- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

Great White is the kind of band that's short on original talent but long on 'tude. With little radio airplay or album sales to speak of, and with a limited facility for songwriting, the hard-rock band has gotten by on lowbrow, tattoo-parlor charisma and a just-big-enough fan base to support a modest living on the road.

Even at the height of its brief fame, in the late '80s, the band would pool its audience with other metal outfits such as Whitesnake and Tesla for package tours.

Great White was all but forgotten until last week.

After a pyrotechnics accident set ablaze the Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., killing 97 people, including the band's lead guitarist, Ty Longley, most Americans must have scratched their heads:

Who is Great White?

"They're a party rock band," says Obi Steinman, a partner with S/T/C Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based management company with hair-metal bands such as Warrant and Slaughter on its roster. "The '80s rock bands give you a good rock show."

The video accompanying Great White's 1989 hit, a cover of Mott the Hoople's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," says it all. It's an emblem of late-period hair-metal decadence: lots of leather, leg-flashing groupies and chemically teased 'dos.

You may remember the song's rowdy singalong hook: "My, my, my / I'm once bitten, twice shy, babe."

The band's most recent release is a live collection, 2002's "Thank You … Good Night." It rehashes a set of previously recorded material for an album called "Recover," also from last year.

Shortly before that, Great White put out a collection of Led Zeppelin covers called "Great Zeppelin," which includes a rendition of a song most rock bands consider off-limits: "Stairway to Heaven."

By 1989, Guns N' Roses already had sounded the death knell for flashy hair bands with its debut album, "Appetite for Destruction." Two years later, Nirvana and the Seattle grunge movement would bury them for good.

Still, Great White and other '80s metal acts, such as Cinderella and L.A. Guns, have continued to play to a subculture of fans who turn up at suburban clubs like the Station and, closer to the District, Jaxx in Springfield.

They are mostly white and mostly male, in their 30s and 40s. They came of age in the '80s, when the hard rock of the previous decade (Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith) had gone glam.

"They're our demographic," says Christie Banks, program director for 94.7 "the Arrow," a classic-rock station based in Rockville. "It's a piece of '80s music that I think is starting to find a little niche in programming, especially for classic-rock stations. It's been happening slowly but surely."

On March 10, the station will debut a new program featuring the "classic rock" of the '80s Motley Crue, Poison and other Reagan-era rock bands.

Surprisingly, hair-metal bands also have found a niche in the teenage market, among youngsters who are looking for a fun alternative to the contemporary angst-ridden metal of bands such as Korn.

"Kids grow up, and they try to find something different and new," Mr. Steinman says. "The Clash haven't released anything in years, but their records still sell."

The hair-metal beast was hatched in the Los Angeles metro area, the balmy coastal entertainment hub where image is everything.

Bands such as Great White took the riff-based guitar rock of the '70s, melded it with the androgynous imagery of bands such as Sweet and T. Rex and created a bubble-gum hybrid that wowed white teens for a good 10 years.

Great White formed in Long Beach, Calif., in 1982, the same year a very prescient movie, "This Is Spinal Tap," was filmed.

The Rob Reiner-directed "mockumentary" starring comedians Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer was an unheeded warning to every hair-metal band that poured itself into spandex for the next 10 years, courting irrelevance and ridicule.

Not unlike Spinal Tap, Great White has shuffled its lineup multiple times, with lead singer Jack Russell remaining the focus. The late Mr. Longley joined the band in 2000.

Mr. Russell basically folded the band in 2001 and released a solo album, "For You," last year before reuniting with founding guitarist Mark Kendall for a tour of House of Blues clubs.

The band was billed under monikers such as Jack Russell: The Voice of Great White, and tickets for a December show at the House of Blues in Las Vegas said, "Great White feat. Jack Russell," according to one fan.

Members of Great White decamped to Los Angeles after the Rhode Island tragedy. Their lawyer, Ed McPherson, told the TV show "Good Morning America" that they're "a mess." The remaining dates of their 2003 tour, which was supposed to have included a concert at Jaxx Feb. 22, is "on hold."

Mr. McPherson, now the band's spokesman, did not return phone calls.

If the band recovers, and if it's not held liable for the Station blaze, Great White won't have any trouble filling the club-size venues it has been playing over the years.

In fact, the band mates may find themselves playing to bigger audiences. A slight uptick in Great White album sales has been noted since the Feb. 20 tragedy, according to Nielsen SoundScan.


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