Great White and Mick Burgess
Great White and Mick Burgess

Great White were one of the better bands to come out of the prolific eighties Rock scene. Their music was inspired by the Classic Rock bands of the day like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Humble Pie. They courted the charts with hit after hit in the late eighties, but then like many Rock bands that were prominent during that time, the nineties proved to be a tougher decade. Many bands fell by the waistside and lost their major label backing … it became a real case of survival of the fittest. During this time and up to the present day, Great White have stayed active releasing albums on smaller independent labels and continuing to tour. As a band they have had some of the highest highs and the lowest lows, but it’s a testament to their determination that they are still making music today. Mick Burgess of Metal Express Radio and Al Hey of Hard Rockhouse chatted with the band before their recent live show at Newcastle Carling Academy 2.

You picked the coldest time of the year to come over!!

Jack:(laughs) You guys are experiencing a bit of a cold snap here, at least it’s easy to get around over here. Some tours in the States can be brutal; we get stuck someplace in the middle of a tour and it’s just no fun.

So you could say this feels like Spring to you at the moment!

Jack: (laughs)I guess you could call it that!

Great White has its origins way back in 1981. Did you ever think back then that you would still be out there in 2008?

Jack: You know, I honestly didn’t think much about it and looking back on it is kind of mind blowing. It seems like we’re just starting this thing. I’ve been playing with Mark since 1978 and my drummer since 1977, and I’m 47 years old now so it’s been a long, long time. As I look back on my career, the unfortunate thing is that it’s gone by so fast. It feels like I was 25 the other day and now I’m 47 and I just think, man what happened! I still love playing and seeing the world, it never gets old to me, and it never will. You see there is this thing about Rock ‘n’ Roll, it keeps you perpetually young. Making music is a perpetual fountain of youth; that’s my mental outlook.

(At this point Michael Lardie joins the interview)

So looking back, what’s your earliest recollection of the band?

Jack: Well my first memory is of Mark. We were both in crosstown rival bands. I’d quit my band and Mark kept calling me asking me to come down and sing for his band, and so one day I went down. They were okay, but Mark took me to one side and I mentioned my original stuff and he thought it was amazing. I just said, “Tell you what, you quit these guys and we’ll start something.” The next day we drove over to my parents’ house in a topless car, got together with these guys, and started a band. That was November of 1978.

So 2007 was your official twenty-fifth anniversary?

Jack: Well our first record came out in 1982 so we’re using that as the starting point. Technically Mark and I started what became Great White in 1978.

That was Dante Fox?

Jack: That’s right! But, we took the name Great White in 1981.

How do think you’ve managed to keep going so long while a lot of your contemporaries have fallen by the waistside?

Jack: You know I don’t really know. I guess it’s because we’ve always been honest with the music. There’s still a passion there. We’ve had our ups and downs, the band split and we’ve had different versions. I did solo stuff for a while, which turned back into Great White and then we had the Rhode Island tragedy. All I can say is it’s really neat to be back with an audience out there and to be playing with the guys that have been around me for twenty seven years. The magic is still there and when we did the last record it felt like we’d never stopped. There had been a gap of eight or nine years between the last record and the new one, and yet everything was cool and the chemistry was still there.

Michael: One guy once pointed out to us that bands with dynamics will always last and that by playing from “Save Your Love” to “Step On You” with all points in-between, we would last. He was citing bands like The Who and I was like “Wow!” He was a top sound guy and he said, “You guys will last because you have that X – factor that other bands haven’t got. You guys play in and out rather than just the one thing.”

Blues-based music may sound old fashioned, but it never goes out of fashion.

Jack: It’s the heart and soul of a band and it doesn’t matter who you are, you can relate to it; it’s part of life.

So this is your first tour over here in seven or eight years; you must be looking forward to getting out there.

Jack: Oh it’s great to be back. I think our problem was that we started to break some ground and then we stayed away for too long and so it feels like we’re starting all over again. I think the last time we were here we played Milton Keynes.

So what can we expect from the set tonight? Is it going to be mainly classic material?

Jack: Absolutley, we are only doing one new song from the latest record as not many people will have the new album yet and we want them to discover it for themselves. I don’t think its fair for a band to come out and say “we don’t like playing the old songs and so we’re going to play new songs all night.” We want people to hear what they grew up listening to, we drop one new song in and hope people will say “that’s cool I’ll buy the record.” We’ve got plenty of classics and we try to keep it interesting and light and touch on as much as we can.

The new album sounds musically very honest and sincere and lyrically there are some touching moments. It’s a great album.

Jack: Thank you, man.

Even though you’re an American band, there is something very British about it.

Jack: Sure. Well the bands I grew up listening to like The Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles were English bands.

That’s what made you different to your contemporaries bands like Warrant and — they never sounded British in any way.

Michael: Well, we listened to English bands that came from the sixties, seventies, and eighties and that’s something that those other bands didn’t.

The new album has a very Rolling Stones like vibe in the way the guitars work together.

Jack: Absolutely! You know that’s something we tried to do on the last record. We love that sort of sound — it’s really cool. It’s interesting to the ear.

Michael: You know we did this record differently to how we’ve done it in the past. Instead of rehearsing the songs for three weeks, we would listen to the demo the night before then go into the studio, jam a little, then arrange the song there … and then once we had a vibe going we cut it right away.

Jack: This time we didn’t try to rehearse so much and things worked so much better. We managed to capture the little things and there is more spontanaeity. We kept that spark and we never felt like we were going through the motions.

Michael, you’ve produced this record yourself rather than bringing in an external producer. Do you find doing it all yourselves helps the creative process?

Michael: Well I hope we’re all mature enough to know our strengths and weaknesses at this point. It was very important for us to do this thing “in house” as it’s our first record back together again. We’re mostly safe with each other; it’s not a bunker mentality per se, it’s just that we knew what we wanted it all to sound like.

Jack: We learnt a lot from working with Jack Blades that we’ve carried through to our new stuff. When I write a song I get a vision in my head, I can hear the whole thing. I know what it needs to sound like. There have been instances in the past where people have changed things and totally screwed up my songs but with Michael and the band I can play them something and they know instinctively what I’m trying to say.

I think this is the best Great White album for some time.

Jack: Thank you man. Hearing that makes all the travel and the bullshit worthwhile. When someone says that it’s the same as saying there is a reason for being here. That’s cool and I love that.

You are back with what could be seen as the definitive Great White line-up how does it feel to be back on stage together?

Jack: It feels good. (Laughs) We’re all just a bunch of whining bitches, I mean nothing ever changes, it’s like it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too soft, it’s too hard (laughs) I mean come on!

At one-point things ended a bit acrimoniously.

Jack: Well never say never. It’s like saying I’ll never go with that bitch again and then after a couple of drinks (laughs). There’s a lot of history going way back with us all and a couple of things were said. It was all stupid and I think people were just a bit pissed off. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just human nature. I’ve always said this bands more than a marriage and closer than brothers. When you start out in this business, just really struggling and living in a room this big and then suddenly finding your there…it’s just insurmountable. A bond is formed that can’t be broken.

Michael: It’s something that almost can’t be put into words and can’t be understood by someone on the outside.

You were with Capitol during the eighties when you experienced huge success and in the nineties you kept releasing music on smaller independent labels. When you put together a new album and know it to be a good one does it worry you that its success will depend on the record company getting the record out there?

Jack: Well we’re on Shrapnel in America and Frontiers are handling Europe. Times have changed so much with mp3s and downloading. It’s not the same animal anymore and it’s difficult. Ten thousand sales is kind of what a million was ten years ago. You know as long as I can still make records and do live shows I really don’t care. For the last four years every time we go out and play, things have started to get bigger again. The growth is up and not down. In the nineties we were too old to be contemporary and too young to be classic we were in a no mans land. Now people know we’ve been around a long time and they’re giving us some respect.

Michael: The classic radio stations are playing our music again.

Jack: It feels like a little bit of resurgence and we’re also noticing at shows in the States the audience demographic is getting wider. You see little kids singing along to stuff off of our first album and you think how’d you know that? My father he loved my music and would come to all the shows. He was a fan of rock music and one can see now at shows how the music is bringing people together. It bridges that gap.

So you didn’t have a Dad who said “get a proper job”

Jack: Not at all. H e was supportive every step of the way. He used to put my equipment in a trailer and attach it to his car and take me to parties. He made things so much easier .I was really lucky in that regard.

You’ve never denied your huge appreciation of Led Zeppelin and went as far as recording a tribute album, which is a huge favourite of your fans. What were your feelings when Led Zeppelin played the 02 Arena in London and did you try to get a ticket?

Jack: You know what I’ve never seen them but I once had tickets to see them and there was this party going on and I thought I’ll see them next year. Next thing you know John Bonham was dead. Looking back it’s crushing! Our Led Zeppelin thing started off as an acoustic thing and became a huge underground hit so we thought “ you know what lets do a show made up entirely of Led Zeppelin” .We recorded it for ourselves and when we played it back we just though” holy crap” this things pretty good, so we put it out and people got a real kick out of it. We still sometimes put an odd Zeppelin song in our sets.

Michael: I remember we learnt seventeen songs in six days, it was the most insurmountable task I have ever done in my life. Let me tell you if you think you know how to play a Zeppelin song and really break it down verbatim you soon realise just how brilliant they were and still are. It was one of those things that was a challenge, we love playing their music and we were up for it.

Jack: It was almost a way of feeling what it was like to be those guys, its just so heavy. It must have been amazing to be in their shoes. They are the most amazing musicians.

”Take Me Down” off the latest record has a very Zeppelin like feel

Jack: Oh sure. I mean you can never get away from where you came from and you might as well be honest about it

Thinking of the song, “Once Bitten Twice Shy” it became a massive hit for you and was the song of the summer.

Jack: You know I never thought that song would be a hit, never in a million years. I remember thinking lets just get through this song …I mean the chorus comes in at about 45 seconds. It breaks all the rules.

Michael It was an A.O.R song to get our foot in the door…we had no idea how successful it would be.

It must have been strange having a hit with someone else’s song

Jack: Hey a hits a hit man. I’ll be honest and say songs that shouldn’t have been hits were and the ones we thought would make it didn’t. It’s all down to timing and other factors as to whether a song will be successful

On the new album you cover “30 Days In The Hole”

Michael: I’ll tell you a story about that. We cut that song about seven or eight years ago and it was quite a bit heavier and didn’t capture the vibe of the original. We couldn’t find the master from that session but I remember it was too heavy. This time I wanted us too cut it just like the original track with no click track. We just winged it and let it go and hey it worked.

It sounds very live

Michael:We go the basic tracks down and then went for everything on one pass. The feel was there.

Jack: I think the record shows how happy we are to be back together again and making music. I mean lets face it you never know what will be your last record. One day my voice might go. It’s going to happen eventually, so right now I feel the older I get the more I appreciate it. I mean if I’m going out singing to a couple of hundred people that’s okay. Lets face it here I am in Newcastle being paid to sing, how cool is that. There’s nothing better.

Can you can you see yourselves recording more stuff together

Jack: Oh sure. I want to do another record. We’ve been talking about it and will probably start putting stuff together at the end of this year. We have some plans of recording some of our favourite sixties ands seventies songs, so we have that to look forward to.

Your current tour is taking in a lot of territories with the U.K, Spain, and Germany, Italy, Norway and the U.S. Do you feel up for it?

Jack: You know what, at one point we had done two shows and I must have had only three hours sleep, I don’t know how I got through that.

It must be the fish and chips!!!!.

Jack: (laughing) The fish and chips! That was the first food I ate when we arrived in England. I thought great, I’m home. I saw this beacon at like 5a.m in the morning. Seriously though this tour is a gruelling schedule for us especially when you realise your not twenty anymore but we make it work and do the best we can. We try not to whine too much (laughs)

What are your plans for the future

Jack: Well we have a whole summer of touring and Mark and me are thinking about releasing some Dante Fox stuff. I found some stuff on tapes and it was like “wow” you know. I mean we were kids but there’s some great stuff.

You were a band that came out during the eighties, do you think it’s safe to say that those days will never happen again.

Jack: Never, Rock will never be that big again. In those days you sold a million records and played Arenas and now you sell three million and you do a club tour. It’s amazing

Recently we’ve had bands playing here who like yourselves came out in the eighties but weren’t part of the “Glam” or “Hair Metal” genre, for instance Y&T were here not so long ago.

Jack: Y&T are a great band, man.

Would you consider being part of a package tour. We’ve had Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, and Motorhead all trying that route. There is a festival called Z-Rock, which last year had Dokken, Kingdom Come, and House Of Lords on the bill. Would something like that be attractive to you?

Jack: Oh sure. We would love that … we love to play. We really wanted to get over this time because we’ve been away from the U.K for so long. We are playing smaller venues this time but, hey, I don’t care. I just want to get out there and sing.

Finally. You have a tour in place and a new record that is getting great reviews. You must be feeling very optimistic?

Jack: Hey man I’m 47 years old so you could say it’s more than half over, hell it’s even more over than that. I think I’m finally getting the hang of being a musician and I think we’re making our best records now ,which is after we were huge. The main thing is I’m still here and I appreciate everyday.

Well it only leaves me to say good luck with tonight’s show and with the rest of the tour.

Jack: Thanks man, it’s appreciated.

For more on Great White visit Great Whites website

Special thanks to Al Hey for transcribing the interview


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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