Great White has been bringing their blues infused hard rock sounds to audiences for well over 20 years. From the shadows of obscurity to becoming a multi-platinum selling band, Great White has seen it all and managed to live to tell about it. From the catastrophic and devastating Station Club fire to losing long time singer Jack Russell, Great White has managed to keep face and move forward not looking back. With their new singer Terry Illous, Great White has released their twelfth album entitled Elation and they are showing no signs of slowing down.

I recently had the privilege of talking with long time Great White mufti-instrumentalist Michael Lardie. Michael was a great and funny guy to talk to as we bonded over having photographic memories of the most random things. We also talked about the new album and Great White’s new found second wind, his memories of the old days and anything else we could come up with. I hope you’ll enjoy my interview with Michael Lardie!

Michael, I just have to say first off that I wish I could go back in time to 1988 and tell my younger self that this phone call was happening.

[laughs] Yeah? That’s great.

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Thanks so much for taking the time out to do this today. Great White has been quite busy these days. Speaking of, you guys just recently played the M3 Festival in Virginia.

We weren’t supposed to be on the bill based on the fact that they don’t usually do the same act two years in a row. Cinderella dropped off the bill so Eric Baker, the promoter, asked us if we would do it and we said, “We’re there!”

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The M3 Festival was a great line up with other bands such as Lynch Mob, Ratt, and Skid Row. It almost looked like a big dysfunctional class reunion of sorts.

[laughs] Yeah. A class reunion where we all grew up and found out that we’re all pretty nice people and we get along really well [laughs].

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I love it that so many of the bands I grew up with are still around and doing their thing. At 38, it’s fun to be given the chance to talk and hang out with the very bands who’s posters used to grace my bedroom walls. I spent a small fortune on rock magazines back in the day.

[laughs] It’s funny. When we were at the height of our career, I remember my mother and father going to the rock store every week to peruse the magazine racks buying every magazine that we were in [laughs]. Even if I didn’t have the opportunity to collect all of our press from ’86 – ’95, my parents did. At one point a couple of years ago they pulled out a tub and said, “Hey. Check this out!” There was like 300 magazines in there [laughs].

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That must have been a pretty surreal thing to see. Great White was a pretty big piece of hard rock history.

It was surreal. I just feel blessed to have been a part of it on that level. The fact that we were able to compose tunes that were parts of people’s personal landscape for life is amazing. You can’t get much more of a compliment than people having a remembrance of where they were at or what they were doing while listening to your music. That never leaves you and to me, that‘s the ultimate compliment. The only thing that might supersede that is to go into a festival and play in the last five years and seeing multi-generational audiences. One of my favorite ones was a couple of years ago where an 8 year old child was sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders singing along to “Rock Me.” How cool is that that to have three generations of fans there?

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Great White’s music has always been easy to grasp so I can see that. Great White seemed to break that mold of the standard hard rock that everyone was doing. Did you guys ever feel out of place being lumped in with the hard rock bands that you were?

Well, from the mid 80’s to the later part of the 80’s there really wasn’t that tag of “hair metal” that was attached to us. When Bon Jovi and bands such as that got onto MTV and got huge, there seemed to be a basic need to find a way to come up with a tag or a catch phrase to attach to that style of music. I never really felt like we were “hair metal.” I mean, we were of that class but our thing was always more about the blues.

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But Great White wasn’t always about the blues right? They were a pretty heavy band in the beginning.

I’ll tell you a funny story. When I first met Great White they were coming into the studio to record their first full length album. That was a period in time where they were doing stuff that sounded pretty much like Judas Priest. I was there working in the studio as their engineer and during the mornings, Mark (Kendall; guitarist) would come in and warm up by playing all of this Alvin Lee and Johnny Winter stuff. You know how you can look at an artist and somehow know that they are being true to themselves and you can see their soul shine just a little bit brighter when they’re playing? Well, when I would see Mark playing that kind of stuff I would just stop and say, “Mark. I respond to you as a musician when you play that stuff because I’m feeling it.” When you’re doing the other it’s great but this stuff is who you are.” It just got filed away as a nice compliment but eventually, over the period of the Shot in the Dark recording going into the Once Bitten record, I finally felt like we found our niche as a band and as writers knowing that we were going to be more about the blues than the real hard rock thing. We can still do that and we’ve done it over the years as it’s a part of our landscape. You can hear those blues influences in Kendall’s playing and that is what hopefully set us apart from the “hair metal” thing which I am in no way dissing. There are a bunch of bands that came out and took that moniker and wore it proudly while putting out some great music. I think for us, it’s based more around blues rock.

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As a kid I remember being so blown away by the Once Bitten album hearing you play harmonica, acoustic guitar, keys. That album had the swing of the blues while also kicking ass with the hard rock thing. Do you feel like Great White maybe opened some doors for other bands to do the blues inspired hard rock?

Well, hopefully, everything you do as an artist will inspire others to some degree. As far as being responsible, I might be inclined to go back a bit more to bands like Zeppelin and Humble Pie that inspired all of us. We were on tour with Tesla in 1989 and they weren’t sure about what song they were going to release as their next single. Frank had played me “The Way It Is” and the solo he plays in that song is so Peter Frampton and I told him that this was the song that I totally connected with. It’s a great song and a great solo so I guess I helped inspire them to do that [laughs].

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I saw that tour by the way here in Atlanta at The Fox Theater and that will always be one of my all time favorite shows.

Oh man. What a beautiful theater that was.

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I don’t know if you remember me but I was the guy in the black Great White shirt with the shark playing guitar on it?

[laughs] That was you? The temperature that day was 78 degrees and the humidity was 34% [laughs]. My band gives me crap because I have that kind of weird memory for stuff like that. They call me Rainman [laughs].

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That’s funny. I do too. I can remember crazy shit like the running order of bands on a bill or what a band opened with. I remember to this day that you guys opened for Whitesnake in New Orleans and the first song was “Shot In The Dark.”

I remember that show. We played at the UNO Lakefront arena. That would’ve probably been, I want to say, right around Thanksgiving or it might have been the 26th or 27th of 1987. Find your ticket stub and let me know how close I am [laughs].

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Was the Whitesnake tour the tour where you started to see things moving forward and changing for Great White?

Oh yeah. Obviously that was a big change for us from selling 85,000 records for Shot in the Dark. There were a lot of bands that were instrumental that year in our success. I will always be grateful to Night Ranger for taking us on tour in the summer of 1987. We were trying to break the song “Rock Me” and we got to play to a lot of people. Over the years, me and Jack Blades became really good friends. We did a tour with Twisted Sister that was short lived but that helped break the “Save Your Love” single but it was the Whitesnake tour that took it all over the top. By the time we finished the Whitesnake tour, we had a great night I remember. We were playing in LA at the Forum, it was sold out, and the Capitol Records people came out with the RIAA Certified Platinum albums for Once Bitten. That was a pretty amazing night. I’ll always be grateful to Whitesnake. They kept us out for ten months on that tour and trust me, everybody wanted to be on that tour [laughs]. David (Coverdale; Whitesnake singer) really believed in us because of his love of the blues based rock n’ roll.

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That was such a great tour for you guys. I mean, looking back on it now, what an amazing line up. The tour you guys did with Tesla is still engrained in my head as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

Sometimes promoters and agents get it right. I always thought that the Whitesnake/Great White tour was a great package. I thought that Tesla/Great White worked fantastically. We did that tour for five months. On that tour we did a co-headlining tour where each band took turns closing the show. We had some great openers on that tour. We had Kix for half that tour and we had Badlands for the other half. To me, musically, that was a great pairing. People who like elements of the straight ahead rock, the hard rock, and the blues got it all and it was covered between all three bands. I thought that was a great one.

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I want to go back a bit to when you first joined Great White as a full on member. Before you joined the band you were already a highly regarded engineer and producer. How did you end up becoming a full time member of Great White?

Well I worked with them when they recorded their first album in 1983 and then they went out on tour with Judas Priest. They came back from that tour and started to write and record for the album that would turn into Shot In The Dark. We had developed a friendship and they were trying to expand the sound a little bit so they asked me to play keyboards on a couple of songs. They wanted to keep it live so they said, “Don’t you play guitar too?” I told them I did so they had me go out and play live with them. For the first six months I wasn’t completely behind the curtain but I was just a little bit out of range of the light [laughs]. They weren’t ready to accept me as the guy that was going to be in the band just yet. At that point in my career I was working in the studio non-stop. I was working with a few other bands and just trying to find that niche. After a while they started to put me out front. When I asked they said, “Well, too many girls are asking about you.” [laughs] We started writing songs for Once Bitten around September/October of ’86. At that point we started working in the rehearsal studio on songs like “Rock Me” and “All Over Now” and at they just looked at me and said, “You know you’re in the band now right?” I said “Awesome!” [laughs]. The whole process was very organic.

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I always loved that you were a multi-instrumentalist. You really brought a lot of sound to the band.

Thanks Don. For me, it was always just that I liked doing it and I was fortunate the guys understood that I was just trying to bring whatever I could into a song by being able to play other instruments. I think that was lucky to be able to do that. I’m also lucky to have their support in doing those things even when they say, “You wanna play WHAT on that song?” [laughs] Over the years I’ve played electric sitar, a little bit of flute, and even busted out some banjo on “Sail Away” so I’ve been lucky that they might only look at me sideways for a second [laughs].

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Michael, let’s talk about the infamous Ritz show from 1988. To this day it’s a pretty infamous bootleg/performance for you guys. Do you have any cool memories from that show?

That was a very busy day for me [laughs]. The night before the Ritz show we were in Pittsburgh playing at the Civic Arena. We got up at the ass crack of dawn and flew to NYC on like 3 or 4 hours of sleep. Knowing that we were going to record that nights show, I was on stage for sound check but also in the recording truck getting our set recorded. I was also doing the sound check for Guns N’ Roses (who played that night also) because we had the same management. One thing I remember is that Mark had a really horrible flu and was running 102 degree fever. If you look at that video you’ll see him sweating like a pig [laughs]. After that night we had about two or three days off so I flew back to LA and mixed our show and the Guns N’ Roses show. It was a lot of hard work to make that happen but great memories and the band was on the tip of breaking through. We were on our third leg with Whitesnake at that point and everyone was on their game and I feel like it was a really good performance.

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I also remember that Late Show performance where you guys did “All Over Now” and “Save Your Love.”

[laughs] Right! That was the show that later became The Arsenio Hall Show. At that point it was just The Late Show with Ross Schafer. That was a really fun night for us. I just remember that there was so much reverb at the beginning of “All Over Now” but they ended up fixing it [laughs]. It was a great bit of exposure for us and it really broke that thing about bands not playing live on TV because we did. We were confident that we could to that. The only performance we ever had to mimic was when we did Solid Gold [laughs]. That was just the way it went on that show.

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With all of this great classic footage, has there ever been any talk of putting out like an archival DVD or something that had everything on it? I mean, you guys must have some amazing live footage from those great tours.

Well, you would think that would be the case but not everybody had video cameras back then. There are a few things here and there but if we did it would probably be more TV appearances and what not. I remember the 8th band ever to do MTV’s Unplugged. The same day we were filming that show, Damn Yankees, the reformed Crowded House and Don Henley recording as well. It was really cool to be so early on in the Unplugged thing. Eventually we would just have to go and get permission to reproduce everything into that format.

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Great White has recently released a new album called Elation and I have to say that I really enjoyed this album. What a great listen.

Well thank you sir. People always ask me where this album fits best among our previously released album. I always say that, to me, it’s the record that would’ve gone right in between Hooked and Psycho City. It’s just got that bluesy vibe that was on Hooked and also that heavy vibe of Psycho City. It would’ve fit really well right between them two.

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It’s no secret that there has been a lot of drama in the Great White camp between you guys and long time singer Jack Russell. Was it hard to see things fall apart the way it did?

Ya know, it’s hard to talk about any of it Don, to be honest. It’s a very personal thing and per Jack he wants to take it to the wall so we have to be very careful about what we say. I think the important thing to remember is that there was a period of time where Jack was completely on his game and sounding great and per decisions and things he has made over the last 5 years haven’t been in line with what Mark and I were attempting to do. Some people’s focus is on the music and some people’s focus is on something else. Picking Terry as our singer was interesting.

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So how did Terry Illous come into the fold as the new singer for Great White?

The first time we ever did a show with Terry was when he filled in for Jack because he was out with some illness. There was something really pretty hip about his voice on those songs. Right away I knew that this could definitely be something. The promoters were a little squeamish about Terry not having the same level of success as a band like ours so we actually ended up working with Jani Lane (ex-Warrant singer) who did a great job for us. As soon as we were done with Jani at the end of 2010 and we were regrouping to start booking dates in 2011, I was standing up on a soap box saying, “Terry’s our guy!” [laughs] We had a great year with him and we did almost 80 shows. I think that really did a lot of work and created a lot of good will with promoters and such. They know that the vibe is good now and we can be counted on as a band. The vibe with Terry is really fantastic and he’s a great guy. He’s a Buddhist, he’s a 2nd degree black belt. He’s like a little Zen puppy so life is good [laughs].

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Terry was a great choice. He’s got that similar range but still brings his own thing into the band. What has Terry brought to Great White that wasn’t there before?

Terry his this ability to write songs and he plays some guitar, a little piano so when he comes in with a song idea it’s not something we have to interpret. You just get to hear it right away. With Terry, Mark, and myself all working on the songs it just brings it to a whole new level.

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I was so pleasantly surprised at how good this album is. I’m always a little nervous when bands from my youth try and put out “new music” but you guys did it really well on this album. You could be like Poison and Cinderella and just ride the nostalgia train. Why did you guys choose to put out new music?

I think I can speak for us all that the point of being a musician and songwriter is to continually try to grow and to move forward. I think if you don’t have the opportunity to write and record new music you can become a bit of a greatest hits band. I can’t really see us doing that and being happy. We’ve been very lucky with our fans that they have been accepting of us having new material out there and it makes us feel more vital. We have more fun playing shows when we have new material to play for our fans.

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You guys also didn’t try and modernize your sound. Elation just sounds like Great White which I think makes it such an easy listen.

I don’t think it comes across to your fans as relevant and honest if you try to reinvent yourselves. I mean, there are elements of reinvention there with Terry but you’re absolutely right. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We just wanted to be who we are and hopefully the people will get it. We just stuck with a formula and managed to keep our sound intact. This album is us still being in touch with our past but at the same time has us looking to the future.

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It’s been about nine years since the tragic Station fire and since then Great White has had to bear that stigma. Do you feel Great White has been able to somewhat shake it off and move forward?

Well, it’s an interesting thing. Obviously that is something that nobody will ever forget. That is a part of rock n’ roll history and it was way beyond tragic. The interesting thing is that Jack and Mark were the only ones present and Mark wasn’t even in the band at that point. Mark was a hired gun for Jack’s solo project, Audie wasn’t in the band and I was playing in Night Ranger at the time. As far as the stigma that is attached to it, some people from that part of the country are never going to be able to forgive or forget any of that happened. We’ve always tried to continually create good will. One of the biggest turning points was last year at the M3 Festival where we were faced with the fact that 10 of the Station fire survivors were going to be at the show. Jack had publicly stated that we would never open with “Desert Moon” ever again being that it was the first song played when the fire started. I just had it in my gut that we should open with it that night. We had Terry on vocals now and I just had a belief that it would be someone what cathartic for the survivors so we went out with a brave face and did it. After the show all 10 of them came up and hugged me and even though I wasn’t there for the fire they told me that it was the first time they were able to hear that song since that night. They told me that they cried during the song but that they all felt a sense of relief and felt like they could turn the page and move on. I just got chills when I heard that. Hopefully one day we’ll get to go back and do shows in the Northeast and people will understand that that was a different chapter in the band’s life but that the music is ultimately should be the important thing behind any healing power that it might possess.

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It sounds like there was some really beautiful closure for those people. Obviously it doesn’t go forgotten but maybe it’s just time to move on.

Yeah, and you know, Mark has been so good about staying in touch with a lot of the survivors. They have a real connection. For us, they pretty much have carte blanche anywhere we play. It’s like mia famiglia. They will always be a part of our lives and they will always have that very special connection with us.

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Ok, Michael. I have some random questions for ya. First off, I’ve always been curious ask you this. Why, on both Once Bitten and Twice Shy, are the songs on Side 1 all noted as being the same length of time and the same on Side 2? Did you guys do this just to see if we were paying attention?

[laughs] Of course. We did that because “Rock Me” on Once Bitten was such a long form song. It was like 6:54 I think. We didn’t want to scare off any radio programmers from playing the song. We ended re-recording an edited version to use for the video but all the radio dj’s ended playing the long version. The dj’s pretty much used it as their bathroom song [laughs]. That same moniker was attached to songs like “Freebird” and “Stairway to Heaven” so I figured that was a pretty elite group to be part of [laughs]. But yeah, we did that to both see if people were paying attention and to have programmers saying things like, “Oh this song is 5:12. We can’t play that.”

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It’s no secret that Great White’s biggest hit is your cover of Ian Hunter’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” Is there another song that you wish Great White would’ve been more known for?

I can’t really diss any of our success from that song. As far as the fans who know the Great White catalog, I think a lot more people than we realize know us for “Rock Me.” A lot of us know us for “Save Your Love” and “House of Broken Love” so there are a lot of people who know us for those songs. As far as a song that never really saw the light of day, I think I’d love to see people be connected to the later stuff like “Aint No Shame” from Can’t Get There From Here.” I always thought that would be a big song for us but we just weren’t popular and didn’t have a record company behind us. Had that been released in ’89, I think we would’ve done pretty well with that one. As difficult as it is to achieve the success that we have had in our career and are still having based on the fact that we can play 80 shows a year, I don’t think you can dismiss that success.

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So who’s idea was it to actually cover “Once Bitten, Twice Shy?”

Well, we were always planning on calling the follow up to Once Bitten “Twice Shy” because of that old expression. Izzy Stradlin of Guns N’ Roses, who was managed by our management also, came to our manager Alan Niven and said, “You guys should cover this song “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” It got played for us and I remember the initial reaction being like, “Eh, this is alright” [laughs]. We figured we’d do it on the record and put it as the last song. The record company loved it so much they wanted to go to radio with it. We had no idea that it would take off the way it did. It got to the point that summer that it became the song that you just didn’t want to hear anymore [laughs]. It was a great summer song and I think it just hit a nerve with so many people.

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Michael, if you had to remember for one body of work in the Great White catalog, what would it be?

I would have to say the song “Rock Me.” To me, that song encompasses so much of the vibe of what we are as a band. It’s got that blues driven verse and the melodic and big chorus. That song has some of Mark’s best playing and some of Jack’s best singing. The dynamics where there and we always strived to have that in our music.

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If Hollywood called and they said they wanted to make a movie about your life, who would play you?

Well, ya know, that’s a difficult question. I always thought that with my personality and to some degree appearance, I would maybe say James Spader [laughs]. Someone asked me that about 3 or 4 years ago but I think he’s got that vibe and I think he’d be the best choice.

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If you could play for any band for one night, who would it be?

Oh man. That is so hard. Holy cow that is so difficult [laughs]. I’m sure most people of my genre would probably say something like, “I’d like to play with Hendrix or with Zeppelin.” I would have to say that I would’ve liked to have stood on stage in 1970 with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Actually, Alice Cooper does his Christmas Pudding benefit every year in Phoenix. One year he had Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw doing an acoustic thing. He also had Dan Felder from The Eagles and Stephen Stills doing a duo thing. One of my best rock and roll moments was standing on stage with Tommy, Jack, Jeff Keith of Tesla, Joe Walsh, and Stephen Stills singing “California Dreamin’.” That was one of the most surreal moments I have ever had in my entire life.

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Finish this sentence Michael. If I wasn’t a musician, I would be…

Um, actually, I would probably be what my parents hoped I would’ve been. My parents wanted me to be a doctor. Because of that I had the classic medical bag toys w/ the stethoscope and candy pills and all that. When I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was five, that’s when it all changed for me. I just turned to my parents at that point and said, “That’s what I want to be.” They just pated me on the head very gently and begged them for two years to get me a guitar. Finally on my seventh birthday they got me one and since then I never looked back.

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What’s in store for Great White as far as touring this summer?

So far we have about 32 dates and more coming in all the time. Our summer season is a big season for us. We’re feeling a bit recharged these days and I think we’re going to find ourselves playing a bit more than we normally would. We’re doing the Monsters of Rock cruise which will be a blast as well. I’ll tell my agent to get us to Atlanta [laughs].

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Michael, thank you so much for doing this interview. It was great getting to know you and congrats to you on the new album and all that comes your way.

Thank you so much Don. We love it and we feel blessed that people have been with us for so many years and understand what we’re all about. They’ve seen the changes in our landscape and it’s great to hear that the fans understand it. I’m so happy that people still show interest in Great White and what we’re all about. I feel lucky that you wanted to reach out and talk to me. It’s what keeps that connection alive to the fans and I really appreciate it.

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About The Author

The Brainfart

Don (aka. The Brainfart) has been a heavy metal fan since hearing it for the first time in 1983. Don is also repsonsible for all of the typos, shitty grammar, and kick ass content on this site. Don likes cheap beer, whiskey, Coca Cola Icees, going to shows, and hanging with his kick ass wife, two cats (Drusilla & Coltrane) and dog (Cassie). He originally wanted to name his dog Shandi but his wife said, "No fucking way."

PUREMETAL says:

superb interview, bro!

Being a longtime GW fan-totally enjoyable !

Funny that u asked about all the song times being the same- u should have also asked whose bright fuckin’ idea it was to print the song titles as one huge block with no freakin’ gaps.

LET IT ROCK is such an amazing GW cd!

The new one rocks too.

\m/

thegreatsouthernbrainfart thegreatsouthernbrainfart says:

Thanks so much for the kind words. Michael was a great guy to talk to and I really am enjoying the new album.