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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. Addresses: Management--Monotone, Inc., 8932 Keith Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Booking--Dave Kaplan, The Agency Group 1775 Broadway, Suite 430 New York, NY 10019, phone: 212-581-3100, fax: 212-581-0015. Website--White Stripes Official Website: http://www.whitestripes.com.
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."
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, 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."
by Bruce Walker
The White Stripes's Career
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.
- Selected discography
- The White Stripes Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.
- De Stijl Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2000; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.
- White Blood Cells Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001; reissued, Thirdman/V2, 2002.
August 28, 2003: The White Stripes won a MTV Video Music Award for best editing in a video for "Seven Nation Army." Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, August 29, 2003.
December 23, 2003: Jack White turned himself in to police to be booked on a misdemeanor charge following a bar fight with the lead singer of another band. He posted a $100 cash bond and will be arraigned in February. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, December 23, 2003; CNN.com, www.cnn.com, December 26, 2003.
January 14, 2004: Jack White pled innocent to a misdemeanor aggravated assault charge and was ordered to stand trial on March 9. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, January 15, 2004.
February 8, 2004: The White Stripes won the Grammy Award for best alternative music album, for Elephant. Source: 46th Grammy Awards, grammys.com/awards/grammy/46winners.aspx, February 8, 2004.
February 13, 2005: Band member Jack White shared the Grammy Award for best country collaboration with vocals for "Portland Oregon" with Loretta Lynn. Source: Grammys.com, www.grammys.com/awards/grammy/47winners, February 14, 2005.
June 1, 2005: Band member Jack White married Karen Elson in a ceremony performed on a canoe on the Amazon River in Brazil. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-06-02-jack-white-marriage_x.htm, June 3, 2005.
February 8, 2006: The White Stripes won the Grammy Award for best alternative music album for Get Behind Me Satan. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.
- 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).
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