- - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In the 1980s, nothing could stop Jack Russell, the lead singer of the blues rock band Great White. The group sold millions of records and had smash-hit singles with “Save Your Love,” “Rock Me” and their take on “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” But the access of that lifestyle left Mr. Russell a broken man struggling to beat his drug addictions and overcome immense tragedy. Along the way he even lost control of the band he started with a childhood friend and made world-famous.

The year 2017 sees a very different Mr. Russell, now a year-plus into sobriety, roaring back with his own Great White and sounding better than ever. The band will play the M3 Rock Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, April 29. I caught up with him to discuss the battle for the band’s name and his new album, “He Saw It Coming.”

Question: I just listened to your new CD, and your voice sounds strong. What’s your secret?

Answer: The reason I can still do it is that I learned how to warm my voice up. It takes hours. Little bits at a time. I start six hours before showtime. Then after the show, I warm down for about 20 minutes. That process enables my voice to keep working.

The older you get, you go through three thickenings of your [vocal] chords. If you don’t know what you’re doing when that happens, your voice is gonna get deeper, and subsequently you’re not gonna be able to sing as high as you used to.

I’ve gone through all the thickenings in my voice and still retained everything that I ever had.

Q: Why is the new album titled “He Saw It Coming”? And who is the “he”?

A: The “he” would be me. And the title comes from when I was a kid. I was five years old, and I wanted to be an archeologist. Doctor Louis Leakey was my idol at the time. For my sixth birthday my parents bought me The Beatles “Help” album. I remember putting it on my little record player and watching the Capitol logo spin around. All of a sudden I got this feeling. It was so intense. It felt like the skies opened up and angels came down to blow in my ears saying, “You’re gonna be a rock star.”

From that moment on I knew. I didn’t wish, hope or dream. I knew down to the core of my being that I was gonna do this for a living and that I was going to be successful at it.

Q: Why are there two different versions of Great White?

A: At this point in my life, I have been sober for almost a year and a half. I can readily admit that it was my fault. I was messed up. My addiction was running on all eight cylinders. I was always taking some pain pills. That started because I injured my back and had to have surgery. Even after that got better, I was just addicted to pills.

Pain medication is really easy to get addicted to. I was so messed up: falling asleep on stage, forgetting all the words. I kept falling down drunk and breaking stuff. I shattered my femur on stage and sat on a stool to finish the show. It was tragic.

I was a total mess and kept canceling tour after tour after tour. Finally they got sick of it, and they stopped calling me. I had no choice. I said, “You’re all fired.” [I was] the president of the corporation. [Drummer] Audie [Desbrow] and [guitarist] Michael [Lardie] were just 1099 employees of the company.

I was president and [lead guitarist] Mark [Kendall] was vice president. It came to a head where it was either go to court or figure it out.

Q: Why not just tour as Jack Russell?

A: The reason I hung on to the name was because my ex-manager, the guy that helped them steal the name — I’m sorry, I mean “get” the name — told me, “Dude, I can get five monkeys and put them on stage if I had the name Great White. I could make money.” I said, “There is no way, man. You can’t take Mark and I out of this band and put two other guys in there and people will actually come see them.” He said, “I totally could.”

He was right. You just need the logo and the name.

Q: Does it cause problems that there are competing bands?

A: No. Everybody knows by now. All the promoters and people like that. It’s been five years since I started this band, and everyone is pretty much aware. The legal stuff has all been settled. Now everybody just goes out and does their own thing.

I wish them the best, and they wish me the worst. (Laughs)

Q: Now that you’re sober, would you ever attempt to bring both bands together?

A: Oh no. I extended the olive branch at one point. And it was slapped right back in my face with a lot of animosity.

It is what it is. If we are ever meant to be friends again, it will happen. If not? That’s life.

Q: When you play M3, will there be any sense of competition with other bands from back in the day?

A: There is really nobody I ever had a problem with back then. Competition? The only competition is with my own band. Can we be better than the last time. Can we do better than the last time we were there? Better than the show we did the night before?

I want the last show we did to be the best show we’ve ever done.

Q: Where do you think this record stacks up with previous Great White albums?

A: I’m real proud of this album. More so than any other album I’ve ever done. To me this is Great White elevated.

Jack Russell’s Great White plays the M3 Rock Festival April 29. Tickets are $60 to $210 by going to Ticketfly.com

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