Mark Kendall, guitarist and founding member of Great White, talked with The Tribune-Democrat in a phone interview ahead of the band’s appearance at Thunder in the Valley.
Great White found success with the albums “Once Bitten ...” (1987) and “... Twice Shy” (1989) and hit songs such as “Rock Me,” “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and “House of Broken Love.”
The interview covered a range of topics, from Great White’s beginnings and musical style to the group’s current lineup and latest recordings.
Great White will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the Train Station stage for Thunder in the Valley. Ticket information can be found at: www.visitjohnstownpa.com/thunder-valley.
T-D: Great White is often included among heavy-metal bands of the 1980s – the so-called “hair metal” era. But listeners might argue that your sound is more blues than “hair metal.” Do you consider Great White a “hair metal” band?
MK: I like to tell people that my hair has never written a song. That “hair metal” label is just something the journalists put on the whole ’80s rock sound. But I’ve had people say that what separates us from some of the other bands from that time is those blues influences.
As far as the whole “hair metal” history goes, I get it. But it was literally about the long hair and the outfits. One guy designed outfits for pretty much everybody. It’s just like bell-bottoms and peace signs were the ‘70s. But as far as being a factor in the kind of music we played, that didn’t happen.
T-D: What were some of the major influences in Great White’s music? What acts or performers did you listen to when you were getting started?
MK: I was brought up in more of the blues side of music, grew up listening to that. The guys who made me want to play guitar were guys who were playing more of that blues sound.
Other guys in the band had other influences. Our drummer (Audie Desbrow) likes the real heavy, pounding sound.
Our keyboard player (Michael Lardie) is into people like Billy Joel. The softer side of rock – Elton John, things like that. And it all comes together well, I think. ...
I play the way I do because of Carlos Santana and the Stones and people like that. For a long time, Carlos Santana was the only guitarist in the world for me.
T-D: Your latest album, “Full Circle,” features Terry Ilous (formerly of XYZ) on vocals and includes a lot of strong tracks. How did the development of that album happen?
MK: We’ve been getting unbelievable feedback on that album. We went back and worked with Michael Wagener (produced Dokken, Skid Row, Motley Crue and others) for the first time in 30-plus years.
He did our first album, our first EP. We went down and worked with him in Nashville, rented a house there for two months and worked on music.
I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, playing in front of him after so long. But he made you feel at ease.
When we went in to record, we had some choruses and breaks, but we really didn’t have the lyrics. Wagener was kind of pissed. He said: “Where are the lyrics?” We said, “We’ll write them here.”
Michael (Lardie) and I had written most of the material for the band over the years.
Nothing has really changed in that regard. We always get in the room and jam and see what happens, and that always works out the best.
T-D: Jack Russell’s voice was associated with the Great White sound for so long. How has Ilous fit in with the group?
MK: Like 10 years ago, we were looking for a singer. We weren’t necessarily looking for a duplicate, just someone who sings good.
We tried three or four people, and we kept going back to this Terry Ilous guy. He was just killing it. I really liked the way his voice sounded with my guitar.
T-D: You mentioned the early days. Great White was part of that ‘80s Los Angeles movement that produced a lot of bands. How did you manage to carve out your spot and make it?
MK: When we did our first EP, we got some guy named “Fred” to loan us like $15,000 to do it. So we were in the Fred Music Company, I guess. But this other guy, Alan Niven, he got us on the radio even though we didn’t technically have a record deal. That’s how it started.
Suddenly, all these L.A. bands – Ratt, Dokken, Quiet Riot – a lot of these bands started getting contracts, and that was what happened for us, too.
T-D: You referenced one of your contemporaries, Quiet Riot. They’ll be playing the same Thunder in the Valley stage the night before you. That seems ironic, no?
MK: We’ve run into those guys a lot over the years. We’ve played a few shows with (drummer) Frankie (Banali) and Quiet Riot. We came up together in L.A. We’ve got history with them.
I think it’s great that so many of these guys, these bands, are still out there and still playing.
You go on one of these heavy metal cruises and like 30 bands are on the ship.
And it seems like everybody’s playing real good. Maybe the guys are taking a little better care of themselves than maybe they did all those years ago.
T-D: You’ve been playing a lot of shows in support of “Full Circle.” How have the shows been going? What should those who attend your Johnstown concert expect?
MK: The shows are going great. We just did a couple of shows, in New York and Arkansas, with Queensryche. They went over killer.
We still play as hard as we can go. It would be everything the fans would expect as far as the hits – we have all of them in the show. We have a few extended solos. We don’t bombard people with new music, although there are a few newer songs in the set.
We just love to play. That’s still the best thing about this.
What we do up on stage is the fun part.
The travel – that’s the killer. The hardest part is getting there. It’s like someone once said: We would play for free but you have to pay us to travel.
T-D: And the fans still want to hear those songs from 30 years ago. How do you keep things fresh?
MK: We never wanted to become an oldies band. That’s why we keep going on – keep writing songs, keep recording, keep touring.
We’re still fighting for that greatest song of our career.
That’s the thing we all fight for now. Whatever it takes to do that is the priority now. The ego thing is not there.
It’s really all about the song at the end of the day. You want to keep being creative, keep making music for the fans – and also for us.
But the fans are still there. They love it.
Editor’s note: Publicist Melissa Kucirek noted that band members have agreed not to publicly discuss the February 2003 fire at a concert in West Warwick, Rhode Island, that killed 100 people and injured 230. However, Kendall volunteered this information: He performed at that show as a contract guitarist, and the band that night was not Great White, as was frequently reported, but rather a spinoff group – “Jack Russell’s Great White” – led by the band’s original lead vocalist.