JACK WHITE IS NO SHREDMEISTER, AND HE'S NOT THE MOST melodic guitarist on the planet, either. Yet despite being a less-than-obvious extension of the guitar-god tradition, this scrapper from Detroit has become the heavyweight champion of rock guitar over the past decade. The gifted multi-instrumentalist has garnered an astonishing track record of commercial and critical successes by landing a succession of insanely catchy hooks, never compromising his strategy, and matching a wild-eyed knack for sonic ingenuity with sheer intensity.
"I always look at playing guitar as an attack," says White. "It has to be a fight. Every song, every guitar solo, every note that's played or written has to be a struggle. It can't be this wimpy thing where you're pushed around by the idea, the characters, or the song itself. It's every player's job to fight against all of that."
White has been a soldier for the cause since at least 1997, when he formed the White Stripes with drummer Meg White. Actually, White's original instrument was the skins, as well. But when he traded his sticks for a Ward's Airline guitar, and pumped it simultaneously through a vintage Silvertone and a Fender Twin, the duo struck a raw nerve. The White Stripes' minimalist garage blues was both original and traditional, and the band's unique sound spawned myriad groups populated by players who were sick of slick audio production and homogenous guitar tones. White embraced his twisted blues roots in a big way on Elephant, which he dubbed his "guitar" album in his June 2003 GP cover story. Elephant's first cut was a doozy. The bombastic "Seven Nation Army" was an instant rock classic, whose main riff ultimately became a sports-stadium anthem.
When the red, white, and black box that White created for the Stripes got too limiting, he proved he was more than a one-trick pony by appearing in and contributing tracks to the Civil War film, Cold Mountain, and producing--as well as performing on--country legend Loretta Lynn's lauded comeback album, Van Lear Rose. White enlisted Greenhomes bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler for the Lynn sessions, along with fellow Motor City tunesmith Brendan Benson to help engineer. When White and Benson found themselves in need of a rhythm section for a little song they had written together called "Steady As She Goes," Lawrence and Keeler answered the call once again. In 2006, that song became the debut single from a band that would co-exist with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs.
When the Stripes dropped Get Behind Me Satan in 2005, the deep guitar riff and falsetto vocal of "Blue Orchid" sounded downright demonic, but much of the record featured White on piano and marimba, and not playing big guitar. But 2007's Icky Thump was aptly named. The title track's Zeppelin-inspired riffs and plodding bass drum absolutely invited the masses to raise their horned hands in head-banging approval. White then found himself face-to-face with riffmaster Jimmy Page when the two participated in 2009's It Might Get Loud--an insightful, must-see film directed by Davis Guggenheim (who also directed An Inconvenient Truth) that documents the careers of White, Page, and The Edge.
The White Stripes' 2007 Canadian tour is featured on Under Great White Northern Lights--a DVD and CD release (also available as a limited-edition box set that contains the DVD and CD and other goodies for diehard fans) that celebrates the band's decade of live performing with rip-your-face-off footage of the duo kicking out their most signature jams, as well as impromptu performances shot at unlikely venues such as a bowling alley and a boat.
Meanwhile, White launched a dark and heavy outfit called the Dead Weather. An all-star affair featuring Alison Mosshart (the Kills) out front, Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) on guitar, and Jack Lawrence on bass, the Dead Weather puts White …