Ex-GREAT WHITE Singer JACK RUSSELL Says Documentary About Fatal Nightclub Fire Will Receive Premiere In February
December 27, 2021
Former GREAT WHITE singer Jack Russell, whose pyrotechnics ignited the deadly blaze on February 20, 2003 in Rhode Island, spoke to Tulsa Music Stream about the upcoming documentary about the infamous fire that killed a hundred people and injured hundreds more.
"We're supposed to have a premiere of it at the [legendary club] Whisky [A Go Go in West Hollywood] in February — an invitation-only thing," Jack said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). "I think it's coming out on Reelz; I think they're gonna put it out on Reelz. It's not the way we initially wanted it to come out; we wanted it to be more of a movie. We took three years shooting this thing. I mean, it was a long time. A lot of footage — a lot of footage. I could have my whole biography done with just what's on the cutting-room floor. But it's really moving. I haven't seen the finished product yet — I've just seen the trailer — but 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."
During the same chat, Russell spoke about the status of his long-awaited autobiography, "Dancing On The Edge". He said: "We're almost done with it. I found a writer. Her name is Kate Catalina. She's Chip Z'Nuff's wife. She's a fantastic writer. We get along like peas and carrots. So it's gonna be a really great book. What I've read is really great. We've got a lot of people that have done interviews for it. Even [A&R guru] John Kalodner came out of the closet [to be interviewed for it]. No, he didn't come out of the closet — I didn't mean the 'closet' closet."
Four years ago, Russell told Psycho Babble TV about the upcoming documentary, which is tentatively titled "The Guest List": "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.'"
The singer said that the documentary, which he hopes will help bring him some closure, is "really well done. The guy [making it]… He's done Disney movies. He's actually from that town. So he had to be really unbiased, which he really was — he just told it. And it's really, really informative, and it delves into people's lives."
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.
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.
Russell previously discussed his book in a 2016 interview, saying: "I'm just dumping everything in this book. And there might be a couple of lawsuits out of it, I would imagine. I'm gonna have to have my lawyers check it out before I release it. But, I mean, I don't really think that's gonna happen. 'Cause the book is about myself and what I've [gone through] and not so much about other people. But there are gonna be spots where somebody might raise an eyebrow and go, 'Hmmm….' It's gonna make some people upset. But it'll make more people laugh. If you're the butt of the joke, that's just the way it goes. [Laughs]"
Three years ago, Russell said that one of the main reasons he was writing a book was "because I want people to know that no matter how far down the ladder you fall you can always climb back up. You don't have to stay down," he told Daily Boom. "Whether you have a drug an alcohol problem or anything else for that matter, you can pull yourself out of it. You can accomplish so much in life if you just believe in it and visualize it. Nothing happens by chance, and I believe that everyone that you meet has some sort of message for you, if you listen closely enough. It might be a stranger that says something random to you that you shrug off, but if you sit and think about it, maybe they said something that you were supposed to hear. You just never know when you are being used as that voice of encouragement for someone else. I don't believe that anything happens by coincidence; it's all for a reason, both good and bad. Life isn't random; it's very well choreographed and we're here to learn."