It's Not Over Till The Fat Lady Sings!
The road has been long and tough for GREAT WHITE, virtually the only band from Los Angeles who didnt benefit from the 'LA Metal Boom' of a few years back, but who refused to compromise or curl up and die like a 'gummy old shark. And it's paid off at last. As SYLVIE SIMMONS discovers, the group's new 'Once Bitten' album has now gone gold in the US, which at least gives 'poet'/frontman JACK 'Action' RUSSELL a good reason to drink and get arrested! 30,000 FEET ABOVE America in the pub-class section, somewhere between Minnesota and LA, Great White were celebrating, finally going gold.
Grown stewardesses wept as the White Ones dangled their Stolichnaya bottles on their knees and told tales of past injustices.
Like being one of the best rock 'n' roll bands in Los Angeles and about the only bleeding rock 'n' roll band in Los Angeles left unsigned.
Picked up and dropped and left to drown like the lemon in the Great Marguerita Of Life or something, Great White refused to die, mortgaged their houses to put out an indie album (last year's 'Shot In The Dark'), found themselves on their second major label in three years and got down to business.
'Once Bitten' is the business; rock at its low-slung, big-hearted, bigger-balled sweetest, and it's been burning up the charts like Richard Pryor, butt-fucking Billboard's Top Twenty and going gloriously, deservedly GOLD!
600,000-odd albums steaming on the turntables between Minnesota and LA and everyone wants to shake them by the hand. Even the FBI ...
"S0 WE'RE on the runway at LA Airport and the loudspeaker's going, 'Will you please remain seated while the officers of the LA Police Dept. come and escort two gentlemen who've caused a lot of trouble off the plane.' I thought 'Fuck it, they're finally going to do it, they're finally going to arrest me'! So they walked onto the plane and ended up arresting me and Mark. The FBI no less! First time I've ever gotten off the plane first though!" Vocalist Jack Russell laughs, like Santa Claus freebasing in a subway. And what were they arrested for? "Celebrating!" says guitarist Mark Kendall, all outraged innocence, before going back to his beer.
"It's like this" says Jack, "You go on a plane, they sell you booze, you get drunk and they have you arrested."
Shit, busted for booze and he's not even driving!
"Well," says Jack in his cannot-tell-a-lie mode, "I was making rude limericks up too and throwing peanuts in a lady's wig. This lady five rows up (silly high little-old-lady voice) says, 'These boys are bothering me, Im really not enjoying my flight' - she had to go and ruin it. There's 40 other people cracking up and we're passing around a big bottle of Stoli - I didn't mention we brought our own booze - and this one lady had to go and ruin it."
"You did go through your whole repertoire of jokes though," says drummer Audie Desbrow.
"Only the filthy ones," protests Jack.
S0 FOR the future information of jet-setting Kerrang! readers, what limericks will get you arrested on an aeroplane?
"There once was a lady called Dot
"That," says Kendall, head hung, "was the one that did it." Arrested for bad poetry. "Yeah, is this justice?"
So they hauled them off to the cooler. Mark they let go after a few hours, even though his relatives declined to put up bail.
"And they go, 'Mr Russell, we're detaining you...'"
"This guy comes back, grabs me by the neck, throws me in my seat. 'What the fuck's your problem, dude? Hands off, don't mess with the Russ, I wrinkle easy!' And this guy gets all bent out of shape."
"And - check this out - I've been in jail for felonies and all kinds of shit but this one takes the fucking cake. They find an outstanding warrant for fishing without a licence! Oh God, no, not fishing without a licence! 'Up against the wall, pull that trout out of your ass, buddy, we know youve got it in there!"
("And the funny thing is he caught no fish!" says Audie, in brackets. "All I caught was a cold, son of a bitch!" growls Jack in the same bracket.)
Just a rebel, Jack Russell!
"Yeah, rebel without a good crime. Its great when youre in there. 'What are you in for, man? Murder. What you in for?' 'Fishing without a licence!'
"You know, rockn'roll is really taking a fucking dive as far as Im concerned." Jack leans back in his chair and adopts a serious face (might be because he's nursing a Perrier when all around him are beered and tequila'd to the eyeballs; occupational hazard of an early morning video shoot). "You can't have no fucking fun, man. I got shit for throwing water out of the windows in New York!"
But did you take it out of the toilet first?
"Yeah! It sucks. Now it's like, 'You can't do that sir.' Are you fucking kidding me? Youre going to throw me out for that? They threw me out of a hotel in Maryville, Indiana, just because I pulled a gun on a maid and told her to shut up, because it was eight in the morning and she was making all this noise!"
But he talked his way back into a room. He's one of those rare animals, as big-hearted as he is big-mouthed, kind of Just William on a Jack Daniels diet, who can get away with anything.
"They even gave me my gun back," Jack grins.
CERTAINLY NEEDED something to shoot that darn album into the charts. Otherwise how come 600,000-odd people have so far come around to what those of taste (i.e. Kerrang![in the old days, when it used to like rock music - Rick]. See last December's 'Predictions' feature if you don't believe me!) have known since the band formed in LA in Autumn '82 - that Great Whites a hit band?
"I don't know," Jack shrugs. "Maybe it's one of those stories where the best things in life are worth waiting for. I think people are just starting to catch up on what we're trying to do, which is different music compared to what's on the radio and what other people are playing. It wasnt, 'Aw, lets try writing '80s songs, hits.' The first stuff we wrote, we went, 'Shit, we've got to make sure this albums a hit; if we dont it's the last chance we've got'. And then when it really came down to it we said, 'Fuck it man, and we threw those songs away. We said, 'Let's write songs we like, that we know are good songs. And if they don't sell, at least we go broke with some integrity, at least if the shark dies he's gonna die with his fucking fin in the air like FUCK YOU! He's going to die with his teeth in, not some gummy old shark!"
So manager Alan Niven sent them off to the mountains, a log cabin, to get them away from all distractions and down to the grisly business of writing killer songs.
"Its snowing outside," Jack sets the scene, "and snowing inside, know what I mean? Theres a pool table and a bar and we're getting drunker and drunker and that's all we did for two weeks - drink, drink, drink, party, party, party, and we wrote four songs and only one of them was worth a shit. It was like, 'What's this, man? Alan is going to be fucking pissed, better write another song,' and I'd be totally high and writing these outrageous lyrics - 'Oh the sun the moon the clouds' - bitching lyrics, man! And the next day you'd look at them and go, 'Who the fuck wrote this!'"
"But it wasn't totally useless. It was a lot of fun, we got to hang out together."
"We got another little Russell too," murmurs Audie.
"The little bugger's got three heads, he ain't mine!" roars the Russ, and the waiter comes over to see if there's something wrong with the guacamola (I forgot to mention we're squidged around a table in one of Hollywood's finer Mexican restaurants, where the Marlachis jingle away behind a dividing wall somewhere and the tequila flows like tequila).
I thought you were alone in this log cabin, I venture, no distractions and all that?
"Well," says jack, sheepish make that goatish, "I met this Girl "
Queen of the Mountain they called her. Had a sister too. But it'd take two packets of used fivers to get that story out of me! Let's just say there's some wild frontier out there. Dangerous too - they nearly lost Audie when his car started sliding down the snowy slope of their driveway and halfway over a cliff, "and we're going, 'Look at Audie, man! He's sliding off the cliff! Come on man, jump! It's only a rental car "
MEANWHILE, BACK in civilisation, "We looked at the songs we'd gotten and they weren't really happening." Except for 'Mistreater' and 'Save Your Love', that is, which made it onto '... Bitten', and they got down to serious work.
"And it was so easy, the attitude was real positive. We realised when we went in to record that we had some good shit happening."
All that farting around in log cabins and forests obviously had some effect - the record has a very rootsy feel, real deep-down dirt-under-the-nails song-in-your-heart bluesy.
Jack nods. "I think its more heart and soul than anything else. It goes back to what I was saying earlier as far as not trying to write hit songs, just trying to write what's in here. Everyone's writing formula rock, like Bon JovI did this, we saw somebody else do that - fuck it man! Let's just go back to the roots. Let's go back to what got our dicks hard when we learned how to rockn'roll, try to remember what it's all about; why Im singing in a rock band is because of bands like Aerosmith and Zeppelin."
"And I keep going back there because it's a really big part of my life, always has been. And it all comes down to the fucking blues. Like, 'What do you have?' The blues! I've got some bimbo in my right ear, the landlord yelling in my left, the manager bawling at the front and some record company guy fucking me in the ass from behind, so I've got the fucking blues."
("I thought you had the crabs," says Audie, in yet another bracket. There follows an educational segment about how to get rid of the things using, variously, popcorn, rootbeer, hammers and lighter fluid, which we have no room for here. We'll deal, instead, with getting rid of the blues).
"This band has had plenty to have the blues about. So it came down to selfish writing, writing songs for ourselves, just using what we have - like Kendall's a blues guitarist, always has been - instead of trying to write Journey songs."
"And for me it was a different record and a lot more fun in the sense that I really got to sing a lot of different stuff, different styles - bluesy, sexy stuff, soulful ballad-type shit -which was a real experience for me."
"In a sense this album was: damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, fuck everybody else. People have been telling me this band is dead for years. Nobody's going to say it's over but us! It's not over 'til the fat lady sings - and I aint letting that bitch on the stage! This is my fucking gig, man!"
READ DOC Doom's review (last issue) and you'll know there are two 'Once Bitten's - the American one, and the Brit. beast, which has three songs different - 'Gimme Some Loving', 'What Do You Do' and the brilliant Angel City cover 'Face The Day' - tracks from the last album, 'Shot In The Dark', which was unreleased in Britain.
"We always wanted a Greatest Hits album, now we've got one," guffaws Jack. Alan Niven explains that there was no guarantee that these fine tracks would ever be released over here if they didn't take matters into their own hands. With some luck and a lot of justice, the Brit. version of the album will do as well for them here as its American counterpart, co-produced by Kendall, Niven, and quiet keyboardist Michael Lardie. There's talk of them giving it a prod up the behind by coming over to play a couple of Marquee-style dates, though for now they're getting flexed up to play support on the Whitesnake US tour. Again!
"Are you kidding? I can't wait," Jack grins like the cat the vet couldnt catch. "And it's back to arenas again. Small shows are great, but the larger the amount of people I can get up in front of and show off to, that's what I enjoy. If you can make 10,000 people smile at once, that's fucking cool, you're doing something good with your life. This is getting really corny but I do feel privileged to have my gig. I don't feel like 'Hey! I'm a fucking singer in a band, you lowly scumbags!' I feel like a lot of musicians have been taking it the wrong way these days and that gives rock 'n' roll a bad name."
While Jacks off doing Bon Jovi impersonations for the moment, let's find out what happened to departed bass player Lorne Black, given the boot just as things were going good for the band.
"He did it to himself actually," says Audie, and everybody nods.
"It's one of those unfortunate things," says Jack. "I feel bad for him but I've been locked out of bands too - I've been kicked out of two bands and I've been stuck in jail for a year-and-a-half and I didn't let it stop me! If he wants to do it he'll do it and I wish him luck."
"But he had to go. I told the band I would have left if it had come down to it; I felt that strongly about it. Sometimes when youre cruising down the old fucking road of life, people change lanes. And it was one of the lane-changes."
"I think our karma's good right now and we want to keep it that way if possible. It wasnt the right set-up. I never felt the band was a whole unit. A piece of the puzzle didn't quite fit - You know where you just try and squidge the wrong piece in to make it work? And now we've found the missing piece."
His name's Tony Montana. He was once in a nowhere band that opened for the White Ones and they found him through a friend. One day he was driving down the highway listening to 'Rock Me' on the radio, "and I thought, great song, these guys are going to do it some day. The same day I got to work teaching at a Hollywood music store - and, this is weird, the next thing I know I got asked to do the audition."
Audie, the other half of the rhythm-section, gave him the final nod, and there we have it, "The perfect Great White!"
SO WHAT made Jack stick with Great White when the major labels turned their backs, critics pronounced them deader than Loverboy's profile, and people generally didn't want to know?
"I had offers for other bands, but I'd been with Mark so long" - ten years now - "and Ive always felt a certain magic about our relationship and there's never been a time when I actually seriously thought of leaving. I never wanted to be in a band like, 'Oh, Jack Russell joins a band and becomes rich and famous'. I want to get it from the ground up, do it myself. Ive always believed in this band, always will. The chemistry feels right now, the band feels real good and we want to just continue to kick some butts. Now we just want to get out there and play, play, play! I don't ever want to come home. I don't need no house, I just need a bigger suitcase!"
"I don't think it was the evil eye of fate or whatever that made it take so long for us. It's just the way it was. If the band had been a success on the first album, our second album wouldn't have been the business. I don't think we'd have had what it takes to make a great album."
"There's a lot of heart and soul on the record, a lot of hard times on there. It's no shit, that fucking thing's there. We've been eating shit for how many years? It's real."
FOOTNOTE: Please note that the versions of 'Face The Day' and 'What Do You Do' on the UK version of the 'Once Bitten' LP do vary from the originals on the 'Shot In The Dark' album. 'Face...' is the full-length version, whilst 'What...' is a new, 'live in the rehearsal studio rendition. In addition, the next Great White US single will be a re-mix of 'Save Your Love'. They have also just put together a special three-track cassette single for future release.
©1996-2009 Rick Gillyon