Rhode Island Remembers Victims Of Deadly GREAT WHITE Concert Fire

February 24, 2023

Rhode Island governor Dan McKee released a statement on Monday (February 20) to mark the 20th anniversary of the deadly blaze caused by pyrotechnics at a concert by the now-former GREAT WHITE singer Jack Russell. At the time of the fire, the group that was on the road was called JACK RUSSELL'S GREAT WHITE.

"February 20th will forever be a tragic and difficult day in Rhode Island's history," the governor wrote. "Today, we mourn the 100 lives lost in the Station nightclub fire and the hundreds more whose lives will never be the same. To the families of those who died on that devastating day: Rhode Island will never forget your loved ones and we will always stand by you.

"As we hold those impacted by this tragedy close in our hearts, we also remember the remarkable and courageous actions of first responders, public safety officials, medical professionals, and Rhode Islanders who sprang into action to save lives on that day and who worked to comfort their communities in the days and weeks following. That is the true spirit of Rhode Island.

"I ask all Rhode Islanders to join us in honoring the memories of each and every person lost on that devastating day."

Governor McKee directed U.S. and Rhode Island flags to remain at half-staff at all state facilities and buildings on Monday, February 20. Governor McKee also asked Rhode Islanders to lower their flags as a sign of respect.

GREAT WHITE guitarist Mark Kendall, who founded the band with Russell in 1982, later said he was asked to join Russell and his solo band on the 2003 tour to help boost attendance.

According to Kendall, the tour was initially billed just "the Jack Russell 'For You' tour," named after Jack's second solo album, which came out in 2002. "And when I went out there, not even realizing… After I did three or four shows, I saw a flyer that said 'Jack Russell's GREAT WHITE,'" Mark recalled to "Sally Steele Rocks! Show". "And I even called the manager, I go, 'You're calling it 'Jack Russell's GREAT WHITE'?' I go, 'Whatever. That's cool.' But the night of the accident, they actually put 'GREAT WHITE' on the marquee, and I think that's where the confusion came. But I didn't know anyone in [Jack's solo] band; I just met 'em for the first time [on that tour]."

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.

Ten years ago, The Providence Journal identified 462 people in the nightclub when it caught fire, based on legal documents, police witness statements, survivors and others. However, the club's official licensed capacity was 404. One hundred people lost their lives, and about half were injured, either from burns, smoke inhalation, or trampling.

Nine months after the fire, the club's owners, brothers Jeff and Michael Derderian, along with Daniel Biechele, the band's tour manager, were each charged with 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter. They all later accepted plea deals.

"It was just an awful experience," Mark said. "I talked to my pastor. Man, it was the most horrific thing. I'm very close with everybody in Rhode Island. We're constantly in contact on Facebook. It was just an awful night."

Elaborating on what he saw that tragic evening, Kendall said: "It was very mild looking [at first], but I felt heat and I never felt heat before with this stuff, and so I knew there was something wrong. So I went out through the back door to get out of everybody's way so they could put it out. I thought maybe they'd have a fire extinguisher. 'Cause I saw on the wall it was just a very small part of the foam [that] had caught fire, and I thought for sure they would just put it out. But when they opened the doors… This whole place was lined with this black foam stuff, and come to find out later — of course I didn't know it then — but the fire marshal said it was equal to 13 gallons of gasoline on the wall or something. So when they opened doors, the backdraft or whatever made it just go up. And it was just horrific, man. I don't like to think about it."

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 a few years ago." 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.'"

"America's Deadliest Concert: The Guest List", a documentary about the GREAT WHITE concert fire, received its premiere in February 2022 via Reelz. The film is based in part on John Barylick's narrative non-fiction work "Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America's Deadliest Rock Concert". It 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.

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