

KNAC.COM: Recently, Rolling Stone had an article with [Motley Crue bassist] Nikki Sixx where he basically said that Led Zeppelin was overrated. The whole time, Iím thinkingÖ uh, itís actually pretty easy to understate the legacy of that band.
RUSSELL: [Laughs] Yeah, you have got to consider the source though.

KNAC.COM: It just seemed like such a misguided quote in the respect that Led Zeppelin still stands up today where so many other bands whose music that is much newer already sounds rote and dated.
RUSSELL: It is sort of like saying that the Beatles were ďokay -- they had a couple of good songs.Ē

KNAC.COM: A statement like that has to take in consideration that Zeppelin was not only an innovative, talented group, but they are a band whose progeny includes Great White as well as a number of bands that went on to produce tremendous music based on their influence.
RUSSELL: It almost represents two generations of musicians.

KNAC.COM: They also managed to combine atmospheric lyricism with music thatÖ well, how does anyone compete with Jon Bonhamís drumming even in 2005?
RUSSELL: Listen to the production quality of their music. It definitely stands up to music of today.

KNAC.COM: What component of Great White allows the band to perform Led Zeppelin material in almost an eerie way sometimes?
RUSSELL: I just always figured, if you are going to do a Zeppelin-type song, then do a Zeppelin song. That was the whole idea of doing that. I could copy them pretty well, and we play it really well, so since it was part of our roots, we just decided to go with it. To me, I need to have fun, and if Iím not enjoying myself, then I donít want to do this. The day this becomes a job to me, I donít want to do it. Thatís when Iíll quitóI donít want to work. [Laughs]


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