By Jeb Wright
Great White guitarist Mark Kendall has had one a wild ride, from achieving greatness in the hard rocking era of the 1980’s music world, to emotional lows, including the tragic Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, and facing his own demons of addiction.
Through it all, Kendall has learned a lot about himself, and a lot about life. A caring and thoughtful man, Mark is finally, once again, excited about the future of his band, Great White. It comes, however, with much controversy, something everyone has come to expect from the group.
After suffering for years with the on again and off again addictions of vocalist Jack Russell, the band replaced their lead singer with former XYZ vocalist Terry Ilous. With one studio album, Elation, under their belts, Great White has now released a live album celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band aptly titled, 30 Years: Live from the Sunset Strip.
In this interview, guitarist Mark Kendall, discusses, in-depth, the new album and why they have recently remixed the album Elation with famed studio wizard George Tutko. Kendall also discusses the early Sunset Strip rock scene, including the when he saw Van Halen in concert for the price of one dollar.
Jeb: Before we talk about the new live album, you have the remixes of Elation finished. How did the remixes come to be?
Mark: It just kind of presented itself with George Tutko by accident. Terry knew him. We were thinking that the ballad on the album could be better. Terry said that he knew this guy who did one album with XYZ and that he also did a bunch of stuff with Rod Stewart, Boston, John Mellencamp and Duran Duran—really classic and legendary albums. It was a huge opportunity for us. Terry said he would do it really cheap, or even for free.
George did the ballad “Hard to Say Goodbye” and I could not believe how he made it sound; he is such a pro. I thought that we should do the whole record. Everyone was into it so we brought him into the production team. What is wrong with having a heavy hitter? He made the album sound so much more vibrant. I am really blown away.
When we did the album the first time we were really rushed. I remember we mixed three songs in one day. We had to get it done, or we would miss a deadline and the album would have been delayed for three months. Our backs were again the wall and we were going crazy. After George did the ballad, we asked him to do the whole record. He told us that he got two of his biggest gigs the same way. He did a song for Boston and they were so happy with the sound that they had him remix the entire album. The same thing happened with Duran Duran. They were doing one song for a video and they had him remix one song and they liked it so well he was hired to remix the entire album.
I have had some conversations with him and asked him how he got so good. He told me it was from working with great people like Roy Thomas Baker. He engineered the really big Cars records that Roy produced. I really am anxious to hear your take on the remixes. You will have to email me and tell me what you think. I will email you the tracks right now while I’m talking to you.
Jeb: If I had one thing I would have changed on the original mix it would be to bring the guitars up more.
Mark: Sure, and you know, it was a timing issue. It wasn’t perfect. We understood that. Now, the record is great and we are all happy with it.
Jeb: The fans need to understand that you didn’t do this because you were unhappy with the original mix.
Mark No, not at all. We might as well call the Guinness Record Book people because we did everything in 35 days. We recorded, mixed, mastered and wrote it all in 35 days. We were very happy with it; we really did good. We just got this chance to make it better with someone with fresh ears and a fresh approach and who is mega pro. When I hear “Little Pink Houses” on the radio, I go, “That’s the guy who mixed our album!”
Jeb: Are the new mixes for sale yet?
Mark: The record company is going to make a really cheap offer for the remixes and I think people are really going to dig it. All of the radio stations have gotten them, but the fans have not had a chance to get them yet. It is really kind of selfish, as we just love hearing these mixes.
Michael Lardie is a brilliant producer and I don’t want to make it sound like I am unhappy with anything. All I am saying is that it is 2013 and we have worked with one of the best.
Bands like Van Halen and the Scorpions change producers and do remixes and they enjoy that, and that is all we are doing. We just wanted to see what it would be like to work with George and we are all very happy that we did.
Jeb: How did the remix process work?
Mark: George is in Memphis, so we did everything by emails. We would burn CDs and then listen to them in my truck, where I listen to a lot of music. It was almost like I was able to step outside of the painting, as it was in someone else’s hand. It was easier for me to make comments about it.
When you’re in the studio it can be harder to make some comments, as everyone is right there. I had more confidence with my suggestions and I was able to ask his opinion if he thought I was right. There was one case where I was so close to the song and I had this harmony lead, but he was featuring the wrong part of the harmony and I did not like it so much. I told him that and he got that. He said, “Oh you want to take that Japanese thing out of there. I can see that.” There were a couple of moments like that, but for the most part he totally got it.
Jeb: You have the live album out, as well, that was recorded at the Key Club.
Mark: The Key Club used to be called Gazzarri's. Van Halen used to play there. It was most known for cover bands and Van Halen played covers back then. They might sneak one original in now and then, but they were mostly cover songs. It was incredible as they were the best band around. They had a big musician type following.
The first time I saw them play, they played three blocks from my house and I paid one dollar to get in. A friend of mine told me I had to check out this new guitar player. I walked to the gig and paid my one dollar. When I walked in Alex was doing a drum solo and Roth was blowing in a tube to his floor tom to make the pitch go up and down; that was my very first experience with Van Halen.
You could tell right away they were amazing. He didn’t have the whammy bar going on back then. I think he was playing a Les Paul Jr. He played outside of the box even back then. If they played a Cream song or a Robin Trower song, Eddie would play a solo his own way, with his classic sound. He could play the original solos note-for-note, but he would also do his own thing. In fact, I heard that Eddie would do the first solo just like the record, and on the second one, he would do his own Eddie type of solo. No matter what songs they covered it always sounded like Van Halen. They had something going on. It was neat to watch it grow. We were in our little band and we had a dream, but you had never seen it happen for anybody. When they got a record deal I was the happiest guy on earth, as I saw that it could really happen. It was no longer a pipe dream, as I knew if you worked hard and got out there then you could really make it happen.
Jeb: Did you ever play Gazzarri's?
Mark: I only played there one time. It was before Jack [Russel] was in the band. It was Dante Fox, but we had another singer. When I first got together with Jack, he got into a little bit of trouble and got sent off to teenager prison, if you will. When that happened, everyone took off and I had no band. I put ads out and got a bass player and I auditioned a few drummers, but they were terrible. I ended up calling my old drummer back, who was Tony Richards. He ended up being in W.A.S.P. We got rid of him later on for other reasons.
We had a chick singer in the band back then. George Lynch stole our chick singer from us. George was in a band called Exciter and he was at some club where we played and he saw her, and she was really good, and he stole her out of our band. Now, I didn’t have a singer. We got this other guy and he was good. He was like a Rob Halford type of guy. We were pretty heavy then.
They had a Sunday night gig at Gazzarri's and we played there for that gig. It was an all original special type of gig. I only played there that one night and they actually painted a mural of me next to Eddie Van Halen, Huey Lewis and Nikki Sixx. Jim Morrison was up there too. For them to include me in that was pretty neat.
We started out playing in backyards like Van Halen did. We ended up having some originals and we wanted to bring it to Hollywood and play the Troubadour, the Whisky A Go Go and the Starwood. We played all of those places. It was the legendary Sunset Strip.
Jeb: And you returned there to record the 30 year anniversary.
Mark: They revamped the place and called it the Key Club and it has good production and a really nice PA. It is set up way better than it used to be. We decided to bring it back to the Sunset Strip and celebrate the thirty years that way. You have got to realize the history behind that area. The Doors started there. Way back, the Byrds and bands like that were there. We thought it was a good way to celebrate it. We had a lot of our friends and fans come down and we brought the video cameras down and recorded the show. It was a good night.
Jeb: Was it pro shot?
Mark: We had multiple cameras and we are going to release it on DVD. It will follow the live album.
Jeb: Terry is a great singer. As far as a pure vocalist, he is better than Jack. I love Jack’s vocals so don’t get me wrong. I am just saying Terry has amazing pipes.
Mark: I can’t believe how good Terry sings; it’s scary. His voice melts into my guitar and it is crazy cool. Now that I know his strengths I can’t wait to do another record. I want to get into some heavy riffs as he is very powerful with bluesy, heavy rock. I really dig him.
Jeb: You can really hear how good he is, as these are the classic tunes so you can compare them. His accent threw me a bit between songs, but he is great. He is not a puppet and a clone but he can do it.
Mark: We didn’t get a clone. We were not looking for a sound alike guy. We didn’t want to be going, “Okay, number 37, you’re up. How much do you sound like Jack?” We really liked Terry and when Jack couldn’t return we stayed with Terry. He is really good and he brings a lot of positive energy to the band. He writes and he is motivated to get us to the next level. He is very involved and he is always pushing us.
It blew my mind when I heard his accent. He has a radical accent, but when he sings it just goes away. Robert Plant has that British accent when he talks, but when he sings you don’t hear the accent and you don’t hear Terry’s either when he sings.
Jeb: I have not seen Great White with Terry. What will a fan see when they see Terry leading the band from the stage?
Mark: They will see absolutely frightening energy from Terry. He gets the crowd out of their minds. By song three they are going ape. He brings the crowd right into the show and makes them really get into it. He doesn’t have scripted things he says every night. He is just a lot of fun. I’ve never had so much fun and I’ve never looked forward to playing as I do now. We are not going through the motions. He really knows how to let the kid out and jam. We do something different every night and that makes it a lot of fun. If you are going to play everything verbatim, every night from your albums, then you’re going to end up going through the motions. I just can’t wait to get out there every night.
Jeb: Was there a learning curve with Terry?
Mark: What made it a little easier was that for the first 90 shows, or so, he was filling in for Jack. By the time Jack couldn’t come back we had played in certain markets two, or three, times and people had already accepted them. It was a gradual change. He was filling in for our ailing singer, who was struggling with all of his demons, so he had less pressure on him because he was a fill in singer. So, that helped him when the time came for him to be the permeate singer.
Jeb: I don’t want to slag Jack, because I love him in Great White. But we know what happened and all of the issues. Great White was not having fun at the end with Jack. Did you ever think it would be fun again?
Mark: Just to be brutally honest, it was not fun because there was so much drama attached to everything. I get it because I work with addicts every day. My sobriety has quality to it because I am giving back. I work with MusiCares and I help people who are struggling.
I get addiction. When you are watching someone self-destruct and you’re trying to have fun at the same time, then the fun is really hard to get to. We were dealing with someone who was fighting demons. He was having a hard time getting it, if you will. It was hard on everyone. Even the fans were going, “What are you doing having this guy out here in this condition?” as if we were forcing him to come out. He was insisting on coming out. I remember playing a gig in Canada and he actually was falling asleep onstage. I went behind him where the crowd couldn’t see me and literally slapped him on his back to wake him up. We were only five songs into the set and he was falling asleep. It was tough. You get so used to the drama that it is normal. When you start out you go to your hotel, you do interviews and you go play the show. When you have to insert urgent care and shots of Demerol and falling down and all of that, then it hinders everything. It makes it hard on everyone.
When that all went away and we got this healthy dude in Terry, who is into martial arts and doesn’t smoke cigarettes and we are all sober as the day we are born, then we just started making music and enjoying our families, and our fans, and our gigs again. We don’t leave anywhere that we play without having everything signed and all of the pictures are taken. We are having fun again and it is a blast. Everything is so easy; I had forgotten how easy it can be. It is really not so tough. When you have someone struggling then it really can make it tough.
It was not like Jack and I got into a drop down drag out fight and that we were done with each other. It was not like we could not take each other anymore. It was just the case of addiction winning. I work with addicts all the time and I try to help them. I tried to help Jack. I took him to my pastor and I had him baptized, but he was high at the time. It was a little bit of a dog and pony show, but I get it. If you’re not ready to get sober then you’re not going to do it. You can’t get clean for other people; you have to quit for yourself. To have success in recovery then you need to do it for yourself. The problems will take care of itself in time. You can’t do it because your kids want it, or to save your marriage. You give yourself the best chance to be successful if you do it for yourself.
Jeb: Let’s talk about some of the songs on the live album. We can talk about them being played that night, or a story from the old days. The first song is “Desert Moon.”
Mark: We opened with that song, as it is a good old fashioned rocker. It was a good way to come out of the gate. Lately we have been opening with “I’ve Got Something for You.” We’ve got a new intro tape and I go into it. “Desert Moon” is what I call a turntable hit. It was never a huge hit, even though we made a video for it. I don’t think it was a Top 10 hit, or anything, but it is a great song.
Jeb: “Lady Red Light” is next. Terry sounds great on this.
Mark: He takes really good care of himself and he can hit all of those notes.
Jeb: “Face the Day.”
Mark: That song has a lot of history. Alan Niven was really a genius and he really helped mold the band; he really helped us. In our heyday, he basically wrote all of our lyrics. Jack might come in and do a weird word, or phrase, here and there. Alan always gave him credit because Alan didn’t want him to feel alienated from the songwriting process. Alan always had great ideas. He really brought out a lot in me and got me into my influences. I was into Johnny Winter and Eric Clapton. I was in a band when I was 14 that played nothing but Santana. We didn’t consider ourselves a tribute band. We just liked Santana so much that is all we played.
Alan introduced me to the blues. I came up with the riff for “Rock Me” and you could really start hearing a blues influence in our music. It was really comfortable for me. If it had not been for Alan then that would not have happened. He was really the guy that developed us. He was really familiar with British bands and he knew a lot of music history.
He told us about this band called Angel City who never broke because everyone wrote them off as an AC/DC clone. They had this song called “Face the Day” and Alan brought it to us. He knew the band and they didn’t have a problem with us covering the song.
We had left EMI and we made Shot in the Dark and he presented us with that song and we dug it. It was a little bit of a radio hit. It got the attention of Capital Records. EMI basically dropped us. Capital was the parent company of EMI. It was ironic that the baby label of Capital records dropped us because we were horrible and we couldn’t sell any records and then the parent company liked us and wanted to give us a second chance. That song was another Niven idea that was golden and, without that happening, who knows what would have happened.
Jeb: Next up is “House of Broken Love.”
Mark: That has another pretty funny story to it. Right after Alan started working with Guns ‘N Roses, there was another band who he tried to develop, but they were just a little shy of making it; something was missing.
Everyone was moping around one day because a couple of guys had their girlfriends leave them, or something. This guy walks in the door and this guy says, “What is this? The house of broken love?” Alan goes, “Ching!” Jack goes, “Whoa, that’s a great title.” Alan barreled the lyrics out and the song came from there. You never know where a phrase will come from.
Jeb: “Save Your Love” is in the middle of the set. I would have thought that would be an encore.
Mark: We’ve actually have done “Save Your Love” as an encore. I always envision a set of a songs as a song within itself. You come out of the gates screaming, then, you vamp them down and, then, take them out on a high note. When we put a set together I am thinking in the same dynamics of making a song. I think of it a lot like the song “Rock Me.”
It didn’t bother me that we put “Save Your Love” in that spot. When you hear a band live and every song has that straight ahead rock thing, then after four, or five, songs in, they are still doing it, then you get over it. Either you need to do something slower, or faster, or have the singer grab an acoustic and play a Bob Dylan song. You want a dynamic change. We like to give some different looks in our show.
Jeb: “Mista Bone” is a great song to follow it.
Mark: “Mista Bone” is cool. Since that live album we have come up with an intro where we really take off on it. It happened by accident one night when I just started playing a blues lick. We will just jam for no apparent reason that we preplanned, or talked about in the dressing room. I will just start a jam and everyone will look at me and go with it. Things like that happen and it makes it fun for the crowd and fun for us.
Jeb: “The Big Goodbye.”
Mark: That is one of Aussie’s favorites and he brought that up. Every once in a while we like to bring a song into the set that we’ve not played in a while. We are currently thinking of bringing back “Gonna Getcha” or “Move It” or “All Over Now.” The B sides can be fun to play. They were not songs on the level like “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” but the fans always dug them, as album cuts.
Jeb: The next song is like that; “Back to the Rhythm.”
Mark: When we did Can’t Get There from Here, Michael and Jack went to Jack Blades just to trip out on his studio. When Jack is around a guitar he will write four songs in twenty minutes. Jack Blades has more any energy than any fourteen year old.
Jack co-wrote that song and he wrote a lot of the lyrics on the record. He would say to Jack, “Go write a line about a friend you used to party with.” Jack would do that and he would make a song out of it. He would give him direction. Jack Blades can make a story up that never happened and make it like it was the truth. He has a brilliant mind. He can really put pictures in your head with his lyrics. We got outside of the box a little bit and worked with him. It was a neat experience to work with Blades.
I was looking at his walls and went, “How come you have these Aerosmith platinum records and Motley Crue platinum records on your walls?” He said that he had either written this song, or that song, or that he sang on the album. I didn’t know he did all of that. He writes a lot of music for people. I heard he was a staff writer at Sony back in the day. He is a songwriting machine.
Jeb: “Rock Me” really made it so you didn’t have to go back to the day job.
Mark: That is a good analogy. “Rock Me” was a really big song. To me, it was very dangerous for us to do that song. We had never had true hit songs before that. I was paranoid about putting that song out was because it was seven minutes long. We were not an established band and we were putting out this really long song. I thought it was taking a huge chance to put out a song that was that long, as a band that never had a hit and expect the radio to play it. Now, I sound like an old paranoid Grandma. At the time I thought that if that song didn’t get played at least we had “Lady Red Light.” The record company believed in the song and they were right.
Jeb: In hindsight do you see why it became a hit?
Mark: Sure. I thought it was a great song too. I really liked the dynamics on it and the arrangement was perfect. I just thought it was too long for radio to play. We were not AC/DC or someone who they would never question. It ended up working.
Jeb: You have a nice ten minute jam on the live album with “Can’t Shake It.”
Mark: I had a lot of friends there that night and I was probably showing off. I am a pool player; it is my hobby. I actually compete aganst some of the better players in California. A couple of my pool buddies, who had never seen us live, came to see us that night and I kind of showed off and went crazy. I was just having fun.
Jeb: “Once Bitten Twice, Shy” ends the album. If you had never done that song what would have happened to Great White’s career?
Mark: I think we were established by that time. We would have probably done another song and had a hit. This was the case of Alan Niven being a brilliant visionary. We had an album called Once Bitten… and the obvious follow up was …Twice Shy.
He knew of the song and he told us we should cover it. We were not totally blow away by it. We thought it was pretty cool, but I didn’t think it would be a single, or anything. Sure enough, the record company insisted on it. It is confirmed that I can’t pick a single to save my life. I can hear it in someone else’s songs, but not ours. I just let someone else do it. If it works don’t fix it.
Jeb: Today is the tenth anniversary of the Station nightclub fire where 100 Great White fans lost their lives. In that day, so many lives were changed forever.
Mark: I was there. I had not been on that tour, but Jack was having problems with ticket sales and his manager called me to come out and try to save the tour. Just a couple weeks into it is when the tragedy happened. I am very, very close to a lot of people in Rhode Island.
I couldn’t sleep last night; I maybe slept an hour. My wife and I are always down around the anniversary, but this, being the ten year anniversary, has really had an impact on me. This morning I got up really early and sent a lot of prayers to a lot of people that are surviving victims and started the Station Family Fund. We talk every day and there is a lot of love and support between us. They are wonderful people and we are very good friends. They are what has got me through. I prayed with my pastor for what seemed like endless days. I saw three psychotherapists and one psychiatrist over time. Talking with Victory Potvin, Todd King and Linda Fisher, and others, has really helped me heal. When we get together we all hug each other. It is the greatest thing to have that support and fellowship. There are a lot of wounds.
I was a witness to all of that and it was just a horrible, horrible tragedy. It is something that you can’t even imagine. You really can’t imagine the magnitude of witnessing something so horrific unless you’ve been through it. It doesn’t even seem like it’s real. I had a very difficult time dealing with it. For five months I couldn’t even touch my guitar. I was just going through all of these difficult emotions. The only way I could pick up my guitar again was knowing that I could play it and help these people raise money, so that is what I did.
Just a couple of years ago, I met a bunch of surviving victims at the M3 Festival. I think that some people could blame the band a little bit, or not be sure where we are at, or what we think about things. Once we all met, then we hugged and cried and we created a bond and a friendship that really helped all of us get through day-to-day. I just love these people.
Jeb: You were not even sober at that point.
Mark: My career of my drinking years was that I was the beer guy. I am Mr. Beer. I was in and out of sobriety at that point. I would go two years and then blow it. I could do what I call white knuckle sobriety. I was sober, but I didn’t change. I still had the characteristics of a drunk. Helping people keeps me totally grounded now. I have been sober since November 2, 2008. I will put on my Facebook that if anyone is struggling with sobriety, then I will be your sober friend.
I am involved with the Grammy Foundation and with MusiCares. MusiCares is the best. The last project we did was to have people from 14 to 18 years old, who have family members who have addition problems, write songs and stories about that and we picked the best song and story and it was awesome. MusiCares helps the addicts, but they also give the families their full attention. Addicts and alcoholics are very selfish and the think they are only injuring themselves, but the truth is that they are injuring a ton of people. Your kids are in their room crying because they are afraid because you are drunk. MusiCares makes themselves available to the family members who have been hurt by addicts in their family.
Jeb: Last one: What is it like to look back at 30 freaking years of Great White.
Mark: It is crazy. I can’t explain it apart from the fact that I think I am so motivated because we are making new music. If we were just an oldies band, then it could have been over twenty years ago. I don’t think I could just go out once a year and play “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” I don’t want to roll that way. I am always trying to come up with new music and find that one song. We may not get there all the time, but it give us motivation that we will find that great song. I think that is why we have kept going for thirty years; we can always get better.
Jeb: The Moody Blues said they were in search of the lost chord.
Mark: I am looking for that chord. I don’t even care if my Grandma comes up with it. I just want to find that chord.
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