5 Years After Fire, Great White Touring


February 19, 2008

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Police and firefighters showed up early for a recent Great White concert at a Cincinnati nightclub — just to be sure no pyrotechnics would be used.

With a new tour and a new album, Great White has tried pressing forward since its pyrotechnics ignited the Feb. 20, 2003, fire that killed 100 people, including Great White guitarist Ty Longley, and injured 200 others at The Station nightclub in West Warwick.

Five years later, though,the band’s connection to the deadly blaze is hard to shake.

Tony Heitz, manager of Annie’s, the Cincinnati club where 600 fans enjoyed a show without any problems, noted that “you’d have to be in a cave” not to have heard about the fire.

The band, which enjoyed success in the 1980s with its blend of blues and hard rock, reunited last year with original members to mark their 25th anniversary, issued a new studio album and spent the last two months touring Europe.

They have steered clear of Rhode Island, where many victims’ relatives still hold them at least partly responsible for the fire and remain upset that only the club owners, Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, and the band tour manager, Daniel Biechele, were held criminally responsible.

“I don’t see why they are out there playing, why anybody would even want to go hear them,” said Diane Mattera, whose daughter, Tammy Mattera-Housa, died.

After the fire, Mattera uprooted a memorial cross placed at the fire site for Longley and left a note saying the cross didn’t belong there because Longley and the band had killed her daughter.

The band’s label, Shrapnel Records, did not return calls for comment. An e-mail attempt to contact the band went unreturned.

Great White guitarist Mark Kendall told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview that The Station nightclub fire was a “full-blown American tragedy.”

“I was sad to be a witness to it. It was just a nightmare,” he said.

Hundreds of survivors and victims’ relatives are suing the people who made up the band at the time of the fire (the band’s lineup has changed several times). Their lawyer, Steven Richard, declined to comment because the case is still pending.

But fans, even those injured in the fire, have been more forgiving.

Linda Fisher, who suffered third-degree burns, still performs their signature ballad, “Save Your Love,” on karaoke machines. She also sang it onstage with Great White lead singer Jack Russell at a concert in Pennsylvania months after the fire.

“I still think they screwed up, I still think they used poor judgment, but there’s been nights where I used poor judgment,” she said.

Great White laid low after the fire, then began touring to raise money for The Station Family Fund, which was created to help survivors with medical bills and other expenses.

Todd King, a fire survivor who helped found the fund, said while some victims’ relatives were upset with Great White’s fundraising role, the band raised about $100,000 for the fund.

“I had to weigh both ends against the middle,” he said. “We were in dire need of funds, and they were raising funds.”

But fund co-founder Theresa O’Toole said the band was probably helping itself as much as it was helping the survivors.

“They needed to do something to help their situation, and we were it,” she said.

Great White emerged in the 1980s as part of the so-called “hair band” genre, where groups found success with a formula of loud guitars, power ballads — and big hair. Their biggest hit was a cover of Ian Hunter’s “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” and they scored platinum albums and a Grammy nomination.

But by February 2003, their heyday had long passed and they were touring venues like The Station, a roadside nightclub in West Warwick with a capacity of less than 500 that routinely hosted 1980s rock groups and tribute bands to groups like KISS.

Courtesy of www.myspace.com/officialwednesday13