Editorial: Navigating Through The Tides Of Rock And Roll

Billboard Magazine (1996),
by Jack Russell and Michael Lardie

Over the last four years, we’ve been told by members of the music industry that Rock is dead, and any hard rock band of the last decade that hadn’t achieved mass success on the level of Def Leppard and Metallica might as well pack it in. We didn’t want to. We like playing concerts and making records and being a band.

We don’t believe any artist of any other genre should pack it in no matter what the tides of music are at any time in music history. There are — however — certain realizations that all musicians should know and apply in their careers.

As is usually the case when a label’s leadership changes, we became “yesterday’s news” at Capitol. We were fortunate enough to find a new deal with Zoo Entertainment, record SAIL AWAY, and tour for nearly two years. Recently we signed with Imago Recording Co., and are on the verge of releasing our tenth album (LET IT ROCK). As a result we’re in an encouraging position in the music business. We have the opportunity to tour in support of a new record, and stay in contact with the fans who’ve always supported us.

We’re able to continue to perform live shows because we have cemented our goal and belief in Great White being a band of longevity. The same can be said for every other hard rock/heavy metal band that continues to work. Recently we’ve noticed that there is a reemergence of industry support for our music with tours from everyone from Metallica and Kiss to Ted Nugent and AC/DC. Of course we’re thankful for all of that.

It’d be great if everybody always realized what both the fans and Great White have known over the past few years when the media seemed less sympathetic to hard rock. The truth is Rock has been alive and well, especially for the musicians who continued to work during lean times. When we didn’t have support of the industry as a whole, we were still able to find people who fit our program.

Part of the reason deals with our own realization of Rock history. Since the late 1970s there’ve been three “demises of metal/rock” — when Joe Perry left Aerosmith in the late ’70s, with the second English invasion of the ’80s, and, in 1992 when Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit big. Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden are reminiscent of early metal such as Cream and Black Sabbath. Hard rock/heavy metal keeps coming back into fashion.

The most important thing that will help you survive in the music business is that you should not give up. Determination, dedication and perseverance go a long way for anybody. If you believe in something and love what you’re doing, you will stick with it. By the same token, if you’re looking for a scapegoat for why you didn’t succeed in the past, then you’re not really dedicated to your art. If a rocker really believes that MTV destroyed his career by not playing his video or because of teasing from “Beavis and Butthead,” he’s missing the whole point of musical integrity — success on one’s own terms. Before MTV ever thought about playing Great White, we were playing shows night after night. And if MTV were to die tomorrow, we’d still be playing concerts.

Folks who know the full history of Great White can tell you that we were dropped by our first major record company (EMI) in 1984. We decided to do it ourselves, and released SHOT IN THE DARK on our own label. The record did very well in our hometown of Los Angeles, and we were signed soon after by Capitol Records.

Musical maturity is also important for any musician or band that would like career longevity. To me (Jack), musical maturity means to be comfortable with who I am as a singer, not to live up to everyone else’s expectations. I don’t have to fish for compliments, “Do you think I’m good?” I’m 35 years old; physically speaking, I’m a grown man. At least I know I’m on the right path in seeking my goals, doing what I have to do to achieve them. I also have a different attitude than most musicians, as far as having a career. My Dad used to tell me, “Have something to fall back on — the music business is tough.” I never had anything to fall back on, because I wanted to go forward. It’s do or die. I have to be successful making music, or else I won’t be able to eat!

It’s also important to have a good support team with your fellow band members. Working on Great White’s music — in the songwriting, recording and live shows — is the main thing that keeps us all friends. Ironically, outside of our common musical bond, there aren’t many similar interests in our group. I’ve a feeling if this band wasn’t together, we probably wouldn’t see each other that much!

Sobriety has also helped us a lot. This isn’t something we talk about much, but staying away from drugs and alcohol has helped us become very responsible and look at our career with a powerful focus. Until four years ago, we didn’t need to be involved with our career, because — as a group — we were too messed up. Together we made the decision to straighten out, and have supported each other through it all. Now we want to know about our career. It’s been enlightening and frightening to realize how much money we spent on things we shouldn’t have in the past. All the stuff we should have been concerned about years ago, as opposed to playing the rock star, is now taking on a new light: this is OUR business, this is OUR livelihood, this is OUR music!

It’s also important to give respect to the outsiders who are involved with our career. Through the years we’ve been lucky to have made friends with many radio and press people. Whenever we visited stations, we always knew they were helping us. We approach media professionals with a level of respect not ego.

One of our goals is to headline arenas again. We believe that if you stick around long enough and can persevere through all those ups and downs, you can have other shots at a successful career. It’s like sailing in rough weather and trying to bring the boat to the shore. When you finally make it through the torrential tides and shark-infested waters, you will definitely deserve and enjoy that success more.