Jack White has just stopped touring for the foreseeable, but how much do you know about him? We’d wager you were unaware that he initially started out as a drummer, landing his first real gig playing drums for alt-country band Goober and the Peas.
Jack’s mother is of Polish origin, whilst his father had Scottish-Canadian ancestry, which he paid homage to by utilising bagpipes on The White Stripes’ album ‘Icky Thump’.
He worked on a track called ‘Open Letter’ with Jay Z, which was released as a ‘playable letter’. Before their collaboration, White had dismissed rap music as novelty music “about women, money and cars, where every other word is bleeped out. It’s so meaningless.”
Jack’s a dog lover: he owns two, called Astro and Jasper, who are both namechecked in the White Stripes song ‘Astro’.
Jack, who released the world’s fastest record last month, has a history of turning around songs quickly. In documentary It Might Get Loud, he was challenged to write and record a song on camera, a task he completed in just under 10 minutes.
He’s recorded two albums with comedy chat show host Conan O’Brien, and the pair are reportedly in talks to buy a minor league baseball team together. This is nothing new for White, who once reportedly anonymously donated $170,000 to help restore a baseball field in his hometown of Detroit.
In 1990, White began an upholstery apprenticeship, going on own a shop called Third Man Upholstery. He used the moniker ‘The Upholsterers’ to package a demo EP he recorded with one of his co-workers at the time.
White was raised in a catholic family as the youngest of ten children, and strongly considered becoming a priest before he discovered music.
When White married model Karen Elson, the pair were officiated in a shamanistic ceremony, with Meg White as Elson’s maid of honour.
Jack White and now ex-wife Karen Elson threw a divorce party with drinks and dancing on what would have been their sixth anniversary.
One of Jack’s favourite guitars to use onstage is a 1965 JB Hutto Montgomery Airline. He’s owned two, one of which was given to him by a fan in 2004.
Jack is the inspiration for a lesser-known Flaming Lips track ‘Thank You Jack White (for the Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)’ from their 2003 EP ‘Fight Test’.
White is said to have an obsession with the number three. “It means perfection to me” he told NME in 2002. “All the songs and lyrics, the way things are structured, everything we do in our artwork is structured around the number three.” The use of the magic number is peppered through his career, from the number of bands he’s is part of to the number of colours he uses in each incarnations palette.
Although White is seldom seen without his classic jet black locks, he is actually a natural brunette.
Jack played bass on the song ‘Go It Alone’ from the Beck album, ‘Guero’. The album remains Beck’s highest charting release, reaching Number Two on the Billboard charts.
Jack has two children, Scarlett Theresa and Henry Lee White, who he had with ex-wife Karen Elson. However, he traditionally refuses to share any further information about them with the press.
Jack prides himself on only recording in analog, cutting his tape himself with a razor blade. “It’s sort of like I can’t be proud of it unless I know we overcame some kind of struggle,” he told the New York Post. “The funny thing is, even musicians and producers, my peers, don’t care. Like, ‘Wow, that’s great, Jack.’ Big deal.”
His disdain for the internet doesn’t stop there. In 2010, White told NME that the enemy of the music industry was online gossip, or rather “Your mom, and the internet.”
White’s spat with Von Bondies member Jason Stollsteimer allegedly revolved around Stollsteimer’s ungratefulness over Jack helping them secure a record deal. The fracas resulted in White being fined $975 and forced to undertake a course of anger management.
In other feud-related facts, White reportedly accused The Black Keys of “copying his style to become famous” in court reports concerning his children’s custody arrangements. He also told his ex-wife she couldn’t enrol his children at the same school as frontman Dan Auberbach’s, for fear of “sitting next to that asshole whilst he tries to push himself into my world.”
He was once interviewed by his childhood hero, Buzz Aldrin. The chat was for Interview Magazine and occurred when Jack, asked who his dream interviewer would be, cited the astronaut as a huge inspiration.
Although a veteran festival perfomer, Jack isn’t a fan of open air venues, citing The Reading and Leeds NME tent as his favourite summer stage. “I like that at festivals because it’s more like being indoors.”
Jack never intended for The Dead Weather to become a proper band. “The idea was to do a 7 inch single and be done with it, but we started writing songs and something happened,” he once admitted.
Jack doesn’t believe that politics and music should always go hand in hand. “Maybe when Bush was ‘president’,” he told NME in 2010. “But politics and music should mostly stay strangers to each other until there’s another dustbowl.”
He never performs with a setlist. “When we play live we put out this vibe that we’re teetering on disaster and yet it’s also teetering on something brilliant. It doesn’t feel contrived and then written on paper and performed to a script. Crowds can smell a script.”
White doesn’t mess around when he hits the studio. The first two White Stripes records both only took 2 weeks to record and The Dead Weather’s ‘Sea of Cowards’ only took three. “It’s a big mistake to spend too long on a record, it spoils the energy of the original performance,” says the man himself.
Jack is often disparaging about the Detroit scene in which The White Stripes were formed. “I think Detroit has a history of blowing it. When a bands about to do something, their tour gets cancelled at the last moment.”
Despite maintaining a strong black, white and red wardrobe throughout his White Stripes career, Jack used to be a fan of the bumblebee shades in his upholstery days. “The entire shop was yellow and black, all my tools, all the walls. I even had a yellow van and I’d deliver the furniture in yellow and black clothes. People didn’t think it was funny at all.”
Before forming The White Stripes, Jack was involved in other Detroit bands including 2 Star Tabernacle, who released a single with blues singer Andre Williams, and the Sub Pop signed group The Go, for whom Jack was lead singer.
If Jack could time travel and live in any other era, he’d choose the 1930s. “I’d much rather have lived in the 20s or 30s, but that will never be,” he says. “My dream of being a black man in the 30s is not going to happen.”
Jack’s love of red and black extends to his choice of cigarette – during his time in the White Stripes, he would only smoke Embassy No 1’s because of their packaging.
When The White Stripes first appeared on the cover of NME in August 2001, they were still unsigned, sparking a bidding war from record labels that left Jack somewhat displeased with the NME. “We asked NME not to put us on the cover and they did anyway. We honestly thought it was going to destroy us.”
Jack made his movie debut in 2003’s Cold Mountain, also starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Renee Zellwegger. Jack didn’t seem too bothered about hob-nobbing with the stars – he was more interested in the 200-year-old skull they let him buy from the set, adding to his collection of taxidermy and animal skeletons.
In 2002, Jack was voted Number One on NME’s cool list. His reaction? Pure laughter. “I’m sure there’s many people who think I’m the most uncool person in music. Any time you see a list like that, you never agree with it.”
Jack is not a fan of White Stripes track ‘There’s No Home For You Here’. “Our idea was to see how far we could go with an eight track recorder, and I think how far we went is too far.”
When Jack broke his finger in a 2003 car crash, he decided to ‘make it up’ to fans disappointed by White Stripes show cancellations by filming the experience of his operation that helped viewers “better understand the complexity of the situation” and included gory close ups of screws being inserted into his finger.
When writing the video treatment for The White Stripes single ‘Black Orchid’, Jack only gave director Floria Sigismondi three words: “Scary, manic and happy.” He refused to provide any further information, allowing Sigismondi to weave her own world of the charred, dark mansion.
Jack penned a song for Coca Cola in 2005 called ‘Love Is The Truth’, stating that he felt the deal was acceptable because it was an original track and he loves the brand
Jack is a firm believer in giving fans their money’s worth. New album ‘Lazaretto’ will be released as a limited edition blue and white vinyl package which will include a hard-bound book of song lyrics, 7 inch versions of two songs, and a linen, letter pressed 20th century postcard.
Jack is a big fan of Scottish record label Document. The White Stripes even covered songs by Document artists Blind Willie McTell and Son House, and in 2013 he teamed up with label owner Gary Atkinson to re-release the label’s archives on Vinyl.
In 2005, Jack produced country legend Loretta Lynn’s comeback album ‘Van Lear Rose’. In 2011, he played a similar role in orchestrating ‘The Party Ain’t Over, a late-career comeback record from Wanda Jackson.
According to a New York Times piece from 2012, Jack has installed microphones n the guttering of his house so he can hear the rain as he falls asleep.
White is a huge Bob Dylan fan, once famously saying that he had “three dads: my biological father, God and Bob Dylan.” Dylan was the first concert he ever attended, and he insists that he was sat in seat 666.
Jack has said before that says he consciously prefer working with female musicians. “When you’re in a room of five guys, it becomes a bunch of gorillas in a cage,” he told the New York Times. “Girls don’t have those hang-ups.”
Jack has never performed his Bond theme duet with Alicia Keys ‘Another Way To Die’ live. On the track, Jack can be heard playing drums, bass and guitar, as well as being on production and mixing duties.
As well as some of his more high-profile collaborations, White was involved in the ‘Rome’ project, which saw him come together with Norah Jones, Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi to create music inspired by spaghetti westerns.
Jack owns six Grammy awards for his work with The White Stripes and Loretta Lynn. Although he was nominated for both his solo work and albums with The Raconteurs, he failed to add to his trophy cabinet.
In 2013, Jack donated £130,000 ($200,000) to the National Recording Preservation Foundation in an attempt to rally other industry leaders to part with their cash and “help preserve America’s radio, music and recorded sound heritage”.
Jack is set to stay solo for the foreseeable future, telling NME in 2011 that he will never formally join another band. “Three’s enough for a lifetime,” he said. “If I can’t say it in any of these bands, I’ll have to say it myself.”
Jack’s stage outfits are designed by Brandy St.John, including his now famous ‘Pearly King’ suit he wore during The White Stripes ‘Icky Thump’ era. The outfit required the hand stitching of over 32,000 pearly disks. We’ll allow you to insert your own ‘hardest button to button’ joke here…