Great White on Black Flag and writing a song about Denver's most famous strip club
Shelley Ann Wilson
Great White is due to play at the Buffalo Rose this Saturday, July 26th. The veteran blues rock band got its start in 1977 during the early days of the Los Angeles Hard Rock scene, when Van Halen was in its ascendancy and the glam metal with which it later became associated had yet to become a going concern. Its 1982 debut EP, Out of the Night quickly caught on in the local radio market and its audience increased dramatically and quickly. Throughout the rest of the '80s, the band had a handful of radio hits starting with its breakthrough 1987 album Once Bitten... with the singles "Rock Me" and "Save Your Love."
The group fractured in 2000 when founding member Mark Kendall announced he was leaving the band and the next year long-time singer Jack Russell declared Great White over. Though both Kendall and Russell released solo records to varying degrees of success, the legacy of their old band loomed large and the two worked together again in Jack Russell's Great White.
Probably everyone that has any interest in the band has heard about the tragic night club fire at the Station in Rhode Island on February 20, 2003 and the subsequent pain and anguish suffered by the survivors of those who died in the fire as well as by the band, whose guitarist Ty Longley was also lost in the tragedy. Oft misguidedly mocked, it was an event that haunts everyone involved to this day.
In subsequent years, the band effectively reunited with Russell as the singer until he had to spend some time recovering from surgery. Before Russell was in better health, Great White had brought on board other singers so he formed another version of the band that he called Jack Russell's Great White. Finally, 2013, a court decided that Russell could keep the name and that then extant band could call itself Great White with new lead singer Terry Ilous. The latter provided vocals on a record for the first time on 2012's Elation. We were able to chat with the band via email about how blues and blues rock continues to be its source of inspiration and the hurdles it faces even as a well-known band.
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Westword: Unlike many bands that have had a career as long as Great White, the band hasn't seemingly followed trends. Is there a vision for the band that developed early on that you have continued to develop up to today? As in the kind of music you make, the inspirations for the music?
Mark Kendall: We have always stayed true to ourselves and our music. Following trends is not and has never been our cup of tea. We write the music that we feel in our hearts and the music we love to play comes out of that. When we release our music to the fans we just pray they will like it too. The inspiration is our love for it. I personally have a deep passion for playing guitar. I started playing guitar as a young boy because I loved it and I still do today.
Michael Lardie: We have always tried to stay true to our roots. We are a blues rock band so we attempt to keep that tradition alive.
What is it about blues-based hard rock that continues to be appealing for you to make and perform?
MK: It's the type of music that comes from real life experiences and it always has feeling to it and that is what Great White has always been about.
ML: People seem to understand music that is from the core of Great White we feel it deep inside ourselves and hope that it translates.
Audie Desbrow: I think we do it because we grew up listening to various blues bands and blues based bands. The instruments played in those songs speak from the heart, the lyrics are more real. This kind of music has substance.
In what capacity was MIchael Lardie involved with Black Flag?
ML: I engineered two albums in 1979 and 1980.
Obviously Great White crossed paths with XYZ over the years. What made Terry Ilous a solid fit for Great White?
MK: Terry is the purest of blues rock singers and that fits our music like a glove. I knew a song by XYZ but we were on the road so much it was hard to keep up with the newer bands. We are very pleased with everything Terry brings to our music and are looking forward to recording a lot more new music with him for a long time to come.
ML: The sound that Terry's voice makes with Mark Kendall's guitar work reminds me of Humble Pie-era of guitar vocalist combinations.
AD: Terry is from the same school as us musically, so to speak. He has that bluesy voice, from the tone and sound of it. He understands the blues rock music the same as us. When Mark comes up with a riff on guitar, Terry is right there with ideas and melodies. He's a great fit. He fits the Great White style and sound.
There's a song called "Shotgun Willie's" on Elation. Is that a reference to the strip club in Denver?
MK: Yes it is about the strip club in Denver. A lot of bands used to frequent that place going through Denver back in the '80s. It has a ton of history. The song is about bringing back that spirit of a time of fun and celebration.
AD: Yes, that song is about the strip club. Personally I have never been there, but have met a manager from there. He says that song has now become their theme song . Maybe we'll have to go check that place out.
Many bands that end up playing popular songs year after year can get burned out on their own material. Does this happen to your band? Is there anything you do to keep that material fresh and enjoyable to play all these years later?
MK: The reason we are still here is because we don't allow ourselves to get stagnant. We are constantly writing and creating new things. The old songs are a blessing and we are grateful to have such a deep catalog of tunes, but allowing ourselves the freedom of creating new material eliminates the risk of ever going through the motions.
ML: It's always the first time that we play our music to that particular group of people, so that's what keeps it fresh.
AD: Yes, playing the same songs over and over for years can get one a little jaded, so that's why we keep recording new music as often as we can. We also change the set list or arrangement of the set often.
As a new band you had one set of struggles in terms of developing the band, learning to play together, breaking into a scene and getting gigs and the like. These days do you experience similar struggles? What are the biggest hurdles you have to leap as a band at this juncture in your career?
MK: I think one of the biggest hurdles is getting our new music to the people which used to be easier because of the heavy radio play and MTV. These days you have to learn how to use social media, satellite radio and the Internet to be effective. All we want is to make our music available for our incredibly loyal fans. It's not as easy as it used to be but we always welcome a challenge.
ML: Fortunately, no really intense struggles anymore. The band resides in a great place these days. OK, maybe the turmoil of making a set from twelve studio albums.
If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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