Haters Be Damned. Gnarly Charlie's Interview with Jack Russell of Great White

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, May 25, 2009 @ 1:27 PM

"I canít keep reliving that day over and over and over again. I miss my friends, dearly. I feel horrible for anybody who got hurt or was involved in that fire or that got hurt through it."

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There was a time when Great White was known more for its brand of hard-rocking, bluesy-metal than an accident that haters continue to crucify the band for.

I will not apologize that my memories of Great White are fond ones; sonic more than visual. You see, Iím an old fuck who had just turned drinking age when the band hit the airwaves back in the early Ď80ís. Hearing their bruising cover of Angel Cityís "Face the Day" was life-altering to me. Around the same time "Stick It" and "Out of the Night" stormed the FM airwaves here in Los Angeles. Not too long after the band broke radio, they started to sell loads of records and the rest is rock and roll historyóa great history at that. Maybe some of you remember watching MTV Unplugged and seeing Jack Russell sitting front and center, belting out "Babe Iím Gonna Leave You." A matter of opinion, but the only band worthy of covering Led Zeppelin, back then and now, is Great White.

What did I leave out? If youíre a fan, you know there are at least five Great White songs that changed the face of rock and roll. If youíre not a fan, and your first glimpse of the band was 2003, donít read on.

KNAC.COM: Itís been a couple years. How you doing?

RUSSELL: Iím doiní alright. How are you?

KNAC.COM: Iím good, thanks. You were really sick a while back, right?

RUSSELL: Yeah. I was in the hospital for a while with a really bad staph infection. I almost died. Fortunately it was subcutaneous. It was under the skin. It was such a bad infection that literally, within a couple of hours I had a bump that was the size of a pimple that went to the size of a cantaloupe, under my arm. It was so infected. I was like in a coma from the infection.

KNAC.COM: I didnít hear about the severity of it. You went through a lot.

RUSSELL: Yeah, it was really bad. Thatís actually happened to me a few times over the year. They finally got it under control. Itís just been a nightmare. Fortunately, Iím back to normal again. As normal as I can be, anyway, you know?

KNAC.COM: Great White just released a new album, Rising, and you have a new bass player, Scott Snyder. Where did you find him?

RUSSELL: Actually, he subbed for Sean [McNabb] one night. Heís a friend of Audieís. He subbed for Sean one night when Sean was doing some acting thing. And when it came down to wanting to get a bass player we decided this guy was perfect, because heís got a real great attitude, a great player, always in a good mood. Itís just the perfect fit.

KNAC.COM: Heís always in a good mood?

RUSSELL: Yeah, which I dig. We didnít need another Jack Russell in the band (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Then Sean went on to do some theater stuff, right?

RUSSELL: We really wanted somebody that was completely committed to doing the bass thing. And there were some other personality issues over the years, but nothing serious. You gotta understand, itís hard, too, for anybody, to join this circle of friends here. Even though Sean was with us for quite awhile we still just never felt like it was that perfect fit, you know?

KNAC.COM: You, Audie, Mark, and Michael have been together decades.

RUSSELL: Theyíve been in the band since í85. Mark [Kendall] and I started the band in í78, which became Great White in í82. Audie [Desbrow] and I go back to í77. I played with him in another band when I was 16. Thereís a long history there.

KNAC.COM: Iíll call you guys the ďCore Four.Ē

RUSSELL: The ďCore Four.Ē Thatís really good. I like that (laughs).

KNAC.COM: It looks like Michael [Lardie] took over on all the engineering and producing on the new album, Rising.

RUSSELL: Yeah. Michael did a fine job. I did a record or two with him myself. We did the Let It Rock album together, as far as production goes. I had other things going on in my life at that time that really needed to be tended to. Michaelís perfectly capable. Heís a great producer. Heís getting better every year. And sometimes you get too may chefís in there it can spoil the soup, like they say.

KNAC.COM: Itís more personal to him, like itís his baby.

RUSSELL: Sure, and he knows what we want and what we want to sound like. Itís not like thereís this big question mark over his head. Weíve all been doing this together for so long itís like we read each otherís thoughts. You know, like the old married couple that finish each otherís sentences.

KNAC.COM: The last time we talked I didnít ask you about the worn-out topic that some people are still yakking about nowadays. Iíd like to touch on it now, though. Itís been a long time and it seems like it should be water under the bridge, but people are still slinging negative stuff on the rant boards about Great White and the tragedy. What does that do to you, emotionally?

RUSSELL: You know, I donít read that stuff, for one. I just donít. Thereís always going to be somebody out there dissing somebody for something. Itís just the way it goes. Not everybody likes Great White before or after the tragedy. I assume most people who havenít liked us to begin with are just finding a reason to lash out. Theyíre just the haters, you know? For me, Iíve gotten over it as much as I can. Itís not something I ever forget about. Of course I feel badly, but you have to move on. I canít live my life in the past, nor do I want to. I canít keep reliving that day over and over and over again. I miss my friends, dearly. I feel horrible for anybody who got hurt or was involved in that fire or that got hurt through it. Thereís nothing we can do about it at this point, except to try to learn from the mistakes that were made. Everybody, the whole public in general, just be more proactive as far as your own safety is concerned. I certainly am when I go out now. Iím thinking ďwhereís the exit?Ē so Iíll know in case something happens.

KNAC.COM: Iím sure itís made a lot of people more conscious, without a doubt.

RUSSELL: What do you do? You take what God gives you and you do the best you can with it.

KNAC.COM: Now that we got that out of the way, letís talk about the new album. ďI Donít MindĒ is a great song, and it kind of touches on some past things and moving on into the future, and also friendship.

RUSSELL: Oddly, that song was written like, 10 years ago. It was the one song we resurrected. I had wanted to do that song for years and for some reason we never recorded it. We couldnít even find it. We did a demo of it years ago and I couldnít find the demo! We had played it one time live, and this friend of ours recorded it on a DVD. We tracked him down and he mailed out the DVD, so we got to relearn the song from that. It came out really good. Yeah, I love that tune a lot.

KNAC.COM: Did you pull out any other songs out of the vault for the new record?

RUSSELL: I donít write like that. Iíll generally wait until the last minute. And for me thatís cool. It keeps it fresh. We used to spend months in pre-production, rehearsing the songs, making sure every little kick pattern was exactly right. We just got sick of that. A lot of times you lose the spontaneity of the song, because youíve played it so many times, it gets over-rehearsed. It starts to sound kind of homogenized and pasteurized. Now when weíre recording, we walk in, we teach it to the guys, and once it goes down we record it and boom! If it comes out good we keep it. If it doesnít we do it again. But it keeps that live feeling and it has that excitement level.

KNAC.COM: I donít hear you singing about ďsweet little sisterĒ and boffing chicks like you did in the old days. I loved that era, but I guess everybody grows and grows up.

RUSSELL: Well, thatís the thing. For me records have been nothing more than a snapshot of where Iím at emotionally at that time. Iím as honest as I can be, I write about whatís going on in my life, where Iím at right in that moment. And this album is as introspective and as honest as Iíve ever been in my lyrics. I really dug down deep for some of this stuff and this other stuff Iíll just bawl and go ďGod, do I really want to tell the world about this?Ē Itís very cathartic for me as well as therapeutic.

KNAC.COM: So do you think you got another ďRock Meí or another ďStick ItĒ in you?

RUSSELL: As far as that goes, I donít know. ďRock MeĒ ĖI love that tune. Thatís one of those classic songs. I think thatís the quintessential Great White song. When we wrote that song it was like ďOkay, we finally know where this band should be at musically. No we start from here and kind of grow out.Ē I hope so. For me, this album is my favorite, as far as the whole record is concerned. Not just because itís our newest album, but I have really good emotions about this record. Thereís some stuff we hadnít done before like ďDanger ZoneĒ and ďSituationĒ. Just different styles of what we do that weíve never touched on. Or, ďMy Sanctuary.Ē Iíve never done a blues track like that, like a ďgospellyĒ blues.

KNAC.COM: Do you still have a boat?

RUSSELL: No, I sold that quite a while back. Iím looking for a new one. I think I may do something at the end of the yearóget another boat. I miss that part of my life a lot. That was a huge part of my sobriety, too.

KNAC.COM: Will you have it docked in Redondo Beach again?

RUSSELL: Oh yeah, absolutely. Thatís where Iíd have it again.

KNAC.COM: Back in the glory years, you guys werenít mascara-wearing boys like your contemporaries.

RUSSELL: No, we never got into the whole thing. I never even wore hairsprayóI just couldnít stand it. Some of our guys did, but I canít stand that kind of shit, man. Thatís funny, though. That was the style you look back and you go ďGod, what was everybody thinking when they started doing that? Who was the first guy that did that and why did he do that?"

KNAC.COM: Well, he set a trend.

RUSSELL: He sure did.

KNAC.COM: There was so much money in the production and everything else back then. It was sick.

RUSSELL: Oh yeah, Rock and Roll will never, ever be as big and bombastic as it was back in those days. Iím sorry to say--I wish it werenít true, but thatís just the way it is. I mean, I would sit onstage and say ďIf you missed the Ď80ís you fuckiní missed out.Ē But, I totally believe that to be true. Everything was huge and it was all about hedonism, having a great time. People were celebrating life, and then the Ď90ís got so morose and serious. It was ďMan, this is not what rock and rollís supposed to be about.Ē Ask Mick Jagger, dude. ďItís only rock and roll, but I like itĒ. Donít be so serious. Itís just music. Have fun.

KNAC.COM: You guys were millionaires. During that lavish period, you certainly had more than your share of women and blow, Ferraris, whatever.

RUSSELL: Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, you know?

KNAC.COM: Itís really different now, to say the least. Youíre not rolling in the same kind of money, obviously.

RUSSELL: No. Fortunately Iíve done alright. Iíve been able to put some stuff away here and there. Iím not gonna starve. Iíd do this for free and have done itófor years. Making music is just a total gift, itís a total blessing, and to be able to make a living at it, whatever that living might be, I still thank God. I appreciate the blessings Iíve been given, even despite my own undermining of my career in my life at some points. I always found myself as one of those people that have these self-destruct buttons. When things are going well itís almost like I feel like I donít deserve it sometimes.

KNAC.COM: In closing, is there anything else that youíd like to say?

RUSSELL: The thing I like to repeat: I just want to thank the fans again, like always. Theyíve helped me live out my dreams. They donít go unappreciated or unnoticed. The fact that itís 28 years later, people are still showing up and been with us all this time through thick and thin. I just love it and I appreciate them so much. Itís an honor to have such loyal fans. It really is. When somebody says ďSave Your LoveĒ was our wedding song. How cool is that? Somebody invites you on the biggest day of their lives. I mean, to be in their ceremony, what an honor that is.

KNAC.COM: Well, youíre in the soundtrack of my life and Iím sure appreciative of it.

RUSSELL: Thank you, Charlie. I really appreciate that, man.

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