From his Detroit duo days in The White Stripes to fully-fledged frontman, Jack White is one of the most prolific and renowned artists of his time.
Dressed only in red, white and black, he and then-wife Meg White catapulted into the mainstream music scene as The White Stripes in 1997. Spawning unprecedented indie hits such as ‘Seven Nation Army’, ‘My Doorbell’ and ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, the duo found unexpected fame throughout their 14 year career.
The record producer, multi-instrumentalist and occasional actor has performed with the Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and solo throughout his varied career. White is most prolific as a singer-songwriter, and even more interesting as a guitarist. With two exciting and eccentric solo albums to his name thus far, Blunderbuss (2012) and Lazaretto (2014), White’s musical journey is constantly turning over a new leaf.
Born John Anthony Gillis in Detroit, Michigan 1975 – and the youngest of ten children – Jack White’s early musical influences were inherited from his older brothers. He learned to play the drums in grade one after finding a kit in the attic.
As a child, he was a fan of classical music, but in high school he began listening to the Doors, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. In high school he met drummer Megan White at the Memphis Smoke restaurant, and they got married in 1996. In a reversal of tradition, he took her last name, and to the public, they bizarrely presented themselves as musical siblings, The White Stripes.
He started a one-man business working as an upholster by day and moonlighting in local bands, but began focusing solely on music. White has worked with many musicians and set up his own company, Third Man Records in 2001. Spanning artists as varied as Jerry Lee Lewis, the Smoke Fairies, Wanda Jackson, Black Milk and Stephen Colbert, the label has quickly developed a reputation as a leader in the vinyl record industry.
White has tried and tested many guitars throughout his career, but the most visually dynamic so far has to be the 1964 Montgomery Ward JB Hutto Airline.
Made by Valco (a company that is better known for making National and Supro guitars before it’s demise in 1968) it has a hollow fibreglass body, two single-coil pickups and an non-adjustable steel reinforced neck. The angular shape is part of what made it insanely unique, and being made of bright-red plastic perfectly suited The White Stripes’s mainly monochromatic aesthetic.
His preference for older, more primitive equipment extends these-days to a fondness for see-sawing between vintage Gretsch, Gibson and Parsons models live (and most recently, a Fender Telecaster has been a favourite). He credits upstrokes, thick picks and vintage amps and pedals to getting the most socially out of his guitar. He also tends to play through his self-designed Bumble Buzz pedal live.
Relying on his distinct style and killer tone, White is the modern touchstone for a new movement of more blues-inspired guitarists.
Often characterised by a very raw sound and an intense delivery, White has described his process to playing as being like “an attack.” It has to be a fight, he has said, “every song, every guitar solo, every note that’s played or written has to be a struggle.”
Catchy hooks, spiky overtones and fuzzy feedback have come to define his work, with a tendency for jangly accentuated notes and slides and funky finger-picks. His distinctive emotive and strained vocals complement these techniques too.
The deep demonic riff of ‘Blue Orchid’, the anthem-like ‘Seven Nation Army’, Zeppelin-esque rip of ‘Icky Thump’, the old-school licks and strokes of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, the confident chords of ‘Hardest Button To Button’, the basic bass-y beat of ‘Would You Fight For My Love?’, the acoustic beauty of ‘Love Interruption’, the fuzzy force of Bond theme ‘Another Way To Die’, the bat-shit crazy hook of ‘That Black Bat Licorice’ and the shredder smash of ‘Lazaretto’.
2009’s mega music doco It Might Get Loud – an insightful, must-see film directed by Davis Guggenheim (who also directed An Inconvenient Truth) that documents the careers of Jack White, Jimmy Page, and U2’s The Edge.
The White Stripes’ 2007 Canadian tour is featured on CD/DVD Under Great White Northern Lights. It celebrates the band’s decade of live performing with footage of the duo kicking out their most signature jams, as well as impromptu performances shot at unlikely venues such as a bowling alley and a boat.
And most recently, Third Man Records released, Jack White Live at Bonnaroo (2014) the DVD.
Below, check out Jack teaching Jimmy Page and The Edge to play his famous ‘Seven Nation Army’ riff: