By: William Clark
Since 1977, Great White has been powerfully dominating the world with their own unique combination of glam metal and bluesy rock and roll.
And today, it’s hard to tune into a good classic rock station nowadays without “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. rocking out over the airwaves, and there’s a good reason for that.
The tempestuous shredding of Mark Kendall and the distinctive singing style of lead vocalist Jack Russell quickly brought the Great White name to worldwide acclaim, with such songs as “Lady Red Light”, “Rock Me”, and “House Of Broken Love” soon becoming set into heavy rotation on MTV and Hair Nation.
After more than four decades and several ups and downs, Great White goes out and delivers powerful rock anthems that continue to appeal to their ever growing fanbase.
Just recently, after problems arose with the band’s original lead vocalist, a new lineup of Great White emerged from the depths, this time with Terry Ilous at the head of the shark, while also surfacing the band’s first studio album in 3 years, Elation.
The new album rocks just as hard as their earlier hits and since it’s release, has been met with high acclaim from both critics and fans alike.
I was recently given the opportunity to sit down with the lead guitarist from this iconic rock band, Mark Kendall, to talk in-depth about the band’s new record, the history of Great White, his earliest musical influences, and his side of the story behind former lead vocalist Jack Russell’s departure from the
William Clark: At what point in your life did you decide to dedicate your life to the guitar?
Mark Kendall: Well, I started when I was a little boy. There was this band that would rehearse across the street from where I lived, and when I would go over there and watch these guys practicing and playing, that’s when I wanted to play guitar.
But, when it came to dedicating my life to the guitar, at that time I also played baseball, and did other things that kids just did. So at young age, I wasn’t quite dedicating my life to it yet. When I was 15 years old, I think I just decided that I was going to just dive head first into it. [Laughs]
William: When you sit down to write and record a new song, are there any particular artists that you draw inspiration from?
Mark Kendall: I don’t know about when it comes to writing songs, but growing up I was always into the type of guitar players that played from the heart, if you will. People like Johnny Winter, Carlos Santana, Billy Gibbons. Those kinds of guitarists play, how you say, from the pores of their skin. It might not make a lot of sense, but it’s like they feel every note they play. And I’ve always found myself inspired by those kinds of musicians. As far as writing music goes, I just sit down and start to hear different licks and riffs in my head, and then try to transfer those ideas into the guitar.
William: How did Great White come to be?
Mark Kendall: Well, I actually started out playing in a small band at about 17 years old. We would go around and just play the circuit, going to to small bars and clubs, basically anywhere that would have us. The guys and I would play mostly cover songs, but about by the time I was 20, I felt really burnt out.
I really wanted to do something more with my playing. So, I heard about this singer, Jack Russell, and he and I decided to put a band together. Starting out, our band had a whole bunch of names, like Wires, Dante Fox, Highway, Livewire. And we just went around the scene playing small shows.
Little did we know that one night during one of our shows, there was someone in the audience who worked with an independent label called Aegean. This guy, Alan Niven, really liked our band, he liked our songs, but just couldn’t stand our name! [Laughs]
About that time, we were going around as Dante Fox, and my nickname in the group was “The Great White”, because I had the long blonde hair, a white Telecaster guitar. And every night, right before I would go out and do a guitar solo Mark would go up the mic and yell out, “Mark Kendall: The Great White!”.
So when we met Alan the day after he saw us play at the Whiskey a Go Go, he tells us that he loves everything about the band except the name. We all go, “Oh, no! We have to start thinking about names again!”. But Alan goes, “No, I’ve already got the name: Great White”.
Now, the band didn’t really like the name at first, but when we attached the shark image to the name of the band, it just stuck!
William: What is your favorite Great White album from your early days?
Mark Kendall: From the early years, I would have to say Once Bitten. That’s probably one of my favorite records that we’ve ever put out, especially because of songs like “Rock Me”, “Lady Red Light”, and “Mistreater”. Those songs have almost become definitive with the Great White name, you know? I think the sound of that album was really starting to show our blues rock influences, and as a band we started to really move deeper into our songwriting.
William: How did you discover Terry Ilous?
Mark Kendall: Well, what happened was Jack’s health was really failing. We were about to start canceling shows because he just couldn’t go out and sing. We had so many shows booked with so many venues and promoters, and we as a band felt that it would really hurt us if we went ahead and cancelled.
We all sat down and came up with the idea that we would have somebody just fill in until Jack was well again. Terry was the first person to come in for the spot in the lineup. We were actually set to play the M3 Festival, and Terry was playing there with his own band, XYZ. So Terry went ahead and rescheduled his band’s show for earlier in the day, to accommodate our show.
But, he did so well that we just really liked him right away. Later on we also had a few other singers fill in, but Terry was our favorite. In the later part of 2011 when it was announced that Jack couldn’t return, Terry had already done over 80 shows with Great White. So he was just an obvious choice. We just loved him, and we couldn’t wait to go into the studio and make new music with him.
William: Would you ever like to work with Jack Russell again the future?
Mark Kendall: Well, through all of our losses, that’s a really hard question to answer. I just feel that with all of his addiction issues, he’s done so much damage to himself that, unless a miracle happened, he could ever perform anywhere near a level that he would even be happy with. I’m really familiar with what he’s going through because in this business I’ve gotten to know and work with some alcoholics and drug addicts, and what I’ve found is that the ones that are successful are the ones that really want it for themselves, like more than anything.
And I just don’t feel that Jack has surrendered truly from within to change his life. The only problem with playing with him is the addiction.
Addiction really changes people, and it’s not pretty. With Jack, you almost get to questioning if he even has a rock bottom, you know? Some people don’t, believe it or not.
Addiction is such a powerful thing that you could lose your house, your wife, your kids, and you still do the drugs. With other people, they can just get a D.U.I. and quit. Everybody has a different low, and I guess he just hasn’t reached it.
I mean, I’ll go ahead on YouTube and every once in awhile I’ll see a video of him performing, and it’s just not the guy I know. It doesn’t even look like him anymore, he looks like a sick man and it’s very sad. He was a really good friend of mine, I’ve known him for basically my whole life, and I’ve put my heart and soul into trying to get him going down the right path, but it’s been just disappointment after disappointment. When that happens, you really have no choice but to step back and just pray for that person, because until they’re ready there’s nothing you can do.
For example, I recently quit smoking, and I told my wife, “I’m not quitting because your momma doesn’t like the smell. I’m not quitting because you hate cigarettes. I’m quitting because I don’t want to smoke anymore and I’m doing it for my health”.
Mark Kendall: Oh, thank you. But I think that people who need to get sober need to want it for themselves, and they can’t quit for anyone else. You really need to do it for yourself. And I just don’t feel that he’s surrendered yet. So, when you ask the question would I ever play with him again, it’s not personal, it’s just he’s not well.
William: Trying to move back to brighter things, what was the songwriting process like for Elation?
Mark Kendall: Just a little bit different. We just allowed ourselves to be a little more free when it came to the songwriting. We had prepared about 12 songs ready to go and record, but when we got into the studio, we’d be sitting around with acoustic guitars and I would come up with a riff or somebody else would come up with a lick, and we’d all go, “What is that? That’s a good idea!”. And we just kept going with the flow. We were literally in the studio to record this other music, and we ended up writing 10 brand new songs which just eclipsed what we previously had. It just turned out great. There were only two songs that were kept out of the batch we brought into the studio.
William: Which songs were they?
Mark Kendall: The only ones that were kept were “Feelin’ So Much Better” and “Shotgun Willie’s”, which by coincidence were the two songs that we recorded on our demo for the record company, because they wanted to hear what we sounded like with the new singer and all that.
When they liked what we were doing, then we went ahead and wrote the rest of what would’ve been the record. But when we got into the studio, the creative energy was so electric that we were just coming up with new songs left and right. In the past, we all followed a constructive format in the studio where I would come up with music, show Jack the melody, he would come up with lyrics, we would rehearse, and then go record.
And that was the way we always did things, so you always knew what was going to happen in the studio. But this time there was a little bit more freedom, and the entire band was there for the entire process, which has never happened before.
Normally, whenever Audi would finish recording his drum parts he would just disappear until the tour! [Laughs] This time, everybody was there for every day in the studio. And, there was a lot of input in the band, so it was a very collective effort from everyone and we really had a good time. It was the most fun I could ever remember having in the studio.
And that’s also how words “Elation” were coming up, when we were thinking album titles. We wanted to name the record how we were feeling, and everyone was just feeling, well, elated!
William: If you had to play favorites, what are some of your favorite tracks off the new album?
Mark Kendall: You know, this is the first time that we actually want to play everything off the record live at some point, but we just don’t like to bombard people with new music.
So, we’ve been working in two new tracks at a time into the setlist. But so far, the songs we’ve really liked playing live are “I’ve Got Something For You”, and it seems to really come off as something good with the audience. We’ve been playing “Low Down” live, also, and we’re going to be adding in “Hard To Say Goodbye” and “Feelin’ So Much Better” shortly.
And we’re going to keep working in a couple at a time, that way we can play everything that the audience wants to hear and expects and at the same time keep it exciting for us and stay away from that “another day at the office” kind of vibe. [Laughs]
William: How do you feel Elation compares to Great White’s earlier efforts?
Mark Kendall: If we were to do a record in between Psycho City and Hooked, I feel that Elation would’ve fit perfectly right there. I hear a lot of those same blues overtones in the new record, which you can relate that to a little bit of those two albums, which is why I feel it really fits in between those two.
But I also think Elation is a little bit better musically. That’s why I think we’ve been around for the past 30 years, because we’re always trying to keep getting better musically. You’re always trying to create that one song, you learn from your mistakes and just keep progressing, and that’s your motivation. Then, all of a sudden you look back and go, “Oh my god, it’s been 30 years! Are you serious?”. [Laughs]
If we were just an oldies band that would go out once a year and play “Rock Me” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, I know I would just go crazy.
We probably wouldn’t even be around if that was the case, because I know for me personally, and the band as well, is that what keeps me motivated is to continue to make new music. If it wasn’t for being able to be creative, I can’t see me having the incentive to continue, you know? I don’t want to go out onstage and have to fake having fun. There’s not even a remote chance of that happening. So I have to enjoy myself, and I think the audience picks up on that. If you’re enjoying yourself, they’re going to pick up on that enjoy themselves more as well. Great White has always been about being true to themselves, giving the audience the best we can give, and I never want that to change.
William: What’s next for Great White?
Mark Kendall: Just to continue on. We have a lot of shows coming up. We’re just playing around and going to be making the best music that we can. Also, on our new single coming out, which is “Hard To Say Goodbye”, we had a top flight engineer/producer named George Tutko remix the song. He’s worked with Rod Stewart, John Cougar Mellencamp, Cheap Trick, Duran Duran, Journey, The Cars, I mean, his discography just goes on and on.
And we liked his mix so much that he is going to be remixing our entire new record. It’s just wonderful sounding, he’s such a pro.
So, there’s going to be two versions of Elation out there. The first thing we’re going to do is put the new mixes out on all of the downloading sites, and then after we sell out the product that’s already out on the shelves, then the next batch of discs will have the new mixes, also. And that’s really exciting. Exciting things are happening, and it’s just really fun!
GI Review of Elation HERE.