The White Stripes
The White Stripes
Guitarist, pianist, singer, songwriter
c. 1974 • Grosse Pointe, Michigan
Instantly recognizable in their stark red-and-white outfits, the White Stripes have become a worldwide phenomenon with their energetic blend of blues, punk, folk, and country. Consisting solely of Jack White on guitar and vocals and Meg White playing the drums, the Detroit-based White Stripes have been among the most visible groups connected to a revival of the loosely defined style known as garage rock—a usually fast-paced rock 'n' roll style favoring short songs with intense drumming and memorable lyrics. The White Stripes, however, bear the mark of a number of influences—not just the passionate, in-your-face Detroit signature sound they were raised with—including old-time country and traditional blues. With the release of their 2001 album White Blood Cells, the White Stripes graduated from regional success story to international stars. Their following release, Elephant (2003), further cemented their status, earning hordes of new fans, enthusiastic reviews from the music press, and a Grammy Award in 2004 for best alternative music album.
Even in the midst of tremendous recognition and fame, the group has insisted on maintaining a strong degree of independence and control, holding on to their unique vision. They tightly control how much and what kind of information the press receives about their personal lives, creating an aura of mystery. When they first began to receive national attention, Meg and Jack White told reporters that they were siblings. Later, it was revealed that their relationship was not one of brother and sister but rather ex–husband and wife. Even after proof of their relationship surfaced in the form of a marriage certificate and divorce documents, Jack White continued to insist, as he told Entertainment Weekly 's Tom Sinclair, that "we will be brother and sister till the day we die." White additionally maintains control by producing every album the band makes. In an interview with Guitar Player 's Darrin Fox, White explained his reason for acting as producer: "I didn't want to argue with anybody about how we should sound. It's not an ego thing—I just wanted to be as in touch with the original idea as I could."
"I consider everything about the songs—except the storytelling—to be a trick. If you're successful, and people love the songs, then you've successfully tricked them into liking the story."
Jack White, Guitar Player, June 2003.
Meet the White Stripes
Born John Gillis, Jack White is one of ten children in a musical family raised in southwest Detroit. He started playing drums in elementary school. He first picked up one of his older brothers' guitars after receiving a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He started playing the guitar simply to record some basic tunes to accompany his drumming. Jack told Fox in the Guitar Player interview that he thinks starting as a drummer helped him become a better guitarist: "A lot of guitarists I respect, like Dick Dale, started off as drummers. I think it's interesting how rhythms are already in your head before you even know how to play guitar." He attended Cass Technical High School, also known as Cass Tech, a highly respected public school in downtown Detroit. As a teenager, Jack became intensely interested in the blues, delving into the music of such legendary artists as Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, and Howlin' Wolf. While still in high school, he got a job working part-time at an upholstery company called Muldoon studio. He and the owner, Brian Muldoon, often jammed together, and Muldoon dipped into his extensive record collection to introduce White to the music of a number of influential bands. In 1994 Jack became the drummer for country-punk outfit Goober and the Peas.
In 1996 Jack and his girlfriend, Megan White, were married. Jack took his wife's surname, ever after being known as Jack White. The story of the band's origin involves Meg one day simply picking up drumsticks and playing along with Jack on guitar. "She was playing so childishly," Jack told Andrew Perry of Mojo magazine, intending the description as a compliment to Meg's simple, minimalist, untrained style. "So when Meg started playing that way, I was like, 'Man, don't even practice! This is perfect.'" Two months after Meg first picked up drumsticks, in 1997, the duo began playing gigs all over Detroit. They recorded two singles for the Detroit label Italy Records, "Let's Shake Hands" and "Lafayette Blues." They struggled for recognition, gradually winning over a small group of fans with Jack's songwriting and their passion for the music. During this time, Jack was invited to play guitar with the Detroit-based garage band the Go, an emerging band in the garage-rock scene. He joined the band, playing on their debut record. When the Go got a recording contract with the Seattle label (and former home to Nirvana) Sup Pop, Jack found himself at a crossroads. He felt that signing a contract with a band would compromise his freedom. He would not be the band's leader, and he knew that would not suit his personality. With the White Stripes, Jack would have the freedom to continually experiment, working in tandem with just one other performer: Meg. He left the Go and, by 1999, was completely focused on the White Stripes.
The White Stripes take off
The Stripes recorded their self-titled debut album in 1999. Made for about $2,000, the album was released by the independent Sympathy for the Record Industry label, located in California. The album, recorded in part in the attic of Jack's parents' house, captured the raw, stripped-down power of the White Stripes' live show, but it also showcased Jack's poetic, heartfelt lyrics. Writing for All Music Guide, Chris Handyside singled out the words to the White Stripes' songs, suggesting that it was the lyrics that set them apart: "The White Stripes are grounded in punk and blues, but the undercurrent to all of their work has been [a] striving for simplicity, a love of American folk music, and a careful approach to intriguing, emotional, and evocative lyrics not found anywhere else in ... modern punk or garage rock." Looking back on their debut during a 2003 interview with Guitar Player, Jack White said, "I still feel we've never topped our first album. It's the most raw, the most powerful, and the most Detroit-sounding record we've made." In the fall of 1999, the White Stripes were invited to tour with Pavement and Sleater-Kinney, two bands that had earned critical praise and were fixtures of the independent-rock scene.
During the summer of 2000, not long after Jack and Meg White got divorced, the White Stripes released De Stijl, which means "the style." The title refers to an early twentieth-century art movement that emphasized simplicity and abstraction, or the depiction of objects in a way that makes them unrecognizable. Critics praised the White Stripes' second album for its primitive, basic style and the variety of songs, both originals and covers. In Rollingstone.com Jenny Eliscu described the album as "blues-tinged rock & roll scaled back to its most essential elements—one guitar, a simple drum kit, and sneering vocals." Heather Phares summed up De Stijl in All Music Guide: "As distinctive as it is diverse, De Stijl blends the Stripes' arty leanings with enough rock muscle to back up the band's ambitions."
Stars and Stripes
For their third release, White Blood Cells (2001), the White Stripes laid down some ground rules before recording began. First, they decided to avoid the genre they felt most passionate about: the blues. Jack explained to Fox in Guitar Player that he had always felt conflicted about playing the blues, a genre that originated among African Americans in the South in the early twentieth century. Jack worried that fans might think his own interpretations of the blues—coming from a white man living in Detroit in the twenty-first century—were phony and inauthentic. So, as he told Fox, the White Stripes thought, "'What can we do if we completely ignore what we love the most?'" In addition to the "no blues" rule, they also, as Jack told Fox, "decided to record the album in three days, take no guitar solos, avoid slide guitar, and banish covers." The result was a CD featuring the Stripes' simple, tight arrangements and lyrics ranging from viciously angry to innocently sweet. White Blood Cells marked the band's arrival as an international favorite with both audiences and critics. The Stripes made the rounds on late-night talk shows, and their video for "Fell in Love with a Girl"—featuring animation of LEGO characters—went into heavy rotation on MTV. The video earned three MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) in 2002. The album showed up on numerous critics' "top ten" lists for the year.
The Stripes continued their upward climb with their next album, Elephant, which was released in the spring of 2003. Heather Phares of All Music Guide wrote: Elephant overflows with quality—it's full of tight songwriting, sharp, witty lyrics, ... judiciously used basses and tumbling keyboard melodies that enhance the band's powerful simplicity." The album showcases the female half of the duo more than previous releases had, with Meg contributing not just her telltale strong-but-simple drumming but also vocals on such songs as "In the Cold, Cold Night." Increasing numbers of critics and fans were won over by the Stripes' intensity and sincerity, somewhat unusual in an age where many artists feel that detachment is far cooler than passion. Writing in Esquire, Andy Langer expressed his appreciation for Elephant: "In the end, Elephant is an album destined for a long shelf life.... But its importance couldn't be any simpler or any more worth repeating: There are fourteen blistering songs on this record with Jack and Meg White's blood, sweat, and tears all over them. And every single one of them matters." The album certainly mattered to Grammy Award voters in 2004, who designated Elephant the best alternative music album of the previous year.
While keeping busy recording and touring with the Stripes, Jack White also tried his hand at acting with a small role in the 2003 film Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger. He contributed several songs to the soundtrack. Most were covers of traditional songs, while one track, "Never Far Away," was composed by White. This soundtrack allowed White to further demonstrate his versatility and talent, prompting John Mulvey of NME.com to assert that "Cold Mountain proves what most of us have long suspected: when the White Stripes end, White will be far from finished."
Many fans of the White Stripes feel the band's power comes across best in live performances. Jack's guitars are old, inexpensive, beat-up instruments, and Meg's drum kit is small and simple. They rely very little on technology for their performances and recordings, instead banking on their energy, anger, and earnestness to carry their message forward. Jack told Fox in Guitar Player: "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves live. We don't have a set list, we don't rehearse, and we don't play the tunes exactly like on the album. We're just two people on stage with nothing to fall back on. But, that way, if something good comes out of it, we can really be proud because we know we did it for real."
For More Information
Fox, Darrin. "White Heat." Guitar Player (June 2003): p. 66.
Langer, Andy. "The White Stripes' Elephant Is a Rock 'n' Roll Record So Rousing, You Won't Mind Paying for It." Esquire (May 2003): p. 80.
McCollum, Brian. "A Definitive Oral History." Detroit Free Press (April 13, 2003).
The White Stripes. http://www.whitestripes.com/ (accessed on August 17, 2004).
"The White Stripes." All Music Guide. http://www.allmusic.com/ (accessed on August 17, 2004).
"The White Stripes." Launch. http://launch.yahoo.com/artist/default.asp?artistID=1042272 (accessed on August 17, 2004).
"White Stripes." NME.com. http://www.nme.com/artists/173888.htm (accessed on August 17, 2004).
"The White Stripes." Rollingstone.com. http://www.rollingstone.com (accessed on August 17, 2004).
"The White Stripes." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/white-stripes
"The White Stripes." UXL Newsmakers. . Retrieved April 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/white-stripes
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The White Stripes
The White Stripes
The White Stripes are perhaps the most critically appreciated rock band from Detroit since the heyday of such bands as the Stooges and the MC5. Along with New York City band the Strokes, the White Stripes were one of the most highly praised rock acts of 2001. The duo—consisting of formerly married couple Jack White (born John Gillis) and Meg White (born Megan White)—won critical accolades and worldwide fans for their minimalist hybrid of American punk, folk, country, and blues music. Featuring Jack on lead vocals and guitar and Meg on drums, the White Stripes have elicited comparisons to such diverse musical acts as Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, the MC5, the John Spencer Blues Explosion, the Violent Femmes, and the Velvet Underground. According to Entertainment Weekly reporter Tom Sinclair, “Here, at last, is a duo that’s doing it right: stripping things down to the primal spuzz, kicking up a racket that’s an inspired mix of electrified Delta blues, Zeppelin riffage, Velvet Underground thud, and MC5 firepower. With hooks, yet.”
Alternately featuring Jack’s primal electric guitar playing with his raw, bluesy acoustic slide guitar playing, the White Stripes have also received critical commendations for Jack’s vocal style, which has been compared favorably to Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and the Sweet’s Steve Priest. Meg’s straightforward drumming style has been compared favorably to that of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and the Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker. The group’s incendiary performances—original songs interspersed with covers of Bob Dylan songs, blues standards like Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down,” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”—translated well to New York City and European venues, where critical praise and word-of-mouth appreciation from fans quickly brought them international fame. After a London performance, Uncut critic John Mulvey wrote, “Here, quite simply, is the most exciting, inspired, unavoidably magnificent new rock ‘n’ roll band anyone can recall seeing in years.” Mulvey continued, “The White Stripes are a forward-thinking band with deep roots, one who realize they can make a massive emotional impact while retaining a slippery way with the truth.” On stage and for publicity photos, the duo only wears red and white, which Jack described to Mojo writer Andrew Perry as the “colors of anger and innocence.”
The history of the White Stripes has been manipulated and falsified by Jack and Meg White, who repeatedly told journalists that they were brother and sister. In fact, the couple were married in 1996 and divorced in 2000. Insisting that she is indeed Jack’s sister, Meg White has only revealed that she was born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a wealthy suburb east of Detroit. Jack White, however, admitted to being the son of a maintenance man and a secretary, and claimed to be one of ten children. The story that they were not actual siblings was revealed in Time magazine in June of 2001, but Jack insisted to Sinclair, “We will be brother and sister till the day we die.”
Members include Jack White (born John Gillis in 1976 in Detroit, MI), guitar, piano, vocals; Meg White (born Megan Martha White c. 1974 in Grosse Pointe, MI), drums, vocals; couple married on September 21, 1996; divorced, 2000.
Released debut album, The White Stripes, 1999; released second album, De Stijl, 2000; released third album, White Blood Cells, made European television and stage debut, 2001; performed on MTV Movie Awards, 2002.
Addresses: Management —Monotone, Inc., 8932 Keith Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069, phone: (310) 887-4485. Media —Chloe Walsh, Girlie Action Media and Marketing, e-mail: [email protected]Website —The White Stripes Official Website: http://www.whitestripes.com.
Meg worked in the 1990s as a bartender and cook, and Jack apprenticed as a furniture upholsterer in Hamtramck, Michigan, a working-class suburb adjacent to Detroit. He apprenticed with Brian Muldoon, who also introduced Jack to the music of such bands as the MC5 and the Cramps. Muldoon was a drummer who taught Jack how to play along to classic rockabilly records. Eventually, the two men recorded a single of rockabilly covers as a band named the Upholsterers. When the two men ended their friendship, Jack spent the next few years running his own upholstery business, Third Man. Another friend introduced him to the music of Son House. He told Perry, “He played me ‘Death Letter,’ and then this a cappella song, ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face.’ I heard the song I’d been waiting to hear my whole life. It said, ‘Don’t care what people think. Your mother will talk about you, your sister and your brothers too. No matter how you try to live, they’re gonna talk about you still.’”
Jack’s musical resume during this period includes a stint as a member of the Detroit-based rock band the Go, which had been signed to the Seattle, Washington, punk label Sub Pop. In 1996 Meg played drums to accompany Jack’s guitar in his apartment. “She was playing so childishly,” he told Perry. “Everyone I’d ever played with was, like, male drummers. I’d been writing all these childish songs, like ‘Jimmy the Exploder’ from our first album—this story I made up about this monkey who exploded things that weren’t the color red. So when Meg started playing that way, I was like, Man, don’t even practice! This is perfect.” The duo played Detroit bars throughout 1997 and made two singles for the Detroit label Italy Records: “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Lafayette Blues.”
Steve Shaw, a member of the Detroit Cobras, recommended the White Stripes to Sympathy for the Record Industry label chief Long Gone John, who invited them to cut their first album without ever having seen them perform. Recorded for less than $2000, The White Stripes came out in 1999. It was followed by De Stijl, recorded at Jack’s house in Detroit. Taking its title from a magazine co-founded in 1917 by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian that emphasized functionalism over decoration in art, the album contains a cover of the Son House blues classic “Death Letter.” The band also recorded a single on which they covered Blind Willie McTell’s “Send Me an Angel.” The third album, White Blood Cells, began with their mandate that the album contain “no blues, no slide, no guitar solos, no covers,” Jack told Perry.
White Blood Cells was recorded at Easley Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The studio location in the top of the Mississippi Delta was fitting for the more blues-inspired songs recorded for the album. The success of White Blood Cells opened the doors of television to the White Stripes. The group filmed a video of the song “Fell in Love with a Girl,” which received regular MTV airplay. The band also performed live on British television and landed a featured spot as musical entertainment on the 2002 MTV Movie Awards. When they played in London, British disc jockey and radio host John Peel declared them “the most exciting band since punk or Jimi Hendrix,” according to Perry. The White Blood Cells album and the “Hotel Yorba” single culled from the album both became hits in Europe.
The rising popularity of the band caused some original fans to accuse the White Stripes of becoming commercial, prompting Jack to tell Sinclair, “People look at things in a weird way. They’ll look back on the Rolling Stones and the Who and say, Those bands were cool, they were rock & roll, they weren’t pop.’ But those bands sold millions of records. I mean, it’s like if you’re on television now, people go, ‘Oh, they’re selling out.’ But the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were on TV all the time, on The Ed Sullivan Show, no less, and it was cool.” White Blood Cells was licensed for release in the United States by the V2 label, and in Europe by XL, a subsidiary of Beggars Banquet Records. Jack White told Music & Media writer Chris Barrett, “We just license our albums so there is absolutely no influence on what’s gonna be the single or how the artwork is gonna be. It would be stupid now just for money to give up all that freedom.”
The band recorded its fourth album, tentatively titled Elephant, in 2002, with British punk producer, songwriter, and recording artist Billy Childish at Toe Rag Studios, in London, England. Jack told Sinclair that Toe Rag contains “excellent equipment and a good engineer. It’s not computerized or modern in any sense. Just an 8-track studio with all of the things that are good about recording and none of the things that are bad.” The White Stripes also planned to release a compact disc of previously released non-album 45 singles. Despite the band’s success, Jack told Sinclair, “My real dream is unattainable…. I wish I could be a blues musician back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, just playing in juke joints in the South by myself. But I’m white and I was born in Detroit in the 70s, so I guess I’ll have to settle for this.” He insisted, however, that he is not intent on copying the old blues masters. He told Perry, “I’m not interested in copying—at all. I’m interested in retelling the story. I just believe in singing ‘John the Revelator’ one more time,” referring to the blues standard performed originally by Delta blues musician Son House. He continued, “It seems like every other kind of music is fooling itself about being original or being the future. Well, it’s not. These electronic instruments, these toys…. Music has been storytelling and melody for thousands of years, and it’s not going to change.”
Despite the White Stripes’ success, Jack continues to play the guitars he has been playing for years, including a 1960s Montgomery Ward retail Airline electric guitar, and an acoustic 1960s Kay guitar on which he plays slide guitar. The latter guitar was given to him by a friend for his help in moving a refrigerator. Meg White’s drumming has been praised by Perry as “a beat that rarely errs from pounding, near-moronic propulsion. Very male, actually: think the Troggs, the Kingsmen, all those thrusting ‘65 guys.” Meg has also expanded her duties within the White Stripes to include sharing vocal responsibilities. In live performances, she has covered the Loretta Lynn song “Rated X.”
The White Stripes, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.
De Stiji, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2000; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.
White Blood Cells, Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, May 17, 2002.
Hollywood Reporter, April 8, 2002, p. 28.
Mojo, June 2001, p. 20; January 2002, p. 120; January 2002, p. 69; February 2002, p. 50; March 2002, p. 88.
Music & Media, December 1, 2001, p. 3.
Q, December 2001, p. 65.
Uncut, September 2001, p. 100; October 2001, p. 131.
“The White Stripes,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (June 15, 2002).
"The White Stripes." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/white-stripes
"The White Stripes." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/white-stripes