The White Stripes is an American garage rock band, formed in 1997 in Detroit, Michigan. The group consists of songwriter Jack White (vocals and guitar) and Meg White (drums), who have remained the consistent line-up.
After releasing several singles and three albums within the Detroit independent music underground, The White Stripes rose to prominence in 2002, as part of the "garage rock revival" scene. Their successful albums, White Blood Cells and Elephant, drew them attention from a large variety of media outlets in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The White Stripes use a low-fidelity, do-it-yourself approach to writing and recording, and utilize a simplified color scheme of red, white, and black for their imagery, instruments and clothing. Playing in the punk blues style, their music stresses a raw, minimalistic simplicity of composition and arrangement predominantly inspired by blues, early punk rock, and garage rock. The White Stripes' latest three albums have each won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.
Gillis married local bartender Megan Martha White (born December 10, 1974 in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI) on September 21, 1996. In unorthodox fashion, he took Meg White's surname. While the newly-christened Jack White continued to play in multiple bands, Meg White first began to learn to play the drums in 1997. In Jack White's words, "When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing. There was something in it that opened me up". The duo then became a band, calling themselves The White Stripes. They first performed publicly on July 14, 1997 at the Gold Dollar in Detroit.
The White Stripes began their career as part of the Michigan garage rock underground music scene, playing with local bands such as Bantam Rooster, The Dirtbombs, The Paybacks, Rocket 455, and The Hentchmen, among others. The White Stripes were signed to Italy Records, a small and independent Detroit-based garage punk label, in 1998 by Dave Buick. Buick approached them at a bar and asked if they would like to record a single for the label. Jack White initially declined, but eventually reconsidered. Their debut single "Let's Shake Hands" was released in February 1998. Its first pressing was copies on vinyl only. This was followed in October 1998 by the "Lafayette Blues" single. Again, copies were released on vinyl only. A third single, "The Big Three Killed My Baby" on Sympathy for the Record Industry followed in March 1999.
The White Stripes' debut album, The White Stripes, was released on June 15, 1999 on the independent Sympathy for the Record Industry label. Produced by Jack White and engineered by Jim Diamond, the album was recorded at Ghetto Recorders. Jack White described it as "really angry...the most raw, the most powerful, and the most Detroit-sounding record we've made." It was dedicated to bluesman Son House.
Allmusic said of the album, "Jack White's voice is a singular, evocative combination of punk, metal, blues, and backwoods while his guitar work is grand and banging with just enough lyrical touches of slide and subtle solo work... Meg White balances out the fretwork and the fretting with methodical, spare, and booming cymbal, bass drum, and snare... All D.I.Y. punk-country-blues-metal singer/songwriting duos should sound this good."
Johnny Walker of the Soledad Brothers played slide on two songs; and claims to having taught Jack White how to play slide guitar, a trademark of the band. Walker explains, "[Jack] had a four track in his living room and invited me to come by and do some recording. In return, I showed him how to play slide.
At the end of 1999, The White Stripes released "Hand Springs" as a 7" split single with fellow Detroit band The Dirtbombs on the B-side. 2,000 copies came free with the pinball fanzine Multiball. The record is currently—like the majority of vinyl records by The White Stripes—out of print and difficult to find.
The White Stripes' second album, De Stijl, was released on June 20, 2000 on Sympathy for the Record Industry. It was named after the Dutch art movement De Stijl (meaning "The Style"). De Stijl art is in the cover art as well. The album reached #38 on Billboard Magazine's Top Independent Albums chart in 2002 when The White Stripes' popularity began establishing itself.
Considered a "cult classic and self-recorded on an 8-track analog tape in Jack White's living room, De Stijl displays the early simplicity of the band's blues and punk fusion before their breakthrough success. The album was dedicated to furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld, as well as bluesman Blind Willie McTell. Additionally, The White Stripes cited De Stijl art as a source for the approach to their musical image.
The White Stripes' third album, White Blood Cells, was released on July 3, 2001 on Sympathy for the Record Industry. The band enjoyed its first significant success during 2002 with the major label re-release of the album on V2 Records. Its stripped-down garage rock sound drew critical acclaim in the UK, and in the US soon afterward, making The White Stripes one of the more acclaimed bands of 2002.
Several outlets praised their "back to basics" approach, with Daily Mirror calling them "the greatest band since The Sex Pistols. In 2002, Q magazine named The White Stripes as one of "50 Bands to See Before You Die". White Blood Cells peaked at number 61 on the Billboard 200, going Gold and selling over 500,000 units. The album also reached number 55 in the United Kingdom, being bolstered in both territories by the "Fell in Love with a Girl" single and its Lego-animation music video directed by Michel Gondry. Stylus Magazine rated it the fifteenth greatest album of 2000–2005 while Pitchfork Media ranked it ninth on their list of the top 100 albums from 2000-2004. "Fell in Love with a Girl" was nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards, competing against multiplatinum popular music acts.
The album was dedicated to Loretta Lynn, creating a friendship between Lynn and both Jack and Meg White. In 2004, Jack White would produce Lynn's comeback hit album Van Lear Rose to much critical praise.
The White Stripes' fourth album, Elephant, was released on April 1, 2003 on V2. It marked the band's major label debut. The album increased their success greatly, and eventually reached double platinum certification in England, and platinum certification in the United States. It was also The White Stripes' first UK chart-topping album, and their first US Top 10 album. They recorded Elephant in two weeks during 2002 in London's Toe Rag Studios with Liam Watson. Jack White self-produced the album with antiquated equipment, including a duct-taped 8-track tape machine and pre-1960s recording gear.
Elephant garnered much critical acclaim upon its release. It received a perfect 5 out of 5 star rating from Rolling Stone magazine, and enjoys a near-unanimous 92% positive rating on Metacritic. Despite the band's increased fame, Allmusic believed the album "sounds even more pissed-off, paranoid, and stunning than its predecessor... Darker and more difficult than White Blood Cells. Elephant was additionally notable for premiering Jack White's first formal use of guitar soloing, and Rolling Stone Magazine placed him at #17 on its list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". That same year, Elephant was ranked number 390 on the magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".
The album's first single, "Seven Nation Army", was the band's most successful yet. Its success was followed with a cover of "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself", originally written by Burt Bacharach. The album's third single was the successful "The Hardest Button to Button". "There's No Home for You Here" was the fourth single. On February 8, 2004, the album won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, while "Seven Nation Army" won a Grammy for Best Rock Song.
Jack and Meg White appeared in Jim Jarmusch's film Coffee and Cigarettes in 2003, in a segment entitled "Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil". This particular segment contains extensions of White Stripes motifs such as childhood innocence and Nikola Tesla. In 2004, the band released its first music film Under Blackpool Lights, which was filmed entirely using 16 mm film and was directed by Dick Carruthers. That same year, Jack White appeared in a small role in Cold Mountain, and contributed five songs to its soundtrack.
In 2004, a film titled Nobody Knows How to Talk to Children was produced. Its release was suppressed by the band's management after discovering that director George Rocca had been showing it at the Sundance Film Festival without permission. The film chronicles The White Stripes' three-night show at New York City's Bowery Ballroom in 2003, and contains live performances and behind-the-scenes footage. It was shot in high-contrast black, white and red, and has relatively poor sound quality. It remains a highly-prized bootleg.
The White Stripes' fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan, was released on June 7, 2005 on V2. The title, Get Behind Me Satan, refers to a well-known line from the story of the Temptation of Jesus which is later repeated against the disciple Simon Peter, in Matthew 16:23 of the New Testament (in the King James Version, the quotation is slightly different: "Get thee behind me, Satan).
Get Behind Me Satan was recorded in Jack White's then-Detroit home. It has garnered mixed reactions from fans, as well as critical acclaim. With its reliance on piano-driven melodies and experimentation with marimba on "The Nurse" and "Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)", Get Behind Me Satan downplayed the explicit blues and punk styles that dominated earlier White Stripes albums. However, despite this, Jack and Meg White were critically lauded for their "fresh, arty reinterpretations of their classic inspirations." Jack White plays with different technique than in past albums, trading in his electric guitar for an acoustic on all but a few of tracks, as his trademark riff-based lead guitar style is overtaken by a predominantly rhythmic approach. Rolling Stone ranked it the third best album of the year and it received the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2006.
Three singles were released from the album, the first being "Blue Orchid", a popular song on satellite radio and some FM stations. The second and third singles were "My Doorbell" and "The Denial Twist", respectively, and music videos were made for each of the three singles. "My Doorbell" was also nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
Jack White married British model Karen Elson, whom he had met on the set of the "Blue Orchid" music video, on June 4, 2005. The White Stripes released a cover version of Tegan and Sara's song "Walking with a Ghost" on iTunes on November 14, 2005. The song was later released on December 7, 2005 as the Walking with a Ghost EP featuring four other live tracks.
The White Stripes postponed the Japanese leg of their world tour after Jack White strained his vocal cords, with doctors recommending that Jack not sing or talk for two weeks. After a full recovery, he returned to the stage in Auckland, New Zealand to headline the Big Day Out tour.
Jack formed a new group, The Raconteurs, with fellow Detroit musicians Brendan Benson, and The Greenhornes' "Little" Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler. They released their debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers, in May 2006 on V2. Jack went on to tour with the band through the rest of the year, and relocated to Nashville, Tennessee with Elson.
In October 2006, it was announced on the official White Stripes website that there would be an album of avant-garde orchestral recordings consisting of past music written by Jack White called Aluminium. The album was made available for pre-order on November 6, 2006 to great demand from the band's fans; the LP version of the project sold out in a little under a day. The project was conceived by Richard Russell, founder of XL Recordings, who co-produced the album with Joby Talbot. It was recorded between August 2005 and February 2006 at Intimate Studios in Wapping, London using an orchestra. Before the album went out of print, it was available exclusively through the Aluminium website in a numbered limited edition of 3,333 CDs with 999 LPs.
On January 12, 2007, it was announced that in the process of reconstruction, V2 Records would no longer release new White Stripes material, leaving the band without a label. However, the band's contract with V2 had already expired, and on February 12, 2007, it was confirmed that the band had signed a single album deal with Warner Bros. Records.
The White Stripes' sixth album, Icky Thump, was released in most of the world on June 19, 2007 (June 15, 2007 in Germany, and June 18, 2007 in the rest of Europe) on Warner Bros. Records. This was their first record with Warner Bros., since V2 closed in 2006, and it was released on a one-album contract. Icky Thump entered the UK Albums Chart at number one and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 with 223,000 copies sold. By late July, Icky Thump was certified gold in the United States. By the end of 2007, 1,235,000 copies had been sold world-wide making it the 39th best-selling album of 2007. As of March 8, 2008, the album has sold 725,125 copies in the US. On February 10, 2008, the album won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
Following the mixed reception of Get Behind Me Satan, Icky Thump marked a return to the punk, garage rock and blues influences for which the band is known. It was recorded at Nashville's Blackbird Studio and took almost three weeks to record — the longest of any White Stripes album to date. It would also be their first album with a title track. The album's release came on the heels of a series of concerts in Europe and one in North America.
Prior to the album's release, three tracks were previewed to NME: "Icky Thump", "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)" and "Conquest". NME described the tracks as "an experimental, heavy sounding 70's riff," "a strong, melodic love song" and "an unexpected mix of big guitars and a bold horn section," respectively. On the US Billboard Charts dated May 12, 2007, "Icky Thump"—the first single—became the band's first Top 40 single, charting at #26, and later charted at #2 in the UK charts.
On April 25, 2007, the duo announced that they would embark on a tour of Canada performing in all 10 provinces, plus the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories. In the words of Jack White: "Having never done a tour of Canada, Meg and I thought it was high time to go whole hog. We want to take this tour to the far reaches of the Canadian landscape. From the ocean to the permafrost. The best way for us to do that is ensure that we perform in every province and territory in the country, from the Yukon to Prince Edward Island. Another special moment of this tour is the show which will occur in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia on July 14, The White Stripes' Tenth Anniversary." Canadian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac opened for the band at the Glace Bay show; earlier in 2007, MacIsaac and Jack White had discovered that they were distantly related.
On June 24, 2007, just a few hours before their concert at Deer Lake Park, The White Stripes kicked off their cross-Canada tour by playing a 40 minute set for a group of 30 kids at the Creekside Youth Centre in Burnaby. The Canadian tour was also marked by concerts in small markets such as Glace Bay, Whitehorse and Iqaluit, as well as by frequent "secret shows" publicized mainly by posts on The Little Room, a White Stripes fan messageboard. Gigs included performances at a bowling alley in Saskatoon, a youth center in Edmonton, Alberta, a Winnipeg Transit bus and The Forks park in Winnipeg, a park in Whitehorse, the YMCA in downtown Toronto, the Arva Flour Mill in Arva, Ontario, and Locas on Salter (a pool hall) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Video clips from several of the secret shows have been posted to YouTube. As well, the band filmed its video for "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)" in Iqaluit.
On September 11, 2007 the White Stripes announced the cancellation of 18 tour dates due to Meg's suffering from acute anxiety problems. Following this, the duo cancelled the remainder of their 2007 tour dates including their scheduled tour of the UK.
Jack has said that The White Stripes are already working on their seventh album, as of yet untitled. Furthermore, it has been suggested that he is beginning work on a new musical group. Jack published a poem on July 6—clearing up any misconceptions about his love for his hometown of Detroit due to previous comments about the city's "negative" music scene, and his move to Nashville in 2006—in the Detroit Free Press.
Their punk and garage rock influences can be heard in their live covers of early punk bands such as The Gun Club and The Cramps. Jack White has called The Gun Club, in particular, a major influence and has said of the band's songs, "'Sex Beat', 'She's Like Heroin To Me', and 'For The Love Of Ivy'...why are these songs not taught in schools? Other influences include protopunk bands such as The Stooges, The Flamin' Groovies and the MC5, hard rock bands like AC/DC, as well as influences in punk blues and garage rock bands such as Flat Duo Jets, The Gories, and Soledad Brothers. Jack also cites The Rats, The Sonics and The Monks as significant influences.
Their blues influences appear in numerous instances. Examples include their electric cover versions of Robert Johnson's "Stop Breakin' Down Blues", Blind Willie Johnson's "John the Revelator" ("Cannon"), Son House's "Death Letter Blues", and Blind Willie McTell's "Your Southern Can Belongs To Me" and "Lord, Send Me An Angel". Additionally, they have performed live covers of songs by blues musicians such as Leadbelly, Blind Willie Johnson, and Howlin' Wolf. Jack White will often utilize slide guitar during songs. A 2000 review stated that the band's "noisy, wicked electric-slide blues songs...sound like the Reverend Horton Heat...[and] Robert Johnson". In addition, the review states that the band is "the blues, as authentic and honest and real as it gets.
To a lesser extent, country music, folk music and showtunes have also influenced the band's sound. Beck, Brendan Benson, Captain Beefheart, Cole Porter, and Loretta Lynn have also been influential to Jack. Meg White has said one of her all-time favorite musicians is Bob Dylan; Jack claims "I've got three fathers - my biological dad, God and Bob Dylan", and has performed live with him.
Jack uses a number of effects to create his sound, notably a Digitech whammy pedal to reach pitches that would be otherwise impossible with a regular guitar. For instance, without the pedal, "Seven Nation Army" would require a bass guitar and "Black Math" would be very difficult to play without a 29th fret (which does not exist on most guitars) on the highest string.
When performing live, Jack White uses a 1964 JB Hutto Montgomery Airline, a Harmony Rocket, a 1970s Crestwood Astral II, and a 1950s Kay Hollowbody. He has also been seen playing various Gretsches, including a White Penguin with The Raconteurs. Also, while playing live, White uses an MXR Micro-Amp, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi distortion/sustainer, and an Electro-Harmonix POG (a polyphonic octave generator). He also uses a Boss TU-2 tuner pedal. He plugs this setup into a 1970s Fender Twin Reverb, and two 100-Watt Sears Silvertone 6" x 10" combo amplifiers. In addition to standard guitar tuning, Jack White also uses several open tunings. He sometimes uses a DigiTech whammy pedal, which allows him to play at one octave lower than standard tuning. He uses this pedal to achieve the bass guitar imitation effects most notably heard on "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button".
White also plays other instruments such as a black F-Style Gibson mandolin, Rhodes bass keys, and a Steinway piano. Jack plays a custom-made red and white marimba on "The Nurse", "Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)" as well as on the non-album tracks "Who's A Big Baby" and "Top Special".
Jack White downplays criticisms of her style, insisting:
"I never thought 'God, I wish Neil Peart was in this band.' It's kind of funny: When people critique hip hop, they're scared to open up, for fear of being called racist. But they're not scared to open up on female musicians, out of pure sexism. Meg is the best part of this band. It never would have worked with anybody else, because it would have been too complicated... It was my doorway to playing the blues."
Meg White herself admits:
"I appreciate other kinds of drummers who play differently, but it's not my style or what works for this band. I get [criticism] sometimes, and I go through periods where it really bothers me. But then I think about it, and I realize that this is what is really needed for this band. And I just try to have as much fun with it as possible." ... I just know the way [Jack] plays so well at this point that I always know kind of what he's going to do. I can always sense where he's going with things just by the mood he's in or the attitude or how the song is going. Once in a while, he throws me for a loop, but I can usually keep him where I want him."
While Jack is the lead vocalist, Meg does sing lead vocals on five of the band's songs: "In the Cold, Cold Night" (from Elephant), "Passive Manipulation" (from Get Behind Me Satan), "Who's a Big Baby?" (released on the "Blue Orchid" single), and "St. Andrew (This Battle is in the Air)" (from Icky Thump). She also makes an appearance on the song "Well It's True That We Love One Another", alongside Jack and Holly Golightly.
Several White Stripes recordings were completed rapidly. For example, Elephant was recorded in about two weeks in London's Toerag Studio. Their 2005 follow-up, Get Behind Me Satan, was likewise recorded in just two weeks.
For live shows, The White Stripes are known for Jack's employment of heavy distortion, as well as audio feedback and overdrive. The duo performs considerably more recklessly and unstructured live, never preparing set lists for their shows, believing that planning too closely would ruin the spontaneity of their performances.