.

Jack White, the Decade's Dirty Bluesman

With the homespun minimalism of the White Stripes, White found a way to plug the music back into the folk and blues roots that fed the Stones, Zeppelin and Bob Dylan

February 2, 2011 2:13 PM ET
Jack White, the Decade's Dirty Bluesman
Malcolm Taylor/Getty

At the turn of the century, Jack White was thinking hard about the blues. "A hundred years had passed since the beginning of it," White says, "and it was an illusion in my head at that moment that on a very small level, there was a new blues emerging in the scene we were from. That was enough to compel me to keep going — but I had no illusions about the mainstream ever thinking it was interesting."

Jack White on Jack White: Rolling Stone's 2005 Cover Story

As it turned out, White's vision was exactly what rock & roll needed. With the homespun, stripped-to-its-skeleton minimalism of the White Stripes, he found a way to plug the music back into the folk and blues roots that fed the Stones, Zeppelin and Bob Dylan — and make it sound cool again in the process. "Anything I do is 1,000 percent the blues — that word is synonymous with the truth to me," says White. "I could play outdoor blues festivals and do that note-pushing Stratocaster white-blues bullshit for the next 30 years. But that's not the pinnacle of the blues."

This article appeared in the December 24, 2009 - January 7, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

White has shared stages with Dylan, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page, among others — legends who embraced him as an equal. "You get it from guys, players: 'Watch this cat,'" says Richards. "Then when Jack and I had a chance to chat, we found we both have an abiding love of Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the Everly Brothers and Arthur Crudup.... He's a good man."

Photos: The White Stripes on Tour in 2007

The Stripes didn't seem like a world-conquering band at first. "We didn't really know what we were doing," says White, "if it was going to stand the test of time or if people would look at it as nothing but a novelty." But he was soon writing songs like "Seven Nation Army" — its minor-key riff, penned spontaneously at a soundcheck, is one of the decade's most indelible musical hooks. It even became a soccer chant worldwide: "I was sitting in a hotel room somewhere in Europe, and I heard people chanting that song in a pub a block away," White says. "I couldn't believe it — I didn't want that moment to ever end."

Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists: Jack White

White revealed himself to be a restless creative spirit. As the White Stripes hit a commercial peak, he put the band on hiatus to form his four-piece, the Raconteurs, who offered a more muscular take on rock classicism. He also produced a Grammy-winning Loretta Lynn album and formed a third band, the Dead Weather, in which he plays drums. "None of those bands were planned," he says. "They got in the way of other things I was doing. But it feels good because I know the music is in first position in my decision-making."

White's sound now seems almost like a genre unto itself — and he's spreading it wider through his own record label and Nashville studio. "If you ever get some idea you've arrived at a certain level," he says, "you should only be taking it as a cue to work harder and to push farther."

Read More: Rolling Stone's 2010 Q&A With Jack White

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

prev
Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

More Song Stories entries »
 
www.expandtheroom.com