For several decades, Great White has been pleasing fans with rockin’ songs, albums, and concerts. In 2017 the band released its newest studio album, Full Circle, and this summer they’re back on the road playing to thousands of fans. The band’s keyboardist/guitarist, Michael Lardie, was kind enough to speak with me about his experiences in Great White, as well as Night Ranger.
How did you get involved with Night Ranger?
They’re the band that took Great White out at a particularly pivotal time. We had just released the song “Rock Me” and they took us out on tour in the summer of 1987 and it helped bring us to the forefront on radio and in front of large crowds. That was a great blessing to be in that format with those guys. We got along with them really well. They’ve got awesome songs.
Over the years, afterward, I’d run into Jack Blades every once in a while with Damn Yankees. We’d always hang out during those times. And when Great White took a break in 2002, I was doing session work. I had already done some session work with Jack Blades in the studio around 1998 or 1999. He called me up around the end of 2002 and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Not much.” He asked, “How’d you like to come sub for Night Ranger while Fitz is out?” He was doing stuff with Springsteen, Lenny Kravitz. I said, “Sure, that would be great!” Night Ranger’s music is awesome and it’s certainly challenging to play all those parts. I learned 14 songs in nine days and did a couple of tours at the end of 2002. It was pretty quiet after that. Then they called me up and we did a couple more months. After a couple months out there with the guys, I think they told Fitz, “I think we’re going to stick with Michael.” We were off to the races. Before the year was done, we were off doing Japan and I ended up working with them until the summer of 2007. There were also a couple of months where I was doing double-duty because Great White reformed in January 2007. It was a busy year.
Over the years I did some engineering for Jack. I did a Shaw/Blades record. We got on really well and we were close friends. I also worked on Hole In The Sun. I played all the keyboards on that and engineered it as well.
Once Great White reformed, you decided to leave Night Ranger?
I couldn’t have possibly done those two things at the same time. Maybe if I cloned myself. (laughs) Great White is my passion. I get to play guitar, keyboards, produce, engineer, write songs. So that was a natural progression of things. When it comes to Night Ranger, what was I going to offer guitar-wise when they already had Watson and Gillis? (laughs)
Let’s talk about Great White. How did you join the band?
I met them in 1983 when they were about to record their first full-length album for EMI. I worked with the band as staff engineer and wound up singing some background vocals on the record. They finished that up and went on tour with Judas Priest. Then they came in and started doing demos for the next album, Shot In The Dark, and they wanted to expand their sound a bit. They wanted to try some keyboards on some stuff so I said, “Hey man, I play keyboards.” Then they wanted to replicate it live and I told them, “I also play guitar.” They saw me as their utility man and my first live gig with them was in January of 1985. At that point, they really had the right combination of people and things started to happen for the band after that. We released Shot In The Dark independently and then with Capitol when the band got resigned. Then we followed that up with Once Bitten in 1987. From there, we were on the rocket ship at that point.
You playing guitar and keyboards reminds me of Jonathan Cain from Journey. He’ll play guitar on some songs live, such as “Wheel In The Sky.”
Well, that’s someone I’m flattered to be compared to. (laughs)
Great White took a break in 2002. How come?
It was time. We had been working nonstop from 1985 up until 2001 and we decided to do a couple of things outside of Great White. Mark Kendall wanted to do a solo record and our former lead singer Jack Russell wanted to do one too. It was one of those things where we wanted to take a breath and do other things. We weren’t breaking the band up. We just took a hiatus that lasted close to five years. Then everybody felt it was time to get back it the saddle again.
What led to Jack Russell splitting from Great White?
It’s complex to go through all the things that changed. But with Jack it was something he was connected to, unfortunately, which was substance abuse, and he could never quite shake it. It got to a point where things in the band weren’t as positive as they needed to be so the rest of us decided it was time to make a change. We decided it was time for Jack to leave the band. It was time and we’ve been moving forward ever since.
Last year Great White released a new studio album, Full Circle. At this point in the band’s career, what’s the process for putting together an album like this?
Having done so many records, we realized that it’s important to be honest with one another when we’re bouncing around ideas and figure out what it is we are as a band – as songwriters and players. We like to experiment, but we also like to get back into the pocket of that sound that we make as this group of people. That’s what the songs fall out of. Lyrically, songs are based on life experience and social issues. The bread and butter for Great White has always been having a good time with a smile on your face.
Is there anything you’d still like to accomplish in Great White?
Well, I’d like to make it to our 40th anniversary. Just the fact that there are still crowds for us to play for and we still have fans and audiences that come to the shows – seeing the multigenerational audiences blows my mind. It’s a great compliment to see kids singing our songs and knowing all the words. As long as that keeps making sense for us, we’ll keep doing it. We’re pretty damn lucky.