GREAT WHITE -
Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1981; released self-financed EP Out of the Night
, 1982; released On Your Knees
on the Enigma label, 1982; major-label debut, Great White
, 1984; Shot in the Dark
, 1986; Once Bitten
, 1987; Recovery: Live!
1988; Twice Shy
, 1989; Grammy nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance for "Once Bitten, Twice Shy,"
1990; released Hooked,
1991; Psycho City
, 1992; Best of Great White
: 1986-1992, 1993; released albums on independent labels throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.
The heavy metal band Great White, popular in the 1980s, enjoyed modest success through the 1990s and into the 2000s playing in smaller venues and recording for independent labels. The band found itself in the spotlight once again when a Rhode Island nightclub at which it was playing was swept by fire on February 20, 2003, killing almost 100 audience members and one of the band members, guitarist Ty Longley.
Great White came together in 1978 in the Los Angeles area, the brainchild of singer Jack Russell. The group played blues-influenced hard rock
in the style of Led Zeppelin, updated for the MTV generation. The band was first known as Dante Fox, and its original lineup consisted of Russell on vocals, Mark Kendall on guitar, Lorne Black on bass, and Gary Holland on drums. Playing first in small local clubs, the band gained a following, moving up
to larger venues and changing its name to Great White along the way.
The band's first recording was an EP called Out of the Night, which was produced by Don Dokken, founder of the band Dokken, and financed by the group in 1982. Another record,On Your Knees, quickly followed in the same year. The EMI record label signed the band on the strength of these releases, but dropped it after sales of its first recording with the label, Great White, failed to meet expectations.
After leaving EMI, Great White moved to Capitol Records, and there its fortunes soared, and the group enjoyed widespread popularity throughout the rest of the decade. Great White's fourth album (and first Capitol release) Once Bitten hit the Billboard Top 30 chart in 1987. The band also picked up a Grammy nomination in 1990 for Best Hard Rock Performance for "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" on its followup Twice Shy album, released in 1989. Other songs for which the band became well known included "Face the Day," "Rock Me," and "Save Your Love." The group's last successful Capitol recording was Hooked, which was released in 1991.
At its peak, they were the main event at 20,000- to 60,0000-seat arenas and shared the stage with top bands such as Kiss and Iron Maiden. Great White became popular in an era of "hair metal" bands who filled football stadiums and dominated MTV playing loud music and sporting wild hairdos and heavy makeup. Most of these bands fell out of favor and even stopped playing when this era drew to a close. Great White, however, found a way to keep playing, perhaps because unlike many other popular metal bands of the time, they focused first and foremost on the music they played, instead of merely cultivating a flashy image. The band turned to smaller clubs as their bread and butter, touring in lesser venues and cutting albums on independent record labels after being dropped by Capitol Records in the early 1990s.
Simply surviving through changing times was a feat that eluded many other bands popular in the 1980s. As record company executive Tom Lipsky told Geoff Edgers in the Boston Globe, "A lot of people slammed the '80s bands for being about hair and makeup and not about music. But there are a lot of bands that came and went and cannot tour today to save their lives. You can like or dislike their music but when somebody does something that, 15 years later, still allows them to make a living and record, they're doing something right."
Russell, who stayed with the band from is inception through its heyday and fall from grace in the 1990s, quit the band in 2001 to start a solo career. The group staged a farewell concert on New Year's Eve, 2001, in Santa Ana, California. Russell's solo album, For You, received strong reviews and some radio play, but he and fellow Great White founder Mark Kendall rejoined after little more than a year apart to revive Great White. The band, with its new lineup, including new members Dave Filice on bass, Eric Powers on drums, and guitarist Ty Longley, launched a 30-club tour in the winter of 2002-03.
Tragedy struck while the band was on this new tour, which they dubbed "Play On 2003." The Station, a nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, was packed for the band's performance on February 20, 2003. The show featured pyrotechnics--three spinning wheels of sparks that were harmless if they struck people, but that could ignite flammable materials. At the start of the band's show, the pyrotechnics went off, shooting sparks at the ceiling over the stage. The sound insulation behind the band caught fire, and from there the blaze spread rapidly to the nightclub walls.
Many fans at first thought the flames were part of the show, and panic did not strike until the ceiling caught fire. The wooden nightclub was engulfed in flame almost immediately, trapping the audience, band, and crew inside. Because of a loophole in Rhode Island law, the building was not required to have a sprinkler system, and the blaze swept through the building unchecked. Michael Powell and Christopher Lee of the Washington Post called the fire "one of the worst such tragedies in the nation's history." Among the dead was guitarist Ty Longley, who had joined the band in 2000.
Accusations flew between the surviving members of Great White and the nightclub's owners. Club owners claimed that the band did not have permission to use pyrotechnics during its show, while the band claimed that the club owners had been duly informed and had presented no objections. Fire department officials said that neither the band nor the nightclub had applied for the required permits before setting off pyrotechnics, and furthermore, that no permits would have been granted because of the size and construction of the nightclub.
After a two-month hiatus following the fire, the surviving members of Great White again took to the stage, this time in a benefit concert in West Hollywood, California, with proceeds donated to members of Longley's family. Before the concert began, Russell announced that Great White was planning a tour of 55 cities, with proceeds to benefit family members of all of the people who died in the Rhode Island fire. The fans responded to this effort. One survivor of the fire spoke to a Knight Ridder/Tribune reporter outside one of the post-fire benefit concerts. "We're all part of what happened that night. They're doing their best to help kids who lost families ... they should be raised up a little instead of put down."
"They feel like they lost 99 fans and friends," explained Great White attorney Edwin F. McPherson to Bob Baker in the Los Angeles Times. "The only thing they know how to do is play music, and that's what they've decided to do to help."
Members include Mark Kendall (group member, 1981-2000, 2002-), guitar; Michael Lardie (joined group, mid-1980s), guitar; Jordan Martin (joined group, 2003), guitar; Derrick Pontier (joined group, 2003), drums; Scott Pounds (joined group, 2003), bass; Jack Russell
, vocals. Former members include Lorne Black (left group, mid-1980s), bass; Teddy Cook, bass; Audie Desbrow (group member, 1986-2000), drums; Dave Filice, bass; Gary Holland (group member, 1981-86), drums; Ty Longley (died on February 20, 2003, in West Warwick, Rhode Island), guitar; Sean McNabb (group member, 1999-2000), bass; Tony Montana (group member, 1987-92), bass; Eric Powers, drums; Francis Ruiz, drums.