By Wendy Jasper-Martinez
There are some voices out there that will always be readily identifiable. During the deluge of 80’s hair bands and hard rock acts that flooded the airwaves, it was often difficult to identify a band without some help from the DJ. That was never the case with Jack Russell. The minute he opened his mouth, you knew you were hearing the latest Great White hit.
However, that’s not all one can say about Jack Russell. Besides always being energetic on stage, perfectly on pitch and an all-around showman, Jack Russell is a nice guy. Whether he’s headlining an arena or a nightclub, Captain Jack is interested in meeting the people who made him the star that he is; the fans. And, he wants to see all of you when the America Rocks Tour rolls through your town. Infused with fan favorites like “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, “Rock Me,” “Face the Day” and “Save Your Love”, the tour is set to amaze old and new fans alike.
“My fans are an extended family,” Russell said during a recent phone conversation to discuss the tour. “This is a celebration of life and what it’s all about. My fans are such a part of my life and I love to keep in touch, do meet and greets after the show, and I want to know what they think about the band.”
The air of excitement about the tour is infectious and Russell said that it was a brainchild between himself and his booking agent, Artists Worldwide. The idea for a big summer tour with artists from the 80s that have had staying power was one that appealed to him.
“The tour starts on June 15th and runs through August,” he said. “This is going to be a great experience. I haven’t been on a lengthy bus tour in several years. Great White’s last bus tour was in 1999 and I haven’t been on one at all with the new band so everyone is very excited for this to happen. There are stellar groups travelling out with us; Bulletboys, whom we toured with back in 1992, Pretty Boy Floyd, Faster Pussycat, and Lillian Axe. All were big names during the genre heyday and I think this is what people want to see in a fun summer tour!”
Jack’s enthusiasm is contagious as he talks about his new band members, all of whom he has a history of performing with. Guitarist Matthew Johnson and Jack have a history in Great White as Matt was chosen to cover a void in the band due the departure of Mark Kendall in the 90’s. He also has writing credit on 1996’s Let It Rock for the song “My World” and performed on Russell’s solo album, Shelter Me. Johnson is a native Texan, hailing from the Dallas area, so he will be a big hit with the crowd at the DFW show at Tree’s on July 8th. Rounding out the guitars is “Shred Master General” Robby Lochner, whom many will remember from his days in Fight with Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford. Bassist Dario Sexias is also well known in the metal world, having toured as a long term member of Firehouse and then later joining forces with Ratt vocalist Stephen Pearcy. Drummer Derrick Pontier has an impressive career that includes being sought after for workshops, teaching clinics and studio sessions. He has a history of performing with Great White in the early 2000’s as well as being involved with C.C. Deville’s Samantha 7 and an all-star act with Angel’s Frank DiMino and Stryper’s Oz Fox.
“There is so much talent in this band,” Russell said. “For the first time in many years I am having fun. I enjoy spending time with these guys. It doesn’t feel like a business, it feels like a brotherhood. This tour will bring us closer together and will hone our skill as a band. We also have great management and a great crew. I have known my manager, Valerie Ince, for many years and it was very serendipitous how it all came about that we would sign on with her. She has the right vision and knows what we are about. There also has to be that same level of professionalism on the road and our tour manager, Claude Van Trotha, is arguably the best in the field. He is also an incredible sound engineer so we are blessed in that respect as well. In so many cases a band has to rely on the house sound guy and if they don’t understand you, or your band, the sound can suffer and when you hear about it from the audience’s perspective, you realize how important it is to have a professional crew.”
A fresh start is the mantra for this tour. Unfortunately, Russell has recently dealt with debilitating health issues and legal altercations with his former band mates, who also insist upon the right to use the name Great White. However, confidence is a key part of Russell’s new lease on life and he knows that the truth will prevail regarding his history and association with the band name.
From the first show in 1981, Russell has been a mainstay, band founder and focal point for Great White. Through multi-platinum albums, sold out world tours, and a revolving door of band members, he managed to keep the band going until 2001, when he decided it would be time to call it quits and pursue a solo career. He released his second solo album, For You, in 2002.
“That album was different than Shelter Me. With Shelter Me, you could almost call it another Great White record. It had that tone and feel, but For You was not subject to so much of that influence. It had more pop inspired melodies and it was not really a heavy rock album,” he said.
However, on the heels of the solo release came the demand for more Great White. Never one to disappoint his fans, Russell and former band mates once again joined forces to tour and record. Over the next several years, the band toured, reunited their classic lineup in 2006, and in 2007 released their first studio album in eight years, Rising.
During 2010, Russell would face health problems that would remove him from performing with the band and would involve lengthy hospitalizations.
“I almost died,” he said. “There is no other way to describe it. I truly did not think I was going to make it. When I would get to the point that I thought I was better and could return, I would find out that I couldn’t and without the love of my wife, family, God and the fans, I truly didn’t think I would get through it. I am grateful to be here to talk about it and I owe it to the fans and people who have stood beside me.”
During his absence from Great White, the band continued to perform with guest singers like the late Jani Lane, and XYZ vocalist Terry Ilous, who ultimately replaced Russell in the other incarnation’s line-up. As for the Great White legal battle, in the interim, Russell will continue to tour under the name Jack Russell’s Great White. The name recognition alone will pack the venues and the fans will know that they are going to hear Great White tunes sung only as Jack Russell can sing them.
“Being in a band is to be in a band of brothers,” Russell said, using military analogy. “You don’t leave a man behind. When you look at all of the years you spend together, you just don’t leave a man behind, but that is what they did. That tells you something, and it forces you to work harder, and that is what I have done. I have put together a band that is outstanding and the fans recognize it.”
And what does the future hold for Jack Russell? He thinks anything is possible.
“The music industry of today is so different,” he said. “I have to say that the music business as we knew it has been devastated by the internet. Everything is digital and we have to learn all the new mediums available. Kids today get their music so differently than we did. What happened to going to a record store and buying an album? We came up when rock and roll was as big as it will ever be and the internet has changed all of that. It’s also strange that there are really no magazines to collect to reminisce about the past. All of the fan magazines are now webzines. But it also puts you out there to people that you may not have reached before as well, so there is an upside. I have a website, a Facebook page and we’re on Twitter so the fans can keep up with us.”
That audience not previously reached is what intrigues Russell and has him making broader plans for the future.
“I would love to cruise to shores that I haven’t seen. I would like to go to Australia; Europe is in the works, and maybe some of the South American countries. We never went to South America with Great White and while it will be hard to break into that market because we never went there, I think it can be done! I would like for us to record some live shows during this tour to release as a free digital upload for the fans. The fans are embracing the older songs, but I want to give them something new as soon as I can. I have been writing with Robby, and we are setting up to record. There will be new Jack Russell music in the future.”
While the fans are waiting for that new Jack Russell music, there are shows scheduled in most major metropolitan areas. Tickets for them are currently available so don’t miss out. For Texas fans, the America Rocks Tour has three shows listed on the current itinerary:
July 6th, Laredo, TX—Casablanca Ballroom
July 7th, San Antonio, TX—Backstage Live
July 8th, Dallas, TX—Tree’s