Those who believe Jack White is a Rock n Roll Messiah may be interested to know he has his own John The Revelator.
And luckily for us, Jack White’s own prophet captured Jack’s own story in a song, written nearly two decades earlier.
The prophet’s name is Steve Perry.
And that song is “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.
I’m serious. Well, fairly serious.
(now is the time to imagine those chords: Dum, de de dum, de de dum, de de dum…)
“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world”.
Meg White, born in Grosse Point Farms, a town with a population of 9,479 – making her very much a small town girl. She had progressed from college to culinary school, paying her way by working in bars and restaurants such as the Memphis Smoke blues bar in Royal Oak, north of downtown Detroit. I like to think she went there by the Detroit rail system
“taking the midnight train goin’ anywhere”
where she met Future Electric Six-er Cory, then playing in a band called The Wildbunch.
“Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit”
Jack Gillis was born and raised in South Detroit. Okay, South West Detroit – apparently there’s no such place as South Detroit, you just end up in the Detroit River.
I was rather sceptical of this, but Google Maps has confirmed it, amusingly citing South Detroit as “permanently closed”.
Jack was the youngest of ten children, and, ideally for a bluesman, the seventh son…
He apprenticed as an upholsterer in 1991, and opened his own upholstery shop in 1996, painting the shop in three colours: black, yellow and white.
Jack began to learn the guitar whilst a teenager, and played in various bands. He slipped poems (and recordings) into the furniture he revived, his yellow and black business cards containing the slogan “Your furniture’s not dead”.
Meg met Jack, they hit it off, and the pair married in 1996.
The story of how they first played music together is simple. Meg was waiting tables, Jack was in various bands or performing solo.
One day Jack was playing music in his attic and Meg was at his house.
She sat down on the drums. They jammed on a Bowie song, “Moonage Daydream”.
It all just clicked. They doubtless smiled, and played all night.
“For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on, and on, and on”
The rest is history, and myth…
There are plenty of myths…
The matching outfits idea may have originated from The Doll Rods, a local band who wore matching outfits, played a simple drum kit, and had onlookers speculating whether the guitarist and lead singer were brother and sister.
They weren’t always The White Stripes. In contention for the Band Name Sweep Stake were Soda Power and Bazooka.
They played their first gig – three songs – on Bastille Day, July 14 1997. An open mic spot at a venue called The Gold Dollar. It was recorded by the proprietor, Neil Yee, and Jack paid him for the recording by upholstering and refurbishing a rocking chair.
At the time, the venue was known for its experimental acts. My favourite story about the Gold Dollar is when they booked two punk bands and put on a magician in between.
I’m not sure who would have been more discombobulated, the punk band whose name appeared below the magician on the bill, or David Blaine.
Okay, it wasn’t Blaine.
The Gold Dollar was a bit rough, as most good venues are, and you were likely to end the evening dealing with your car having been broken into, but at least you might have got to see the earliest shows of The White Stripes.
Because these were the days before smoking was banned in venues, and because it wasn’t a male-only venue, there is little doubt that an observer at that first show would have seen:
“A singer in a smoky room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume.”
And, presumably, various touring magicians, which isn’t in the Journey song, but perhaps should have been, if Steve Perry could find a word to rhyme with magicians.
Nuclear fissions perhaps? Missions?
Might have needed some work…
To add further interest to the venue, police would, when they weren’t stopping people breaking into vehicles, use the car park to entrap people looking to secure the services of working girls.
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows (okay, police torches) searching in the night
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night” (presumably from the police)
The White Stripes’ first full show was a month later at the same venue, 15th August 1997 in a support slot.
Of all the Detroit bands that were around at that time, many disappeared, and some went on the have a measure of success, including The Von Bondies and The Electric Six. But only The White Stripes lasted the course.
Or as Steve Perry put it,
“Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues”
However much the Story of The White Stripes may chime with that Journey song, perhaps the real story of The White Stripes is the one story that Jack White has spent his career NOT telling. The story of The White Stripes is not Don’t Stop Believin’.
It’s that they released their first groundbreaking album slap bang in the middle of their divorce.
What kind of band would stay together despite such personal turmoil and then make such great art? I can’t think of any. It’s extraordinary.
Yeah, all right, I’ll grant you Fleetwood Mac is one band that would stay together after a divorce.
Well, yeah, obviously Abba. I mean Abba goes without saying doesn’t it? But apart from Fleetwood Mac and Abba…
“She’s very quiet. I spent a lot of time with her over the years….they’re different kinds of people…it didn’t surprise me.”
“So they divorced and they had a gig and they cancelled it. And then Meg said she wanted to do the last gig anyway. That’s when it started taking off…”
The show was sold out, at a venue called Paycheck’s. They played “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” and the crowd started singing along. This was way before the first album. Jack was completely taken by surprise. He stopped singing and started laughing.”
Perhaps it was at that moment, or perhaps when they played “Not The Marrying Kind” that both Jack and Meg realised the noise they were making onstage was something that would outlast their marriage.
The first record was recorded for $2,000 in early 1999 on two inch tape and a mixing board that had been found in a barn, left discarded by the music school that had owned it for nearly twenty years. White used guitar microphones because vocal mics sounded too polished.
It took just six days.
A month after recording the album Jack and Meg began divorce proceedings, with the divorce going through the courts in March 2000.
The wedding rings were said to have been airbrushed from the record cover artwork.
So why did they carry on, despite the turmoil that their broken marriage must have caused?
And why did they then create a myth? Jack White hinted at the reason in a Rolling Stone interview in 2005. For him, it was to keep the focus away from his private life and towards the music.
“When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think, ‘Oh, I see…’ When they’re brother and sister, you go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ You care more about the music, not the relationship—whether they’re trying to save their relationship by being in a band.”
The latest Vault release is a set of three live shows by The White Stripes, all recorded in Detroit, in 1999, 2000 and 2001 respectively, including one show recorded at The Gold Dollar. Click here for further details
The first three albums by The White Stripes have been re-released on cassette for Cassete store day 2017.