Great White’s Mark Kendall

Great White’s Mark Kendall

Great White puts the bite on Funtastic

Band is not shy when it comes to playing good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.

Funtastic is getting ready to let it rip when the Tigers and Sharks take the stage, and we’re not talking about ball teams playing in the slo-pitch tourney.

With ‘80s bands such as Glass Tiger and Great White headlining the A&W Funtastic Music Festival, which gets underway Thursday, it should be a night for crowd surfing and flicking a few Bics.

The crazy teased hair and tight leather pants may be a thing of the past, but one thing Great White hasn’t shied away from is that good ol’ rock and roll.

Great White’s current members, guitarists Michael Lardie and Mark Kendall, drummer Audie Desbrow, bassist Scott Snyder and vocalist Terry Ilous, will be on stage after the fireworks light up the sky on Canada Day.

These guys have not only lived through the ‘80s, they have kept going despite some tragedies that would stop most in their tracks.

Lardie, who has produced and engineered most of the band’s records, attributes the band’s staying power to a belief in the music –– a mixture of blues meets metal meets classic rock.

“The sound we make together is our common thread. When we stand on stage as a group, it feels right. You have to like what you’re doing and we’re lucky to have found a symbiosis among us,” said Lardie. “I think having some downtime and not hanging out with each other all the time has made the difference as when we get together to record or perform, we’re able to keep being creative.”

Through the ups and downs Great White has maintained the philosophy that as long as there is a stage and people to play for, they’re in for the ride.

That’s true when it comes to some of crazy places they’ve performed, such as an airforce base in Okinawa where they played to a group of Japanese soldiers.

Formed in ‘78 and signed by a label around the same time as fellow bands Ratt and Dokken, Great White made their name playing clubs on L.A.’s Sunset Strip and also to 90,000 or so fans opening for Judas Priest.

“There was something about Great White not sounding like those other bands,” said Lardie.

“There were a lot of starts and stops back then. We were signed with EMI, then dropped, and in ‘85-’86 we did the strip again, and played the right shows that Capitol resigned us. It was around that time that things got a little crazy.”

Moving from his hometown of Sacramento to L.A., where he got a job at a studio, working on records by such punk icons as Black Flag, The Minutemen and The Meat Puppets, Lardie joined Great White in 1986 as a session and touring rhythm guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist, and eventually became a permanent band member.

Before then he worked in the studio on the band’s first record and on 1984’s Shot in the Dark.

“I learned quite a few things from (the punk bands): attitude and the ability to go for it,” he said.

“Great White has given me the faith and trust to be their engineer/mixer since ‘86, and I have done all those things with them ever since.”

That included the band’s biggest hit to date,  1987’s Once Bitten, Twice Shy.

“We really broke out with (the song) Rock Me,” said Lardie. “We were playing to sold-out arenas, 25 dates at a time once Once Bitten Twice Shy came out… It’s kind of a blur for everyone between ‘86 and ‘94.”

Personal issues and a resistance to that insta-celebrity made the band members consider what to do next, and by 2000 they had decided to break up.

Back together since 2006, another near-tragedy almost ensued when band founder and lead singer Jack Russell had to leave Great White last August to undergo emergency surgery for a perforated bowel.

Nearly dying, doctors implanted a colostomy bag, and Russell remained in the hospital for more than eight weeks and was ordered to take a year off from touring.

(Filling in for him since has been ex-Warrant frontman Jani Lane, and more recently, Ilous, who has been fully supported by Russell, said Lardie.)

“We had a hiccup with Jack, but he’s bound and determined to be back. I think it’s the Irish in him, but we want him to be 100 per cent well before he comes back,” said Lardie. “He has given his support to Terry and us to do this for a while without him, but he wants to come back… He’s been through a lot. It’ll be a great rock ‘n’ roll story when he does come back.”

Next on the radar for Big White when their front-man does return is to record a live album, but in the meantime, a bunch of ball players and fans are waiting in the stands.

Great White takes the stage at the A&W Funtastic Music Festival Friday (Canada Day) at 10:45 p.m.

The festival starts Thursday with headliner Glass Tiger and continues throughout the weekend. Day passes are $20 each for Thursday; Friday and Saturday are $30 each, and a  three-day event pass is $55. Passes are available at both A&W locations in Vernon and the one in Armstrong. For a full schedule and lineup, visit www.funtastic.org.