By David E. Gehlke
Former GREAT WHITE frontman Jack Russell had yet to learn of KINGDOM COME and ex-SCORPRIONS drummer James Kottak‘s January 9 passing when he connected with BLABBERMOUTH.NET over a Zoom line. The news clearly affected Russell. Both men are veterans of the 1980s Sunset Strip scene and had their share of battles with alcoholism that negatively impacted their careers. And while Russell has been out of GREAT WHITE since 2011, he continues to tour under the JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE banner and appears to be faring well for himself circa 2024. He seemed deflated that Kottak wasn’t so lucky.
Russell‘s year began with the release of “Medusa”, a mashup with L.A. GUNS guitarist Tracii Guns. (You guessed it: RUSSELL/GUNS was assembled by Frontiers Records.) “Medusa” positions itself as the kind of blues-based hard rock affair one would expect from such a pairing, with Russell still at his best when given LED ZEPPELIN-inspired material. Whether the project has any long-term viability remains unclear, but Russell sounds determined to continue recording and playing live with his own band, which is preparing to release a new full-length sometime this year. Before BLABBERMOUTH.NET got to any of that with Russell, some chatter about his battles and current support system was up first.
Blabbermouth: You’ve overcome a lot of the things that happened to James. You had your battles with addiction and you’re still around.
Jack: “I’ve had my battles and a few other people’s. It ain’t easy. I know what a travesty it is. Trying to get sober is not an easy road. It really isn’t. Once you get it, you get it. And the clouds open up and the world starts singing. You start seeing the world in color and not in black and white, but the last time I got it, I got it for good.”
Blabbermouth: It shows that it’s important to have good people around you.
Jack: “Absolutely. When you have people around you that aren’t getting it, that’s a lot of influence, too. You see them and it’s like, ‘You’re still drinking? You’re still drugging?’ It’s like, ‘I can’t believe you’re still doing that.’ They say, ‘You were doing the same damn thing.’ And I say, ‘I was. Who am I to bag on?'”
Blabbermouth: Did you have any reservations about working with Tracii?
Jack: “I don’t know. [Laughs] I never really had reservations about it, or maybe he had reservations about it. Tracii is a great guitarist. I never doubted it. I never knew how the songs were going to be. I didn’t hear anything until they were given to me. It was like, ‘Here’s your songs. Here’s your lyrics. Here’s how they go.’ It was a total surprise from one song to the next. I liked them all. Some are better than others, I think. I do like them all. There are some songs, to me, that grow on you. For me, I like songs like that where I appreciate them more than if I like them right away. If I like it right away, I’m generally going to like it, then dislike it. If I can live and breathe a song, it’s going to make a stand for me and I’ll hold onto it.”
Blabbermouth: So, are you saying it was a strange experience being given songs to sing?
Jack: “It was strange, for sure. It was like doing cover songs. You’re doing someone else’s songs. At least with cover songs, you decide which songs you like and will do. This was different. It was like, ‘We like these songs. You sing them like this.’ I better like them and sing them that way. I took some liberties with some stuff. I changed a few lyrics here and there to make it easier to understand.”
Blabbermouth: Did you and Tracii cross paths during the heyday of GREAT WHITE and L.A. GUNS?
Jack: “Oh yeah. I’ve known Tracii for a long time. We’ve known each other and crossed paths. Everybody in that era did. Nobody to us in the ’80s was a stranger. We all hung out together and partied together. Unfortunately, as you said, some of us didn’t make it out, but we passed the test. I’m really sad to hear [about Kottak].”
Blabbermouth: You’re hitting some high notes on the album. What are you doing to keep your voice in shape?
Jack: “Just warming up the right way and having a great teacher. And just doing my scales and doing everything he tells me. That’s the main thing. Just do what somebody tells you, whether they’re a great singer or guitar player. My advice is to use the advice they give you. If you don’t like them, then don’t listen to their advice.”
Blabbermouth: You mentioned not hearing these songs before recording. What if Tracii had come at you with a lot of heavy songs? Would that have worked?
Jack: “It’s hard to say. I like heavy songs, too. I like all kinds of songs. If it’s a good song, I like it. If it’s a bad song, hit the road. I don’t want anything to do with it. Not that people won’t say I haven’t written any bad songs or good songs. [Laughs] It’s the people’s choice. Whatever they like. Hopefully, in people’s ears, I’m a good writer. We’ll see how it all spits when the tombstone goes up.”
Blabbermouth: Would you ever do any shows with Tracii if the opportunity presented itself?
Jack: “Sure. Why not? You never know.”
Blabbermouth: I saw a clip on your Facebook page of when GREAT WHITE performed “House Of Broken Love” at the American Music Awards in 1990 and was introduced by Alice Cooper. What do you remember about that?
Jack: “That was a lot of fun. I had to sing live. The rest of the guys played to a backing track and I had to sing live, so it was, ‘Don’t screw this one up or you’ll be really embarrassed.’ I did a good job, I think, at least in my recollection. I was really happy with the performance. And the band played just like they did on record! [Laughs] Everyone was on time; no one missed a note. No broken strings.” [Laughs]
Blabbermouth: That was such a bygone era. The Grammys or other music award shows would never touch a hard rock band like that today.
Jack: “No. Rock and roll will never be the same. When the ’80s stopped, so did rock and roll, real rock and roll. Yeah, there were a handful of bands in the ’90s, but I’m saying a handful. I mean that — a handful. It made me feel bad to be called a ‘hair band.’ Yeah, I had hair for a while. [Laughs] It’s like, we’re going to lose our hair, maybe not all of us, but I’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s the music that’s important. Not the way we look.”
Blabbermouth: I always thought GREAT WHITE and TESLA were unfairly labeled as “hair bands.” I’m guessing you feel the same, right?
Jack: “We did. Don’t get me wrong — there were guys in the band who liked to dress a little over the top, but you have to dress up to be in a band and not go out there with a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. You’re not going to look the part. You don’t want to get mistaken for one of the audience members. At least we didn’t! We found our way. It was a lot of fun. I’ve lived a really lucky life. I’ve been so fortunate. I cannot say enough about that — how lucky I am. I’m blessed.”
Blabbermouth: What’s next for you?
Jack: “We have a new JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE album coming out soon. We have about five songs in the can. Right now, we’re working on some more songs. It’s going to be deadly. We have been taking our time on this one. It’s going to strike hard. I’m really excited about it. The last record came out in 2017 [‘He Saw It Coming”], so it’s been a while.”
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