Personalities | Jack White | Reviving the Blues | Guitar Heroes

Modern blues guitarist Jack White (b. 1975) was born John Gillis in Detroit, Michigan. He taught himself to play drums, starting at the age of five. On leaving school, he played in various Detroit bands. In 1996, he married Meg White and, reversing normal practice, took her surname.

The White Stripes were born when Meg, with no previous experience on the drum kit, started bashing along to his guitar, and he realized that her primitive beat was exactly the accompaniment he needed.

After two independent albums, The White Stripes’ breakthrough came with the release of White Blood Cells (2001), when DJ John Peel enthused about the band, and the excitement surrounding them in the UK transferred back to America. White was hailed as the most explosive rock performer in the world and credited with returning the blues to the forefront of modern rock. This was achieved with the setup of just guitar (occasionally piano) and drums. As White explained, ‘All you need is two people. The music is from the guitar or piano and the rhythm is Meg’s accompaniment. There is nothing else that needs to be there.’ During downtime from The White Stripes in 2005, White formed The Raconteurs, a more conventional 1960s-influenced outfit. In 2009, he formed a new group called The Dead Weather with The Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart. The White Stripes announced that they were splitting in 2011, and White released his debut solo album, Blunderbuss, the following year.

In addition to blues masters Son House and Robert Johnson, White was equally inspired by Captain Beefheart, Dylan and obscure US garage bands The Sonics, The Monks and The Rats. The White Stripes’ success initiated a new era of back-to-basics rock. White’s most famous guitar is a red and white Airline, a cheap 1960s department-store model. For The White Stripes, he also used a Harmony Rocket, a Crestwood Astral and a Gretsch White Penguin. In The Raconteurs, he favoured Gretsch guitars. To achieve The White Stripes’ powerful live sound, he made extensive use of effects, mainly a DigiTech Whammy to shift the pitch down and compensate for the absence of bass. When playing barre and power chords, he uses the little finger on his left hand, partly because of an injury to his index finger sustained in a car accident in 2003.

Essential Recordings

The White Stripes: White Blood Cells

The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers

The Dead Weather: Sea Of Cowards

Solo: Blunderbuss

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