Interview with Great White: Shark’s Still Swimming

Started in 1978 as a venture between vocalist Jack Russell and guitarist Mark Kendall, Dante Fox would go on to experience success, recognition, longevity and a heartbreaking tragedy in 2003 as hard rock’s Great White. Currently touring the East Coast, I spoke with Russell about the band’s beginning, their ability to weather threatening rising tides, the outlook for Great White’s future endeavors in the studio and on the road, and his gratitude for the band’s lengthy tenure.

Since I imagine it’s something you’re frequently asked about, I’ll only mention The Station fire and say I respect everything you, the band, and the victims continue to work through.

Thank you.

I did want to mention the lineup of the band since it’s stayed, pretty much, unchanged since Great White’s inception.

It’s funny you mention that because Mark (Kendall, guitar) is sitting in my house right now. We just got back. We were talking about this the other day, kind of reminiscing about when we started, about the early, early, early days. Now we’re kind of looking at a timeline here since it’s been so long. The best we could figure out, we got together back in ’78, November of 1978, when I was 17-years-old. We started the band, then, in ’82 we changed the name to Great White. So I mean, technically, the two of us have been playing together since ’78—31 years? Thirty-two years? So, yeah, it’s been a long time. And I think it’s just because we’re in a band and are so much alike but, yet, we’re so different. We’re able to be ourselves and we all put up with each other’s character defects—I mean, we’ve all got them. But the bottom line is when it’s all said and done we love making music together.

When we’re in a band together, we know that we’re not going to be anywhere else. And I know that if there was somebody else playing guitar or writing songs, the songs wouldn’t be like they are. So there’s that. It’s just like the perfect relationship. I’ve always said it’s more than marriage and we’re closer than brothers. I mean, whatever happens, someone’s always going to be there for you. When the chips are down there’s somebody there to come pick you up.

Of course that’s rare so both you and Mark are fortunate to have that relationship.

Sure, yeah, and that’s across the board with the whole band. It’s a unique situation. I don’t know any band that’s been together as long, or even close to as long as we are, that have even remained together that has the kind of connection we do. We’re all really, really good friends.

And you’ve weathered changing trends and have still stayed as a solid unit, with a couple of changes over the years. But now you’re pretty much back to the way you were in the late-’80s, with one exception. I remember reading that your relationship with Audie Desbrow (drums) was strained when he left the band. How was that tension overcome?

I’m not the kind of person who really carries a grudge. I started looking back on stuff, thinking about where we were, how we met each other, and what the whole thing was about and I really couldn’t even remember. So I called Audie up and said, ‘Hey man, we’re getting ready and want to make another record and don’t want to be without the original members of the band. What do you think about getting the original band back together again, get out another record and start touring?’ He said, ‘Cool, man. Let’s do it.’ So we all got together for my birthday party at my house. It’d been the first time we’d seen each other in a lot of years and it was a great night. We made some great plans and went on and did our 20th anniversary album, Back To The Rhythm, released that. That was so much fun so we did a tour and so we said let’s do it again and went on to do Rising. And now we’re a year into that and have plans to do another album next year. It’s great, you know? The shark keeps on swimming.

As a matter of fact, you and I are speaking on the one year anniversary of Rising’s release.

Yeah, April 21, yeah. People loved the record. People love albums and it did really, really well. Especially for people who still buy records from their favorite bands when they can’t afford to eat! (Laughs) But, I mean, it is what it is and I’m just glad that we came up when we did so that we’ve been able to experience all of this. Back in the ‘80s, I mean, I think that was the perhaps the greatest generation of rock ‘n’ roll. We’ll never ever get to be as big, as bombastic as it was. It got as big as it could be. Then it just kind of fell in upon itself. You have to build a strong foundation and you’re at the record company’s whims and the corporations. Rock ‘n’ roll’s not a corporate thing. Rock ‘n’ roll is about emotions and feeling and love and hate and anger and angst. All of that good stuff. When you try to make it into a business and cut the feeling and emotion out of it, then you’re doomed to failure. It’s inevitable. And the ‘90s were so morose and all the lyrics were just about how terrible everything is and I always thought, ‘Man, things aren’t that bad and if they are, I don’t want to be around.’ Why don’t you write about how great things are and not about stocks and everything’s terrible? That’s not what I want to hear when I go out.

Great White is playing in Manville, NJ, on May 15. How are your shows received? How are they different than, say, a show from 1988?

The amazing thing for me is to see four generations of people out there. I’m seeing kids who are eight-years-old wearing Great White shirts that hang down to their ankles. Then you’ve got their grandparents who are out there, too! It’s just unbelievable to me that we’ve stood the test of time and we’re still out here making music. New people are falling in line saying, ‘Hey, this is great man!’ It’s incredible, just such a great feeling. I can’t even describe it. You really feel like you’re making an impact on the world in a positive way. People are all smiling, laughing, having a great time, girls are crying. It’s alright, you know? I’m fortunate that I’ve been in the band all my life. The older we’ve gotten, the more we appreciate really how lucky we are and how few people really, for one, get their shot at this and, for two, they actually pull it off and sell records and, for three, here we are still making records, still being true to ourselves and still being able to make a living at it. That’s a long-shot. I mean, it really is. If you look at the number of people in this world that want to make it in rock ‘n’ roll and the number of people who have the talent to do it and then the number of people that actually do make it then live past a year or two, it’s mind boggling how few people are allowed to do that. I just feel so flippin’ blessed that I’m one of the few.

Great White will play on May 14 in Philadelphia, PA, at Polaris and May 15 in Manville, NJ, at Rhythms Nightclub.