Sometimes, the interviews I conduct end up being pretty much business as usual… you know, cordial, but standard business and promotions exercises. That’s their primary purpose on the surface after all… But many times, interviews transcend simply the business stuff, and cross-over into the personal… these are most often the best interviews for artist and interviewer to do, and for fans to consume. My interview with Jack Russell from Jack Russell’s Great White was one of those rare, personally insightful conversations. I appreciated Jack’s transparency and vulnerability as he discussed his life and career past, present, and future. Enjoy…
On the split with Mark Kendall and Great White: “Because, you know, I rule with an iron hand, you know what I mean? I want my band to be the best. So… But then, you know, how can they be when I’m a mess? So they didn’t trust me to stay sober, so, you know, I get it.”
Tom Leu: Thanks for taking the time today Jack. Looks like you got a very busy schedule these days…
Jack Russell: I love it!
Do you love it? Is this still fun for you, after all these years?
Oh yeah, I love it! There’s nothing more fun than talking about myself. Yeah, sure… “Enough about you. Let’s talk about me.” (laughs)
(laughs)… Well, that’s what this is all about, so let’s talk about you. Your new album is out now, He Saw It Coming… I’m a straight shooter Jack, and I have to tell you I wasn’t expecting to like this album as much as I do. Hats off to you and the guys. It’s excellent!
Thank you, thank you. What did you expect?
I guess I expected it to be a little bit more like the classic Jack Russell and Great White sound from the old days. And it does have elements of that, but to my ears, it’s so much better because it has so much more to offer musically. It’s your voice obviously, and it’s unmistakable, but I wasn’t expecting was the melodic strength and diversity throughout… There’s a lot of Beatles-esque stuff going on in these songs to my ears.
That was a huge influence. That was the reason I got into music from the Help album when I was six years old. Before that I wanted to be an archeologist. My parents got me the Beatles’ Help album when I was six years old, and all of a sudden, I’m not kidding you, I had this hugest feeling … this … it was like spiritual. And I knew I was gonna be a rock star from that point on. I mean, I knew it. And I just abandoned all the archeology stuff, and just worked on this dream, and it led me right to where I wanted to be, you know? So of course they’re a huge influence on me. I love their harmonies as well as the Beach Boys, and Queen, you know?
I love that stuff as well… And you can definitely hear it, perhaps more on this record than any of your other albums in any of the variations. It’s very diverse song-to-song, with a ton of melody throughout. And speaking of Beatle-esque, let’s just talk about the title track, “He Saw It Coming.” What’s the genesis of that song? How did that one come to be?
Okay, yeah, absolutely. Now that song is just about what I told you about: me having this vision, so to speak, where I knew I was going to be a rock star. So the song starts out with a little skit. There’s two boys. One of them is Robby’s stepson and his friend and they’re in a room. Robby records this thing where they’re waiting for the big brother to leave so they could sneak into his room and play his drums and his guitar. And you hear them running down the hallway and they open the door, and all of a sudden they’re on stage with this huge crowd. And they freak out. They slam the door. They’re like, “Oh my God! That was crazy! What are we gonna…” And the one kid goes, “You wanna go back in?” And the other one goes, “No!” And he goes, “Come on, you wimp, let’s go.” “So, all right, let’s go!” They open the door. They’re onstage. (makes crowd noise) And they close the door behind them. And the song starts, and it transports you from when I was a kid to where I’m at right now. Or where I was at when I came back.
People were looking at me going like, “Your time’s over, man.” You know?” I can’t believe you’re not dead.” I’ve fallen down a thousand times; a thousand times I’ve risen. You watch me agonize in pain; yet still I stand and deliver, you know what I mean? That’s where it starts out. And it goes along with the cover I designed. These two kids, which represent Robby and myself, from right to left, and looking into their future and seeing themselves on stage at the age we are now. One of them is Robby and one of them is myself. So that’s what that’s all about. There’s one part in the song where it goes (sings) “I am his friend. Don’t even know the man. He knows me…” What it’s about, that part of the song, is how people always tell everybody they know me. “Oh yeah, me and Jack have been best friends forever.” And then somebody tells me about it. “Oh, yeah, that guy says he’s your best [friend]…” And I go, “Well I don’t even know that dude! What are you talking about?”
(laughs) That happens a lot?
Oh a lot, a lot. Yeah. Somebody told me, “My friend says he knows you, he’s your cousin.” I’m like, “Cousin? I don’t have any cousins in, you know, Minnesota.”
Is that the sort of thing that happens with fame over the years? People coming around, you know, the hanger’s-on?
Everyone’s your buddy all of a sudden?
Yeah, yeah. You know? It’s like, “I used to go to high school with him!” Yeah, but you didn’t know me, you know what I mean? We didn’t even hang out. You were like in a whole ‘nother class of people, you know? You were one of the guys who actually went to school, you know? While I was hanging out at the field dealing drugs, you know?
There’s a [distinctive] guitar riff in the song, “He Saw It Coming,” the title track… particularly at the end, that’s reminiscent of that old song “Cherokee People”? (makes guitar sound). Remember that one? Kind of a signature riff.
Oh yeah. (singing) “Cherokee people. Trailer park people…” Yeah. Oh, I never heard that in that. That’s trippy. I mean, you can’t escape your roots. And there’s only twelve notes, you know what I mean? (laughs)
Absolutely. No, it’s a good thing.
That’s weird though. That’s cool.
Maybe I’m the first one to mention that, so there you go…
I’ve never heard that, no, I’ve never noticed it …
It jumped out to me right away.
Which is weird because I love that song. I’m part Native American and it makes me cry every time I hear it.
Well listen to it at the end there. It’s there. I mean, maybe it’s not exact… but it’s certainly similar. I thought it was kinda cool.
Similar, yeah, okay. That’s cool.
So the first single that’s out is the song “Sign of the Times.”
“Sign of the Times!”
Yeah, very cool. Tell me about that song. I like the video as well.
That one was (laughs)… The way I came up with that, where the idea came from … I was sitting in an airport with the band. We were waiting to get on an airplane. I looked around. There was about 100 people where we were. I looked around and I noticed that every single person that I looked at had a cell phone or some electronic gadget in their hands, iPad or, you know… And I was like the only one who didn’t have their phone, pecking at it, you know? Their face in the screen. Even my band, they’re all peck peck peck peck peck. I’m like, “God, what has this world came to?” I can’t imagine living without a cell phone now. Where before it was no big deal, you know what I mean? You had an answering machine at home. You split for two hours, you come back, you call the people you want to call back. I don’t remember having to stop every five minutes and get on a telephone, you know, a pay phone. “Hey, just wanted to let you know, I’m five minutes away.” You know? (laughs)… And stop at another one: “I’m two minutes away.” And it is a sign of the times. It’s weird. Our society’s communication has just changed so much, you know?
And then with the Internet comes along the trolls, you know? You got these guys who just hate everything. No matter what somebody does, they’re at home behind the safe anonymity of a keyboard, just bashing everybody. “Oh this guy sucks! Oh he sucks! Oh they suck!” It’s like, you know, who are these people? And why don’t they get a life instead of sitting behind a keyboard putting negative comments out in the air, why don’t they go out and do something? You know? Go work on your car. Mow your lawn. Pay some attention to your wife. You know? Leave us alone, you know?
How do you manage that, Jack? How do you manage it when that stuff comes across your path?
I just think they’re idiots and I don’t deal with it, you know? It just like, what a knucklehead. Get a life, you know?
It’s those people, the trolls, who criticize other people no matter what they do, but yet they themselves, don’t do what they’re criticizing.
[They] don’t do anything. Exactly. Yeah, right. And I think it could be maybe a lot of frustrated musicians or guys that wish they could do that or want to do that, but can’t. Or it could just be people that are just not happy with their lives, you know? Or they’re just really immature and they just think it’s funny to go out there and bag on whoever, you know?
Yes, of course.
And, you know, somebody’s all, “His voice sucks, man.” Well, I know better than that, so why am I going to take it personally, you know?
Speaking of voices, your voice sounds as good as ever on this album. Start to finish, it’s such a great record. It moves you through so many different types of songs, different styles. A couple of tracks that jumped out at me are “She Moves Me” and “Don’t Let Me Go.”
(laughs) Love that one!
Very funky, moody, and groovy. You even have some light rapping in “She Moves Me” correct?
Yeah, “She Moves Me.” That was something, we were actually running down the song and I was laying down a scratch vocal, and that part came up, and I just started rapping. I wasn’t planning on it. It just started going (scats wordlessly), “She moves me.” Everybody’s going, “That’s cool!” They’re going, “You wanna put a rap in the song?” I go, “Dude, it sounds great. Who cares what people think? I don’t care. I hate rap too.”
But it sounds really good, you know? So we’re getting ready to do a video for that. I’ve got a friend of mine, Eva… she’s a Playmate, you know? And she’s going to do the video playing beside me. We’ve never done a video like that, where we had any kind of storyboard to it. It was always, you know, the band playing or, you know… Actually we had one with a girl in it but we didn’t interact at all, you know? We tried a couple with girls, but didn’t really interact with them.
So you’re not a big fan of rap music in general, but this particular part fits in this song?
No, yeah. I just think it’s really cool. It’s quirky and it says what I want to say, you know? Without adding another part to the song. And it just says it in a really neat, obscure way, something we’ve never done. Not like I’m planning on becoming a rap star…
And wearing big old chains around my neck or a clock or something, you know.
No? You’re not gonna do the Flavor Flav thing? (laughs)
No, no, no. I’m gonna put a big shark around my neck, you know? That’s still alive, flopping around, you know?
(laughs) Speaking of departures… the very last song on the album, “Godspeed”…
I knew it…
You knew I was going there, right?
I knew it.
It’s doo-wop Jack! It’s so cool. I love old school fifties and sixties music.
Oh man, me too. Dion and the Belmonts, you know, all that stuff is just great.
How’d that song come about?
Well, Robby and I were writing a ballad, and he goes, “Man, you know,” he goes, “we’ve got ballads already.” And I go, “Yeah, you’re right, but we’re gonna have to dump one of them.” And he goes, “Man, we can’t dump these songs. They’re too good.” And I go, “I know, which one do you dump, right?” And he goes, “Hey, let me try something with this. I want to try making this into an acapella song.” I go, “What? You’re kidding me. An acapella song?” I go, “Are you out of your mind?” He goes, “No, man, I swear I can pull it off.” I go, “You know what, if anybody can pull it off, you can. Go ahead and have a shot and if it comes out good, if I like it, we’ll put it on. If I don’t, we’ll scrap it.” So about a month later he goes, “Dude, I finished that song.” I go, “What song?” He goes, “The acapella song.” I go, “You’re kidding me.”
He goes, “No, you wanna hear it?” I go, “Of course I wanna hear it!” So he puts it on and it comes in and I start laughing. Just gut laughing. He was looking at me like “Aw, man.” He goes, “What are you laughing at?” I go, “Dude, this is so effing good! I can’t even tell you. God, interweaving all of the parts, and the parts where it goes from the ah’s to the harmonizing vocals to singing along with me, and then it drops back out again. And then his solo, he did” (vocalizes)… I mean, God, that’s amazing, dude!
It’s very cool.
And the ending is just incredible. I go, “This is definitely going on the album.” I go, “I could so see this as the opening of a romantic comedy. It would be amazing.” So, you know, it’s one of my favorite songs on the record because I’ve never done anything like it. I’ve never heard a rock band do anything like it. You know? And it’s just a beautiful song. I read this one interview. This guy was obviously a real metal head. (mimics voice) “And this last song reminds me of being in a fifties malt shop. I give this album a five.” He only liked “Sign of the Times, ” “Crazy,” and “My Addiction.” (laughs)… He goes, “I really dug ‘She Moves Me’ until it came to the rap part. I hate rap!” I’m like, “It’s a four-second part, dude, get over it.”
Which is why I wanted to commend you guys because of all the diversity that’s present on this album; all the textures, all the variations, all the differences, all the… I guess in some ways, the departures from what people are probably used to hearing from you over all the years… it’s on this album and the production is stellar. The playing is stellar. The singing is stellar.
If you’re a music fan, forget about metal, or rock, or pop, or whatever the genre… this is some good music, period. I’m singing along to these songs first time listening to it. You know, that hardly ever happens. But, it did in this case. I’m not trying to be overly fanboy here, but I’m just telling you the truth.
I love it. I love it… I feel the same way about the record. I mean, I’m still listening to it all the time. You know, usually by now I’d be bored with it. “Okay, I don’t want to hear that anymore.” (laughs) You know?
You mentioned the song “My Addiction,” another very cool song… How’s the health? How’s Jack Russell feeling today? What’s going on with all that?
I’ve been sober for almost a year and three months. The last time I drank I was hanging out with Don Dokken in the Cheesecake Factory right behind my boat. And I’d been drinking all day. And then Don came down. I met him at the Cheesecake and I had like ten mai tais. Big huge three-liquor drinks in like twenty minutes. And the last thing I remember was falling off the bar stool repeatedly. And my bartender goes, “Dude, you gotta get home, man. You gotta get home or they’re gonna call the police.” I go, “Okay, thanks,” and Don took me down to my boat. My wife put me in bed, and the next morning she couldn’t wake me up. So she carried me… somehow she got me out of the boat. I had wheelchair there from when I had torn my Achilles’ tendon that I hadn’t returned in like, you know, months and months and months. So she stuck me in that, got me in the car, took me down to the emergency room and they pushed me right into the ICU.
And they said my liver is almost shutting down. And they told my wife, “He’s probably not going to make it. You need to start getting his affairs together.” And I wake up five days later and I’m sitting in this… Everybody’s in my room. My manager, my guitar player, his wife, my friend from Chicago who flew out… I mean, all these people. I’m like, “What are you guys doing here? What happened?” And my wife told me. I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I’m so sorry,” you know? And the doctor came in. He goes, “Look, I hear that you’re somewhat of a celebrity,” and I go, “Well, you know, some people say that,” and he goes, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t care who you are.” He goes, “I’m just going to tell you. If you drink again, you’re going to die. Your wife told me how you drink, you know.” He goes, “And the way you drink, your liver’s not going to take another round. It will not take one more.” He goes, “I’m just telling you this, because if you go out and die tomorrow it’s not going to ruin my life. I’ll feel bad for you, but, you know, my life’s gonna go on, you know?” He goes, “I’m just telling you, I’m just giving you some advice, don’t drink or you will die.”
So… there was no gray area there. It wasn’t like “You might die,” it was like, “You’re going to.” So I took that to heart. It was like a yes or no question. There was no maybes there, you know? So I stopped, and I haven’t drank since, and I won’t drink again. Because that’s like playing Russian roulette with six bullets, and that’s just stupid. Having my friend Jani [Lane] die, you know, and they told him the same thing, but he kept risking it. Well, sure, maybe I could get through one time or two times or three times, or maybe five times, or maybe I won’t die the next time, but it’s eventually going to happen. Like, you know, really quickly. And I know I wouldn’t make it even through one. Because the way I drink is, I drink until I’m passed out. I can’t stop until I’m just completely out of my mind.
I understand that completely, Jack. I commend you for that. I’ve got just over 14 years myself…
Good for you, man.
Yeah, I’m just here to tell you that what you’re talking about rings really true to me as matter of fact. Life’s so much better on the other side of it. It’s one day at a time…
Oh, way better. I mean, I had eight years at one point. I went out over a bad divorce, you know. It was like 12 steps or 12-pack? Well, the liquor store was closer, so you can figure out who won.
Yeah, I hear ya on that. Well congratulations to you. Keep going. I think that’s great. More than anything else… your health and your life is more important than any of it, you know? That’s what’s real.
I appreciate you sharing that story with me, and taking some time with me today Jack. I’m enjoying this immensely.
No problem. My pleasure. I wish we had more time.
I wish we did too. I feel like I could talk to you for an hour about all this stuff.
Oh yeah, easy.
I just had a conversation with Stephen Pearcy [from Ratt] recently and he was talking about some of the same stuff, you know, being sober and how it’s helping him in his life and all of that. It’s so important; it’s really the key. For those of us who struggle with this stuff, it’s so important, you know?
So onto the tour… I know you got some dates coming up. Looks like you’re going to be at the Whiskey A Go Go in February. What’s it like, or what will it be like playing the old haunts these days?
It is really cool. I mean, we decided to have our album release celebration there, you know what I mean? We wanted to do it on a weekend. We’re just really excited to be there. I’ve always loved playing there. That’s where we first, where Don Dokken introduced us to who ended up being our manager, and the rest is history, you know. That was a really important show for us and I remember it like it was yesterday. So going back there is… you know, I remember a time when we walked in the dressing room and Lou Graham [from Foreigner] was there. He gives me one of those, the wave thing where he bows down his hand, and I’m like, “Dude, come on, really? You’re Lou Graham,” I go, you know?
That was like one of the most flattering moments I’ve ever had because that guy was a singer or singers, you know?
No kidding. What a compliment.
He just had a voice. Yeah, and we’ve done a few shows with him over the years. And we’ve always sat and talked and, you know, he’s just a really nice guy. It was just tragic what happened to him, you know. Just tragic. I know about steroids, you know. I know what they do to ya. That’s why I’m four inches shorter and my bones break all the time if I fall down. You know, it’s because the Prednisone weakens your muscles and your bones, and he’s gotta take a ton of it because of his brain thing, you know, to keep his tumor down. First time I saw him, he was like unrecognizable. He was like 350 pounds. You couldn’t even tell it was Lou Graham. And the last time I saw him he had lost a lot of weight, you know. So he’s doing better. His voice is doing better. The first time I saw him, he couldn’t sing at all. I had to walk off the stage. I’m like, I can’t see this.
Tough stuff for sure…
Oh, it’s horrible to see somebody that you love, I mean, not singing well. Because I know that feeling. If I get sick or something like that, and I’m having a bad night, it is just like, you just wanna run off the stage, you know? But you gotta finish the show, and people are looking like, “Man, he sucks.” But then in the next night I’m just, you know, wailing. I wish the people last night could see this, you know? I don’t suck all the time. I hardly ever suck.
Will the new tour dates this year feature a nice mix of the classic Great White stuff and the new material?
Oh absolutely. We’re going to do three songs off the new album, which is gonna be “Sign of the Times,” “She Moves Me,” and “My Addiction.” Then we’re changing the set around from the last few years. The thing is, you gotta play the hits, you know what I mean? But then, you don’t wanna be playing for four hours. So we just gotta interchange some stuff, you know, give some stuff a rest. It’s gonna be hard to figure out which songs we gotta put on the side for a few minutes, you know? But it’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be a great show.
I’m looking forward to catching you out there live this year.
How’s the relationship with some of your former band mates?
Oh there is none. I mean, they hate me and that’s just the way it is. You know?
It’s sad, you know. Yeah it is. I’ll always love Mark [Kendall]. Mark and I started the band in ’78 when I was 17, you know, and we were together for years, you know. I get why they didn’t want to play with me anymore. I was a mess, you know. I kept falling down, breaking stuff. Like right before a tour was going to start. It was like snap, boom, crunch. “Oh, he’s in the hospital again.” “Oh he shattered his femur.” “Oh no, he shattered his pelvis.” “Oh no” (laughs) “broke his other hip.” “Oh no, you know…” They just got tired of it. They asked me if Jani Lane could sub for me and I said, “Well, I’ll call him and ask him.” He didn’t want to do it. And I go, “Dude, just do me a favor, man, please.” So he goes, “All right, I’ll do it for you.”
I remember that.
And he did a great job. I mean, he really did, you know. And they asked if they could get the other guy. And I said, “Go ahead,” and not realizing that they were going to go, “Oh, you know, we don’t have to deal with Jack. We got a guy who will do exactly what we say. He’s not going to come here running the show and tell us that we’re not tight and tell us, you know, whatever.” Because, you know, I rule with an iron hand, you know what I mean? I want my band to be the best. So… But then, you know, how can they be when I’m a mess? So they didn’t trust me to stay sober, so, you know, I get it.
Sounds like you have a good 360 view on it all now. Nothing like a little time passing to gain perspective, right?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Because I was blaming them the whole time, you know. I was like, “Aw, them jerks,” you know?
Sobriety has that effect on us, too, right?
Sure it does, absolutely. You see things more clearly, you know. And it’s part of the program, you know, to admit your wrongs… what do they call that? Rigorous honesty, you know?
Yes, that’s right. And to “make amends wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.” Yeah, I’m definitely with you.
Last one Jack: What’s a question that no one ever asks you in interviews that you wish they would? What’s something you want people to know about you that nobody ever asks?
What I want to be remembered for… I’ve always wanted somebody to ask me that.
What would your answer to that be?
Total drunken fool. I’m kidding! (laughs)
You know, somebody that was a genuinely nice guy. A really good singer and a really good songwriter. But mostly just a genuinely nice person, you know, who cares about other people.
Well I don’t know you personally, but just talking with you here today, you seem like that and more.
I really appreciated chatting with you. Thanks for the honesty and the transparency about several things here. We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
Yeah we did.
The new record He Saw It Coming is out now on Frontiers. It’s excellent. I’m going to do my personal best to promote it as much as I can for you in my world…
I wish you all the best on it. I’m in the Midwest, near Chicago, and I’m going to try to get out and see you on tour this year.
Oh, right on. Yeah, I got a lot of friends in Chicago. A LOT of friends. That’d be great.
Again, Jack, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for it and for the great interview here. Great record. Job well done! Thanks for all the music over the years.
Thank you very much. I’m glad that it’s had an effect on you, you know. That’s what I always look for. I just want to make people feel something.
You did that for me. I’m just one guy in Illinois but I’ll tell you what, it’s great stuff. And I’m real happy to hear about the direction you’re going in personally as well. I mean, that’s, like I said earlier, that’s the ballgame, and man, keep going. It’s awesome!
You got it, my brother. Thank you so much. I’m gonna keep your number. Maybe I’ll check in with you every once in a while if that’s all right?
Absolutely. Anytime. Thanks a lot, Jack.
Thank you, Tom. Have a wonderful day.