Former GREAT WHITE frontman Jack Russell spoke to “The SDR Show” about “America’s Deadliest Concert: The Guest List”, a documentary about the infamous concert fire nearly two decades ago that killed a hundred people and injured hundreds more. The film received its premiere on Reelz on February 20.
The 61-year-old singer, whose pyrotechnics ignited the deadly blaze on February 20, 2003 in Rhode Island, stated about the making of the documentary: “It was tough. ‘Cause I wear my heart on my sleeve. And I didn’t wanna do anything but be really honest and upfront and open about everything that I know and my knowledge about the fire and about what happened and about what it did to me personally and how it affected my friends and my family.
“It’s a beautifully done movie,” he continued. “It’s really, really well done. The producer, he was real sensitive about how he approached it and how he did it. You have to cover both sides of the story. There’s people that like Jack and there’s the people that hate Jack, and there’s the people in between. So you’ve gotta kind of put both sides up there. And some of the stuff was really difficult for me to hear. When people call you a murderer or they wish you were dead, it’s hard to hear that stuff. But I do understand it. People grieve in different ways, and if that’s what it takes for them to grieve and feel better, more power to ’em.”
Last December, Russell told Tulsa Music Stream about “America’s Deadliest Concert: The Guest List”: “We took three years shooting this thing. I mean, it was a long time. A lot of footage — a lot of footage. But it’s really moving. It is really moving, touching, and it’s a beautifully shot piece of film. It lets you know how beautiful music is and how music can heal everything, no matter what people think. There’s a certain thing in music that is very healing, and it’s helped a lot of people through the aftermath of the fire.”
Russell also said that he wanted the tragedy to serve as a reminder to remain alert about public safety.
“Honestly, I haven’t been asked a question about the fire in — I can’t remember how many years now,” he said. “It’s been a long, long time. The public has a short memory, unfortunately. It was something that I hoped that people would remember, just because of the nature of it and the fact that we need to take care of ourselves when we’re out at places; we need to be conscious of our safety.”
Five years ago, Russell told Psycho Babble TV about the documentary: “What it is is partly my life story, as a kid growing up, and then it goes off into the fire, unfortunately, and the aftermath of that, and testimonies… not testimony, but… talks by the victims and their families and how it affected them.”
Russell said that parts of the movie are especially hard for him to watch “because a lot of people blame me.” He then corrected himself: “I wouldn’t say a lot, but they’re very vocal.” Still, he said he understood why some believe he should be held accountable for what happened fifteen years ago. “I look at it like this: if it makes it easier for them to grieve the loss of somebody close to them, then my shoulders are big enough,” he explained.
The fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick began in an overcrowded club when pyrotechnics from Russell‘s GREAT WHITE ignited illegal soundproofing foam lining the club’s walls.
“I’ve seen so many video tapes of pyro shooting off in that club with the foam — bigger stuff than we had — and it never happened,” Jack told Psycho Babble TV.” Why it happened that night… Who knows? I mean, it’s like a plane crash — it takes all these little things to fall in line for that one big thing to happen. So [the movie] gave me the opportunity to talk about how I felt and for me to apologize. Not a guilty apology, but because I just…
“I mean, I feel horrible that it happened,” he continued. “I lost a lot of friends that night — a lot of friends. People that I didn’t even know were even there. And people have said, ‘Well, he’s not remorseful.’ And they’ve gotta understand, when all this went down, my legal team, they said, ‘You cannot ever say you’re sorry, because it implies guilt.’ And I’m, like, ‘But I am sorry.’ [And they told me], ‘But you can’t say it.'”
According to Russell, at least one “really beautiful” thing came out of the tragedy. “There was a man named Joe; they call him ‘The Lizard Man,'” Jack said. “He was the worst, most badly burned of all the people. And he met his wife in the fire and they had a beautiful son. And his comment was, ‘If this wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t have met the love of my life.'”
Russell added that he is “glad” the film was made. “It may not be the best thing in the world for me, but it’s very cathartic,” he said.
At least one relative of a Station fire victim was angered by Russell‘s plan to make a documentary about the incident and discuss it in the upcoming book.
“I think it’s ruining all the positive strides that we’re now making to heal here in Rhode Island,” Jody King, whose brother Tracy was a bouncer at the Station, told the Associated Press in 2015. “If he wants to help, stay away, shut your mouth.”
Russell‘s bandmate Ty Longley (guitar) was one of the people who perished in The Station blaze, which became the fourth deadliest fire in U.S. history.
In 2008, the band agreed to pay $1 million to survivors and families of the victims of the fire.
GREAT WHITE guitarist Mark Kendall founded the band with Russell in 1982. At the time of the fire, the group that was on the road was called JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE. Kendall later said he was asked to join Russell and his solo band on the tour to help boost attendance.
“America’s Deadliest Concert: The Guest List” includes interviews with Russell, Dee Snider (TWISTED SISTER), Don Dokken (DOKKEN), Lita Ford and Michael Sweet (STRYPER).
Russell exited GREAT WHITE in December 2011 after he was unable to tour with the group due a series of injuries, including a perforated bowel and a shattered pelvis. Jack largely blamed these injuries on his alcohol and painkiller addictions as well as the prednisone drug he was prescribed.
Russell sued his onetime bandmates in 2012 over their continued use of the GREAT WHITE name after Jack had taken a leave of absence from the band for medical reasons. A short time later, Russell was countersued by Kendall, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Michael Lardie and drummer Audie Desbrow, claiming the vocalist’s self-destructive behavior was damaging the GREAT WHITE name (they also alleged he was charging promoters less for his own touring version of GREAT WHITE). The parties settled in July 2013 without going to trial, with Russell now performing as JACK RUSSELL’S GREAT WHITE while the others are continuing as GREAT WHITE.