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Great White Biography

Last updated: 03/10/2010 11:00:00 AM

Ah, the '80s. Hard rock ruled the Sunset Strip, guys sported longer hair and more makeup than girls, and the charts were filled with so many similarly-named rock bands that it was hard to tell the Whitesnakes from the White Lions. One band, however, managed to stand out from the crowd - and still does to this day, enduring and thriving while the others have faded into memory. That band is Great White, and great music is the reason.

Unlike many of the other acts of its genre to emerge from the Southern California scene, Great White never had to rely on a glam image or outlandish gimmicks to get noticed. Soulful, bluesy songs with tenacious grooves - brought to life by the inimitable vocals of Jack Russell and signature fretwork of Mark Kendall - were all that was needed to make a lasting impression.

I've been one of the impressed since I first saw Great White in action in 1987, opening for Night Ranger. I was living in New York at the time and had occasion to see the band play there and elsewhere (including Los Angeles and Troy, Wisconsin - site of the 1990 World Series of Rock festival), several times under various circumstances. Whether these guys were revving up Whitesnake's arena audience with Rock Me, bringing jaded Manhattanites to their feet at an outdoor Hudson River Pier concert, or hearing the deafening roar of a hometown crowd (who says L.A. is laid back?), they always delivered.

Great White first attracted local attention in 1982 for On Your Knees, a raunchy rocker from its independently-released EP, Out Of The Night, and the buzz went national once EMI snapped the band up and released the eponymous Great White in 1984. Face The Day, off the 1986 indie Shot In The Dark, stepped up the momentum, which peaked with the one-two punch of its first albums for Capitol: the platinum-plated Once Bitten (which yielded three Top Ten hits) and the Grammy®-nominated, double-platinum ...Twice Shy.

Non-stop stateside touring with the likes of Judas Priest, Twisted Sister and Ratt, and a slot on the 1988 European Monsters of Rock tour with KISS, Iron Maiden and Anthrax raised Great White's profile; by 1990, the band was headlining its own concert trek.

In the '90s, while other hard rock bands fell by the wayside in the wake of the grunge revolution, Great White prospered, mining gold in 1991 with Hooked and following it up with more memorable albums, including 1992's Psycho City. Now, as the band celebrates its second decade, the best of Great White is revisited in this new Greatest Hits collection.

Spanning the years between 1984's Stick It and 1992's Big Goodbye, this compilation includes all the essential classics...with a few twists. All of the signature tracks - like Once Bitten's Rock Me & Save Your Love and ...Twice Shy's Mista Bone & The Angel Song - are here, along with Psycho City's Big Goodbye & Old Rose Motel (written about an actual inn with an unsavory clientele). Also present is the hilarious, country-flavored Wasted Rock Ranger, an obscure B-side whose sheer collectability makes it a worthy candidate for inclusion.

The tracklist is rounded out by live cuts that showcase Great White in their natural habitat - the stage. House Of Broken Love, recorded at Great Britain's Wembley Arena in December 1989, was previously included on the stateside Desert Moon single as well as on the Live In London CD (released exclusively in Japan in 1990). Desert Moon - taken from a May 1991 performance at New York's famed Electric Ladyland studio - first appeared on the Japanese Live In New York CD that fall. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You - an homage to Led Zeppelin that was recorded acoustically for MTV Unplugged® - originally appeared on a CD5 and cassette single released in June 1990 (and on the Capitol home video Great White Unplugged in July 1990), but was never part of a domestic album release.

No Great White hits collection would be complete without Once Bitten Twice Shy (the Ian Hunter cover that earned the band a Grammy® nomination), the rollicking Hooked track Call It Rock N' Roll, or Face The Day, the track whose original incarnation was largely responsible for securing the band's deal with Capitol. L.A. radio station KLOS' #2 Song Of The Year in 1986, it became so inextricably associated with Great White's early success that few realize it was borrowed from a little-known Australian outfit called Angels From Angel City. The blues version that appears here is taken from a 1987 three-song, cassette-only release.

Of course, the 14 tracks that comprise Greatest Hits can't possibly tell the complete story, primarily because it's still being written. Great White continues to tour into the new millennium, recently doing so in support of their 1999 release Can't Get There From Here - the latest addition to a catalog that has sold 4 million singles and albums in the U.S. alone. The band also performs occasional Led Zeppelin cover sets, repaying a debt to the band that obviously inspired them from the very beginning.

Despite several shifts in its lineup over the years, Great White's blues-based hard rock is as reliable as ever, as is the promise of greater hits to come.

- Gerri Miller, February 2001