Exclusive Interview: Jack Russell from Great White
Jack Russell has been on the road headlining the America Rocks Tour, his first full tour since 1999. Playing to enthusiastic crowds night after night, Russell delivers the brand of feel good music Great White is known for – as only he can do it. After health scares, tragedies and turmoil, Jack Russell hits the stage with a renewed dedication to celebrate his life, his music and his fans. We caught up with Jack to talk about the America Rocks tour, his new bandmates, the Great White catalog and his hopes for the future.
Jack, it’s great to catch up with you. I’ve gotta start off by asking about your home. I understand you’re living on the water, right?
Yeah! It’s pretty sweet. Sitting in the sun watching life in the harbor is pretty cool. There’s definitely worse places to live – that’s for sure! It’s beautiful. It’s like my church. I find peace there. The city is right there if I need anything but I feel like I’m far away from civilization.
It’s great to see you out on the America Rocks tour.
It’s a lot of fun. We’ve got some great bands. The last time I was on a tour bus for a full tour was in 1999 when we went out with Poison and Ratt.
That was a great show. Things were starting to kick back up as far as “80s bands” were concerned. It was fun to see all the bands on that tour.
There was a lot of great times with this kind of music. This style of music lends itself to celebration. The 80s was a big party as far as I’m concerned. People had a great time – the music was great, the shows were great, the women looked great. It was definitely a good time.
Tell me more about the guys in your band.
Matthew Johnson is a guitar player I’ve known since 1989. I met him through my ex-brother-in-law. I was doing some work with his band and kinda helped him out a little bit. He ended up being the guitarist on my first solo album, Shelter Me. He replaced Mark Kendall when he quit in 2000. The drummer, Derrick Pontier, played with Great White for about four years after I fired Audie (Desbrow). Dario Seixas, the bass player, used to play with Firehouse and Stephen Pearcy. Robby Lochner was the guitarist for Rob Halford’s Fight. They’re great musicians and great guys. It’s a fantastic band. I’ve never heard these songs sound so good. They definitely have the spirit this band was meant to have when I started.
These guys were actually my solo band. We were working on stuff while I was down before all this came to pass with my former band members. I just asked them if they wanted to do Great White with me and they said “hell yeah.” Fortunately I already had them in the wings and had been working with them for a while.
How did you feel when you asked those guys if they wanted to be in Great White? Did it feel like a rebirth for the band or did it feel like a means to an end?
It was very exciting. I love these guys. When I was stuck with the unfortunate decision to reform the band I had people I already knew and I knew their ability as players. If anything I was afraid they wouldn’t want to do it and only do my solo thing. I also know them on a personal level and that’s really important.
One thing I’ve learned as I get older is you have to be careful with who you surround yourself with. Having a real relationship with someone is very important. The wrong people will take advantage of you in a heartbeat.
No doubt. You never know who your friends are. When you’re down you’ll really find out who your friends are. They’ll stick by you. I should’ve taken my own advice a long time ago. Things weren’t the way they should’ve been with Great White a long time ago.
You mentioned it’s been a while since you’ve been on a tour bus for a long tour in a several years. What changes does Jack Russell have to make on the road now that Jack Russell from 20 years ago didn’t even think about?
Nothing’s really changed. I pretty much keep my schedule. I don’t smoke anymore and obviously I stopped drinking. I never really drank on the road anyway, up until the last few years. I never did in the 80s because it just messes up your throat. My warm-up schedule is the same. I take really good care of my voice. My body is feeling really good considering I’m 51 years old . I’m not 25 anymore! For all intents and purposes I’m the same guy with just a little less hair!
Let’s be honest about something. All this controversy with the two different Great White bands really seems to be working to your advantage. I’ve heard and read your name this year more than any other I can think of. What do you think?
I’m not gonna confirm or deny! It’s nice to be spoke about so much but certain things that have been said I’d rather not hear. You’re always gonna have your fans and people that aren’t your fans. It’s not that big of a deal to me. It’s seems like there’s more friends than foes so I’m really happy about that. People are genuinely glad to see me singing again and that make me feel very good.
This year has been such an emotional roller coaster for you. Through it all it seems like you really value the relationship you have with your wife Heather. Is she responsible for keeping you balanced?
I give her most of the credit and clearly to God. My wife was by my side the whole time when there was nobody else. My cousin was there as well but my wife was there 24/7. She was in the hospital bed sleeping next to me or in a chair or in the bed with me. That’s all she was doing – working and taking care of me. She’s a wonderful woman and she literally saved my life at least three times. It’s incredible the amount of work and love she put into taking care of me. Can you imagine – here’s this woman who after I had the colostomy surgery and had the colostomy bag for nine months, it was in a place where I couldn’t really reach it to change it myself. She had to change it every time. I know it sounds like a lot of fun changing somebody’s poop bag, but trust me – it isn’t! I have so much love for that woman. She’s a great lady. I’m fortunate and blessed to have her in my life. I also have the fans. I got so many letters and emails of support. That really, really helped me get through some dark moments.
God bless your mom who passed away earlier this year. Your wife also took care of her before you got sick, right?
That’s true. That’s absolutely true. When I first met Heather she lived in Colorado. When my mom got sick, initially I needed someone to watch her while I was doing shows on the weekend. I asked her to come out and stay with us and take care of my mom. She said yes and came out and then I got sick and she was taking care of both of us. She really had it up to her neck taking care of two people. She’s a very loving and caring person. She was a hospice nurse before and you have to be a special kind of person to do that and deal with death so closely on a daily basis.
Let’s talk about some music now. I hold the first two Great White albums – Great White and Shot In The Dark – up in my top 25 of all time. There’s just something about the sound you guys had back then that really clicks with me.
I just listened to those the other day. I hadn’t heard them in 20 years. They’re pretty good records! I was just talking to Gary Holland, the original drummer. We had some differences and he was mad at me for a long time. We patched things up. I went back and listened to those first two albums and they were a lot of fun. I may start adding songs from the first album into my set.
Great White was definitely more of a metal band back then.
Yes. Absolutely. We started out sounding more like Judas Priest. The band just evolved naturally and we really hit our stride with the Once Bitten… album. We finally figured out what we wanted to be – a blues-based rock band. That was the true spirit of the band. The first two records we were trying to find it. The first record was too heavy and the second record was too soft. Find a happy medium and you get Once Bitten….
It’s odd to me when I look back at those first two records and think of what we became after that. We were searching for a place that we belonged musically. We finally got keyboards. I always wanted keyboards and then we went crazy with them on Shot In The Dark and we found our way back. We used ‘em here and there after that and that’s how it should be in this band.
After Great White nailed that blues-based groove that became your signature sound, Hooked nailed it perfectly. What did you think of the band at that point?
I think we all should have been in rehab at that time! We were partying so much it was nuts. I’m really surprised we got an album out of it. It was typical. Some of the things we had to do to make that record happen – I’m not going to go into details about people’s personal stuff – but we were really happy to get it in the can.
If any Great White album touched on the sound from the first two records it was definitely Let It Rock. What do you remember about that record?
That was the first album we did after our long-time manager and producer Alan Niven. I produced it with Michael Lardie and Dito Godwin. That was more how I wanted the band to sound again. I steered the band into a different direction with “My World” and “Lies In Chains”. I wanted that album to be more representative of what I thought the band was all about. It got lost on Sail Away and that really wasn’t where I wanted it to go. That’s one of the reasons we parted ways with Alan Niven. We had different ideas of where the band should go musically. He wanted to go one way and I wanted to go another. We had a lot of great years with Alan. He was a great manager and a great producer. We did a lot of really great songs with him.
So what’s next for you? Do you have new songs ready?
We have some stuff together that’s just for us to listen to right now. We’re coming out with a live DVD and we’re just going to be giving that away. We’re going to put it up on our website so people can just download it for free. We’ll be putting out a new album I just don’t want to put it out until all this litigation is behind us. Then I’ll be able to concentrate on nothing but the record.