It s been five years since their stage pyrotechnics accidentally ignited a deadly fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island, and Great White lead singer Jack Russell still reminds himself daily he s lucky to be alive.
If the flames had gone left instead of right, it would have been me, Russell said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home.
Until the February, 2003, blaze that hurt 200 and killed 100 including guitarist Ty Longley Great White s head-banging status hadn t wavered since their first mosh pits on the Sunset Strip in the early 1980s.
Their Grammy-nominated single, Once Bitten, Twice Shy, tipped the Billboard pop charts at No. 5 in 1989 and cemented their mainstream status by the late 1980s. Early hits like the soulful power ballad Save Your Love and their cheeky anthem Stick It pleased live crowds enough to become staples on oft-revisited greatest hits albums which outnumber original records in the band s catalog of 32 releases.
Since the tragedy, Russell is most often asked about another song the show opener that night was the 1991 single Desert Moon and it was interrupted as flames spread from the acoustic insulation behind the stage.
Band manager Daniel Biechele served 22 months in jail for his part in the accident, because he staged the special effects without proper permission from club owners. The band has since lost touch with Biechele, but we wish him well and hope he s doing good Russell said.
Russell publicly vowed never to play Desert Moon live again.
Still, local fans might expect to hear the song when Great White performs in the parking lot of Toledo Harley Davidson, 7960 West Central Ave., at 3 p.m. Saturday. Russell now embraces the tune as part of the healing process. The group was touring with only two original members singer Russell and lead guitarist Mark Kendall at the time of the fire. When the original crew reformed in 2006, Russell s Great White had been on the road for two years prior raising money for the families of those killed in the fire.
You know as I healed, my perspective changed, Russell said, adding that the original members urged him to try the song again. They go, Look, it s not the song s fault, the fans want to hear it.
Something like that happens, there s not a formula or a book you can read, like, this is how you deal. I lost a lot of friends that night, people I watched grow up, he said.
You heal from it to a degree. It s never going away, but I can t spend my life living that day over and over. I mean, that s not healthy either. I say prayers for the families.
Out of the reunion tour came their 2007 album, Back To The Rhythm, which he admits might feel like a throwback to their early days.
We are what we are, and we re not straining to break out of that box. It s good to pay homage to where you come from, he said. It s more introspective looking as far as my lyrics go, but a couple songs that you really want to stay retro: Don t Take Me Down and Still Hungry.
That could be why the band remains successful after 26 years on the road. Remaining firmly in the spirit of 1987 are their live performances, and, perhaps, Russell s attitude about rock and roll.
Decidely a technophobe, Russell s shiny new iPod will likely remain wrapped in its packaging in a drawer. It was a gift.
Forget music file-sharing, or the way Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have allowed fans to remix their songs on their Web sites Russell doesn t do the Internet.
I m kind of afraid of it, afraid of getting sucked in, he said, adding that friends get caught up all night in surfing the Web. It was bad enough when coke was out there.
Russell attributes the band s staying power to their simple approach.
Honestly, I think it s the fact that our music is very honest. It s very bedrock. It s very blue collar, he said. I write songs for myself, I m not trying to be trendy. If anyone likes them, great, if not, oh well.
Russell said he s looking forward to his date with Toledo, in part because Longley s family is likely to show. Longley grew up in Brookfield, Ohio, about 15 miles northeast of Youngstown.
Besides, Ohio has always felt like a place that truly appreciates rock, Russell said.
In Ohio we used to feel like a house band, Russell said, laughing. It was just a hub of rock at that time, and it still is, the Midwest.
Great White plays Saturday at 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Toledo Harley Davidson, 7960 West Central Ave. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, at Toledo Harley Davidson and at Signature Harley Davidson, and at the door. They are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the show.
Contact Bridget Tharp at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6061.
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