Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
FILE - In this June 24, 2011 file photo, Jack White signs copies of the record he made with Stephen Colbert in New York. The former White Stripe has released his first solo album, “Blunderbuss." (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)
In first solo album, Jack White taps a blue vein
First Published May 03 2012 04:41 pm • Last Updated May 03 2012 04:41 pm

New York • Jack White is musing on his latest color scheme.

"What if blues musicians like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell actually wore blue clothes?" White wonders, laughing.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The former White Stripe has bathed his first solo album, "Blunderbuss," with a pale blue palette. It informs the album artwork, the touring stage presentation and the outfits of his backing band, which alternates between all-male and all-female lineups.

Since he was a teenage upholsterer in Detroit, White has carefully color-coordinated his work. While recording "Blunderbuss" in his studio in Nashville, Tenn., White played on a pale blue telecaster and an old pale blue amplifier.

"I said, ‘Well, these are my hand tools. It’s all going to build up from this,’" says White.

The resulting 13 tracks may be the best compendium yet of White’s particular blend of American music. There’s electric rages ("Sixteen Saltines"), country blues ("Trash Tongue Talker"), rockabilly (Rudolph Toombs’ "I’m Shakin,’" the lone cover) and folk ballads like the lilting "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy."

After funneling his songwriting through various band conceptions — the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather — White is directing his latest production without artifice. Or at least, less artifice.

"The funniest thing is that every album I’ve done and every band I’ve been in have been happy accidents, including this one," says White, speaking from his home in Nashville. "If you just write songs and don’t tell them what to be — don’t tell the song to be a country song or a rock ‘n’ roll song — then it becomes what it needs to be in the end."

"Blunderbuss," which debuted on the Billboard album charts this week at No. 1 with about 138,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, was particularly unplanned. When the rapper RZA didn’t make it to a scheduled session at White’s studio, White decided to start working up some songs of his own. It wasn’t until well into the process that those in the room — a collection of session musicians and others — understood the project taking shape.

"I didn’t know we were actually making a solo record until he started wanting to sing on it," says engineer Vance Powell, who’s frequently worked with White. "There was never any conversation: ‘OK, we’re going to start my solo record today and I want it to sound like this.’"

story continues below
story continues below

Instead, White worked in the orchestrating mode he became accustomed to while producing dozens of albums and singles for his label, Third Man Records.

"Doing it to my own song was something brand new," he says. "When you’re in a band, if I’m in the Raconteurs, I don’t walk around the room and tell everyone what to play. I say, ‘Here’s my song’ and the drummer plays what the drummer wants to play. I don’t tell people what to do."

Third Man prizes analog recording and limited-edition vinyl releases. It has released everything from a single by Tom Jones (the recent "Evil") to a track for the Alabama Shakes (the southern rock sensation that will join White on tour) to an album by Karen Elson (White’s ex-wife and mother to their two children, who also sings back-up on "Blunderbuss").

"He pushed me real hard but I think he pushed me right into the 21st century," says the 74-year-old Wanda Jackson, whose "The Party Ain’t Over Yet" was produced by White. "I would liken him to a velvet-covered brick. He’s going to get his way."

White’s method on "Blunderbuss" was to "shake it up day to day." He would scrap songs and reform them in another style; call in the female band one day and just the guys the next; feign a prepared song and improvise something on the spot. The opening riff from "Sixteen Saltines" came out of simply trying to test the reverb.

White, widely considered a guitar virtuoso, also continues to push the screechy texture of his playing. The dual-tracked solo on "Weep Themselves to Sleep" is a highlight.

"Nowadays, to put a ‘guitar solo’ onto a record, it better be pretty damn good," he says. "If I’m going to play a guitar solo, I better be breaking the whole song apart."

One riff of White’s could reasonably be called one of the most widely celebrated. His guitar line on the White Stripes’ "Seven Nation Army" is routinely sung in sports arenas around the world — a remarkable reverberation for a two-piece blues band.

"The part I love about it is people are chanting a melody, not lyrics or a rhythm — which is pretty, pretty amazing" says White. "You don’t own it anymore. It’s everybody’s."

The White Stripes, the duo of White and drummer Meg White that produced six studio albums before officially splitting in 2011, remains a foundational experience to White. He can sound slightly wistful about the group.

"The truth is it’s the most challenging thing that ever happened to me," he says. "There was no bigger challenge than that — to try to win people over with just two people. It will be hard for me to ever think of something to challenge myself as much as that because of its simplicity."

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.