*The White Stripes in 2001, first tour of Japan
As any normal music fan, we sometimes aren’t satisfied with simply the songs when it comes to our favorite bands. Some of us want to know their back story, some of us want to know who they’re dating, and some of us even want to know their favorite food! While some fans are simply casual and other are downright fanatical, musicians are a different breed of fans, more like brothers in arms actually. Rather than wanting to know things that have little to do with music and more to do with the trivial personal matters in the artist’s life, musicians want the gear info! And why not? It’s a chance to look at the tools in their repertoire, compare it with themselves, or even just gain a deeper sense of what makes the band work. This week, we will be taking a look at the famous brother-sister duo, The White Stripes! Although it later turned out that these two were actually former husband and wife rather than siblings, the raw intensity of their sound change the landscape of popular music at the time with their no-nonsense, blues infused garage rock, paving the way for similar acts that followed. Consisting of guitarist/singer-songwriter Jack White and Meg White on drums, The White Stripes might not have lasted as long as most had hoped for, but the effect of their music will continue to reverberate for years to come.
The Beginnings of The White Stripes
The birth of the band that would become The White Stripes began in the early ‘90s when Jack White was still known as John Anthony Gillis – the youngest of ten children – and his love of the blues. His first professional music gig came in the form of playing drums for the Detroit area punk band Goober & the Peas which subsequently led to work with various other local groups as both a drummer and guitarist. His first foray into professional recording came soon after while working with neighbor Brian Muldoon in the band Two Part Resin with White on guitar, vocals and keyboards and Muldoon on drums. Although the band was short lived, the duo did manage to release a 7-inch single entitled Makers of High Grade Suites, released in 2000 on Sympathy for the Record Industry under the band name The Upholsterers. White was no stranger to being in multiple bands even at this stage as he was also working on a project with his current wife at the time – a group named The White Stripes.
Jack Gillis, as he was still known as the time, married bartender Megan Martha White in 1996 and in untraditional manner, took her surname, formally making Gillis into Jack White, as he is obviously still known as today. Meg began gaining an interest in drumming in 1997 and soon after, simply as a spur of the moment occurrence, White and his new wife began playing together. White would later recall of the event, "When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing. There was something in it that opened me up."  The duo would play their first live show on August 14, 1997 at the Gold Dollar in Detroit.
Early Albums and Commercial Success
After less than a year of performing, The White Stripes were signed to Italy Records, a Detroit area Independent garage punk label, after being approached by Dave Buick who saw the pair perform at a local bar. Buick had asked the duo if they would like to record a single for the label and although White had initially turned down the offer, he soon reconsidered and recorded The White Stripes’ debut single, “Let’s Shake Hands,” released in February of 1998. The original pressing of the single was limited to 1,000 copies and strictly on vinyl. Eight months later on October of 1998, they released their second single, “Lafayette Blues,” in similar fashion with only 1,000 vinyl pressings. A third single, "The Big Three Killed My Baby" on Sympathy for the Record Industry followed in March 1999.
During these early years, Jack and Meg White would often give different versions of their relationship and in many early interviews began stating that they were siblings. Although it was always widely believed that the duo were actually husband and wife, the prevalent view was that the two were in fact brother and sister. Even when the duo’s 1996 marriage papers surfaced in 2001, the two still stuck to their sibling story line. In a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jack White claimed that this open secret was intended to keep the focus on the music rather than the couple's relationship."When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think, 'Oh, I see...' When they're brother and sister, you go, 'Oh, that's interesting.' You care more about the music, not the relationship—whether they're trying to save their relationship by being in a band."
The White Stripes released their self titled debut album on June15, 1999 on the independent record label Sympathy for the Record industry and was produced by Jack White while Jim Diamond took the helm as engineer. The album itself paid great tribute to one of White’s main influences, the delta blues musician Son House. The song “Cannon” from The White Stripes contains part of an a cappella rendition of the traditional American blues song “John the Reverend” as performed by House. The pair would later cover the House song “Death Letter” on their follow-up, De Stijl, which would also be released under Sympathy for the Record Industry and released on June 20, 2000. De Stijl is currently considered a cult classic for displaying the band’s simplicity as well as their unique fusion of punk rock and blues prior to their commercial breakthrough. The album would eventually reach No. 38 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, but not until 2002 while The White Stripes were riding high on the success of their follow-up album, White Blood Cells.
*White Blood Cells (2001)
On July 3, 2001, The White Stripes released their third studio album, White Blood Cells, for Sympathy for the Record Industry and was re-released the following year under the major label V2 Records. This move towards a major label proved fruitful as the band had finally attained their first taste at breakthrough success, bolstered by the lead single “Fell in Love With a Girl” and its accompanying music video – an all Lego animation directed by Michel Gondry. The video went on to win three MTV Video Awards and nearly won for Video of the Year. Its stripped-down garage rock sound drew critical acclaim in the UK, and in the US soon afterward, making The White Stripes one of the most acclaimed bands of 2002. The album went on to be highly regarded as one of the best of the era, garnering the No. 14 spot on Stylus magazine’s list of the top 100 records of 2000-2005 while Pitchfork Media listed it at No. 8 on their similar list of albums from 2000-2004.
Soon after the success of their breakthrough third album, The White Stripes released Elephant in 2003 on V2 Records, marking the first time the group had fully gone with a major record label. The album hit the No. 1 spot on the UK charts and rose to No. 6 here in the states, eventually reaching double platinum in Britain and platinum in the US. The album received wide critical acclaim, receiving a perfect 5 out of 5 stars on Rolling Stone magazine and currently holds a positive 92% on Metacritic. The album’s first single “Seven Nation Army,” more specifically the main riff, easily became the band’s most recognizable even to this day as it can be heard everywhere from sporting events around the world to the multiple covers from artists such as UK songstress Kate Nash and The Oak Ridge Boys. Although several speculated that White attained the signature sound for the riff using a distorted bass, he later revealed that he actually used a 1950s style Kay Hollowbody through a DigiTech Whammy pedal set down an octave. Elephant would go on to win a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2004 while the lead single attained the Grammy for Best Rock Song.
To the surprise of several fans, The White Stripes would depart from their traditional garage rock sound for their 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan, instead gravitating towards a more melodic and keyboard/piano driven sound. Regardless of the shift in style, the album was once again a critical and commercial success and received the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2006. Although most of the tracks featured White with an acoustic guitar or keyboard, the album’s first single “Blue Orchid” prominently featured the band’s signature garage rock, blues infused sound. By the beginning of 2007, V2 Records announced that they would be going through restructuring and would no longer be releasing any new White Stripes records, although the actual contract with the band had already expired. On February 12, 2007, it was announced that The White Stripes had signed with Warner Bros Records on a one album deal.
The Zenith and The End of The White Stripes
*Meg and Jack White in 2007 during
Primavera Sound Festival in Spain
Icky Thump was released on June 15, 2007 in Germany, June 18, 2007 in the rest of Europe, and June 19, 2007 in the rest of the world. It would be the band’s sixth and last album as well as the only with Warner Bros Records. The album marked a return to the band’s garage rock, blues fueled sound but also featured tinges of Scottish folk music, avant-garde, trumpet and bagpipes into the mix. The album debuted at No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 in the States. The album’s first single and title track quickly became the band’s most successful ever and debuted at No. 28 on the US singles chart, making it the only White Stripes song to crack the top 40. The album itself would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2008.
On April of 2007, The White Stripes announced that they would be embarking on a country wide tour of Canada and promised to hit all ten providences. White would later recall, “Having never done a tour of Canada, Meg and I thought it was high time to go whole hog. We want to take this tour to the far reaches of the Canadian landscape. From the ocean to the permafrost. The best way for us to do that is ensure that we perform in every province and territory in the country, from the Yukon to Prince Edward Island. Another special moment of this tour is the show which will occur in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia on July 14, The White Stripes' Tenth Anniversary." The White Stripes would never go on to finish their mission; on September 11, 2007, the band announced the cancellation of 18 tour dates, citing acute anxiety problems suffered by Meg. Soon after, they would cancel the rest of their remaining tour dates, including the entire leg of their subsequent UK tour.
Although the group would go on performing as well as making the occasional television performance – such as their many appearances on The Late Show with Conan O’ Brien (including the last episode which featured Meg on guitar for “We Are Going To Be Friends”) – it was announced on February 2, 2011 that The White Stripes would officially cease recording and performing, specifically denying any health issues or artistic differences as the cause, but instead cited "a myriad of reasons ... mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band." Although Meg would all but disappear from the spotlight, Jack White continued with side projects he had created while with The White Stripes, namely the Raconteurs and later The Dead Weather. On April 23, 2012, Jack White released his debut solo album Blunderbuss which was written, recorded and produced entirely by White in 2011. The album would go on to debut at the No. 1 spot in both the UK and US charts, as well as the top spot in several other countries, a mark that he never quite reached with his former band.
Jack White- Guitars/Keyboards/Vocals
Known for his distorted bluesy guitar style, White uses a relatively simple setup of commonly used pedals and pickups to attain his signature sound. One of the most important pieces in his effects repertoire is the classic Big Muff Fuzz Pedal along with a combination of the Digitech Whammy( set 2 octaves up during solos) and the MXR MicroAmp, which is kept on at all times in order to boost the bass and volume of his instrument. It is the combination of both the Big Muff and the Digitech Whammy that White uses to attain his signature sound, using the two together in most of his solos, although it can be closely recreated with a similar set up of distortion pedals and modulation effects.
Jack White performing with The
Dead Weather in 2009
1964 JB Hutto Montgomery Airlines
1966 Harmony Rocket H56
1970s-era Crestwood Astral II
1950s-era Kay Hollowbody
Gretsch White Penguin
Gretsch Triple Jet
Gretsch Anniversary Jr. w/ Bigsby with three Filtertron pickups
Custom Gretsch Rancher Acoustic Guitar Western Maple Satin
Black Gibson F-4 mandolin
Gibson Hummingbird Acoustic
100-Watt Sears Silvertone 6x10 combos
Boss CS-3 Compression/Sustainer
Boss TU2 tuner
Voodoo Lab Tremolo pedal
GHS guitar strings
Extra Notes: When it comes to attaining the sound of The White Stripes, guitars are a bit complicated as up until the later end of the band, White had been known to prefer rare used guitars, most of which weren’t even of particularly good quality, such as the JB Hutto Montgomery Airline, which was sold through Montgomery Ward department stores and catalogues as a starter guitar (made of fiberglass). He has since stuck with Gretsch for most of his recent live shows and recordings, most notably the White Penguin model, which can be seen in The White Stripes’ video for “Icky Thump.” Those looking for something with that classic look of White’s early guitars can either purchase the much updated and much better quality reissue of the Montgomery Airline, or try out the Italia Mondile Classic, both of which feature the indistinguishable ‘60s look of the original Airline with modern pickups and machinery.
Meg White – Drums/Percussion/Backing Vocals
Meg White in 2007
Ludwig Drum Kit:
Ludwig Accent 5-Piece
14” Signature Medium Hi-Hats
19” Signature Power Crash
22” 2002 Ride
Sennheiser Drum Mics:
E902 - Kick
E905 - Snare
KM184 - Hi-Hat and Overheads
E904 - Toms
* All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons