25 Years Ago: Great White Release ‘…Twice Shy’
The third time’s supposed to be the charm, and that was definitely the case for Great White, whose commercial breakthrough with 1987’s ‘Once Bitten’ came after the band brushed the lower rungs of the charts with their first two albums. And as it turned out, that was just a warm-up act.
Things really got going for Great White with the release of their fourth LP, ‘…Twice Shy,’ on April 12, 1989. An eventual double-platinum Top 10 hit, it blanketed rock radio and gave the group its first Top 40 singles with ‘The Angel Song’ (No. 30) and a cover of Ian Hunter‘s ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ (No. 5), capping more than a decade of club gigs and financial frustration with a generous helping of MTV-anointed success.
“Maybe it’s one of those stories where the best things in life are worth waiting for,” mused singer Jack Russell during a 1987 interview. “I think people are just starting to catch up on what we’re trying to do, which is different music compared to what’s on the radio and what other people are playing….We said, ‘Let’s write songs we like, that we know are good songs. And if they don’t sell, at least we go broke with some integrity, at least if the shark dies he’s gonna die with his f—ing fin in the air like F— YOU! He’s going to die with his teeth in, not some gummy old shark!”
Acknowledging that covering ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ was an “obvious” choice as a follow-up to ‘Once Bitten,’ guitarist Mark Kendall later recalled, “We thought the song was good, but we didn’t think that it would really take off like it did.” As he went on to explain, the group also had a little personal history with Hunter.
“Way before we ever decided to cover the song, he actually rode on our tour bus with us to one of our shows and was just hanging out. I believe it was around 1979 in New York,” continued Kendall. “Then we ran into him again in 1984. We were touring with Judas Priest, and we needed a drum riser. Our sound guy knew Ian and said that he had a drum riser at his house. So, we went over and picked it up. What’s funny is that neither of these meetings had anything to do with us covering that song.”
However it happened, that cover gave Great White the big hit it had been looking for, and although the band’s good-time vibe fit right in with the slickly produced rock then holding sway at Top 40, their sound always had more of a blues component than some of their flashier contemporaries.
“We started out sounding more like Judas Priest,” Russell argued later. “The band just evolved naturally and we really hit our stride with the ‘Once Bitten…’ album. We finally figured out what we wanted to be — a blues-based rock band. That was the true spirit of the band. The first two records we were trying to find it. The first record was too heavy and the second record was too soft.”
Unfortunately, the band hit its stride just as its brand of old-fashioned rock and roll started losing its grip on the marketplace, and by the time they returned in early 1991 with their fifth studio LP, ‘Hooked,’ their star had already begun to fall. That album’s follow-up, 1992’s ‘Psycho City,’ stalled at No. 107, opening a new chapter of indie releases that mostly failed to chart — not to mention the musical conflicts and personal issues that led up to Russell starting his own competing version of Great White in 2011.
Although that split ended in acrimony and legal action, Russell hasn’t completely lost touch with the bond he and his former bandmates forged during Great White’s early lean years. “Mark and I started when I was 17 years old. I spent most of my life with him. I spent more time with him than all my wives put together,” he laughed in a 2013 interview. “You never know what’s going to happen. We might be onstage together one day again. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point, you know?”