It's not his own birthday, or 18 months of sobriety that Russell is marking on this day. Rather, Russell's hard-rockin' band with a bluesy overtone the group that has sold millions of records and produced such rock staples as "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," "Save Your Love" and "Rock Me" turns 25.
"I always dreamed of being a rock star," Russell said by phone from California, looking back on 25 years. "I still dream about being a rock star."
Great White officially got its start on July 17, 1982. Fast forward 25 years, and on July 17, 2007, the band released a new album of original material, "Back to the Rhythm."
"It's very much a Great White album. It's very eclectic," said Russell. "It's very introspective."
The new album and current tour also mark a reunion of Great White's mid-to-late 1990s line-up, including longtime members Mark Kendall, Michael Lardie and Audie Desbrow. The inclusion of Desbrow, in particular, came as a surprise to many. Russell and Desbrow had a heated falling out in 2000, which prompted Desbrow to post a long tirade on his Web site blasting the band's lead singer.
Once the idea of reuniting began to take shape, however, one phone call was all it took to clear the air between the two. "I really wanted to do another record, but I really didn't want to do it with the people Mark and I had been touring with," Russell said. "I wanted to do it with the people we grew up doing it with. I made a phone call (to Desbrow) and apologized. At that point, no one really cared (about past issues). I don't carry a grudge. We both said stuff about each other, stupid stuff people say when you're angry, that became bigger when it went unmended. ... It snowballed.
"What matters now is having fun and making music. You wonder, 'How much longer will we be doing this?' I'm amazed it's gone this far. It would be cool to pull another three, four, five 3, 4, 5 years ... create good memories. I want to have more good memories."
Russell's last trip to Utah wasn't such a good memory, if he can remember it at all. Great White was playing at a Murray club in 2005, but Russell did not look well and his typically stellar voice was off. Not long after that show, Russell canceled the rest of Great White's tour and checked into rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction. He did not take the stage again until this year.
Now, Russell says he is sober and anxious to play with a group of veteran musicians, as opposed to the line-up he had been touring with for the past few years. "It was almost like being a cover of yourself. It was fun for awhile. But I asked myself, 'Do I want to do a record with kids? Do I want my last years with this band being not the real band but a parody of itself?"'
Aside from the music, Great White may be remembered by some as the band that was playing The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., when fire roared through the club in 2003, killing 100 and injuring another 200. A small pyrotechnic display set off by the band's former manager ignited the club's powder keg-like interior into an inferno. The manager and one of the club owners are currently serving prison time. The other co-owner of the club was sentenced to community service.
The new album, the first since the fire, is dedicated to the victims of the tragedy. Russell said that while he will probably never "get past" the incident, he is at a point now where he has moved on. "I've had to kind of let go of some of the grief, but some days it comes back and smacks you in the face like a wet fish. I appreciate my life so much more now. It's not how much you have, its how many friends you have around you."
If you go
What: Great White, Blacklist Union, Tommy Had a Vision
Where: The Depot, 13 N. 400 West
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
How much: $20
Phone: 467-8499, 800-888-8499
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