With tour dates now announced for summer 2022, there’s never been a better time to get into Jack White. If you don’t know where to start, let us steer you back through one of the best back catalogues around.
Whether you’ve got every Dead Weather album on vinyl or you only know the football chant version of ‘Seven Nation Army’, there’s always more to discover when it comes to Jack White. A singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and modern blues rock icon, White has worked across at least four different bands over the last 25 years, giving us some of the most incomparable indie guitar music around.
Now heading back to the UK with his Supply Chain Issues tour, and with fourth and fifth solo records Fear Of The Dawn and Entering Heaven Alive both set for release in 2022, now is the perfect time to dig a bit deeper into Jack White’s discography.
The early stuff
Unless you count a short-lived gig drumming for Goober & The Peas, White’s career really starts with The White Stripes – making the band’s first self-titled album the best place to begin. Joining up with then-wife Meg White, Jack Gillis changed his name, pretended Meg was his sister (don’t ask), committed to dressing only in red, white and black, and exploded onto Michigan’s garage rock scene in the late 90s.
Exploding is the right word too, since ‘Jimmy The Exploder’ was the first track on the record – announcing the arrival of The White Stripes with a thick swagger of Meg’s drums and Jack’s ’64 Airline guitar that would go on to be the band’s trademark sound of blues and punk. De Stijl and White Blood Cells followed, and The White Stripes became one of the defining bands of the post-punk revival era – bringing classic American roots music into indie clubs with a screech of 00s feedback.
You can argue all day about the greatest indie disco song of all time, but the right answer is always going to be ‘Seven Nation Army’. If you want a single album though, White Blood Cells was the record that made The White Stripes. Coming out a few weeks before The Strokes’ Is This It in the summer of 2001, the record helped usher in a new wave of indie garage rock that defined the sound of the new century – with ‘Hotel Yorba’ still topping the list of White’s most played live tracks.
A handful of songs from 2003’s Elephant, 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan and 2007’s Icky Thump still stand as some of the bluesiest, ballsiest floor-fillers of the last few decades – but White’s legacy continued to evolve long after the end of The White Stripes. ‘Steady, As She Goes’, ‘Salute Your Solution’ and ‘Broken Boy Soldier’ from White’s time fronting The Raconteurs, and ‘I Can’t Hear You’ and ‘I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)’ from The Dead Weather are all winning set-list openers, but then there are the three (soon to be five) solo albums to turn to.
2012’s Blunderbuss landed with huge uppercuts like ‘Sixteen Saltines’, ‘I’m Shakin’’ and ‘Freedom At 21’, before Lazaretto gave White a title track to equal The White Stripes at their most rabble-rousing; and Boarding House Reach let him top it again with a stadium-rock organ solo on ‘Connected By Love’.
And then there’s the new stuff. In October 2021, White teased his upcoming year of two promised albums with his first new solo in four years, ‘Taking Me Back’. As caustic, hard-strung and thick with experimentation as you’d expect, the track was released alongside a stripped-back version of the same song (‘Taking Me Back (Gently)’) which showed off the other side of White’s sound with a brilliant acoustic country cover of his own new material.
White certainly knows how to crank his amps up, but some of his best work is played low and slow – starting with manically restrained Dylan cover ‘One More Cup Of Coffee’, through the offkey Charlie Brown sweetness of ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ and ‘As Ugly As I Seem’ to the Velvet Underground-esque spoken word track ‘Ezmerelda Steals The Show’.
Then there’s the various “hoedown”, “gospel”, “Mexican nightmare” and “electro fusion jazz rap” phases that White drifts in and out of throughout his career, pushing and pulling each album in different directions until it’s almost impossible to pin down the fringes of his influences. ‘What’s Done Is Done’ off the last solo album is one of the best late-night country ballads White’s ever recorded (and he’s recorded a few), and the second Raconteurs record, Consolers Of The Lonely, is too often overlooked for being caught between the various different phases of his career – actually boasting some his best Americana rock tracks with ‘Rich Kid Blues’, ‘Hold Up’, ‘Carolina Drama’ and the Ennio Morricone hat-tip, ‘The Switch And The Spur’.
The side projects
No stranger to collaboration (The Dead Weather were essentially a supergroup, made up of members of The Raconteurs, The Kills and Queens Of The Stone Age), some of White’s most interesting projects have been shared with other artists. Contributing vocals to Electric Six’s ‘High Voltage’ (disputed at the time, and credited to “John S O’Leary”), White also produced Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, as well as collaborating with the likes of Danger Mouse, Norah Jones, Daniele Luppi, Elton John, Beck, Adele, Tyler The Creator and The Rolling Stones. Most famously, White teamed up with Alicia Keys too for his Quantum Of Solace Bond song, ‘Another Way To Die’ (still possibly the best modern 007 track…).
Outside of music, White also briefly took up acting – appearing in Cold Mountain, Coffee And Cigarettes, Walk Hard and, err, The Muppets – as well as getting involved in The American Epic Sessions documentary. White also founded Nashville label Third Man Records in 2001 (explaining the weird obsession with the number three, with references and easter eggs littered throughout his career), recording albums for Sleep, The Go, Captain Beefheart and Johnny Cash.
Spend any amount of time browsing White’s back catalogue and you won’t be able to move for B-sides – with so many bands, albums, collaborations and side projects producing a raft of obscurities to get lost in. If you’re looking for the gems, track down the audio for the time White joined Bob Dylan on stage in Detroit in 2004 for a cover of Ball And Biscuit, hear him getting lost in the guitar solo on a ‘Teenage Kicks’ cover, or catch the live version of ‘Stop Breaking Down’ at the BBC’s Maida Vale sessions.
Then there’s the cracking White Stripes rarities to discover – including their cover of Captain Beefheart’s ‘Party Of Special Things To Do’ (released as a 7” in 2000, along with ‘China Pig’ and ‘Ashtray Heart’), the limited run split single they released with The Dirtbombs called ‘Hand Springs’, and the beautiful cover of ‘Jolene’ put out as a B-side with ‘Hello Operator’.
White’s soundtrack to the film Cold Mountain is also great – featuring collaborations with Alison Krauss, a some mournful bluegrass take on ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and White’s bottle band hoedown carol, ‘Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over’.