“There is something magical about those [early blues] records and much of it lies in the voices. Partly because of the way they were recorded, there’s an eeriness and a humanity about them, which sounds unlike anything else.”
“It’s important to go back and cleanse your palate. If you like punk rock now, there were people who did this with way more things against them than a suburban kid who goes to a guitar shop or someone buys him one and he starts singing punk songs. There’s beauty in that too, but to be black and Southern in 1920 and have no rights… that exemplifies struggle.”
– Jack White
Icky Thump – The White Stripes
“As a songwriter, even if you’re singing about other people or making up characters, it’s still your job to be against the world and that all began in the 1920s and 1930s with these blues singers. It was the first time in history that a single person had been recorded to tell whatever story they had to the world… Suddenly anybody — they didn’t even have to be good singers — could have their own voice.”
Tolinski: How do you know if you are creating something important?
White: You know a songwriter’s heart is pure when they have the desire to keep digging deeper into music. And invariably, when you dig deeper it always leads you into the past. Once I was able to dig back to the music of the twenties, it enabled me to understand more clearly the music of the present and the music that Jimmy [Page] was making in the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. It even helped me to understand my place in the musical universe. It’s like we’re all connected as a big gang of roving minstrels.
Southern Can is Mine – Blind Willie McTell
Tolinski: Your second album was entitled De Stijl after the Dutch movement that attempted to purify art by bringing it back down to basic colors and form.
White: When we were finishing that album, I decided I wanted to dedicate it to Blind Willie McTell. During that time it hit me that McTell and most of the great country bluesmen were recording and performing in the early twenties, which was the same period as when the De Stijl art movement was taking root. They were both doing the same thing: breaking things down to their essences.
“[Bob] Dylan could have sung anybody’s name and he used McTell’s to make a point that all these things have happened in the world and there is still somebody that’s going to scream about it. McTell talks about power and greed and corruptible seed. That’s a far cry from, No one sings the blues like McTell, but he’s saying that it’s been said before and will be said again, and these were the first people to say it.”
Your Southern Can is Mine – The White Stripes
“Love that phrase [your Southern can is mine]. At first I thought: Your can? What are you talking about? A cup of coffee? Then I realized he’s talking about her ass: ‘Your ass is mine!’ That side of it is clear, but people think he was also singing about white ruling classes in America. He was very knowledgable and knew what he could get away with. Even in interviews, you could tell he had a great sense of racial relations and how defiant he really was. To be blind, black, and southern, he had a lot of strikes against him and his lyrics showed just how intelligent he was.”
White: In my mind, both the country blues and the De Stijl movement represented a new beginning of music and art, perhaps for the rest of eternity. Both broke their respective arts down to its very core. You couldn’t get any more simple and pure than the De Stijl school. They only used squares, circles, horizontal and vertical lines and primary colors. That’s it. The country blues of Son House and Charley Patton also brought music down to its fundamentals.
We’re Gonna Be Friends – The White Stripes
Back when he was young and still finding his way, White encountered Coal Miner’s Daughter, the Oscar-winning Loretta Lynn biopic. It was a seminal experience that nudged him towards pursuing music. “I fell in love immediately somehow. I think that Loretta Lynn is the greatest female singer/songwriter of the 20th century.” After the White Stripes’ 2001 breakout White Blood Cells was dedicated to Lynn, she struck up a friendship and White produced her Grammy-winning 2004 comeback album Van Lear Rose — which reached her highest position ever on the Billboard charts.
“Loretta Lynn hasn’t made an album this rich since her 1977 concept tribute to Cline, I Remember Patsy. It almost feels strange to make a fuss about Van Lear Rose, since the music soars because of its modesty and gentle touch. Lynn and White weren’t straining to make history, just a damn good Loretta Lynn album. But it sure sounds classic anyway… Jack White has pulled off the ultimate fan fantasy: he’s helped her make the album we all dreamed she would make.”
– Rob Sheffield (Rolling Stone)
Portland, Oregon – Loretta Lynn
“If I come up with a song I’d like to sing, we talk it over. ‘What do you see in this song, Loretta?‘ he’d say. ‘What did you take from this song that you’d like to record?‘ And we would sit and talk it over and then I’d sing and he’d record it.“
– Loretta Lynn
“I didn’t want to overthink it. I didn’t want to push it and try to perfect it. She sounds brilliant right off the bat. Her voice is gorgeous. I wanted to present each song the best way possible and bring out the character of each song.”
– Jack White
[Excerpts taken from Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski and Jack White on the Mississippi Blues Artists by Dave Simpson, The Guardian]