Jack Russell’s Great White Bites Back

Central Park Performing Arts Center, Largo, FL, USA, September 22

Concert review by Barry Nadler

I remember back in 1987 hanging out with one of my best friends, in high school, and hearing “Rock Me,” by Great White, for the first time. It was smooth and bluesy, but it just killed when the song climaxed. This was my beginning of a fandom for the groove and blues that made Great White!

Great White was something unique in the 80’s hair metal scene. This was the time of Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, Guns and Roses, and Metallica.  None of them had that that special groove and vocal combination of Great White.

Great White during the late 1980’s Hair Metal Scene

In the very late 80’s, probably 1989 (maybe even 1990), I had floor seats for a Scorpions show.  However, I was just as excited about the opening act – Great White.  This was a large arena show and I was in college.  I really was looking forward to seeing them for the first time.  I can still see Jack Russell sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar and dedicating “Save All Your Love” to the women whose husbands and boyfriends were in Iraq during the first Iraq War.

Great White During the 1990s

Fast forward ten years to 1999. I got another opportunity to see Great White open for Poison and Ratt on the Great Hairball tour.  Again, another arena show.  My memory from that show is me and another great friend just dancing away to “Once Bitten Twice Shy.”

Today, I still have a catalog of over 100 songs by Great White on my phone, in MP3 format.

I was very excited to get the opportunity to see Jack Russell again with his newest incarnation of Great White. But, it was still Jack Russell and that voice that was made for a smokey, blues bar. To me, he was always the heart of the band, because of his voice.

I really didn’t do much research before going to the show – I was just excited to see this band one more time and get to photograph a band I had grown up with. I didn’t know what to expect, but what I got was certainly not what I thought I might get. This was both good and bad.

Central Park Performing Arts Center

The venue, Central Park Performing Arts Center, was not a bar or a small arena, which is kind of what I expected it to be – rows of seats, like a theatre.  It was a local performing arts center, in Largo, FL – essentially in the the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.  I showed up late because I was coming from Orlando, at rush hour (over a two-hour drive).  Upon talking to the venue representative, I learned that there was no opening act and that the show had been going for about an hour. They said there were no photo restrictions and I could shoot the whole show from the audience – so I still got to shoot the show.

I walked into the venue area expecting a full house of seats (as I stated), like a theatre.  Instead, it was rows of circular tables with people sitting at them with a portable bar in the middle.  There were about 100 people at the tables and maybe another 100 up around the stage.  This was a much more intimate show than I thought I was getting. This is not much different than the crowd that shows up for a local rock show – much smaller than I expected.

I look to the stage and I see Jack Russell, but he is a very different looking person than I remember.  As I came to the stage, Jack is telling a story about being ill and that he didn’t know who he originally wrote the next song for, but he found out who only a few years ago.  It was a nurse that took care of him and he eventually married.  The band then started into “Save All Your Love.”  This was the song as I remembered it and the crowd loved every minute of it.  His singing voice was still there.

I observed the rest of the band and realized that I didn’t recognize any of them from the past.  I later learned that this was incorrect and had seen at least one of them live, in the past.

What unfolded was a journey through the hits of Great White, including House of Broken Love, Desert Moon, Mista Bone (the number one song in strip bars for the early 90’s), Rock Me, and Once Bitten Twice Shy.  Along with these hits, there were covers of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin as well.  Jack talked about the time they did a cover of Peter, Paul and Mary and told a story of “Puff the Magic Dragon” that blasted into the high screams of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” They even played two newer songs I was not familiar with – “My Addiction” and “Sign of the Times.”

This show was a shining example of the sound of Great White.  But, like I said, the man I saw on stage was not the Jack Russell I remembered.  He looked old and slightly broken, but held the stage and the fans.  He would stretch out his arms, he would hold the mic out for the crowd to sing along, interact with the band members.  But, something was not right.  He held his head low, he slumped, and I couldn’t place it.  It was as if he had an illness of some sort.  He did talk of his wife – the nurse. There had to be something, but I didn’t know what.

After the show, most all the fans stayed around to meet the band and chat.  The drummer Dicki Fliszar and bass player Dan McNay were the first to come out and shake hands.  Both literally walked the entire line of people and spoke to everyone. Then, his lead guitarist Robby Lochner came out and he did the same – giving everyone there an individual thank you for coming out.  Tony Montana then came out to greet everyone, but he went to a table to sit and sign autographs.  Lastly, Jack Russell came out. Again, this was not the man I just saw on stage.

Another observation I made is this man was hunched over and walking with a cane. It was definitely something I didn’t understand and had a hard time grasping.  It was a challenge speaking with him. I wanted to share my stories of my youth and seeing Great White several times in the past.  I hoped to share some of my photos from the evening with him (I enjoy doing that when I meet band members).  But, his attention was not there.

Upon further research, I learned a few things. Tony Montana is actually the bass player from the version of Great White I saw many years ago.  He is in various music videos, as well.  I didn’t catch it because he was on guitar now.  I also learned that Robby Lochner was critical in saving Jack Russell’s career and life.  I spoke to a gentleman waiting to meet the band and learned that Jack told a lot of stories in the portion of the show that I had missed.  My guess is that I would have been more aware of his overall story, had I gotten to the show on time.

The Jack Russell who I met in Largo, FL was a product of a very sad and unfortunate series of events that occurred in the early 2000’s.  In 2003, Jack Russell’s Great White was involved in causing a fire at The Station, a Rhode Island club, which caused the death of 100 people, including then band member, Ty Longley.  Jack essentially took the brunt of fan hatred that still lingers to this day.  In 2009, he fell and injured himself, he cracked two vertebrae and had a herniated disc.  This led to multiple back surgeries and lots of pain medications.  Add to this an addiction to alcohol. And to place one more puzzle piece, his good friend Jani Lane, vocalist of Warrant, passed away.  This all led to a downward spiral that practically cost Jack his life.

On or about 2009, Russell met his current wife and current guitarist, Robby Lochner. These two people are the reason I was lucky enough to get to see Jack Russell’s Great White one more time.  I am pleased that I did. Getting to meet the band and learning this backstory to their current incarnation of the band has added great respect from me to them.  They are working very hard to build back their fan base and personally make time for everyone that comes to their shows.

Jack Russel’s Great White band line up is Jack Russell (Vocals), Tony Montana (Guitar), Robby Lochner (Guitar), Dan McNay (Bass) and Dicki Fliszar (Drums).

 

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