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Chasing His Demons: An interview with Jack Russell of Great White

By Charlie Steffens, aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Saturday, February 3, 2007 @ 5:54 PM


If you think that all there is

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KNAC.COM: Thanks for making the time to talk.

RUSSELL: Thanks for the support. I appreciate it.

KNAC.COM: We’ve been supporters and fans of Great White all the way back to the 105.5 FM radio days.

RUSSELL: Right on, man. Thanks. It’s been a long relationship.

KNAC.COM: I heard you have about 13 songs written for the upcoming album.

RUSSELL: Yeah, we got 13 or 14 songs written, so it’s really exciting…I’m really pumped. The stuff’s amazing. It’s nice to be able to go and throw down with the original guys, you know? I mean, it’s been six or seven years, I think, since all of us have been together, I mean as a group. We’ve been rehearsing for the last few nights, and last night the hair on my arms was just standing up. This is the real band, now. Me and Mark and some other people were out on the road and it was kind of “Fake White” (laughs). It still sounded like Great White, but not—almost like we were doing a cover of ourselves.

KNAC.COM: How far back are you going back in your discography for this tour?

RUSSELL: Well, we go back to the first record, the first EP. We try to do something from every record if we can. It’s a little difficult because some records get skipped over because nobody wants to see four hours of anybody. I certainly don’t want to sing for four hours—I wouldn’t want to subject anybody to four hours of Great White music--fans or not (laughs). We try to hit on most of the songs and ones that people aren’t going to suspect…or expect, I should say.

KNAC.COM: Are the songs on the forthcoming album from the vault or is it mostly new stuff?

RUSSELL: There’s some brand new stuff and there’s some stuff that we had written. We were going to do another album for Portrait/Sony and that’s when I kind of decided to pull the plug on the whole thing. I just didn’t think it wasn’t going to be a great record, so I said ‘Let’s just not, right now,’ so we looked back at a few of those and there were a few that were really great songs and we kept those and we just wrote the rest—some new stuff. It’s really cool. The record’s really eclectic, as the last one was, but it kind of explores the whole realm of where Great White has been throughout its musical career. One song’s almost a step back. I don’t mean in like a negative way…just kind of a step back, kind of a look at where we came from. It’s pretty cool. I’m kind of excited about it, so I think people will dig it. If you’re a Great White fan then you’ll love it.

KNAC.COM: Are you still writing with Jack Blades [Night Ranger]?

RUSSELL: Actually, Mark and Michael and myself. Back to the old originals. The new originals (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Aside from your solo material, it seems like you’ve stayed the same musically, for the most part. Can we expect more of that?

RUSSELL: We’ve never tried to be anything other than what we are. Hopefully, as the years go by you get a little better at stuff, you figure out how to write better songs, or you at least keep at the status quo…at a high level. For us, we’ve never tried to ‘Okay, let’s be cool now. Let’s be grunge, because grunge is in’. If styles change, fine, but I’m not going to take off my jeans because they’re out of style, you know what I mean? Great White is what Great White is, and for all its good and bad points it’s going to remain that. We never really wanted to try to be something that we weren’t. The bottom line is: I have to like the music I write. If nobody else bought a single copy I would at least have something to put in my CD player and be proud of and really dig listening to. I write songs for myself, first and foremost, and if somebody else likes them that’s a bonus.

KNAC.COM: The album For You was for you, right?

RUSSELL: Exactly. That was something for me because it was a little outside the realm of Great White…not completely, but a lot of it, yes. There was some stuff that I couldn’t do with the band and I wanted to explore some certain areas of my own musical personality and that enabled me to do that, you know? And I plan on doing another one as a matter of fact, but that’s later on to come. My focus right now is on Great White and it will remain that for a while. I think if I did the slow thing again I doubt that I’ll take it on the road. I’ll just put out a record just to do it and stay focused on Great White, because as much fun as the solo thing was that I wrote—I just really miss the band, you know?

KNAC.COM: Your true fans like that record… and then I’d imagine some of your true fans are probably thinking ‘What? What’s he thinking, man’? At least it’s not a hack job, like Rod Stewart doing those standards. Oh my God. That was horrible.

RUSSELL: Yeah, you kind of wonder what was going on there…scratch your head on that one a little bit. I don’t know. Everybody’s gotta do their own thing.

KNAC.COM: You never know what people are going to like.

RUSSELL: Exactly. It’s true. You just got to keep your standards high and write the stuff you love to hear, and like I said, hopefully somebody else will dig it.

KNAC.COM: You did a guest vocal on the new Liberty and Justice album.

RUSSELL: Yeah…that was different. It was a…it was something to do (laughs). It was something completely out of the box for me, something I would have never come up for myself, so it was kind of neat to take a song that somebody else had written and say ‘Okay, this is how it’s supposed to go, do what you want to do with it, but kinda keep it in the realms of what we’re trying to do here,’ so it was difficult for me. It was a challenge because I wanted to keep going ‘I can do this to it and do that to it and make this change to it and do that,’ and I thought ‘You know what? Let’s leave the guys’ song intact’. Add a couple cool things for flavor, but I don’t want to rewrite somebody’s tune for them. It was cool. I enjoyed doing it.

KNAC.COM: Liberty and Justice is a Christian metal band. Is your faith in alignment with theirs?

RUSSELL: My views on that whole thing, on religion, are a little removed from the norm. I’m more into Eastern, Hinduism, Buddhist-kind of reincarnation thing. Not that I don’t believe in Jesus Christ. Whether he was the actual Son of God or not…I don’t know. I wasn’t there (laughs). So I’m just kind of leaving that one alone. I’m not really too into the whole religious thing. I’m more spiritual than I am a religious person, you know? I think if you live your life on a spiritual level and like the “good book” says “Do unto others…” There are a lot of great guidelines in the Bible on how to get through life and be a good person. If we just treat each other with respect and love and courtesy…that’s obviously not going to happen (laughs). That’s a utopian dream world we’re all hoping for, but in reality we all know it’s not like that. And the problem with that is that it mostly goes back to religion. That’s what most wars are over anyway, either land or religion.

KNAC.COM: To abide by spiritual principles is hard to live by day to day, but that’s the ideal, right?

RUSSELL: Exactly. I don’t really have a particular label on my faith. I believe there is a God. I believe there has to be some order to all this. I believe we’re all spiritual beings stuck on a physical plane right now. I think there’s more evolution to come. I don’t picture some guy sitting on a big white throne with long white hair and a beard. That’s not my vision of it. It’s not so simple as all of that.

KNAC.COM: Are you sober?

RUSSELL: Yeah, actually I have been for 18 months right now. It feels good again, because I had eight years clean and sober and my second marriage fell apart and I ended up going out and trying this all over again. You know, the last couple of years—the last tour in particular—in 2005, I was just a mess. I just couldn’t get out of my own way and I couldn’t stop, even when I was on the road. I apologize to the fans that saw me in that condition because I was just a mess and I couldn’t stop myself so I finally said ‘I gotta put the brakes on this and get my life back,’ so I stuck myself in Betty Ford. Now it’s been almost a year-and-a-half of just feeling really good about myself and now it’s time to get the band rollin’ again. I’m feeling confident in just the way I’m living my life. I’m not hurting myself and I think that’s the true—going back to the spirituality sense—when you’re doing that you’re losing your spirituality. You’re cutting holes in your karma; by putting drugs and that kind of stuff in your body to the extent that I was. It wasn’t like having a couple beers. I was poisoning myself just for the sheer addiction sake. For me too much is never enough. I just can’t have one beer because then I’m off to score some crack or something. That’s the way it is. There’s no line in the sand I can draw and say ‘After this glass of wine I’m going to go to bed and the bottle’s going to sit there on the shelf and everything will be fine’. No. It’s like four or five trips to the liquor store, four or five bottles later, a pissed-off wife…and it’s just not working, you know? My hat’s off to the people who can go out and have a couple of drinks, but I’m not one of those people. For all the times I tried to convince myself that I could be that person…it’s pretty obvious—the last run-through—I cannot. My old lady busted me smoking crack out in the laundry room. This is not really normal, you know what I mean? You’re not usually out in the laundry room smoking crack in the middle of the day when your old lady’s there. That’s not normal for the normal person. At 45 years old it’s like ‘Come on. What am I thinking here’? That’s where that river leads me. I can’t just have the drink. It always leads back to the drugs. Cocaine has always been my thing and if I don’t drink I don’t think about coke. I don’t have that craving. But then I pick up that first beer and then ‘Hmm, let’s ruin my life (laughs). I’ll pay for the privilege’. When you lose a relationship and especially when you’ve been in it for any length of time…for me it just came out of the blue, I had no idea it was coming. It was like a freight train…it just kind of slapped me. I was like ‘What? What do you mean you want a divorce?’ How could she be possibly leaving me, or who are you to leave me? That kind of thing. When you find out the truth, it’s like ‘Wait a minute. What’s wrong with me?’ The only way I knew how to get out of that pain was how I dealt with that kind of pain before. ‘This’ll fix it,’ you know? Of course it didn’t, but it seemed like a good idea at the time (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Is Michael Lardie fully committed to the band now?

RUSSELL: Yeah. He’s actually sitting in my house right now. We’re just getting ready to go to rehearsal. We’ve been jamming for the last few nights—everybody’s ready to go. Me and Michael have been writing back and forth, he’s come out to my house and stayed for the last week. Everyone’s fully into it. This is the real deal. I’m very excited. It’s been a long time coming and this is the longest I’ve been off a stage in my entire career. I haven’t picked up a microphone…it’s been 17 months. I pretty much came off the road and went right into Betty Ford. It’s been a long time. I’m looking forward to being on the stage again, especially with my family members.

KNAC.COM: When are you going to announce tour dates?

RUSSELL: I’m not sure yet. We’re looking into a couple of packages and a couple bigger bands are going out and trying to get on there, so we’ll see what happens. That’ll be the obvious, best case scenario—to get on a real tour and go out and do it that way. But if we’re going to doing fly shows—just go out and do the weekend warrior shows like we did on the last tour—that’s okay. I’m just kind of leaving it up to the management and let them worry about that. As long as I got my band and we got some shows to play I don’t really care.

KNAC.COM: So everyone’s really excited…

RUSSELL: Oh yeah. I swear. Last night at rehearsal when we were sitting around I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was like ‘Okay. This is the band. Now I remember. This is how it’s supposed to sound’. It was just really cool. Literally…the hair on my arms was just standing up. This is just really, really neat. We were just happy and smiling and excited and sober and clean—it’s good. The whole band is sober. That’s a first for us, where everybody is on the same path.

KNAC.COM: On one of your greatest hits records you played an amazing version of “Afterglow” and you did Steve Marriott [Humble Pie] proud.

RUSSELL: Thank you. That’s a really cool song. He was an amazing vocalist. In the world of music he’s really missed. He was a great talent—I think underrated, really. They had their heyday, but I think it was a little shorter than what was deserved.

KNAC.COM: You do great covers. Do you plan on doing any Zeppelin songs on this tour?

RUSSELL: We’ll see how the set goes, because you kind of go ‘Are we going to sacrifice one of our own tunes to play a Zeppelin song,’ but then again—why not? We’re doing a bit of one in our tunes right now. We throw a bit of a Zep song into on of our own songs. It’s pretty cool, but we’re actually not doing one at this moment, but it something we’ve talked about. It depends on what kind of shows we’re doing, whether we’re on a package where our sets are confined to 45-minutes or an hour, then you gotta really tighten things up, but if you’re doing your own thing you can kind of make the set a little longer and explore a couple different areas.

KNAC.COM: I remember seeing Great White on MTV Unplugged doing “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and it just blew my mind. When you got to -- “I can hear it calling me back home!” the audience just lost their shit. Talk about hairs standing up…

RUSSELL: (laughs) Thank you, man. I appreciate it.

KNAC.COM: I’m in agreement with a lot of people thinking that there isn’t anybody who does Led Zeppelin like you and your band.

RUSSELL: Thank you very much. They were a huge influence. You know, the fact that my voice is a little similar to Plant’s makes it easier to copy that, and I figured that was the fun in doing that. It wasn’t like do it and change it or do our version of it. It was fun because we could get really close and that was the whole point. I think most people get that, but some people don’t and their like ‘How come you guys do that? It sounds just like Zeppelin’ (laughs). Well, that was the point. Just to show that we could.

KNAC.COM: Your son Matthew is a musician and plays a few instruments…

RUSSELL: Yeah, it’s pretty funny. We’re so close, as far as personality-type, and we’re born seven days apart—obviously years apart, but our birthdays are seven days apart from each other. So we’re very similar in character, temperament…addiction problems. It’s pretty amazing. We’re pretty good friends now and we hang out a lot. It’s really neat.

KNAC.COM: You’re not a Gemini, are you?

RUSSELL: No, I’m a Sagittarius.

KNAC.COM: Okay, I’m a Gemini—just a total whack-job. I read the horoscope and it’s ‘Yep, that’s tits-on. That’s me…’

RUSSELL: (laughs) I hear you. I’m the total definition of a Sagittarius. Just footloose, fancy-free, spontaneous…which is not always to my benefit. Sometimes I’m a little too irresponsible. It’s a little too hard for me to do anything less than a 110 percent. I gotta be the best at whatever I do. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing.

KNAC.COM: In your artistry it’s a good thing.

RUSSELL: Yeah, exactly. There were points when I’d stay up longer than anybody, do the most drugs, that kind of thing. Everything’s a competition with me, you know?

KNAC.COM: Do you guys have one more “Save Your Love” in you? Are you working on any ballads right now?

RUSSELL: There are actually a couple really beautiful ballads on this album. One of them is a song that Kendall and I were working on. It’s kind of talking about where we’ve been with the band and how like just yesterday we were really young and had the world by the short hairs. And you look back and you go ‘Wow, what happened? It went by so quick’. I think everybody can relate to it as far as people of our generation. Looking back just yesterday was the ‘80’s and we were 25 years old and we were playing arenas, just partying and having a good timer and now we’re in our forties going ‘What happened?’ Where did all the days go?

KNAC.COM: Dude, I used to drink at this place called Fat Face Fenner’s [Falloon] in Hermosa Beach…

RUSSELL: (laughs) Best nachos in the world…

KNAC.COM: You’re not kidding, man. I remember seeing your gold record Once Bitten on the wall there. Around that time the hairdos were big, the lines of blow were mighty, and we never thought we were going to age… or live past 25.

RUSSELL: I know…you looked at a person who was 40 and you thought ‘Wow, that guy is old’! I totally agree. You never thought about the concept of getting older. You just always thought we were going to be in this spot forever and all of a sudden you wake up and go ‘I’m 46 now. What the hell happened? Whoa!’ I swear to God just last week I was 25 and we were doing the Once Bitten album…it seems like just yesterday. So strange.

##

Much love and a gazillion thanks go out to my longtime friend Sandie Kanne, aka Bambi Hoginlog, who I asked “What should I ask Jack Russell when I do the interview?” Her undying devotion to Great White goes back to the band’s Dante Fox days when they played Los Angeles clubs like The Troubadour, so I used a few of her questions as my own. She knows Jack.

Check out a photo gallery from Great White's recent Los Angeles performance here.


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