Great White, RATT, other '80s mainstays to bring tour to Azteca Music Hall
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
For some bands — and their fans — the '80s never died.
But Jack Russell's Great White (I'll explain the band's extended name in a bit) isn't resting on the laurels of "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" thanks to an album expected to drop in early 2017.
But the band is taking part in a massive night of hair metal when it joins RATT, Winger, Lita Ford and Firehouse for a concert at 6 p.m.
Saturday Friday at Azteca Music Hall, 500 N. Farm-to-Market 1912. Tickets are $38. (Correction: The story originally said Saturday. We're sorry for the error.)
"We're all really good friends and have all hung out together (for years)," Russell said in a phone interview last week.
Though they all found national fame during the height of the MTV era, Russell said he actually blames the (then) music channel for "the downfall of rock."
"I said it was going to be great for a while, that we would ride the roller coaster for a while ... but that can't last," he said. "Eventually, it's going to become something it's not, just like everything does."
The band formed in 1977 in Los Angeles under the name "Highway," but Russell was convicted for shooting a maid during a botched robbery and sentenced to prison. After he served 18 months of his eight-year sentence, he was released and rejoined the band, where he remained as a mainstay throughout most of the next four decades.
The band — and Russell, too — weathered more than a little hardship in the ensuing years, so much so that their Wikipedia page is a fascinating read. Suffice it to say that, thanks to a dispute between longtime bandmates, there are two Great Whites out there these days.
It was Russell's band, though, that was performing at The Station in Rhode Island when the nightclub caught fire in 2003 during a pyrotechnics display in the band's set, killing 100 people, including guitarist Ty Longley.
"People, fortunately or unfortunately, (have) a very short memory," Russell said. "This is why I think the younger generation of bands don't do well. The lifetime of a band is about the length of a fart, and I'm not talking a long one.
"They're mostly one-hit wonders (today). It sucks," Russell said. "There's no longevity, no audiences.
"(But) I'm able to go out and play to people I've played for for 30-something years, and they still come out and they still kick it, and their kids, too, because their mom and dad are into it," he continued. "It's coming around again, like bell bottoms did, which I couldn't believe."
Russell said he thinks rock is due for a revival, which the band hopes to capitalize on by releasing new single "Blame It on the Night" last month and, in the next month or two, the full-length album Sign of the Times.
"We're really excited, man," Russell said. "The album's just great. It's eclectic ... (and has) some really powerful stuff on there. ... I've played it for a number of people, my close friends who won't lie to me, and they say it's amazing."
Getting new music out to audiences "is something I haven't done in a long time," he said. "Getting down with a pen and pencil and sitting down with the guitar player and starting constructing this emotional ball into a song, you know, it's like taking nothing and making something out of it."
For at least part of the album, Russell is mining his own demons, including his years-long struggle with drug and alcohol that feed the song "My Addiction."
"This one is about as autobiographical as you can get," he said. "It's so close to me that it's down to the bare bones."
Within the last year, Russell was in a coma for five days after drinking himself into liver failure.
"Fortunately, they yanked me back somehow," he said. "The doctor told me, 'You know, you are so lucky. ... If you don't heed my warning, you're going to die. If you drink again, you're going to die. It may not be the first time, it may not be the second time, but it's going to happen.'"
Russell had seen his friend Jani Lane of Warrant succumb to alleged acute alcohol poisoning in 2011 and said he didn't want to follow in those footsteps.
"I'm so happy to not be drinking again," Russell said. "I love it when I'm sober. Life just comes together. It was getting worse, to the point where I was being physically violent, which I never was (before)."
Staying sober "is not hard for me when I set my mind to it. ... Nothing sounds remotely good. You look at it and kind of see the skull-and-crossbones on it like it's poisonous, which it is for me.
"I had enough alcohol for four or five people."