Mark Kendall of Great White (INTERVIEW)

It’s been over thirty years and Great White is still going strong. Known for such hits as “Rock Me”, “House Of Broken Love”, “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and “Mista Bone”, this band with the blues soul and rock & roll heart is still playing to sold out venues from coast to coast.

And on a sunny California afternoon, guitar player Mark Kendall is happily sharing with me memories of his youth, tales from his early days with Great White and whether or not he will finally have time to record another solo record.

Hi Mark, what’s going on in your world today?

I don’t have anything going. We have a day off today and I’m at home so this is a pretty chill day.

Well, let’s talk about you and Great White. You’ve been around a long time and you’ve got a lot of great fans who have been with you through the good times and the bad. So what do you have planned next? Any new material coming out?

Yeah, you know I’m always writing. In fact, what I’ve been doing recently, kind of in my off time, is producing bands and I don’t charge them anything. I just say, give me studio time (laughs). So they give me free studio time and I write songs and I can put them on tape for future use and it’s a better format to present songs to the band when they sound really good instead of just  standing there with your guitar going, “hey check this out” (laughs). I go, “listen to this, this is a song I came up with” and it’s just a better representation of an idea or whatever. So, yeah, we’re always writing. Even in soundcheck, I’ll play a riff and somebody in the band will come over and go, “Oh I like that, let’s work on that”. So we’re always trying to keep it exciting because we’ve never learned to become like an oldies band that is just going to go out and play “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, you know. We always want to keep it fresh for us and that’s what keeps it exciting for us. We always like to eliminate the risk of going through the motions, you know what I mean. We really want to have a good time when we play.

Tell us about the past, being on the LA Strip and trying to make it with all those other hundreds of bands trying to make it too? How did you try and stand out?

Our thinking was, who is the best band around and what are they doing that we’re not doing. Well, Van Halen was kind of the best band around so we kind of watched what they were doing, which they were just playing more than everyone. So they played like every night. So that’s what we tried to do. We just tried to play more than everybody and promote ourselves. We figured nobody was at the high school at three in the morning putting flyers in lockers so we did that. And our whole thing was that we figured even if we’re not good enough to make it or whatever, maybe people will be brainwashed in to thinking they’re supposed to like us (laughs) because they see our name around so much, you know. We wanted to be like a Tide commercial, like when you go down an aisle, you’ve seen our name so much we’re like the Tide detergent (laughs).

You know, it’s funny. We really promoted. I would be like going down the Sunset Strip with my staple gun and my posters and putting up our poster of us playing somewhere and look across the street and there’s Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue doing the same thing, you know (laughs). That was the thing we did, we just all kept our dreams alive and when Van Halen did get a record deal, I was happy. Some bands might have got jealous or whatever but I was just like, are you serious? It CAN happen and you CAN get a record deal and you CAN go on tour. So we just kept plugging away and we figured if we played more than everyone, cause we know you have to be very lucky to make it or get a record deal or whatever, we figured if we put ourselves in maybe a better position to get lucky than a band that just plays on Saturday night, if we’re playing on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, then our chances are a lot better at getting lucky or having someone in the crowd that means something, like a record company guy or whatever. And that’s what happened. We were just playing at the Whiskey one night, it was like a Wednesday night, no big deal, and some guy that was just in the crowd that worked for a label came back and handed us his card and before you know it we’re in the studio making a record.

So it happened kind of like that. It’s just the dream, a dream that teenagers have or whatever. You want to be up there like Led Zeppelin and you got this big dream and we just tried to keep our dreams alive. We used to pretend like we were doing interviews, that’s how much we were dreaming, know what I mean (laughs). “How long has the band been together?” “Oh we’ve been together like nine years and this is our eighth album” (laughs). We would pretend. It’s funny, there’s something to say about that because almost all the dreams that we had have all happened. It’s amazing when that happens, when you just believe in something so much. When it happens it’s almost like it’s not even real.

About how old were you guys?

I was in a band when I was seventeen and I was playing mostly other people’s music in clubs and when I met my singer I think I was nineteen years old. And so we played around the club circuit for probably four or five years before anything big happened. So I think I was twenty-four when we started to get things rolling with airplay and all that kind of stuff. I think when we went on tour with Judas Priest I was twenty-five years old.

When did you fall in love with the guitar?

Actually at a really young age. It wasn’t just only the guitar. There was always music around. My dad was a trumpet player and my mom sang and we always had music going in the house and all that. And my grandpa was also kind of an accomplished piano player and played like the vaudeville kind of show tunes and all that. So music was just kind of bred into me and I just kind of picked up on melodies really easy when I was probably like seven or eight years old, just sitting by the hi-fi, just singing to songs and whatnot.

And then there was this group that played across the street in a garage and I used to watch them through the side window. The bass player I remember playing with his teeth (laughs) and I just went crazy and went running to my dad, “I got to get a guitar, I need a guitar”. And so he got me a guitar and I just kind of really liked it and I picked up on it fairly easy, was just able to listen to music and just kind of play it. My ear was so good from my parents and everything so I could learn songs really easy. But I still did all the things that other kids did. I was in Little League and played baseball and running around and goofing around riding wheelies down the street and everything. But the guitar didn’t really consume me until I was a teenager and then I just never put it down. I kept getting a little better and it just made me play even more and before you know it I’m in a band and we’re playing around in people’s backyards (laughs). Yeah, I just fell in love with it.

Do you remember your first guitar and how you got it?

Yeah I do. My dad got me an acoustic guitar. It was kind of a crummy little Spanish guitar. I guess he kind of wanted to make sure I was going to do something with it or whatever before he spent any money. It was just a little acoustic and I got my way around on it pretty good fairly quickly. So the following Christmas he got me the big electric guitar and amplifier. And I remember in fourth grade, me and this other kid we wheeled our amps to school and played for the classroom. We played four songs so that was the first big show.

Do you remember the songs you played?

Yeah, I know exactly what we played. We played “Pipeline”, “Gloria”, “Wipeout” and “Secret Agent Man”. A big four song set (laughs) with no singer of course. And my friend had a better amp than me but his parents put tape on the knobs so he couldn’t turn it up past a certain volume. But he had a Fender amp, this really good one like Fender Twin Reverb, like way expensive, and I had this crummy little one called a Kay amp and a Kay guitar but I could turn it up louder than his because my parents didn’t put the tape on my volume (laughs). So I took all the parts “daaannaaanaa”, you know what I mean (laughs) I did all that stuff and he played the chords. But that was fun and I just kind of stemmed off from that and started playing around, you know.

What kind of reaction did you get then?

Great. And in fact, you know we were in fourth grade and the fifth grade class came in our class for our big show or whatever and everybody, I guess they clapped and stuff (laughs). And a friend of mine who lived across the street, not the one that had the band but another guy who was in that class who I still know today and he still remembers that. He goes, “who’d ever think you’d get where you’re at from that” (laughs). So it’s kind of funny.

Do you remember the first album that you bought? Or the first one that really had an impact on you?

Absolutely. My dad got me my first three records I ever owned. They just blew my mind, I loved them so much. It was The Doors and it was called Strange Days. It was the one with “The Music’s Over” and “Love Me Two Times” and all that. And then Cream’s Disraeli Gears. It was like this psychedelic looking record. And Jimi Hendrix Experience. He got me three records and I listened to them over and over and over and over and I was just like dumbfounded, I couldn’t believe how great it was. I wanted to do that.

Do you remember the first concert that you went to? And what did that feel like?

The first concert I ever went to, I think I was sixteen years old and I went and saw Edgar Winter, Jo Jo Gunne and a band called Spooky Tooth, and it was at Long Beach Arena. And I went with a friend of mine and we were just like, “Oh my God, look at this”. It was amazing and I couldn’t believe it. I could never imagine myself at that time being in that spot, you know what I mean. Little did I know that I would be standing up there in ten years (laughs) on the same stage.

Really? You played at the same arena?

Yeah, with Judas Priest. We played there in 1984. I was twenty-five years old, so it would have been nine years after I had been at my first concert.

Tell me about the first time you were on a big stage in a big arena with thousands of people watching you. How did that feel? Were you overwhelmed or did it feel like home?

Well, I was in a band and we played all cover songs and it was a pretty big crowd for us at the time. I was probably only like seventeen years old and I think it was like three thousand people. I was really nervous and it was an all-girls school (laughs). I don’t know how we got that gig but anyways we went out and played in front of about three thousand people, if I remember. I was pretty nervous, you know. But we played pretty good.

You, Michael and Audie are original members of Great White, correct?

Michael Lardie, Audie Desbrow and I. Well, I’ve been in the band even before them cause we started it in like the late seventies. They came along after the first record so they’ve been in the band since about 1985. So you can consider them original members because they’ve been in the band so long. The bass player that was the original bass player, he kind of left in 1987 and that was kind of an alcohol thing. His name was Lorne Black and he played on the very first album and actually recorded on the album with “Rock Me” on it. Then a guy named Tony Montana came in and played bass and he was in the band until 1992, I believe. And he went off and played guitar so we got another bass player, Sean McNabb, and he was in the band for eight or nine years. Then he went off to be an actor and then played part time like in Dokken and wherever else he does. So the bass player we have now that has been in the band for three years is named Scott Snyder. So the bass players have kind of been the revolving door (laughs). Not by design, it’s just things happen and the bass players take off (laughs).

Are you going to do another solo album?

Good question. You know with as busy as the band is right now, I can’t see it happening anytime real soon but I would love to do that. If we have any off time at all I’ll go straight in and start making one. But the way our schedule is now, we’ve been playing every week and stuff. I just can’t see on my three days off going in and making some solo album or something. I need like blocks of time to do it. I just can’t get myself to do that like that. I need to spend time with my family. If I could spend time with my family and do my solo album, that would work better than not spend time with my family, do Great White shows and do my solo album (laughs) that’s just too much. But yeah, definitely, hopefully I can do that in the not so distant future.

So what’s up for the rest of the year?

We have shows booked up till probably middle November. Then we’ll probably take a break after that. I’m not really sure if we’re going to go in and do a Great White record or maybe I can do my solo album then or whatever, I’m not real sure. We haven’t really talked about it. We’ll just see where we’re at and then figure things out.

Myles Kennedy joins us in next week’s installment, talking about his life pre-Alter Bridge: being a normal kid in Washington, leading the marching band at his school and revealing how he earned the money to buy his first guitar.

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