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Metal Mistress # 4: JACK WHITE

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Words by Cocolesexbomb

Of course, we all know the bigger bands they are in now, but what about the “other” bands?

The ones that your favourite musician was in before joining their current band that has delivered what observers like to refer to as success?

The black sheep of the relationship.

The mistress.

Starting today and continuing every Wednesday, HEAVY brings you the stories of the bands that preluded – or in some cases co-existed – the juggernaut that launched the main careers of some of the world’s most popular artists.

While there are some that are well known – such as Gary Holt (ExodusSlayer), Henry Rollins (Black FlagRollins Band), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), and Rob Trujillo (Suicidal TendenciesMetallica), there are some that may shock and surprise you. Like Alice Cooper’s High School Beatles tribute Parody Act or Iggy Pop’s early band the Iguanas or Bruce Dickinson’s flirtation with Samson...

HEAVY has dug deep for some of these, but the one thing every tale has in common is each band helped shape the performer you see, know, and love before you today.

Today we dive into the murky waters that are cleansed by the brilliance of Jack White and his journey through the White Stripes, Raconteurs/Saboteurs, The Dead Weather, a solo career and more…

When it comes to the infamous Jack White you can almost always guarantee that a super fan isn’t far away, and although Jack and his music can sometimes divide a room some of the best hidden gems in
music can be found once you jump headlong into the musical rabbit hole dug by Jack White in his 30+
years of everything music.

If you hadn’t put two and two together yet, this installment of Metal Mistress is on Jack White.

Although people will most definitely argue that Jack doesn’t play “metal” or isn’t “heavy” I don’t think you have explored his extensive catalogue enough, because I feel if you dig just under the surface you will be pleasantly surprised.

It’s the ninth of July 1975 and Detroit, the motor city itself, feels the wind change as a joyous distorted note rings through the streets and factories as one John Anthony Gillis is born (later to be known as Jack White). Jack was the youngest of ten children, and as a result he was always eager to be involved with anything and everything, especially anything music. By the first grade he had found an old drum kit and chasing the musical accomplishments of his two older brothers playing in Catalyst it wasn’t too long before he had to remove his bed and mattress from his bedroom to fit all the musical instruments in with influences of blues and classic rock.

“I dabbled in things like Howlin’ Wolf, Cream and Led Zeppelin, but when I heard Son House and Robert Johnson, it blew my mind. It was something I’d been missing my whole life. That music made me discard everything else and just get down to the soul and honesty of the blues.”

At age 15 Jack began an upholstery apprenticeship with a family friend, Brian Muldoon, who introduced him to the likes of punk and hard rock music. The two went on to form The Upholsterers. Jack has said that they used to hide the recordings inside couches they would upholster, and only recently did they get found.

Jack would later moonlight in the Detroit underground scene for various local bands. At 19 the budding musician played for a “cowpunk” band called Goober And The Peas, a dark country punk fusion band local to Detroit. In his three years drumming in the band before a 1996 split, Jack would cut his teeth touring and playing live; it was safe to say he had the bug. In 1996, he would also marry his high school sweetheart Megan White becoming Jack and Meg White of the very soon-to-be White Stripes.

“With the White Stripes, we were trying to trick people into not realising we were playing the blues,” he once said. “We did not want to come off like white kids trying to play black music from 100 years ago, so a great way to distract them was by dressing in red, white and black.”

Meg had only just picked up the drum sticks in 1997, but almost instantly a musical connection was born between the pair. Jack would go on to say, “When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing.” The duo would quickly go on to form the White Stripes, keeping their marriage a secret and telling everyone they were brother and sister. Together they tore up Michigan’s underground garage rock scene with a tornado of red, white and black. In 1998 the White Stripes were signed to a small Detroit indie label Italy Records and in 1999 the band released its eponymous debut album The White Stripes. This was quickly followed up by the cult classic De Stijl in 2000. They would bring out four more studio albums in the years to come, White Blood Cells (2001), Elephant (2003), Get Behind Me Satan (2005) and Icky Thump (2007), spawning hits such as Seven Nation Army, The Hardest Button To Button and Icky Thump. For years to come the duo would tour the world and release album after album of raw unadulterated fuzz and have fun playing quirky shows. For instance, they would set up on the back of a fishing boat and play while it sailed along the bay, or the “one note show”, a show where they got out of a limo, walked on stage with all the instruments set up past a packed crowd, pick up their instruments, pluck one note and walk off-stage to the hoard chanting “one more note one more note”. I believe it was note C…

“I’d make a White Stripes record right now. I’d be in the White Stripes for the rest of my life. That band is the most challenging, important, fulfilling thing ever to happen to me. I wish it was still here. It’s something I really, really miss.”

The White Stripes sadly disbanded in 2011, with Jack later lamenting: “The reason is not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and White are feeling fine and in good health. It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.”

In between touring with the White Stripes, Jack formed two supergroups in their own right, The Raconteurs/Saboteurs and The Dead Weather. He co-wrote and performed the James Bond theme
Another Way To Die for 2008’s Quantum Of Solace with Alicia Keys, opened his own record
label/store/press company Third Man Records in Nashville and would later be a guest on The Muppets.

That’s right, the guy that wrote Seven Nation Army also did the Bond theme and played with The Muppets!

Under the Third Man umbrella, Jack would work with various teams to develop different guitar effects and pedals and limited edition record releases and pressings. He is a man with a love for all things collectible and unique, and it shows with what he gives back.

“We have a secret project at Third Man where we want to have the first vinyl record played in outer space. We want to launch a balloon that carries a vinyl record player.”

The Raconteurs, or Saboteurs, depending on where you are in the world due to legal issues, were formed
in 2005 when Jack and friend/fellow Michigan musician Brendan Benson composed the hit song Steady As She Goes, inspiring them to form a band with members from The GreenhornsJack Lawrence (bass) and Patrick Keeler (drums). It was here that Jack would step away from his everything turned to 11, raw, crazy side and show the world how technical and musical he really was in a time where guitar solos and full, alive feeling bands were few and far between. It was a breath of fresh air. Jack and Brendan would work off each other, both vocally and musically complementing the other’s unique styles and creating grooves that can really only be achieved with at least two guitars. If you haven’t listened to them, yet you really should.

The band had a break after their second album, but they dusted off the instruments in 2019 and are still together today with albums Broken Boy Soldier (2006) – which was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2006 Grammy Awards and broke into the Top Ten charts in both the US and the UK, and Consolers Of The Lonely (2008) – which reached number seven on the Billboard 200 chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album, and Help Us Stranger (2019), The Raconteurs’ first album in eleven years and their first US number-one album.

For Jack’s second supergroup, The Dead Weather, he decided to jump back on the drum stool to scratch an itch brought up after playing drums with Alisha Keys for James Bond’s Another Way To Die. For certain songs, Jack would get up with his guitar and Lawrence would take over the drums. The band consisted of Alison Mosshart (The Kills, vocals/guitar), Dean Fertita (Queens Of The Stone Age, keys/guitar) and Jack Lawrence (Raconteurs, bass). They made quite the formidable four-piece that went in a much darker, heavier direction than anything Jack White had done before.

“Playing drums feels like coming home for me. Even during the White Stripes, I thought: ‘I’ll do this for now, but I’m really a drummer.’ That’s what I’ll put on my passport application.”

Alison would tour with the Raconteurs and would sing Jack’s parts on stage when he would lose his voice due to bronchitis. After this, Jack invited Alison and Lawrence back to Third Man to have an impromptu jam. They met up with Dean who was staying there at the time and a small jam turned into the first three singles on the debut album Horehound (2009). The album was recorded over the next two weeks, and The Dead Weather formed. “Things just started to happen,” said Jack. “We didn’t have a direction, we just went a song a day, two songs a day, whatever we could do and recorded them on the fly… There was no time to think about what it was. It just was.”

The Dead Weather went on to release a second album, Sea Of Cowards later that year. The third and final album to date is Dodge And Burn (2015). Since its release and initial touring, the band has been on hiatus. The Dead Weather have an electrifying stage presence and a mass of energy and although it doesn’t look like a tour will happen anytime soon they have a vast library on their YouTube page with live performances that are a must. They even do a cover of Forever My Queen by American heavy metal band Pentagram.

“I have so much music inside me, I’m just trying to stay afloat. I don’t tend to write for a particular band – you have to just write the songs and then let God into the room and let the music tell you what to do.”

Jack White also gave acting a cheeky go, mostly in small parts or funny cameos, but his performances have always been quality. He appeared in Cold Mountain alongside Jude Law and Nicole Kidman and also played Mikey in Mutant Swinger From Mars. Possibly his best role, however, was the memorable portrayal of Elvis in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Outside of film, Jack has also been in a number of documentaries, including It Might Get Loud and Under Great White Northern Lights.

In 2012 Jack White did what most long-term followers knew to be inevitable and released his first solo album Blunderbuss. That being said, solo is a loose term because he actually had two bands with collectively just under 20 members all up for the one album. One all-female and one all-male.

Both had different vibes on stage, and on tour he was said to pick what outfit he felt was best for the night on the morning of the show. When the ladies would play it was a tight, professional rehearsed performance and when the boys came out they seemed to have more fun with it, more improvisation and more of a live jam. Both sets were declared a must-see by critics and fans alike, but unfortunately, this only lasted for the first album as tension would rise when a band wasn’t picked for the night, which lead to bickering between members. Subsequently, the next album saw a hybrid of the two bands on tour. Blunderbuss and its singles were nominated for a barrage of awards, and the album went to number one in five countries. Since then, Jack has released Lazaretto (2014), an acoustic album in 2016 titled Jack White Acoustic Recordings, and Boarding House Reach (2018).

Jack also has a double album release scheduled later this year with albums Fear the Dawn and Entering Heaven Alive, both eagerly anticipated by Jack White fans everywhere.

So, for all the people that just think Jack White was only in the White Stripes or try to argue he is a one-trick pony, here’s a quick recap.

Jack White has had an extensive musical career that has lasted over 30 years and been rewarded with six Grammies, formed two supergroups, had a successful solo career for over 10 years, acted, played a big role in the resurgence of records being pressed, put time and money into guitar effects and technology, co-wrote and performed a James Bond song, and played with The MOTHER FUCKING Muppets!

For that, Jack White, Metal Mistress, salutes you.

“Music is what I have to do, I only answer the questions so that I can do it.”

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