Jack Russell’s Great White released their new album, Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes, an acoustic take on the classic Great White record Once Bitten, via Cleopatra Records this spring. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea had the chance to speak with Jack Russell about the album, the meaning behind his songwriting, how he’s kept his voice in great shape throughout his career, plus the upcoming records that the band has in the works.

So you’ve got the new Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes album, which is renewed renditions of songs that were already awesome to begin with —

Thank you.

Of course! What led to the acoustic theme, what was that initial idea?

You know, I was sitting around one day and I hadn’t thought about the album — you know, when you make an album, you play it to death. You play it for like six months, and then you go, “God, I can’t stand listening to this song one more time”. And you shelve it for so many years, and one day, you happen to see it and you go, “Oh, yeah, this album”, and you put it on and go, “That’s pretty good”. So one day, I was sitting around and I was thinking about the Once Bitten album, and I thought, you know what would be really cool? Doing an acoustic version of this album. But then I thought, well, I don’t know because there’s some songs on there that I don’t really know if they would translate or not, like “Livin’ On The Edge”, and “Never Change Heart”, the heavier, faster songs – I don’t know how those would come across acoustically, but I know I’d love to do “Save Your Love” over again. So, we decided to go ahead and do it, and surprisingly enough…or, not surprisingly, however you want to look at it, I came up with a piece of work that was really, really good. I’m really proud of it, the songs have a different flavor, it’s a little more homespun, if that’s an appropriate word for it. But it just takes the songs and breaks them down to their roots, and this is how we judge a song – when we write, it’ll either be my guitarist and me, or my keyboard player and me, it’ll just be one other person and an acoustic instrument. And my motto has always been, if you can play the guitar and voice and the song sounds great, you’ve got a great song. If it takes a whole band to make it sound good, then…it’s not a great song. You just need the cake, you don’t need all that icing on it, because if the cake tastes great, you’ve got something good coming on, you know?

Definitely. 

So that was the reasoning behind it, and I think we’re going to do it again for the following records, Twice Shy and Hooked. We have two more albums coming out before that, we’ve got Great Zeppelin II, I don’t know if you ever heard of our album called Great Zeppelin, it was a live concert of nothing but Zeppelin songs, and Robert Plant said, “that guy sounds more like me than I do”, which was a great compliment coming from him! I was like “Whoa”, and that to me was one of the greatest compliments a singer can get, especially one who was one of my top two singers when I was growing up. We put “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” on the [new] album as well, which was an MTV hit, we had done that on the second episode of Unplugged.

That’s really cool about the Great Zeppelin, I was actually going to ask you about that album, because I saw the “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” cover on there, and it seems like you’ve always had a big Zeppelin connection, doing a couple of different cover albums, and now you’re headed toward the next one!

Yeah, we did the first one, and that one was so well-received, so I thought, we’ll go out and do a couple more live shows, we’ll do Zeppelin again, and we’ll do the songs that we wish we could have done on the first one without making it a four-album set. So we went out and we did “Kashmir”, “Houses of The Holy”, “Trampled Underfoot”, a lot of songs that we didn’t touch upon on that record, we did some songs that were more keyboard-heavy. And it was a real thrill, so we’re finishing that up in the studio right now, and then we’re going to go on and start working on the new record, we’re about halfway done with that writing. So that’s going to be a really good record as well, I’m really excited about that. I don’t know if you heard She Saw It Coming, that was the last studio album, but it’s everything that was, but more, and it’s going to be a great record.

That’s awesome, I know I’m not the only one excited to see so much new stuff coming from Jack Russell’s Great White. 

Ain’t nothin’ else to do. *laughs*

Right! That’s true. *laughs* It keeps you busy.

That’s it, better than sitting around staring at the wall.

Exactly, might as well write some music.

Yeah, before I get too old to do it, you know?

No, you’re still going strong. I saw you earlier this year at NAMM actually, you did the Ultimate NAMM Night and Ronnie Montrose Remembered…

Oh god, I was so sick. I had three stints put in my heart about two weeks after that. I was working at about 80% and didn’t even know it. I went into the hospital with a lung infection and so I was just in really bad shape, because it’s all those years of eating fast food, smoking cigarettes, all that good stuff. And it just tore me up, and I was so sick during those shows, took three days to recuperate and I go, “what is wrong with me?” I usually just pop back up again after a show, but recently, I had a hard time. And once the surgery was done, I was like, all right, I feel 25 again. So all the people that were hoping I’d be dead by now…*laughs* too bad. 

Wow! That’s amazing, I’m sorry to hear that happened, but you honestly couldn’t tell from the shows, you had a lot of energy, you sounded perfect, but I’m sorry you were going through all that. You still had a great show anyway!

Thank you! It’s nice to know that, I mean, I give it my all every night no matter how I’m feeling, I try to do the best I can. So as long as it was good enough, I feel good.

Absolutely! And it seems like you were a big part of the events on the NAMM scene, is that a regular thing for you, doing those special shows?

You know, I’ve been to NAMM like three times, so I think what it is, is when I do go, they make a big deal of it…or at least, I’d like to think so *laughs*. I used to go there and just get free gear and then split. “Hey, I love this guitar. I can have one? Thanks! See you later”, you know? And that’s not cool. So I just get offers to go sing songs with people, I’m like, you know what? Why not, I’m glad I make a few people happier, and just have a good time with it and see some fellow musicians I don’t get to see very often. And that’s the business, I mean, me and Tommy Lee, we were really good friends for years, I mean, the guy was at my second wedding in ’91. I have not seen him since that day, and that’s just how it works, if you don’t run into people on the road, you barely run into them on the street, and even if you do, phone numbers get changed, people move, new relationships, and you lose touch with people. People ask me, “how many musicians or rock stars do you know?”, I go, “I know a ton of ‘em, how many could I call on the phone right now? …3”. I just don’t hang out with musicians, pretty much, they’re boring. I don’t want to talk about their music! I want to talk about fishing. Let’s do something fun, or something else…no, I don’t mind talking about music, I’m just kidding. But when you sit around with your friends when you’re not playing, it’s like, we just got on vacation, do we have to talk about work?

*laughs* No, I get it, music is fun but when it’s your job and that’s the main thing that you do, of course you have to take breaks from it. So fishing is your escape from the music work?

Yeah, fishing is my hobby, and I live on a boat. So I start my house up and go out fishing, so that’s fun, I love it.

Well, you’re on the West Coast, so that’s a good place for it.

You’re right, that’s the best fish. I’m sitting here and I’ve got an almost-360 view of the water – the other end is the dock and land, but the rest of it’s all water. Palm trees and boats, and yeah, it’s great.  

That’s what a lot of people dream of!

Yeah, until you get down here and then you go, “What was I thinking?” *laughs* No, it’s not bad, I’m just kidding. I was just speaking for my wife, she’s tired of camping, she wanted a house on land, and I said, “Help me lift the boat, we’ll put it up on land somewhere”. 

That’s funny. So, for the Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes album, you were saying you weren’t sure if some songs would necessarily translate well to acoustic, did you find any tracks to be a challenge to adapt?

You know what, the songs I was afraid of actually came out the best, “Livin’ On The Edge”, there was beautiful parts in that, “Fast Road To Nowhere”, “Never Change Heart”, those are the ones I was concerned about, and they actually came out to be some of my favorites on the record. The whole record’s my favorite, you know? *laughs* I’m not unhappy with any song on there, I would put that up against the original album. And don’t get me wrong, the original album was Great White at some of its very best, when the band finally hit its stride, and was starting to really come into its own being musically. And it was a testament to that, and a testament to how good the songs were, that they still hold up under whatever format. I think you could put a dance  beat behind this and it would still sell. *laughs*

*laughs* That’ll be next, that’s the remix!

That’s just me, but don’t do that, please! Nobody out there do that, but I think it would actually work. 

I also want to ask you about the new music video for “Save Your Love”, now that was already a deep, emotional song to begin with, and the new video just adds a whole new layer of emotions, so I just want to ask more about what was behind that video?

You know, to be honest with you, to be blatantly honest, it’s not one of my favorite videos. It didn’t translate what the song was really about. The song is not about, “the girl dies at the end”, absolutely not what I was writing about. But for reasons beyond my small little brain here, it turned into that, and it’s okay, I mean, I would have seen it differently, but it’s not bad, and I’m not like walking around looking at my shoes going, “God, I hope they didn’t see that video”, but it’s one man’s take on a song. And see, this is why I don’t like to do videos, at least videos with storylines, because you may hear something in it that means something to you that makes it very special. And somebody else may hear something that makes it very special to them, but they may be two different things. And I hear something that I wrote that was special to me, and you could hear it as a completely different thing. So I try not to put storylines in the videos, because it’s short-sighted – you’re telling people what the song’s about, but some people are like, “That’s not what the song’s about, I thought it was about *this*. Oh well, I guess it’s not my favorite song anymore”. You know? So I don’t think you can force on the public what a song means to them, I think they have to figure it out. Someone will come to me and say, “hey, what’s that song about”, and I’ll say, “well, what does it mean to you”? And they’ll say it, and I’ll go, “exactly”. He could be so far off, but it doesn’t matter, if that’s what it means to him, that’s what it means to him. 

Good, that is what music’s like for a lot of people, you do get your own interpretation from it, it can be meaningful and impactful to your life and circumstances, even though the artist had something different in mind, it doesn’t matter, because it makes a connection for you. And I feel like that happened a lot in the height of the MTV era, with the music videos – totally different things would happen from the director’s perspective than the artist actually meant for it to be.

Yeah! This is why I like the live videos better, just show the band playing. Show the crowd, the band playing, show the spectacle of arena rock. Show the mass people just going crazy, those are the kind of videos I like. I don’t like videos that tell the story.

The band is the story to you.

Exactly, the band is the story, the people are the story, whatever they think it’s about. Just get them excited, that’s my thing, I just want the people to be smiling and having a good time, I don’t care what they think the song’s about. Just tell me you love it.

Exactly. I also want to say, your voice is fantastic, it sounds like it’s never even changed one bit – is there anything you do to work on your voice and keep it in great condition?

Yeah, I drink a lot of Jack Daniels, smoke a ton of cigarettes, scream my head off before every show…no, I’m kidding. 

That’s the rock ’n’ roll way!

I don’t drink, I don’t smoke cigarettes either, I quit all that stuff. I just warm my voice up, I start like six hours before a show and warm my voice up really lightly, and progressing a little louder toward the show, and then I get on stage, then when I get done with a show, I warm my voice down. Been doing that since 1986, so it’s been a while. I had a good teacher and my teacher told me I should start teaching, but I just don’t have the time. I can’t get a bunch of students and then go, “gotta go on the road, see you guys! If you have any questions, leave it on my answering machine”. You have to be dedicated to whatever you do, and I can’t put myself in a situation that I’m that dedicated to giving vocal lessons. Maybe one day, I just can’t see a day where I don’t want to go out and sing, it’s just too much fun.

No, that makes sense, not being able to tie yourself to that, I mean, what are they going to do, Skype you on the road? 

Yeah, you’ve got to be in a room with them, so you can really watch what’s going on with the muscles in their neck and throat and stomach, and you’ve got to see what’s going on to really ascertain what they’re doing correctly or incorrectly. 

Have you ever given vocal lessons at all, even just informally?

Yeah, I have, I’ve given some lessons to some friends around town, because they’re local and if they needed to stop by and get some help, I tell them to come on down, no big deal. And I’ve helped them a lot, but most people don’t have the dedication, they do one lesson and then they think they’ve got it all down. Gradually, they fall back into the same old bad habits that they started with and they wonder why their voice isn’t any better. Or why, after a show, their voice is all blown out. Well, you didn’t sing it right, I told you! But they don’t want to put up the money or whatever. It’s expensive! My vocal teacher charges me $500 an hour, and that went up from ’86 at $35 for half an hour, to $500 an hour the last time I saw him, which was 15, 20 years ago. He said “Don’t worry, Jack, I’ll never raise my rates on you, you’ve brought me all these clients”…I brought him Axl Rose, Mark Slaughter, all these people I brought to him.

That’s funny, it happened because you brought him those high-paying clients like Axl Rose.

He was going to let me slide, but nope, I’m paying what Axl’s paying! Thanks, pal.

That’s interesting though, that you passed around a vocal teacher.

Yeah, you know something else too that’s funny, there’s an herbal tea called Throat Coat, and nobody had ever heard about it, and my teacher turned me on to it, and about two years later, after me being on the road and telling singers what I was using, everybody uses it. I go in dressing rooms, everybody’s got a little box of Throat Coat sitting on their table, and I’m like, “Man, dude, if people knew how many trends you started…”. It’s like, I take credit for that, and that!

Should’ve gotten some form of royalties on that!

I should’ve, huh! Well, I get it for free, so I guess that’s some kind of royalty. 

That works! So, proper warm-ups and cool-downs, and some Throat Coat tea: the secrets behind Jack Russell’s voice.

And don’t drink and don’t smoke. Don’t eat and then go to bed right away, you’ve got to wait at least three hours, because if you eat then lay down, you’re going to get acid reflux, and that’s pouring acid on your vocal cords and that’ll fry your throat. Just a word to the wise.

These are good tips for anyone out there who’s a vocalist! So back on track with Jack Russell’s Great White, obviously with everything that’s going on, we’re not going to be seeing anybody on the road for a while, but it’s good to know that there’s lots of studio stuff in the works, so maybe just a recap with what’s on the horizon for Jack Russell’s Great White?

Well, we have the Once Bitten Acoustic Bytes out now, we also have an album called Stage that was released, that’s two live concerts, a double disc, which is probably two of the better shows ever recorded by the band, they’re older songs. And then there’s the Great Zeppelin II album, that’ll be out, and then after that we have the new album coming out, so there’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline, we don’t want to just keep putting it out, and putting it out, we’ve got to get out there and play. So somebody, come up with a treatment or a vaccine, let’s put our energy into some positive.  

Good stuff. Well, it’s been a lot of fun talking with you, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me! Have a great day and stay healthy.

My pleasure, and you too, stay healthy!