It’s a wonderful thing to experience a creative soul at work. To watch a painter’s brush strokes slowly change a blank canvas into multi-layered image, and see that happen over and over again with a different beautiful result each time. To see a sculptor’s hands mold ugly lumps of nondescript clay into delicate pieces of art that are both stunning and useful, or listen to a musical project with a many faceted sound structure. Jack White strikes me as that kind of musician, continually moving forward to the next project, adding layers to his sound, but never losing the nuances that he’s fostered through his experiences.
It all started in Detroit in the mid-seventies. Jack White, born as John Anthony Gilles on July 9th 1975, the youngest son in a family of ten children, grew up in a Catholic family and by age 14 had thoughts of entering the seminary. But instead of pursuing a life in the priesthood, Jack White followed his other true calling, the urge to lead a musical life.
White learned at a very young age to play the drums, and later the guitar and piano. His interest in Rhythm and Blues, as well as Rock and Roll, led him to writing his first musical compositions before starting high school. His first paid gig was in the early nineties as a drummer in a Detroit cowpunk band. In The mid-nineties John Anthony Gillis married Meg White and agreed to take her surname, giving birth to Jack White.
In 1997, Jack and Meg White formed the White Stripes, an influential band in the underground rock scene in Detroit. By 2002, the White Stripes had risen to prominence in the garage band revival scene, their wonderfully raw lo-fi sound a blend of garage rock and blues. The band released numerous albums: The White Stripes, The Stijl, White Blood Cells, Elephant, Get
Behind Me Satan, and Icky Thump, before dissolving in 2011. Jack and Meg were divorced in 2000, but continued to perform, saying to the press that they were siblings to avoid the distractions of explaining their break-up. This ruse worked for quite some time until the band became very popular, at which time the truth that they were a divorced couple became known.
The Raconteurs formed in 2006, with members of several band coming together for the project: Jack White, Jack Lawrence of The Greenhornes and Blanch, Patrick Keeler of The Greenhornes, and solo performer Brendan Benson. The Raconteurs official website says that “the seed was sown in an attic in the middle of a hot summer when friends Jack White and Brendan Benson got together and wrote a song that truly inspired them. This song was “Steady, As She Goes” and the inspiration led to the creation of a full band with the addition of Lawrence and Keeler.” In this setting, Jack White’s sound is more muted and acoustic, with elements of folk and bluegrass sometimes present instead of the full bore rock sound of The White Stripes. The Raconteurs released two albums, Broken Boy Soldier and Consolers of The Lonely, before the band went on hiatus in 2011.
Another meeting of musical minds happened in 2009 with the formation of Dead Weather. The band’s line-up features the front-woman of The Kills, Alison Mosshart, The Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence, Queens of the Stone Age keyboardist and guitarist Dean Fertita, and Jack White on drums with vocal duties. The sound is noticeably different with White on drums.
In part, due to the success of The White Stripes, Jack White began collaborating with renowned musicians including Beck, The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Alicia Keyes, Bob Dylan, Wanda Jackson, Electric Six and Loretta Lynn; and he continued pursuing a solo career in 2012 with the release of his first solo recording Blunderbuss, a recording which garnered critical acclaim, and includes many styles from ballad to up-tempo rock.
With the release of his new album Lazaretto, Jack White continues in the mold of Blunderbuss, crafting a recording of many styles. He told Rolling Stone magazine in a February 2013 interview, while he was working on the album, “…it’s definitely not one sound. It’s definitely several. Like you heard in Blunderbuss, there’re many styles there. I don’t pick my style and then write a song. I just write whatever comes out of me, and whatever style it is what it is, and it becomes something later.”
The styles on Lazaretto include up-tempo edgy rock, semi-acoustic folk rock, fire-breathing guitar instrumentals, in the pocket anthem rock, and oddly wonderful piano-based tracks.The music on Lazaretto was partially inspired by short stories and plays written by White when he was a teenager, an attempt to approach songwriting from a different angle. All the tunes are solid musically and lyrically. It’s album of music that’s great fun to listen to, even when it gets loud.
In between all these projects, Jack White has also appeared on camera in the movie Cold Mountain (and played on the soundtrack), as well as been featured in It Might Be Loud, a film in which he, Jimmy Page, and The Edge discuss the electric guitar and each artist’s different playing methods.
It seems that Jack White exemplifies in life the unbound energy he puts forth in his recordings, including his latest effort Lazaretto. We can only wonder about what’s next for Jack White. Whatever it may be, it will be intensely creative.
Paul Gerardi co-hosts the Folk Show, heard Sunday evenings from 6pm-9pm on JPR’s Rhythm & News service and at www.ijpr.org.