A Brief History of '80s Rockers Great White
Great White are true hard rock survivors, managing to ride out both the intoxicating highs and the destructive lows of the music business. The California blues-rockers, formed in the late '70s by vocalist Jack Russell and guitarist Mark Kendall, released their debut Out of the Night EP in 1982. Great White quickly became known as a dependable live act and their steady climb through the '80s hard rock ranks was boosted by tours opening for luminaries like Whitesnake, KISS and Judas Priest. Their perseverance was finally rewarded when Great White struck multi-platinum with 1989's ...Twice Shy album. Twice Shy's success was powered mainly by their rendition of the Ian Hunter classic "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" which became a monster radio and MTV hit in the summer of 1989, reaching #5 on the Billboard singles chart and eventually becoming one of Great White's signature tunes (even though it was a cover song). When the "hair metal" hard rock style began to fall out of popular favor in the early 1990s, Great White continued to be a dependable recording and touring machine, releasing albums like Psycho City (1992), Let It Rock (1996) and Can't Get There From Here (1999) while regularly appearing onstage at nightclubs and retro-rock festivals around the world.
Great White might still be remembered merely as "the guys who did that 'my my my' song" today if it weren't for the disaster that took place when they appeared at the Station Nightclub in February of 2003. Less than a minute into the first song of the band's set at this small nightspot in West Warwick, Rhode Island, sparks thrown by an onstage pyrotechnic device ignited foam soundproofing that covered the club's walls, sparking a fast moving inferno that burned the club to the ground and killed one hundred people, including Great White guitarist Ty Longley. After several years of finger-pointing and legal wrangling to determine who was to blame for the fire, the band's camp agreed to pay $1 million to a fund set up for survivors of the blaze and their families in exchange for no admission of wrong doing, while Station Nightclub co-owner Michael Derderian and Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele were sentenced to prison time for their roles in the tragedy.
Which Version of Great White will you support?
Great White returned to business with 2007's Back to the Rhythm album, which was their first studio release in eight years. 2009's Rising album soon followed. The albums received positive reviews, the band was back on the road and Great White seemed to be firing on all cylinders again... until things suddenly started to get seriously weird. Jack Russell was sidelined in 2010 when he faced major surgery for a perforated bowel (ouch!). Rather than cancel their tour plans, Great White - with Russell's apparent blessing - tapped former Warrant vocalist Jani Lane to fill in on vocals throughout that summer. When Russell's health problems persisted and more recuperation time was needed, former XYZ vocalist Terry Ilous was brought in to fulfill further touring responsibilities. (Jani Lane tragically passed away in 2011.)
Things started to get very murky within the Great White camp sometime in 2011. While Jack Russell continued his recovery, the band carried on playing shows with Terry Ilous as their still-supposedly-temporary frontman and fans waited to see when Jack Russell would return to the fold. However, in late 2011, Jack Russell suddenly released a statement to the press that he would soon be coming back "with my band Great White and a BRAND NEW lineup"... which, obviously, came as surprising news to the rest of Great White. They fired back with a press release of their own, stating that while they had "eagerly awaited" Jack's return to Great White, his constant battles with sobriety had prevented that from happening. They further claimed that Jack Russell "does not have the right to start his own Great White or use the name" and threatened any promoters who booked Jack's band with legal litigation.
As if things weren't ugly enough already, Great White announced that they would be releasing a new album in May of 2012 on Frontiers Records. Titled Elation, it would be their first album without Jack Russell on the mic. Russell filed a lawsuit against his former band mates in March of 2012, saying that he was "fired" from the band and that the group's name - which he claims to own - was "stolen" from him while he recovered from surgery, and therefore they have no business releasing an album using the "Great White" name. Predictably, the band fired back with their own 30 page (!) counterclaim in April of 2012, accusing Russell of "profiting from wrongful association" with the Great White name by forming his own band, as well as running down a laundry list of Russell's alleged drug and alcohol related problems that irreparably damaged his and the band's reputations. "House of Broken Love," indeed.
Great White - "(I've Got) Something For You" from ELATION
Can't Get There From Here?
So here's how things stand as of this moment: both sides continue to face off like Old West gunslingers, each waiting to see who will make the next move. Great White's Elation was released on May 22nd via Frontiers Records, and both bands were very active during the Summer 2012 concert season. Great White's itinerary included slots at the "M3" retro-rock festival in Maryland on May 12th alongside such '80s luminaries as Night Ranger, Ratt, Queensryche, Dokken, and Stryper. Meanwhile, Jack Russell's Great White headlined a Summer tour dubbed "America Rocks" with Faster Pussycat, the BulletBoys, Pretty Boy Floyd and Lillian Axe. The Terry Ilous fronted Great White kicked off 2013 with the release of a live album entitled 30 Years - Live on the Sunset Strip. As of early 2014, Jack Russell's version of the band is supposedly working on new music, though no release date has been announced for the material. Both versions of "Great White" continue to tour.
It'll be interesting to see where these two "Great Whites" will go from here. I'm betting that in the end, the winners will be... the lawyers!
Jack Russell's Great White - "Rock Me" (Live)
GREAT WHITE select discography:
Out of the Night (EP) - Aegean, 1982 (reissued in 1987 as On Your Knees)
Great White - EMI/Capitol, 1984
Shot in the Dark - Capitol, 1986
Once Bitten - Capitol, 1987
Recovery: Live! - Enigma, 1988
...Twice Shy - Capitol, 1989
Hooked - Capitol, 1991
Psycho City - Capitol, 1992
Sail Away - Zoo Entertainment, 1994
Stage (live) - Zoo Entertainment, 1995
Let It Rock - Imago, 1996
Can't Get There From Here - Portrait, 1999
Great Zeppelin: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin (live)- Deadline, 1999
Back to the Rhythm - Shrapnel, 2007
Rising - Shrapnel, 2009
Elation - Frontiers, 2012
30 Years - Live from the Sunset Strip - Frontiers, 2013