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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Exclusive Interview: Jack Russell on 'Great White', His Upcoming Book and Living a Transparent Life

(Jack Russell's Great White Promo Shot)

I have to admit absolutely nothing could have truly prepared me for my lengthy recent conversation with Jack Russell. I mean, technically I came prepared because Great White's "Once Bitten" cassette lived in my Walkman for a nice chunk of my junior year of high school, plus my connection to the music came with a head full of details. As a fan, I am aware of Jack's troubled past which includes things like drugs, comas, death and of course, that horrific fire. If you're a fan then you're likely aware of these things as well. I decided that I needed to learn more about Jack Russell the man, not the headline and so we talked.

What unfolded was well over an hour of kindness, insightfulness and a deep understanding on Jack's part about how hard life can be and then how beautifully it can unfold for you if you hang on long enough. He carries with him a depth that only comes from a life that has been saved at the last minute. He is still here, making music, loving his wife Heather and giving back everything that he can muster to those who have supported him through everything.

Jack's transparency and intelligence are quite beautiful and I can only hope that his words resonate here the way that they did in person.



Cate Meighan: You have one of the most supportive fan bases that I think I've ever seen!

Jack Russell: They're really great people and they've stuck by me through thick and thin. Through all of the trials and tribulation, drunk or sober, falling down and then getting back up, they've all really been there. I've been sober for over three years and my voice is doing great so now I get to give back to the fans every night. I've watched the audience grow and it's cool to see the younger fans now with our t-shirts on, down to their knees (laughing). They'll know every word to songs that I wrote before they were even born and that's really amazing to me, to see that generational transition. I remember it used to be all high school kids when I was on stage and just five or ten years older than them. Now you see them plus their kids- and then their kids, so to have three generations come to a show just makes you feel great, a little old (laughing) but great.

Thank god that the fans come out to the shows because our business really has completely flip-flopped. As an artist, you used to tour just to support your album and you didn't care if you broke even. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on tours back in the day and if we broke even then that was cool because it promoted your record. Now it's exactly the opposite and you make your money off of touring, so thankfully the audience is there and they're still following us. When people ask me now what advice I'd give to a young musician I tell them to get a real job (laughing) and I say that half jokingly because I do believe that if you really want to do it, then you can accomplish anything. Go for it but understand that it really is a lot more difficult now.

CM: I think that a lot of people have misconceptions about the streaming services and how much artists are actually paid by them. 100k streams are worth little more than a large cup of coffee now, right?

JR: Oh we get paid nothing on those things really at all. You can go on YouTube and see that we have a million views but it's not even worth a cup of coffee in terms of getting paid. People wonder why their favorite bands break up and maybe it's because everyone steals their music and doesn't go to the live shows, so they couldn't afford to feed their families. Artists need people to buy the albums and buy the cd's and then even when they want to there are very few outlets left actually selling them in person. So many people want the instant gratification and they don't want to wait for their music to come in the mail. They don't care about the cover art, the liner notes or the lyrics and it's so sad.

When I was a teenager growing up I was listening to bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple and we would literally go down to the record store with blankets and stuff and wait for it to open. We wanted to be the first ones to race back to the display and get that brand new, just released album. I'd race home on my bike and take a razor blade and gently remove the shrink wrap from the record and pull the vinyl out with reverence. I'd pull out the sleeve and read every single liner note and credit. Even though I didn't know who any of these people that wrote it or produced it were I still wanted to know who did it. The album covers were beautiful works of art and I used to have this little shelf on my wall that held an album cover and it said 'now playing' on it. I used to put the album cover up of whatever I was listening to at the time. There was a ritual to music that has been lost in the age of streaming and you had something tangible. You could hold it in your hands and it made the music physically real too.

The technology is great but it's also a curse depending on the moment or the situation. I believe it'll eventually be our undoing because we've become so reliant on it and eventually it's going to fail. Then what, we're not going to know what to do. People are streaming their whole lives and what's going to happen when they can't? How will they deal with it? It's a whole different world now, some of it's cool and some of it is ridiculous.  Music though, that'll always be there. The kind of music that we grew up on and the kind of music that I still make will always have a place in the world, even long after I'm gone. I want to leave that as my legacy and to have people be able to say, "Yeah that Jack Russell was a great singer while he was alive".  What more can I ask for?

CM: Your latest album 'He Saw It Comin' feels like Great White evolving into something modern while carrying with it undertones of influences by some of the rocks' most noteworthy heroes. Was that the goal?

JR: Yeah there's a little Beatles, Queen, and the Stones vibe is thrown into it. We wanted to make something reto modern. We didn't set out to sound like anyone in particular but when Robby (Lochner) and I sat down together to write it was amazing. When we came up with "Godspeed" it was initially a ballad but Robby wanted to take it and make it acapella, like a 50's doo-wop. I wasn't too sure about that (laughing) but he put it together and played it for me and it was just brilliant. Everything on that song is just our voices, I mean everything and I was just blown away when I heard it.

To me, it's the best record that the band has put out as an album, as a whole. Yes, the "Once Bitten" album is just a beautiful record with great songs on it but "He Saw It Comin" has real substance and the songs on it have lyrics that mean something. I'm more mature in my writing and the lyrics are a little deeper now because I'm trying to get more transparent. I want people to know who I actually am now as a human being and as a soul.


CM: Do the honesty and transparency come easier as you get older?

JR: They do and I let my guard down more and more with every record because the older I get the less I care what people think of me. I've got a book coming out at the end of the year and it's basically naked and unafraid because I put it all out there. This is who I am, this is what I've been through and I've had a very full life. I give all of the credit to god because I see his signature all through my life. My voice is a gift, every song that I write is a gift and I have to give credit where credit is due, at least that's what I believe.

One of my main reasons for doing the book is because I want people to know that no matter how far down the ladder you fall you can always climb back up. You don't have to stay down. Whether you have a drug an alcohol problem or anything else for that matter, you can pull yourself out of it. You can accomplish so much in life if you just believe in it and visualize it.

Nothing happens by chance and I believe that everyone that you meet has some sort of message for you, if you listen closely enough. It might be a stranger that says something random to you that you shrug off, but if you sit and think about it, maybe they said something that you were supposed to hear. You just never know when you are being used as that voice of encouragement for someone else. I don't believe that anything happens by coincidence, it's all for a reason both good and bad. Life isn't random, it's very well choreographed and we're here to learn.

CM: Did you always know that music was going to be your life?

JR: When I was five years old I wanted to be an archaeologist, it was my dream. I wanted to go to Africa and dig up bones or discover a new species. For my sixth birthday, my parents bought me The Beatles "Help" album and I remember this day like it was yesterday, I can tell you I had my pajamas on and I had this little record player that was black with a motif of silver knights jousting and the inside of it was gray. I put this record on and I literally had a spiritual experience that I couldn't explain then because I was six years old. I just felt this power and I was given this information that my life was going to be in rock n' roll and I didn't even know what a rock star was. I knew who The Beach Boys were and I loved them and The Beatles blew me away, but I didn't understand how grand of an idea it was to be a rock star (laughing). That was it though, from that point on I abandoned archaeology in favor of music.

CM: Ah, and then it all began for you.

JR: Yeah, I started my first band when I was eleven years old and then I met Mark Kendall when I was seventeen and I joined his band, but I ended up going to jail. I got eight years for shooting somebody in a drug robbery, I was on PCP and blacked out. Through a series of events, I ended up doing only eleven months and a year later I signed my first record contract. My life has truly been a series of moments where God has literally pulled me out of the pit.

I remember being at my first concert at The Forum in Los Angeles watching Blue Oyster Cult play. I was sitting with my friends and I said, 'One of these days I'm going to be on that stage and you guys are going to be asking me for tickets' and they looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my head (laughing).  But on April 6, 1988, I walked into my hotel room, I opened up the curtains and there was The Forum all lit up right across the parking lot. We were playing and the place was sold out. I sat there for maybe an hour in my chair just thinking, you pulled it off dude, you pulled it off.

My dad used to tell me that I needed to have something to fall back on in case I didn't make it in music and I refused. Nature dictates that when things get hard if I have something to fall back on, then I'm going to fall back on it. For me, it has to be, do this and be successful or starve. I left myself no choice. The universe has a way of turning things to accommodate you and your goals if you believe in it. People don't realize how powerful they are and how powerful our mind is. You can manifest anything, good or bad if you really want to. You have to trust your inner voice because it usually knows what you're capable of doing. If you're happy serving french fries, then you're successful. If you're miserable making millions of dollars a year then you need to change something.

(Jack Russell's Great White Promo Shot)

CM: You're onstage almost every weekend now, how are the shows going?

JR: The shows have been great. The band is getting more and more popular and people realize now that there are two Great White's on the road. Jack Russell's Great White is the actual, real voice of the original band that you know from the albums. I was a really big part of the sound and totality of early Great White, regardless of what has been said. I know the truth and I know what was what.

I actually heard (for the first time) one of their more recent songs about a month ago and I have to admit that Terry Ilous' voice sounded really good on it. I was really surprised that they (Great White)  let him go recently and so I got in touch with him because I've heard he's a really nice guy. I have a feeling we're going to end up being friends. We're both singers and we've both got lead singer disorder (laughing) and I don't blame him for anything. He just took an opportunity that was offered to him and it was a good career move so why not? He wasn't being deceptive at all, it was my dear friends that were.

They turned around and did this lousy thing to him and he was totally blind sighted and I feel really bad for him. I saw the video of them with their new singer and Terry onstage together, showing that it was in the works for months and to me that just made it such a despicable act. They couldn't tell him in person or even make a phone call and that was exactly how it happened to me. That was what upset me. It wasn't the fact that they didn't want to play with me because I get it. I was a mess, I was a total wreck, but rather than have that conversation, they kept dodging me. I know what that's like to be treated that way and I felt bad for him. Terry is a good guy and I wish him the best. I have no ill will towards anyone at this point and I wish them all the best, but Terry maybe just a little more success than the others now.

CM: You have so many great things going on, what are you most looking forward to?

JR: I love that the music of Jack Russell's Great White is getting great reviews. Honestly, I'm looking forward to the day when I can just be billed as Jack Russell. That's the goal. I actually accepted an offer next year to do one of the rock cruises, something that I never wanted to do, but they persuaded me. It's a legends cruise in February with people like Roger Daltrey and the caveat was that I get to steer the ship because I'm a certified captain, and I'm billed as just Jack Russell and not Jack Russell's Great White. Sure, I'll steer the cruise ship (laughing) and sing a little, it's going to be a lot of fun.

The Hair Nation Tour this fall is another thing. Especially since Enuff Z'Nuff is going to be playing with us. Chip Z'Nuff and I are really good friends and I love that band. They have such amazing music and it saddens me that they've never had the opportunity to be as big as they should be. They're like a modern day Beatles and the album that they released in 1999 has some of the most amazing songs that I've ever heard, from start to finish. It was a brilliant record and Chip is just the sweetest guy and I love how he keeps that band going.

My first solo album, "Shelter Me" was just released last month and it's doing great. It was released in 1996 in Japan, but it was never released in the rest of the world until now. It features some really great musicians and has gotten rave reviews. It's probably one of the best sounding records I've ever done and it was cool because I got to sit and control the production side of it too so it came out sounding the way that I wanted it to. The drums are really upfront and in your ear which is cool.

CM: Looking a little further down the road, what is next for you?

JR: I'm gonna go pick up my laundry and (laughing)... We've got this tour coming up and a lot of shows this year. We're doing a tribute to Zeppelin starting in December based on the record that we did back in 1996. I've always wanted to bring that collection into different cities and so this year I said, just book dates for it, book away! I just want to be out playing because god knows how long I'm going to be able to use this voice. It's on loan ya know, God can take it back whenever he wants to so I want to use it while I still have it. I'm pretty beat up, I've put my body through a lot of stuff over the years so it's amazing that I still have it at all.  The drugs and alcohol, falling down here, breaking this and that, I've really learned the hard way how important it is to treat your body well. Somehow I'm still here and so while I am I'm going to keep making music and hopefully helping people to forget their problems and have a good time for a little while.


CM: What would you like to tell those fans that love you so much?

JR: I want them to know how much I love and appreciate them. They've been so kind and supportive over the years and I owe them a debt of gratitude. If it wasn't for the fans I would never have been able to accomplish my dream and that is so precious to me. It's everything. When people come up and say that my music is part of the soundtrack of their lives you know, something was a wedding song or another song helped them to get off drugs, it's just everything.  It means my life has meant something and I've somehow helped somebody and that's a gift that also gives me purpose. I'm here for a reason.

Please be good to each other because we're all we've got. We don't need to be haters or bullies or to treat each other badly, we need to help each other out. Life IS hard and everyone needs a helping hand at some point so you need to be there for your brothers and sisters.

(Jack Russell's Great White Promo Shot)

Check out tour dates for Jack Russell's Great White here, pick up some official merch here, and head over to Jack's official site to check out videos and more!



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