I used to HATE Jack White. The White Stripes blew up when I was in high school, maybe it happened earlier there than everywhere else in the world because they’re from Detroit which is only a half hour away from where I grew up in Toledo. Anyway, as a bass player, I was immediately put off by the idea that they didn’t think that position was important enough to fill in their band, even though I was pretty sure there was bass on some of the tracks. I also didn’t really like the schtick with the red, white and black color scheme and “are they siblings or married?” talk in regards to band members Meg and Jack White. But the most damning thing in my opinion was a Guitar World interview with Jack where he badmouthed blues players. That was it for me. Fast forward a decade or so and now I can’t get enough of White, The White Stripes or The Raconteurs (I haven’t gotten into The Dead Weather yet, but I will).
So, why did my opinions change so drastically? Well, first off, I hope I’m not as a judgmental asshole as I used to be in high school. But, even more importantly was watching It Might Get Loud, one of the (if not the) best musical and most interesting rock and roll documentaries I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it (and you really should it’s on Netflix Instant right now!) the conceit was to get three very different kinds of rock and roll guitar players from different generations to tell their stories separately and then get together to talk about records and play music. The three musicians are Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page who I love, U2’s The Edge who I don’t care for (technically, I don’t care for the band, he’s fine) and Jack White. I really appreciated seeing White talk about working as an upholsterer while coming up in the Detroit music scene and even now he does things not to make life easier on himself, but to test his limits. Whether he’s playing with a guitar that is forever going out of tune or putting the microphone a few more feet away from the keyboard, the man seems dead set on challenging himself when it seems like most rock stars decide to take the easy road. I can respect that. There’s something very bluesy about his mindset and hardworking, which comes straight out of the Midwest or really any cold place where people have to work hard for their money.
I was such a fan of the movie and White’s after watching it, that I immediately went out and picked up one of the two Raconteurs records (I honestly can’t remember which one I bought first) and then got the next one. Of course, I’m talking about 2005’s Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008’s Consolers Of The Lonely both of which I have become a huge fan of and have been on regular rotation ever since. How great is “Steady As She Goes”? Super freaking great, but the thing I like most about these two records is how broad they are. You start of with a pretty straight forward rock song like “Steady” and then from there it’s all over the place. The songs might seem disparate at times, but there’s an earthiness to the proceedings that tie all the tracks together. I actually got a Beatles vibe from the records because of all the different elements and kinds of songs, which is not a compliment I offer lightly.
From there I went back to The White Stripes and wound up getting their first album, The White Stripes (1999), and their most recent studio record Icky Thump (2007). Stripes has a lot of raw energy to it which you might expect to have faded by their last record, but that’s not what I see. If anything, I see musicians who have gotten more comfortable with each other (in a good way, not a lazy way) and who have decided to branch playing more kinds of music. I’m nowhere near an expert on the band, only having watched It Might Good Loud and the band’s Canadian tour film Under Great White Northern Lights, and like I said, I’ve only got two of their records, but I feel like I’ve got a handle on the mindset behind the music (at least as much as White is willing to show). He’s a hardworking man with a love for music of all kinds and isn’t afraid to push himself to try and make that music better, which is a huge part of UGWL. Not only do we get more behind the scenes type goodness, but also White’s desire to play shows in unexpected places, to play for people who aren’t fans and to hopefully turn some of those people into fans. I guess that’s what he did to me, so mission accomplished!
From here I’m keeping my eyes open for the White Stripes records I don’t have and getting into The Dead Weather (the fact that he’s a multi-instrumentalist is also impressive) as well as keeping my eyes peeled for other projects he might have in the works, like when he gave Conan O’Brien and his then-touring band a place to record or, well, really anything else the man has planned. He might literally be the hardest working man in rock and roll at the moment, in a time when most people are using their success to make things easier, White’s making himself work harder, even bringing his talent to other artists through his Third Man Records. Anyone with a work ethic like that, is aces in my book, ten year old remarks about the blues aside.