Great White's Jack Russell
By Jay Oakley
I'll start right off because congratulations are in order for you and Jack Russell's Great White with the release of your debut album under that moniker, He Saw It Comin'. Talk about the formation of the album and how excited you must be to finally have it out.
First off, what do you think of the record?
I like it. I really do. I've been a fan for a while anyway but the one thing I really like about this album is it has a grittiness to it with songs like "Blame It On the Night" and a heaviness to it but your vocals come through and stand out just like they did on any other Great White album. What I mean by that is, you have a style and a very special and particular delivery for your style of singing. It is recognizable and it's right there.
Thank you, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it, man because that's what's most important to me. I want people to like it and I know how much music you guys listen to so I like to ask journalists their opinion because I hope it stands out in a good way among all the stuff you gotta hear.
This was definitely an album that I put my total heart and soul into. Every album's like having a baby and you want that baby to grow up and be successful and not hang out with the bad kids on the charts. [Laughs] So five years ago or so, when me and Robby (Lochner) talked about doing Jack Russell's Great White which was originally going to be Jack Russell And The Shelter Dogs because it was going to be my solo project and this was when I was supposedly still in the band (the original Great White.) I didn't know that those guys had already made up their mind that they didn't want to play with me anymore and they were in the process of trying to trademark the name without me which they failed at. I don't blame them because I was a mess. I was cancelling tours right and left. "Two weeks before we start the tour. OK!" Whoops! Crack! Jack falls down drunk on his floor and shatters his hip and his pelvis and he'll be out for at least nine months. Oh no and then another tour cancelled and then they have to go back and tell all the promoters, "We're sorry, Jack got hurt." and they'd be "Again?!" So, they finally just got sick of it they asked me if Jani (Lane, Warrant) could come out and sub for me. I said, "Well hell yeah! If he wants to." and I talked to Jani and he didn't want to. I said, "Dude, please! Do this as a personal favor to me and I'll owe you one." and he said, "OK, Jack. For you, I'll do it." So he went out and kicked butt and after that was over we all know what happened. Then they got this other guy and they were paying him like three hundred bucks a show, something like that and I'm not sure if that's real because I heard that from several people but you can't believe everything you hear but I know they weren't paying him much and I think they realized, "Well look, this guy's not going to threaten our ability to tour, he shows up, he does his job, he's not drunk, he's not wasted." and they probably didn't think I could ever get sober again. So, they made up their minds to keep him but instead of calling me up and telling me, they just left me hanging which really messed with my head. Finally, I just got tired of it one day and I wrote that article saying that I'm firing the band and getting another group and they flipped out and started saying that they owned the name.
It was funny because Michael (Lardie) and the drummer Derrick (Pontier) they were just employees at that time of me and Mark's (Kendall) corporation, Shark Touring. They were acting like they were actually members of the corporation, they were hired guns, we never put them in with the corporation because I had fired them. First, I broke up the band in 2001 to go on my solo tour and I said they could get another singer and go on if they wanted and they were like, "No, it wouldn't be Great White without you." and I said, "OK, cool." But, after we got the band back together for the 25th anniversary album (Back To The Rhythm) and to make a long story short, not long after, they're Great White and I'm Jack Russell's Great White and I'm cool with that. People are starting to figure it out but to this day there's still people at I hear went to see Great White and Jack Russell wasn't there. [Laughs] But, it happened and the unfortunate thing is I lost who I thought was my best friend in the world, Mark Kendall. We go back to 1977 when I was sixteen years old.
Other then that, I'm happier then I've ever been. I love my band, I love the people who are in it and I have a band of musicians that are just the best I could possibly find. I went through a lot of people in these last five years. Robby Lochner is the only one from the very beginning, everybody else has been changed. I just had to keep trying new people until I found the people I was looking for because I want to keep playing but I didn't want to sit there and keep auditioning people for a year. One guy worked out and most of the other ones didn't. But, we finally got it together, the band I wanted and we created this album which I think is the best thing that I've ever done and we're very, very excited. It's a very eclectic record, it's got something for everybody and it's more or less about my life which is what I like to write about because that's what I know.
Does writing about your life and designing this new album as a story of it reflect in the title? Where did you get the idea for He Saw It Comin'?
Some people won't understand this because of their belief system. You have to believe in God or even a higher power of some sort to understand this. When I was five years old, I wanted to be an archeologist. That was my dream. I wanted to go to Olduvai Gorge in Africa and I wanted to dig up old human remains and I wanted to be Louis Leakey who was a very, very famous archeologist who discovered a number of species of early man. So, that's what I wanted to be and for my sixth birthday my parents bought me an album from a band called The Beatles and the album was called Help! and I remember putting it on my little record player and I heard this thing and I had this experience and I don't mean this literally but it was like the clouds opened up, angels came down and told me I was going to be a rock star. That's the closest way that I can describe the feeling. I was given this gift of knowing my future and from that day forward I knew I was going to be a rock star.
The song itself ("He Saw It Comin'") is about that, about manifest destiny. It's about all of the stuff I've gone through but I'm still here and still doing it. The first verse is, "You say my time is over, you look at me and shake your head. You say I've had my day and you can't believe that I'm not dead. I've fallen down a thousand times, a thousand times I've risen. You've watched me agonize in pain but still I stand and deliver." That's were it's at, ya know. The song goes on and the next little part after the second verse talks about people going around saying they know me when they really don't. The rest of it goes on and talks about stick-to-itiveness, there was a boy and he was told he was going nowhere, now he's a man and he did what he said he would do.
So, it's basically my life story in a nutshell and it goes along with the cover. The picture of the two little kids looking into the crystal ball and they see themselves onstage, all grown up, in front of thousands of people and that's supposed to depict Robby and I as kids and then Robby and I as the future. So, He Saw It Comin' is like I knew it was coming. This is also really interesting, the little skit that's on before the song, that was something Robby had done ten years ago with his step-son and his friend. What it was about was these two kids were waiting for the one's brother to leave so they could sneak into his bedroom and play his drums and his guitar. So, he leaves and they go over to the room and they open the door and there's this huge crowd of people and they're on stage. They freak out and they shut the door and they're debating on whether or not they want to go back in. So, they go back in and then the door closes and then the song starts. So, they went from their present to their future. That's just what it was about, it was never written for the song but it fit which is really odd that he had that laying around. I thought that was really, really freaky.
With the release of the record and you always being actively touring, how much of the new record are you looking to put into your set? For example, I live just outside of Baltimore and I'm fortunate to get to go to the M3 Festival all the time and you are a part of that this year. I can understand M3 might not get as much of the new record because I've heard that a lot of band have to taper their sets to focus more on the hits because that's what the festival is, kind of, designed for. So, what do we get to look forward to on the Jack Russell's Great White tour for the new album?
Ya know, at this point, I don't know. We have some broad ideas and I know I want to do "Sign Of The Times" because it will the be the first actual single. I'd love to do "She Moves Me" and I'd love to do "My Addiction" to start out with and add more later as the record gets legs and starts to develop. That's the hope and that's the prayer and that's the mindset and that's the vision. When it comes to fruition we'll take it as it goes but that's, kind of, the loose plan right now. But, for M3, we might maybe get one song in because it depends on how much time we have. I can't imagine it's going to be any great length. I'm just glad to be on there. It's funny because my manager is one of the guys that owns that show.
That's Eric Baker, right?
Yeah, so they did a poll and his partner was saying he just wanted me on because I was his client and he's like, "No, I don't get commission on that show. I want him on there because they're great. People love him." So, they did a poll and a lot of bands were on there, my old band was on there. We got voted 68% of the people wanted to see us back and the other guys got like 17% so it was a wide margin over everybody. So, we're glad to be back on that show. It's a fun show and I get to see a lot of old friends. I'm bringing my wife out and we're going to spend a couple days there. It's going to be a lot of fun.
And, speaking of M3, a couple years ago, I believe it was 2015, you were present but you weren't playing with your band. I believe you did an acoustic set.
Yeah, I did a little private acoustic set.
You and I had the opportunity to talk for a bit when we ran into each other back stage. I wanted to ask, you had a gentleman videotaping you throughout the weekend for, from my understanding, a Jack Russell documentary.
Yeah, that's going to be cool, I'm looking forward to that. It should be out this year, I hope. It's been two years in the filming and I still think he's gonna shoot the Whisky show on February 3rd which is our actual record release party. It's not a party, per say, we're not going to listen to the record, we're playing and we're going to have a bunch of friends come up and join us. Lita Ford's gonna come up and sing "Save Your Love" with me and Dokken's going to come up and we're gonna do a Dokken song and some other people are going to come up to play and its just going to be a really, really cool night of rock and roll and we'll probably play one or two of the new songs. It's just going to be fun and celebrate the fact that we came up with what we think is a pretty good record. That's how we're kicking it off.
When it comes to the documentary, what can you tell us about it? From what I've heard is it's based around you, of course, but I've also heard that there will be a part that focuses on the unfortunate events of The Station fire. So, is it going to be about the history of Jack Russell or does it have any particular style for where it's going to focus?
I'll put it this way. We took a trip down to the house I was at when I was a baby, my first house, and the lady was kind enough to let me and the camera crew and my wife go in and walk through the house and I got to explain what was what, this is what I did here and this was where we had Christmas and I could tell them what I was wearing when my parents told me there was no Santa Claus and what an impact it had on my life. It was cool to take that trip down memory lane and share it with the camera and eventually the public. Then, we went by my other house that my Mom and Dad had but nobody was home so we just sat and talked on the street. So, there's a lot about my history, where I've been and there's a lot of stuff about the band. I haven't seen any of the editing yet or anything like that because I think they're in post-production now. Of course, there's stuff about every aspect of my life and it wouldn't be my life story with out including "that" part of it. I don't want to talk to much about it right now for various reasons.
As we moved into the new year, I was thinking back over 2016 and a lot of the people we've lost. You mentioned him earlier in our conversation and you always had a very special relationship with Jani Lane from Warrant and last August was five years without him. Would you talk a little bit about him as a person? Of course, he's been spoken about by the other members of Warrant and bands that he's been involved with but as a close friend, as a musician, I value your opinion on who Jani was and what we might not know about him.
Well, Jani was just a really fun guy and he wasn't afraid to laugh at himself. I remember, we were on tour with Ratt and back during the ...Twice Shy record, before we ended up doing the double header tour with Tesla, they were coming off stage and I got this big plate of shaving cream and I piled it on top of this plate and he came running off stage and just right in the mug and then he grabs it and he smashes me in the face with it so we're both looking like pie-face guys and it doesn't sound as funny as it was but there happens to be a picture that somebody took of it and it ended up in one of the major mags and it was one of my favorite photos of my entire life. We were both with just huge smiles and you could tell we were just at that point in our lives, just two young men just living out their dreams and having a blast. In this business, as far as I'm concerned, I've never worked a day in my life. The work is the traveling, that's the work. The playing, that's not work, that's the joy, that's why they call it playing.
But Jani, as a man, he was probably one of the most talented guys I've known. That guy was a great, prolific songwriter. He had, unfortunately, people who took advantage of him and I can relate to that because we are a lot alike. You trust everybody and he's the kind of guy that if a guy walks up and says he's the president of Hershey's chocolate, even if he looks like a total bum, he'd be like, "OK, cool. Maybe he's just eccentric." You want to give yourself excuses to believe everything. We both, I think, were the type of people that see the best of everything, even if it's not real. With that, unfortunately, causes a lot of pain in your life. You end up getting hurt a lot because people take advantage of you and they sell you a bill of goods and we were the type of people that we'd buy them.
But, he was just a sweetheart, man. That guy had so much love in his heart. He was just a sweetheart and I remember, I got my facelift done and my ex-fiance manages plastic surgeons so she'd bring them out from Beverly Hills to Palm Springs, where we lived, and she'd bring these rich clients out and sell them facelifts and then Extra, the TV show Extra, wanted to film a surgery. So, he needed somebody to do surgery on so he asked me. He said, "Hey, do you want a free facelift?" and I said, "Hell yeah!" What was cool about it was they showed more of me in a studio working on my solo album and singing songs then they did of the actual surgery. It was really just a before and after so it worked out really, really well for me. Then Jani approached me at one point and said, "Hey dude, I've got this like double chin thing so do you think that doctor would take care of me?" I said, "Absolutely!" and I called the doctor and told him what was up and he said, "Yeah, no problem. I'll do it as long as he just does some promos for me." So, everything worked out except Jani never came through on his promise which really let me down. I was really hurt by that, ya know. But, I don't hold a grudge. And, to me, I don't care if people know I had a facelift. It's like, "Yeah, I did. So what?" [Laughs] If you lie about it then it becomes a big thing.
What really kills me, I know everything about how they found him but I'm not going to get into that because that's just not cool. But, after he died somebody told me that I needed to go look at his MySpace page. I'd never been on it but I'm not really a computer guy, I don't do it, I still do my lyrics with a stone tablet and a chisel. [Laughs] So, I went over to his MySpace page and there was two photographs. One was him and his new wife Kim, who is just a sweetheart. I met her afterwards in a really strange, bizarre way but the two pictures were of him and his wife and the other was a picture of him and I singing together on stage and the caption under it was "The Boys." I just started bawling. I didn't realize just how much love and respect he had for me. [Jack's voice gets emotional] I miss him, man. I miss him a lot. I'm mad at him, I'm mad at him for taking away that talent from us, ya know. When he called me up, when he did the tour for me, he called me up and said, "Man, why do you gotta to sing so high all the time?" [Laughs] I started laughing. I'll never forget that, I'll never forget that conversation. When he was sober he was the sweetest guy. One night we were playing a show with him in Vegas, an out door show that had like seven thousand people, I saw him in the morning in the elevator and he was drinking and I thought to myself, this is going to be bad. He was on stage at one point and he started cussing the audience out just because he was drunk and I was just embarrassed for him, I felt so bad. I thought, "Please, God, let him get sober." Of course, we know the end result. I just miss him. he was a really good guy, he was funny, he was warm-hearted, he was genuine, he love people, he loved to write songs, he loved to sing and that showed. He was a really great songwriter, great musician and a really good front man. And, he was just a nice guy that had a disease, the same disease that I had but other then that he was just a sweetheart and I miss him.
Absolutely. I really appreciate it, Jack. I miss him everyday myself and I remember getting the news and we'll leave it at that. But, I would like to ask as a follow up, were you able to be a part of or attend the memorial service that they did for him at the Key Club?
Yeah, I did and I thought that was really in poor taste, to be honest with you. Holding it at a bar and it was all about the bands. Not one person went up there and did a Jani Lane song.
Oh wow, really?
No, it was all self-promotion and it was run my my ex-manager who is just a piece. He's the reason I don't have the (Great White) name. He lied about everything but even there I ended up inviting him to my show at the Canyon Club the last time we played there and if there was anyone I should hold a grudge against it'd be him but I don't.
But yeah, I thought the memorial show was in really poor taste but I was there. I was scheduled to sing a song with the band. So, I was ready and apparently Mark had to go to the hospital before the gig because he had a panic attack because he thought he had to play with me. I didn't know this at the time but I saw him before the show started and I called to him and he started walking faster and I called to him again and ran a bit to catch up to him and I asked him how he was and what was up and he was like, "Ugh, I'm alright." This was before the breakup but I remember going downstairs after Mark blew me off and I see my drummer, (Audie Desbrow) we exchange hellos and when I tell him that I need to talk to him he says he'll be right back and I never saw him again. Apparently there was a friend of mine that was a friend of there's too that was down in the dressing room and Audi was talking about how he saw me and blew me off and fuck that guy and all this stuff and then Michael Lardie said, "Why doesn't that guy just die already?" That was the most hurtful thing and if it wasn't for me he wouldn't even be in the band.
When you think you have friends that will always stick by you as I stuck by them, you think they'd at least have the decency to just tell me. Not have the attitude of just ignore it and it'll go away.Be a man, dude. Be a man. I've had to fire people, I had to fire my best friend, Gary Holland, our original drummer from way back. I had to fire him and we were best friends and it cost me my relationship with him. It wasn't just me, the whole band wanted it but I'm the one that did it so it's my fault.
Kind of like the tragedy in Rhode Island. I get called a murderer because I'm the lead singer and Mark doesn't have any culpability as far as the public's concerned as far as I know. I guess, it just comes with being the voice, they associate that and they don't look any further.
I did want to ask you, Jack. How are you feeling physically? I've been fortunate to see you play a few times now with Jack Russell's Great White, not just at M3 but also at a small club that's no longer around called House Of Rock in White Marsh, Maryland that you played a couple times.
Right! I remember that place.
The shows were great and you would come out and do some mingling when you could but, honestly, how are you feeling?
Ya know, aside from some back pain because I have a degenerative disc disease and I've lost four inches in height. It's funny because now I look up at people I used to look eye to eye with. They're like, "Didn't you used to be taller?" and I'm like, "Yes..." I went to this new doctor and he asked my weight and he asked my height and I told him 5' 10 and 1/2". I've been that height ever since I was young and stopped growing. He puts me on the scale and he tells me I'm 5' 6 and 1/2" and I'm like, "What!" I told him that was impossible and that his scale was messed up. I couldn't believe it and he explained to me that with degenerative disc disease that's what happens. So, aside from having a lot of pain from bone on top of bone I feel great. My voice feels better then it has in years, I'm starting to be able to run now where I couldn't for a while because I had that hip replacement from when I shattered my femur. I finished the show though, on a stool. [Laughs] Anything for the music but I feel pretty good, man. I really do. Mentally, spiritually, physically I feel better then I have in quite a number of years. I think a lot of that is trying to take care of myself and I'm not drinking anymore, that's huge. I'm just happier now and that's huge because I was in a major depression for a long time after the whole thing went down and it can cause some physical abuse as well but after that I'm back on track, so to speak.
With everything you've done with Great White, you've established quite a legacy and now with your first album under Jack Russell's Great White you get to start a new chapter to a certain degree. What are your goals for this record? Not necessarily album sales per say because we know that the music business isn't quite what it used to be but what are you hoping for and looking for with this record?
I'm just looking for the success that I believe it deserves and anything is possible, I've come to find in my life. You just have to believe as hard as you can believe and you've got to put it out there and you have to visualize it. For me, my whole life's been about that. I've built my life on visualizing and I've actually used my mind and my visualization and my beliefs to actually move things in the universe to my way. To get things out of my way, to attract the people I need in my life to get where I need to go.
And, a fun question to wrap it up. Do you have a favorite album in the Great White catalog? Of course, you're going to have so much love for your body of work but do you have one that stands out?
Yeah, we'll leave my new one alone because I would say that but of the older stuff I've done I would say, Can't Get There from Here. The writing was great, the production was great, the engineering was amazing. That album just really stands out because it just has some great, great, great, great, great songs on it. Working with Jack Blades was just a gas. I'd worked with him before. I did all the high backing vocals on Night Ranger's Seven album so I got to work with him and I'd known him anyway from a previous tour that we did together. He's a sweetheart.
It's hard to pick a favorite album because you've got Once Bitten..., and you've got ...Twice Shy and Psycho City. Hooked was never my favorite. I think we all should have been in rehab rather then making a record. There's some great songs on it but we should have been in rehab before we recorded it.
Thank you so much, Jack. This has been a lot of fun and truly inspiring and I really appreciate your time.
Yeah, I've enjoyed it too, man. If I don't enjoy an interview I'll cut it off quick, ya know. [Laughs] It's been a real pleasure talking to you, man and I appreciate you taking your time.