Had the chance to speak with none other than Jack Russell, the man behind JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE recently. His brand new album He saw It Comin’ was just days away from releasing via Frontiers Music so he was pretty fired up about it, and rightfully so. It’s an honest to God rock and roll record that jams in all the right places, and also is a very emotional album at times, with certain songs really striking certain chords with the listeners. And speaking of honesty, the interview you are about to read is without a doubt the realest, rawest, stripped-to-the-core one I have ever been a part of. Keep that in mind as we embark on this journey together:
Amps: I guess the first thing we need to address is HOW on earth you are still singing like that!
Jack: (Laughs) as I cough lighting up a cigarette! Well, I do take care of my voice. I only have one vice and that’s smoking which I’m gonna quit really soon. I’m joining a church that doesn’t allow that and since I’m joining I’m gonna go all the way in. I don’t do anything halfway, it’s all or nothin’.
Amps: I’ve always maintained that I thought you were a fantastic singer even though I couldn’t get into the GREAT WHITE songs back then. But to hear you on this new record, I was floored. And I made that very obvious in my album review.
Jack: Oh that’s awesome, thank you. I consider myself really blessed. To be able to still have my voice at this point, and I feel it’s actually gotten better, you know? The more you do something, hopefully the better you get at it. I’m a better singer than I was because I’ve had a lot of time to cultivate my talent. I’ve always believed it to be a gift, and I’ve never thought I was cooler than anybody because I could sing and they couldn’t.
I’m just some lucky surfer that God gave this gift to and I’m fortunate enough to make a living at it. I’ve had a very, very, very interesting life, that’s for sure. Everything that happened to me in my life has been my own doing. It’s not somebody else’s fault that I fell down onstage and shattered my femur; it’s my fault because I was screwed up on prescription drugs.
And I can tell you where that came from because I was stupid enough to rent a dumpster for the new house we were renovating in Indian Wells, CA. Well the tile guy left a dried up five-pound bucket of mortar. So I pick it up and I’m trying to throw it into this dumpster when all of a sudden I feel this pull in my lower back. And I’m like, “Oh no…this is not good.” The next morning I woke up screaming in pain. I herniated my disc and I went in to have surgery and all of a sudden I wasn’t I pain anymore. Two days later? I re-herniated it! I had surgery again and it took me a year to recover. Pain I can’t even describe. I have degenerative disc disease from taking steroids for a long, long time because I wanted my voice to be perfect every single night. And it got to be a crutch. I was just abusing them. And they make your muscles atrophy. The more I took them the worse my voice got because it was atrophying. I stopped taking them and my voice came back. But I am four inches shorter now due to the disease, all in my back. So, anybody out there, if you don’t have to take ‘em, DON’T TAKE ‘EM!!
Amps: “He Saw It Coming” is cool because it sounds to me like FOREIGNER meets CHEAP TRICK.
Jack: That’s really cool. Yeah, that song is basically the Reader’s Digest version of my career. When I was five years old all I wanted to be was an archaeologist, and my parents got me THE BEATLES’ Help! album for my sixth birthday and it was like the clouds parted, angel horns started tooting, and I knew I was gonna be a rock star. And I totally changed my path and everything started to fall into place with my first band I joined at age 11, then another band, and another, till I finally met Mark Kendall.
And he was in a cover band but he showed me some original stuff he was working on, so I quit my band, he quit his band, and we started working together in 1978 when I was 17 years old and became GREAT WHITE in ’82. In the last years before I put this current band together I was a mess. I almost died several times. The last time I drank was almost a year and a half ago and I woke up in the hospital after five days in a coma with my liver almost shut down completely.
I had been out drinkin’ with Don Dokken and I’d been drinkin’ the whole day before that. So we go out and I just start pounding Mai Thai’s, like 10 of em in 30 minutes. I kept falling off the barstool and the bartender is a friend of mine, so he says, “Look man, you gotta get out of here, they’re gonna call the cops.” So I walk out the back door and my boat’s at the end of the dock. Don takes me there and hands me off to my wife. The next day she couldn’t get me out of bed, she couldn’t wake me up. So somehow she got me out of the boat and into a wheelchair we had from when I tore my Achilles tendon months and months before. She got me into it, and over to the emergency room and I was in ICU in the coma for five days. When I woke up my doctor told me, “If you drink again you’re going to die. Not MAYBE die. The way your wife tells me how you drink, you’re gonna die. Your liver will not take one more time.” So I go, “OK. I’m done. Not much gray area there.”
And then I thought about my friend Jani (Lane, late singer of WARRANT). What an idiot. He had all this talent and he just wasted it. We all wanted to hear so much more from him. (Voice breaking) God, I get choked up just thinking about it. I wanted to hear more songs and I miss my friend (crying).
Amps: Jack, do you want to take a minute? We don’t have to publish any of this stuff. This can all stay between you and me.
Jack: No, man. I try to be as transparent as possible. It’s good for me, and that’s why I write about real stuff on my records, stuff about my life and my addictions. That’s pretty bare bones as you can get. It’s not talking about how cool it is to be an addict, or “Yeah! Let’s have another beer!”
Amps: What inspired the song “Sign of the Times”? Was it frustration at seeing everybody’s faces buried in their phones everywhere you look?
Jack: I was in the airport with my band sitting at the gate waiting for them to start boarding. And there’s about 100 people there. I’m looking around and around and I notice that EVERY SINGLE PERSON I could see had some cell phone or iPad or some kind of electronic gadget in their hand. They’re all looking at those screens, pecking at it like chickens, you know? And I look at my band and they’re all doing the same thing. I’m the only one that doesn’t have a cell phone in his hand. And I just thought, “My God! This is a sign of the times, huh?” We as people don’t communicate anymore. Everything is always, “I’ll text ya.” What? You’re afraid of hearing my voice? It’s harder to text than to talk. You’re afraid to get caught up in a conversation because you’re so busy texting, huh?
So I started actually calling my friends and reaching out to people. You can always find the time. Nothing’s that important where you can’t call a good friend up and spend some time talking to them, whether that’s an hour or 10 minutes just to say, “Hey man, I’m thinkin’ about you.” You know?
Amps: My best friend back home in NY, we’ve been friends since ’87, he and I spend an hour to an hour and a half on either Saturday or Sunday mornings talking on the phone. It’s our weekly ritual and I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve missed a week.
Jack: Awesome, man. That’s what it’s all about. And then you have these trolls who go on the internet from the safe anonymity of their keyboard, and they go out and talk crap about your music and everybody else’s music. “I hate this song, I hate your album, I hate you. I hate your ancestors and everything you stand for.” It’s like, “Dude, maybe you should go out and get a life. Mow the lawn, read a self-help book or something.“ I just don’t get people like that, and that’s what the second part of the song means. It’s a great tune, and having all the guys in the band be able to sing makes doing that bridge part easy, man. That’s something I was never able to do before. I mean, Robby (Lochner, lead guitar) is my co-pilot and he is a musical genius, he truly is. I’ve never known anybody as musical as he is. He’s such a good player, and such a great guy, he’s my best friend.
Amps: There’s really something for everyone with all these tracks. It’s a great blend of tunes.
Jack: I just love this record. And I hate to sound so excited about it, because, especially in print, it’s gonna look like, “Oh, what a conceited jerk…”
Amps: Jack, no it won’t. Because I will NOT allow that to happen. You’re excited, as you should be.
Jack: Well thank you. Every song is a gift. It doesn’t come from me, I’ve never believed that. I believe it comes from the collective spirit of the writers, and that comes from somewhere else. Because when I’m not working on a record I can’t think of a single idea. When it comes time to make an album stuff just comes flowing in. It’s so weird. In the middle of a tour I might try to think of a song idea and it’s like, “DUHHH!”, you know (laughs)?
Amps: I was really drawn to the more ballad-type songs on this album like “Love Don’t Live Here”, which I’ve been singing all day, and “Anything For You” is a thing of absolute beauty. What an amazing song, and my favorite on the disc.
Jack: Thank you very much. That song is very important, especially to me. I wrote it for my wife, she’s been very ill for a long time. They gave her a 20-50% chance of living for the next two years and she’s the love of my life. (Voice breaking) I’ve never loved anybody more than I love her (EDITOR’S NOTE: At this point Jack informed me of his wife’s condition, which is quite frankly no one else’s business, and not for publication here). She’s such a strong person and I have such admiration for her. She’s been through worse than I have and (crying) she’s always worried about ME. I’m like, “Don’t worry about me, worry about yourself.” But I’m really positive she’s gonna be okay, and what I believe is what happens always in my life.
I gotta stay stoic and believe that she’s gonna be okay, and she will be. I wrote that for her because I was thinking about what it would be like to lose somebody. What would you to say to that person as they’re passing away? What would the last thing you say to them be? And that is so heavy. I had a different lyric there and Robby suggests the line, “Before I pass away” and I just started bawling. He goes, “I’m so sorry!” and I said, “No, that’s EXACTLY it!” That just screams emotion and somehow it’s very cleansing and healing for me. I’ve always felt like shedding a tear or having a good cry is very healing.
Amps: Well, I have to listen to it at least three times before I can move on with the record.
Jack: Oh that’s amazing, thank you.
Amps: On a happier note, “Don’t Let Me Go” reminds me so much of sitting at a party in somebody’s upstairs apartment in the old days with this tune on a record player. There’s so much soulful rock on this record.
Jack: Thank you. I’ve listened to this record many, many times. We’re getting ready to shoot a video tonight for “She Moves Me.” My goal is to shoot one for every song on the record. I’m calling in every favor I can from everyone with a camera (laughs).
Amps: What do you want to say to all your fans out there worldwide?
Jack: I just wanna say please pick up this album. And I don’t mean that from a monetary standpoint because, I mean, you’re really gonna love it. It just has so much emotion and so many twists and turns, it’s definitely a rollercoaster not a merry-go-round.
Amps; Jack, I can’t thank you enough for spending this time with me and opening up the way you did. It means a lot.
Jack: Hey, thank YOU, Damian. Thanks for the opportunity to do so.
I can’t tell you all just how much this interview with Jack Russell meant to me and how happy and proud to be a part of it I am. I came away from this visibly moved, and a lot of what we spoke of still replays in my head almost daily. The chance to get this in-depth and learn so much about someone, not only as a musician, but as a human being comes along maybe once in a lifetime. And if this was my once, I’m glad that it was with Jack. I hope everyone who reads this goes out immediately and buys He Saw It Comin’. I guarantee it’ll take you through the full gamut of emotions and you’ll really get something out of it. And be sure to catch JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE on tour in 2017!!
LIVE IMAGES: ARDENT OWL MEDIA