Great White’s Jack Russell discusses new release, Rising

by Clay Howard

“Save Your Love,” “Rock Me,” “Once Bitten Twice Shy.” Three songs from the ’80s that most people remember. But when you say the name Great White, these songs are not the first thing to come to mind. To be honest, when this interview was set up, I worried about how to talk about the events that took place at the Station, the Rhode Island nightclub that is associated forever with the band. Ultimately, I decided that this interview was best suited to discuss the reason I am familiar with the band and their music. Great White got together in the early ’80s, and grew their fame during the hair-metal era later in the decade. One thing that has differentiated the band from the glut of others is the vocals of Jack Russell. Another is the band’s writing, which steers more towards the stripped-back rock of the ’70s than the overproduced sounds of their contemporaries. This combination of songwriting and Jack Russell’s voice has helped the band achieve multi-platinum success. On the Eve of the US release of their new album, Rising, I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation with Russell to discuss the CD.

I have been listening to your new CD for a week or so. It has already been released in Europe, correct?

Yeah, it has been out for two or three weeks. The response has been great so far. It’s always a pat on the back, makes you feel good when you put your heart and soul into a record and people respond they way they have. It’s a good feeling, you never get tired of it.

It looks like you have a pretty busy tour schedule coming up starting when the new CD, Rising, hits the stores. How much of the new record makes the set?

We play a couple new songs from the new album. You hate to inundate people with new stuff… I don’t think its fair. Most people come out to hear the classics, so you throw a couple new things out as a tease so that they will go out and buy it and discover it for themselves. You don’t wanna just blast them and say, “Here is the whole new album.” That is just not fair, especially when some of them have been coming to see you for almost 30 years.

So that brings up another point. You guys have been together for quite a while.

Yeah, Kendall and I started playing together in ’78, when I was 17. We became Great White in 1982

It is great that you get to do the thing you love for a living, and for so long.

Yeah, I have no complaints. I am so blessed. I look at a lot of my contemporaries, and they are not able to do that, and I am… just so blessed and thankful to have Great White be able to go out and do what we love to do and make a living at it.

And still put new music out. A lot of bands are existing only in the songs of their past.

JR: Yeah… I wouldn’t want to do that, just become a cover band of yourself, and just make a living off your catalog. There was a long stint where Great White didn’t make any new music, almost nine years, and it was killing me. It is great to be able to do that. We already have plans for our next record.

Let’s talk about your news album, Rising. The thing that strikes me about it is that you are not trying to replicate what you have achieved success with. Sure, there are elements of that classic Great White sound, but it seems you are stretching a bit more, some songs have a bit more polish. A lot of the album felt very familiar… take “Last Chance.” It takes me back to back to a much younger era, when FM radio was first rising to prominence…

Ah, thank you very much… that is a huge compliment.

The entire album has that feel. Big hooks and great vocals, which are a little different than your previous work.

You know, I try to do something a little different on each album. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I try to use different parts of my voice… like “Sanctuary,” that is a blues/gospel song, and I had never done anything like that before. It was a different approach and key than I would normally take. It was a lot of fun. I really wanted to experiment and do some things that were out of my normal realm. There is nothing wrong with “Rock Me,” but I don’t want to keep writing it over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great song, probably the quintessential Great White song. When we write, we write very selfishly. If we like it, it is going on the record, if somebody else likes it that is just icing on the cake. This writing of this record was more collaborative than any other record we have done. I really wanted to get the band involved. This was also a record where there was nobody else in the studio when we were getting it done. That was awesome, no external influences. Nobody to tell us that we should try this or that… We know what we are doing, and we know what we want to sound like.

The results of this newly found independence are on display on the newly released CD, Rising, which is in stores this week.