Michelle LaRose talks to Jack Russell for 22nd Century Rock
Photographs by Michelle LaRose
Best known in the 80’s for such hits as Rock Me, Save Your Love and Lady Red Light, Great White was at the forefront of the “Hair Band” movement. Moving forward as a shark must lest it perish, Great White moves across America on a summer tour proving the old adage, the show must go on. We were able to reel in Jack Russell to find out where Great White has been and where they are going. This is what Mr. Russell had to say…
Jack: You know, I think the hardest part is not so much keeping it together. We could have kept the same original guys together. You know what I mean? I think the toughest part is, after a while, if you’ve been doing this a long time, like Mark and myself have, we started this band in ’78. So it’s like here you are, I’m 44 and Mark’s you know, what ever he is [laughs] and it’s like you don’t want to be on the road with a bunch of guys complaining and whining. It’s like “This sucks, the food’s not really good, this whole town’s not really nice and I don’t like this bus”. It’s like, You know what? I don’t need that. Unless your gonna’ go out there and have a good time and just feel privileged to do this, then stay home. So we kinda’ had to let some people go in the past just because they were whiny old guys [laughing]. That’s just calling a spade a spade here. It’s like; I don’t want to do this unless I’m having fun. If I have people around me complaining all the time and not appreciating how lucky we are to do this then I’m not going to do it anymore.
22CR: Do you still keep in touch with any former members?
Jack: Michael yeah, and Sean McNabb yeah. You know we talk all the time. Me and Sean are very close.
22CR: You resigned from the band in 2001. Why did you decide to leave?
Jack: I just wanted to do something a little bit different, you know. My solo project, that was really out of the realm of what Great White was doing and I wanted to do something just to get away from it for a while. I mean I’ve lived and breathed this band since I was a kid and I just needed a little break, that’s all I needed. I went out and did it for a year or whatever and made my record and had a great time and did some touring and stuff. And then I said ok I want to do Great White again, but at that time I went, God I have such a great band, you know, I don’t want to disrupt it so I just had Mark come out and basically join my solo band and that became Great White.
22CR: That basically answered my next question which was, what influenced you to come back?
Jack: Well, the fact was I could have my cake and eat it too [laughing]. We had these young guys that were just great musicians that were just loving having a chance to be able to play. And we were just up there kicking ass and having fun, going “God this is what touring should be like!” I’d forgotten how pleasant it was when you have some people that are really having fun. It made for a good time for me you know. All the traveling, all the hard stuff, and all the pain in the ass stuff you go through every day for that one hour and a half, two hours… If you got people just whining and moaning for 22 hours out of the day it’s just like God… It just kinda’ kills the whole two hours that you actually have fun. I’ve done this for so long and I really love to sing and it’s like you don’t want somebody coming to your birthday party going, “Well your cake sucks and this place is so crappy.” It’s like, “Well screw you, and get out of here then! Who invited you anyway?” [Laughing]
22CR: VH1 Classic Presents: Metal Mania: Stripped was released in February of this year. What was Great White’s contribution to the album?
Jack: We gave them a live version of Save Your Love, which was done acoustically at the Palms hotel in Las Vegas. We were doing a video shoot for a DVD. So we let them have that track. It’s a really, really cool version of the song. I’ve always liked the song acoustically.
22CR: You have two solo albums out, Shelter Me and For You. What are the albums like, are they anything like Great White?
Jack: Shelter Me is more reminiscent of Great White. It’s very eclectic. It’s got some really heavy stuff and some really beautiful ballads. There’s actually a version of Save Your Love on that record which is the way I’ve always wanted to record it but the producers didn’t want to record it like that. It was just with an acoustic guitar and a string ensemble. That’s the way I envisioned it when I wrote the song. For You is very much adult contemporary it’s more or less an album of love songs ballads and stuff like that. More like, I’d say Sting meets Phil Collins kinda’ stuff. Just stretching out a little bit. Doing something I want to do a little bit differently. There are some amazing musicians on there, Vinny Caluta played drums. He was like the number one drummer in the world! He’s just incredible! Tony Levin played bass and this guy played with John Lennon! I was like “Dude! Just stop recording for us! Just tell me some John Lennon stories!” [Laughing].
Jack: The label that I had in the states was Imago and they had just released a Let It Rock album with Great White and I saw what a lousy job they did with it and I begged them, “Please don’t release this record”. I eventually want to release it again in the states myself. I’ve just been waiting for the right time. I think the record, musically is still viable, it doesn’t sound like, “Oh that was 1996” or what ever. I think it sounds contemporary as far as what I wanted the record to sound like.
22CR: How was it received by the Japanese?
Jack: They loved it! Everybody loves this album, which is really frustrating to me because I would really love to have it out. There’s just so much crap going on right now. My main focus is to just be touring right now. We still have the civil suits coming up on the fire, which is not a big deal, but it’s just a pain in the butt you know. You almost don’t want to be successful.
22CR: Mark Kendall also has a new solo album out, 2.0. What is his solo effort like?
Jack: It’s very bluesy. It’s really bluesy. It’s a bit different than Great White. I really like it. It’s a great record. It’s his first attempt at really going out and doing it on the vocals, you know. He did surprisingly well as far as I was concerned for not being a lead vocalist He sings a hell of a lot better than I play guitar! [Laughing] It’s a good record. I’d recommend it. Definitely!
22CR: Do you incorporate any of your solo material into the Great White shows?
Jack: Yes, we do actually. We do. Mark has a song and I do one of my songs off For You, yeah.
22CR: In 1999 you released Great Zeppelin, a tribute to Led Zeppelin. It’s rare to see a band do a cover album like that, why did you do a cover album?
Jack: We did this just for ourselves, honestly. People kept bugging us for years because they heard us do a couple Zeppelin songs over the years and they went, “God you guys did it so well, just do a whole show!” I went, “Well you know what? That would be a lot of fun!” It was coming around Christmas time and it’s like, you know guys let’s just go do two or three shows in L.A. just for fun. We decided to record it for ourselves so we’d have it so as we got older we could go “Hey let’s check out that show we played.” We recorded it and I didn’t think about it for a couple years and we were in the studio one day, I came across the tapes and said, “You know what? Lets listen to these things.” Then we put them back and we mixed them down and it was like God this is actually pretty good. So we decided to go ahead and release it. It became this underground thing and people just responded really well to it. It’s a fun record for me. I love to listen to it.
22CR: What are a few of your favorite songs on that album?
Jack: I like Ramble On, No Quarter, Stairway To Heaven, The Rover, Tangerine and In The Light. The whole album just came out really, really well. It was so much fun because these guys were such a huge inspiration to me. It was kinda’ like when we were playing those shows you could almost feel what it must have been like to be those guys. It’s like Cool Man!!! It’s like being Robert Plant in 1977 just going, God I’m like the biggest thing in the whole world! It must have been amazing! Just singing those songs, going “God we wrote these songs!” How cool! It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.
22CR: Are you currently writing any new songs?
Jack: We have some stuff in the can. I’m not right at the moment writing. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t do his homework until the night before. So once they tell me we are starting to record on this date I’ll give myself a month and I’ll start writing the songs. I work better under pressure like that. If I have all the time in the world, I’ll take it. I’m great at procrastinating.
22CR: So no plans for a new Great White album?
Jack: We’re thinking about getting into the studio at the end of the year. After the touring is over. Getting into the studio at the end of the year and whip up something new. I think its time. It’s been a long, long time since we had a new album out. We haven’t released a new album since ’99. That’s the longest we’ve ever gone without making a record.
Jack: You know what? Yeah! I always think that’s going to be in the works. There are just so many balls in the air right now. It’s like ok when do I do this? When do I do that? When do I have time to spend with my family? I just have to wait and see where each one lands. For me, things always kinda’ happen at the right time they just kinda’ say, “Look you’re supposed to do me right now.” So, yeah, ok, I’ll record you right now. I let things land where they’re supposed too. I don’t try to force life anymore.
22CR: What can we expect from a Great White show?
Jack: [Laughing] Folk music! Just a great time. Great White is very much a people’s band you know. We like to get the audience involved in the show. I don’t want people to feel like they’re watching me. I want them to feel like they’re part of the show. That’s important to me. It always felt weird when people are looking up at you. I don’t feel like I’m bigger than anybody else. I just want to have this experience with them.
22CR: Your tour ends September 10th in Texas. What will Great White be doing after the tour ends?
Jack: I’m taking a break. I’m going down to Cancun for ten days. Yeah, I have to go to the Caribbean somewhere. Get some sun and recharge my batteries.
22CR: Your bio states you like fishing, scuba diving and shark fishing. Shark fishing! What kind of sharks do you fish?
Jack: [Laughing] I like fishing more than I like breathing! That’s funny because a friend of mine came over yesterday and wants me to get into this fishing show with him and we used to go shark fishing all the time. We’d both take our boats out and fish close together. So he wants to do this fishing show so we’re trying to get that together, that’ll be fun.
22CR: Have you ever caught a Great White?
Jack: I’ve hooked a Great White before, it was about 16 feet long. At that time there was a moratorium on them anyway so if you hook em’ you don’t want to bring em’ in. You want to release it anyway. You don’t want to kill the fish.
22CR: Sixteen feet is small for a Great White isn’t it?
Jack: It’s a big fish! I mean, you’re in a 31-foot boat and this thing’s about 2000 lbs of fish! It’s a fun little fish! The biggest one I’ve seen is 20 feet, that’s the biggest I’ve ever seen. That was on a friend of mine’s boat off San Clemente Island. This fish was actually out of the water pushing on the transom with his nose and my friend had a stick trying to hit it in the head it was just toying with the boat! It wasn’t trying to eat it or anything else! It was just playing around like it was this big ball in the water. It was amazing!
22CR: Thank you for taking the time to speak with 22nd Century today.
Jack: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Have a good one.