Jack Russell speaks out in exclusive with Metal Sludge
Classic Jack Russell fronting Great White
GREAT MIGHT: Former Great White singer Jack Russell says he is forming an all-new version of the band
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Contributor
These days, Jack Russell is feeling a bit once bitten, twice shy. Through the years, Russell’s health and drug problems have made the Great White singer even more infamous than famous – a situation that took some doing, considering Russell, 51, has forever been the key draw of one the great hair-metal bands of all-time, as Great White sold millions of records with sold-out tours and hit singles like “Once Bitten ….,” “Save Your Love,” “Rock Me” and "Face The Day."
Russell has not fronted Great White for more than one year, and on Tuesday the singer said he is taking “the band name and moving on.” So Russell has dropped a bombshell, declaring the formation of his own Great White – to be billed as Great White featuring Jack Russell – now including former Great White members Matthew Johnson (guitar) and Derrick Pontier (drums). And Russell’s version of Great White plans to play its first show at a pre-NAMM jam on Jan. 14 in Redondo Beach – just one month away – while his old bandmates, still carrying on the Great White name with new singer Terry Illous, are none too pleased, as you can imagine.
Here’s the rub: I talked to Great White’s longtime guitarists Mark Kendall and Michael Lardie today, and both say there’s no way Russell can pull it off. Plus, Great White’s management sent a press release that pretty much threw Russell under the bus, saying among other things: “Time and again, Jack Russell has let down his band and fans. … Jack Russell does not have the right to start his own Great White or use the name without our names in the lineup.
Here we go again, another L.A. Guns vs. L.A. Guns, Warrant vs. Jani Lane (RIP), Guns N’ Roses vs. Axl Rose, Skid Row vs. Sebastian Bach, etc. Russell, swearing he has been clean and sober for four months while indulging in non-narcotic pain medicine prescribed by a doctor since the singer’s last surgery in August, said he is fine – frankly, I’ve known him for years, and he did sound totally lucid on the phone today – and I even tracked down Russell’s personal trainer, Justin McComas, a manager at Gold Gym’s in Redondo Beach. “At first, I didn’t think he would make it. But Jack has been very consistent, at first working out with me three or four times a week and now five or six times a week,” said McComas, of Torrance. “I’ve been in the fitness business for more than 10 years, and from what I can see, the drugs and the addiction, that’s in the past. I know he has struggled to stay clean, but I’m telling you: The guy is consistent, and he’s trying to get back on tour. “He was in bad shape when we first started, and it’s been a slow process, but he’s OK now. We even go fishing together on his boat."
Anyway, you don’t just have to take my word for it or that of Russell’s personal trainer. Here is Russell’s version in Metal Sludge exclusive:
METAL SLUDGE: How are you, Jack. And what I mean is, how are you really, your health?
Jack Russell: Well, there’s been so much stuff. So many surgeries, two back surgeries because the first one didn’t take, a perforated bowel, a broken pelvis, a shattered femur (leg) and a few other things. I’m like the Evel Knievel of Rock. I’m still walking with a cane, but I’m clean and sober for four months, the longest I’ve been sober in a long, long time. I’m getting healthy, losing weight. I’m back in fighting shape. And I’m hanging with sober friends.”
MS: Well, then, why isn’t that good enough for Great White? What’s really going on?
JR: There was just so much animosity. My injuries cost the other guys in Great White money, and I guess that’s more important than friendship. They did not want me to come back, so I wish them all the best of luck. I wish there was another way, but there are plenty of shows out there for both bands. They can do their own Great White. I don’t care.”
MS: So when did you decide to form your own band? The other Great White guys are saying they’re totally blindsided by this.
JR: “I decided this months ago. You know what? I was in the hospital, and during this time, they kept telling everyone they were calling me every week, but it wasn’t true. I mean, I understand what happened, and how it was all my fault. But I was there for them when they screwed up, but now they don’t want Jack back because they say I’m not sober. They want to play with Terry as their singer, I say go ahead.
MS: So you’re a recovering drug addict dealing with pain issues – that’s a tough one.
JR: Yes, my doc said I am going to have to take pain meds for the rest of my life, but non-narcotic meds.
MS: There’s more to this thing than drugs or medication, am I right?
JR: Yes, I understand why Great White doesn’t want me back. For whatever reason, they don’t respect me, and that’s the bottom line. But I’m not going to bash them because they’ve been my friends for years. But there is a lot of animosity because I cost them a lot of money, yet there is another side to it because they had me out touring when I shouldn’t have even been out there. I should have been in a hospital. I put my own health in jeopardy for them. It is what it is, I wish them the best, despite all this stuff.
MS: You always told me your favorite thing in the world is being on stage. It’s been a long time, Jack.
JR: Oh, I am so dying to get out there. I can’t wait. I’m chomping at the bit. It’s absolutely the core of my being. That’s why I’ve been put on this planet – to spread love, make people smile and help people have a good time. I am thankful every day because I still have my voice. I might have lost a couple of notes through the years just like everyone else, but it’s still as good as ever.
Great White 1982ish = Lorne Black, Mark Kendall, Jack Russell, Gary Holland
MS: And the band is solid? It’s not a bunch of BS like the other guys in Great White and their manager are saying?
JR: Yes, I’ve been rehearsing for months. It sounds great. The songs sound exactly like they should. We’re not going to play a different solo, you know what I mean? We’re playing the Great White songs like they should be played.
MS: Great White’s manager, Obi Steinman, seems like he is right in the middle of this. He says he does not do interviews, not on the record, anyway.
JR: “It’s pretty much Obi’s band, and I wanted Great White to be my band. Obi is a good manager. He helped the band through some hard times and I have respect for him in that regard. But I want to captain my own ship. And when I’ve been disrespected, I feel like I kind of lost the wheel to the ship, and when that happens, you can’t get it back again. I want the ship to go on my course. Captain Jack is back.”
MS: Who is this guitarist, Matt Johnson. I’ve never heard of this guy.
JR: He was in the band for a while until we got Mark Kendall back. He is frighteningly good.
MS: Great White has sent out a press release about the whole thing, and you’re not going to like it, Jack.
JR: I know. I just saw it. The thing is, I don’t care what they say. The proof is in the pudding. Everyone is going to see that Jack is back, that it’s all rumors. I mean, do people really give a shit if I’m sober or not? They can come, they’ll see I look great, I sound great. I want everyone to come out and see. I’m starting with a booking agent tomorrow. This Jan. 14 thing is just a jam, and only four-fifths of the band is going to be there because Matt Johnson is going to be in Texas, but starting in February, I’m doing a a tour.
MS: Sorry to have to go over it so many times, Jack, but officially, you’re all good, right?
JR: I am fine. I just bought a 45-foot boat, and I’m living on it in Redondo Beach, my old stomping ground when Great White was its most successful. It’s nice to see my favorite sushi restaurant and favorite Italian restaurant are still around. I go fishing three times a week, and I’m in great shape. All these rumors from the other camp about me being not healthy and everyone being afraid I am going to die, it’s all B.S. Those guys haven’t talked to me in months. They haven’t talked to me, so come on, give me a break. Who even cares? I can still sing great, end of story.
MS: Well, the Great White guys and their manager have a totally different opinion on whether you’re fit to keep going. I have never seen two camps so totally far apart.
JR: They’re just trying to make me look bad. They feel scared and threatened, and they should be. They don’t own the name. This is my band. Everyone knows this is my band. I started in 1978 and changed the name in 1982. The others, they came in because I was the one who invited them. It was cool for a while before all this crap started. They don’t own the name, they don’t own the logo. Obi Steinman sues everyone in the world, but I’m lucid, I’m clear, and I’m sober. Just because I had a rough year and a half does not mean that I gave up on my band. My name has always been synonymous with Great White. I came up with the name, and I am entitled to use it. The other Great White, with Terry Illous singing my songs and my lyrics, now he’s sticking his name into this, covering my tunes. Write your own stuff, dude.
Stay tuned for Part Two: The rest of Great White give their side of the story next,,,
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at [email protected]