Millions of young music fans got their first taste of Blues guitar played with a soulful slide by Jack White of The White Stripes. His adaptations of Son House‘s songs were a central plank of the Detroit garage band’s early repertoire, and Jack’s love of that original Blues has informed much of his work. Since the White Stripes split, he tours the world as a solo star, usually including a couple of Blues classics in his live set. Outside his playing, Jack has also worked to help preserve the legacy of Blues recordings and the technology of analogue recording, both of which efforts will immensely benefit future generations.
He worked as an apprentice upholsterer, setting his own ‘Third Man’ business, and recorded an album with a friend, with Jack on guitar, as The Upholsterers.
His first professional gig was a drummer for Detroit garage band Goober and the Peas a couple of years later, and in 1996 he married Meg White and took her surname. Meg played drums, with occasional vocals, when they formed The White Stripes the following year, with a strong visual image centring on red, black and white, including Jack’s superb ‘JB Hutto‘ model Valco Airline guitar. Their self-titled album in 2000 had several of Jack’s compositions alongside songs by Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson. A second album, ‘De Stijl’ had songs by Son House and Blind Willie McTell, and featured in the charts in Britain, France and the US Indy charts.
Son House’s song, ‘Death Letter’ from White Stripes;
Just as they were getting noticed, Jack and Meg divorced, but used a cover story that they were siblings to explain their relationship. The third album moved the sound of this ‘garage Blues band’ more towards Rock’n’Roll, but their next effort, ‘Elephant’ gave them a worldwide breakthrough, winning a Grammy (as did their next two albums), and provided a massive hit single with ‘Seven Nation Army’. In 2006, Jack relocated to Nashville as the base for his ‘Third Man Records’, a label he set up in 2001 to promote vinyl albums as part of his ‘back to basics’ philosophy. This interest in vinyl and analogue recording has led to Jack buying an interest in Document Records, which specialises in old Blues recordings, and he later joined the board of The Library of Congress Recording Preservation Foundation.
Jack’s song ‘Ball and Biscuit’ performed live on British TV;
The White Stripes 2007 album ‘Icky Thump’ debuted at No.1 in the UK and No.2 in the USA, and they made a film ‘Under Northern Skies’ documenting their tour of every Canadian province and territory, where they did the world’s shortest gig (one note, but they played a concert later that day) and Jack made a guitar from a plank and a Coke bottle for the camera. Later that year, Meg had to quit because of anxiety problems, and although they made a network TV appearance in 2009 and recorded a few new tracks, that was the end of The White Stripes. Their early work was re-issued by Third Man on vinyl, but Jack moved on.