INTERVIEW WITH JACK RUSSELL OF JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE
Date: February 4, 2017
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
Singer Jack Russell is no stranger to Sleaze Roxx readers. His work with Great White is American bluesy hard rock at its finest. Great White were lumped in with the glammy rock acts of the ’80s even though their music wasn’t as shallow as their contemporaries’ music. However, Great White were more than happy to go along with the image at the time. In retrospect, it helped expand the fanbase and expose rock fans to the music but it also pigeonholed the band with the dreaded ‘hair band’ label.
Jack Russell, who in 2017 is sober and healthier than in many years past, has recently issued his latest opus with Jack Russell’s Great White titled ‘He Saw It Comin.’’ Jack is eager to get back on tour to promote the Frontiers Records issued album. Sleaze Roxx caught up with Jack the day after his record release party at L.A.’s legendary Whisky A-Go-Go. The event was streamed online to thousands of fans worldwide. “It was so much fun. I can’t wait to make it out your way so you can see this band again. We’ve gotten even tighter and I can’t wait for fans to hear the new tunes,” says an enthusiastic Captain Jack. We all know Jack’s ups and downs and the falling out with ‘Great White’ so this interview won’t get into that. Rather, this interview goes deep into the classic Great White albums and the back story behind some of your favorite records and songs.
Sleaze Roxx: Jack, I discovered Great White 30 years ago this year. I remember vividly watching MTV and seeing “Rock Me.” The first Great White album that I ever bought was ‘Once Bitten…’ I came in a little bit later then worked my backwards.
Jack Russell: Well, you didn’t miss much! [laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: Jack, the debut [‘Great White’] record is a pretty damn good record. It’s different that the latter records. It’s harder edged and the most metal of the albums.
Jack Russell: It really is a good record. Too bad we got shafted by our label. Initially, Great White had a bidding war. Everyone wanted to sign us. Everyone took us out to lunch. We got the same pitch by every label — it was quandary. Who do we go with? Our manager [Alan Niven] wanted us to sign with EMI, which I’d never even heard of. I wanted to go with Columbia Records. A guy by the name of Gary Gersh signed us. I remember we were on the road with Judas Priest — the biggest tour of the year. I went to a record store across the street and I asked the guy behind the counter “Hey, where’s the Great White record?” He looks at me and says “Who?!” I said “Great White, I’m in the band. We’re playing across the street in the arena with Judas Priest.” He says, “Man, I’m sorry I’ve never heard of you guys.”
Gary Gersh was aware that we were the hottest band in town that everyone wanted to sign. He signed us so he could screw up our record and get the president’s job [Capitol Records]. Our records got screwed up, the then president got fired and guess who was promoted to president? Yeah, Mr. Gary Gersh. He went on to have an illustrious career with other labels, which he did the exact same thing to. [Pauses] Good for him, bad for us, but everything happens for a reason.
Sleaze Roxx: On the debut, you worked with Michael Wagener who has worked with more acts on the metal side of things.
Jack Russell: Let’s not forget Don Dokken was integral on that album. Don was more of a ‘sound guy’ and Michael is more of a ‘mix guy.’ Michael makes the records sound really good where Don has a sense for the songs.
Sleaze Roxx: The standouts on the debut album in my opinion are “Stick It” and “Streekiller.” Great White also started a tradition on that album of covering songs from classic artists. The Who’s “Substitute” made it on that record.
Jack Russell: Oh, thanks man. The Who cover was the idea from our old manager. He suggested we do that. I wasn’t very big into The Who to tell you the truth. We took a few turns working on that song. We assumed he’s the manager. He must know what he’s doing, right? Or at least he made us think he did! [laughs] That’s the funny thing man, people control people by making them think that they couldn’t possibly do it without them. Pretty soon, you’re in their control. I learned that first hand, unfortunately.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Shot In The Dark’ was a transition record because that showcased a ‘bluesier’ sound.
Jack Russell: I agree that definitely was a transition record. We introduced keyboards to the band for the first time. I think in retrospect, we overused them on ‘Shot In The Dark.’ We have a bluesy heavy record with a ‘keyboard heavy’ kind of sound. I’m not saying that there aren’t some great songs on there but we went overboard with the keyboards.
Sleaze Roxx: Great tunes on there — “Shot In The Dark,” “She Shakes Me” and the cover of “Face The Day.”
Jack Russell: Alan [Niven]…here’s the story on “Face The Day.” Alan tricked me into going to Capitol for a meeting with the head of the international department. I really had no idea what I was doing there. I was like, “Why am I here?!” It was awkward [laughs]! I remember I was just sitting on this couch for what seemed like forever. I remember listening to this record while I was there and I heard this song and I’m like “Hey guys, we should cover this tune!” It wasn’t until later that I found out that is was a scam. They wanted me to ‘discover’ the song. The whole thing was a ruse to make it look like it was my idea but it was theirs [laughs]! I mean they could have saved a lot of time and money if they would have just come up to me and said “Hey Jack, here’s this song. What do you think about it?” [laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: Real quick, was the Spencer Davis Group cover “Gimmie Some Lovin’” supposed to be on that or was that another Niven suggestion?
Jack Russell: You know, I can’t remember [laughs]! That was so long ago that some things are hard to recall.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Once Bitten…’ record…
Jack Russell: The record where people discovered us [laughs]! Up until that record, Alan had this thing that he would say “Jack sing like ‘Jack Evil’ on this one.” So I would do what I was told, but on ‘Once Bitten…’, you get to hear what I really sound like. I’m very proud of that record.
Sleaze Roxx: A lot of great songs on that one. Everything came together on that album. The ballad “Save Your Love” was a huge song for you guys.
Jack Russell: Thank you. I co-wrote that with a friend of mine. That was one of the first songs that was written for ‘Once Bitten…’ It’s funny, initially people in the band and management didn’t want it on the record because they thought that it was ‘too wimpy.’ I felt so strongly about the song that I said “If this song doesn’t go on the record, then neither do I.”
Sleaze Roxx: That’s crazy that they didn’t want that on the record!
Jack Russell: [pause] Yeah, I know [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Twice Shy’ was a killer record with “House Of Broken Love,” “Move It,” “Heart The Hunter” and “Once Bitten…Twice Shy.” In retrospect, was it a good idea to put the Ian Hunter track on there?
Jack Russell: Oh, I love “Heart The Hunter.” That’s one of my favorite songs. As far as “Once Bitten…Twice Shy,” I’m alright with it of course. That’s become a signature song. I’m okay with it selling three million records! It’s good song and I felt we made a great song. We got a Grammy nomination out of it. Honestly. I never thought the song was going to be a hit. That song broke all the rules. It takes forever to get to the chorus. For some reason, that song just would just keep going [laughs]! That song just wouldn’t stop going [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: Earlier, we talked about the previous covers. Where you fan of this song before you recorded it?
Jack Russell: I honestly hadn’t heard the song it before. It was Izzy Stradlin that played me the song for the first time.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Hooked’ came after with the standouts “Call It Rock ‘N’ Roll,” ‘Congo Square,” “The Big Goodbye,” “Afterglow” and “South Bay Cities.”
Jack Russell: I really love “Congo Square.” Love that song. “South Bay Cities” is a great tune. It reminds me of a Beach Boys party album.
Sleaze Roxx: Then ‘Psycho City’ followed. Who’s idea was it to put that intro on [the song] “Psycho City?”
Jack Russell: [pauses] That was actually a message from a guy that used to leave messages at my manager’s office. He thought that I had broken into his house and had stolen [the song] “House Of Broken Love” out of his brain [laughs]! For real man. He would leave messages about how I had done that. It was pretty scary at the time.
Sleaze Roxx: Jack, I was trying to figure out where that came from. It sounds like it’s something off a mob movie or something?
Jack Russell: Right! Like a Joe Pesci thing! Funny you say that because the guy thought he was a mobster.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the story behind “Old Rose Motel?”
Jack Russell: Well, first I’d like to say that the cover for ‘Psycho City’ was supposed to be all these ‘Enquire’ type magazine clippings. They were supposed to be mixed together randomly to depict what a crazy world it is. The photo of the ‘Old Rose Motel’ which a little fleabag motel in the Long Beach [California] area — it’s known for hookers, crack smokers… It’s a rent a room by the hour kind of place. That was a jab by Alan [Niven] at Axl Rose because Axl had fired him and went with Doug Goldstein. The first verse is about Tracy Martinson which is the model on the first record cover [‘Once Bitten…’]. He [Alan Niven] had hit on her. She declined his advances. The second verse had a part about Doug Goldstein and a part about Axl [Rose]. You have to take another listen now that you know this. There’s a also a part on “Psycho City” about Doug [Goldstein]. The part that goes “Meantime as the band goes on, ‘double crossing dodges’ get it on.” Well it was originally “‘double crossing Dougies’ get it on.”
Sleaze Roxx: So you’re essentially saying that Great White was used as a tool to take swipes at other people?
Jack Russell: That’s right. That’s what he would do. It was part of the control thing. When you’re under someone’s control, you go along with what they say. We did the next album ‘Sail Away.’
Sleaze Roxx: I was meaning to ask you about that because, that was really under the radar and there were some killer tracks on that. “Livin’ in the USA,” “Cryin’,” “Sail Away,” and “If I Ever Say A Good Thing.” That was another transition record, no?
Jack Russell: Oh thank you. I agree. Absolutely it was a transition record. It ‘transitioned’ me right out of there [laughs]! It was a deeper record, I think at that point he [Alan Niven] wanted me to make Great White into The Eagles or something? He and I weren’t seeing eye to eye so it was at that point that I had to let him go. We went on to do ‘Let It Rock’ which was the first album we did by ourselves. I really love that record.
Sleaze Roxx: Jack, we know what’s transpired over the years with Great White which has led to Jack Russell’s Great White. Your story is that of a comeback.
Jack Russell: Thank you. I think this album reflects that you can hear that on the title track “He Saw It Comin.’”
Sleaze Roxx: ‘He Saw It Comin’’ is a deeper record lyrically. Was that done by design?
Jack Russell: Well, that’s where I’m at at this point in my life and it’s the culmination of Robby [Lochner] and I writing together. We wrote one song together and we didn’t do too much after that. We wrote a couple more but once we got this band in place, I knew we needed to write some more and begin to work on an album. I knew when I found a band that felt was ‘forever’, I knew I’d have to get a deal and begin to work on an album. We did that and I believe the finished product is obvious. This is a very special album. In my opinion, this is the best work that I’ve ever done. I don’t know what fans might think but to me, it’s the best work of my career and I’m proud of it. We played last night at The Whisky for the first time since the release of the album. If you can believe it, the live stream of the show reached 140,000 people. That was pretty gratifying for jus. We wound up perfroming three of the new songs — “Sign Of The Times,” “She Moves Me,” and “My Addiction.” They were well received. I was expecting crickets chirping but the audience was into them. We’ll be on tour this year on a package tour. I can’t say anything yet, but you’ll definitely be familiar with the bands we’ll be hitting the road with.
Sleaze Roxx: Man, I remember the tour you did with Tesla years ago. I know you’re not going to say and they’re opening for Def Leppard this summer.
Jack Russell: [Laughs] We had a great time touring with those guys. I remember playing softball with those guys when we toured together. I don’t know if you know this? I was the one that got them their record deal. I had their demo tape and I brought it to the attention of Tom Zutaut [Geffen A&R] and he signed them shortly after that!