There simply aren’t enough articles about Jack White on ClassicRockHistory.com, so of course I had to take it upon myself to conjure up another think piece of elated approbation in honor of the self-proclaimed “seventh son.” Here’s quite the inimitable individual who’s not only one of the most creatively limitless instrumentalists of his time, but also one of the most highly respected veterans of modern music; the boundless enumeration of artists he’s worked with speaks volumes for itself. He’s also been in several bands throughout his decades-long career, in addition to being a fecund solo artist; these include the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, and the band that catapulted him into the stratosphere of Mainstream success and worldwide recognition: the White Stripes.
This minimalist concoction consisted of just two members: Jack White and his ex-wife, Meg White. It was just him on guitar and vocals, and her on the drum kit. That’s it. One would think that something as rudimentary as a two-piece band would thwart the impetus of imagination; not in Jack’s case. He took a concept as basic as the White Stripes and turned it into one of the most illustrious rock acts of the new millennium. But let’s not overlook any more of Jack’s accomplishments. He also has his own record label called Third Man Records; its name origin comes from a number of references, which includes his fondness for the number three, the upholstery company he used to work for was named “Third Man Upholstery,” and the 1949 classic film, The Third Man, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten.
For this article, however, we won’t be chronicling those kinds of details. Instead, we’re going to spend our time singling out the genius of Jack’s understanding of the guitar; most notably his proficiency as a blues musician. So from here, I’m going to try my best to delve into his considerable discography and pull from the vault a series of recordings that showcases the breadth of his talent as a guitarist.
10.) Freedom at 21:
Kicking this list off is a Grammy-nominated tune from Jack’s debut solo album, Blunderbuss. Freedom at 21 not only glistens the speakers with a prodigious riff that overlaps the lyrical seasoning of female empowerment within the tune, but it also distributes a punch in the form of a piercing guitar solo halfway through. It’s both obnoxiously abrupt and melodically hardcore. It’s the kind of guitar solo that aims to simultaneous leave an impression and get your head nodding.
9.) High Ball Stepper:
Here’s another beastly hit from Jack’s solo repertoire; this time from his sophomore record, Lazaretto. It’s an instrumental, which is kind of a rarity for someone like him. Nevertheless, it has every eclectic ingredient that makes this composition every bit as orchestral as it is bluesy. The guitar solo that occurs about two and a half minutes into the song is the very example of just how relentless Jack can get, even when he’s polished.
8.) There’s No Home For You Here:
Time to acknowledge his beginnings with the White Stripes. Released off of their best studio album, Elephant (In my humble opinion, of course, but I’m sure most fans would tend to agree.), There’s No Home For You Here harbors the very garage ruggedness that has become synonymous with the White Stripes, but it also houses the expansive richness of a church coir.
The guitar solo that awakens at the 1:53 mark unleashes a sustained note of elongated proportions before cleaning things up with his signature, “knife on a chalkboard” tonality of uninhibited licks.
7.) 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues:
You can’t mention Jack White’s guitar work without bringing up arguably the best White Stripes album to properly illustrate such a raw intensity. This quietly explosive song cleverly shifts back and forth between tiresome acoustics, the bottled up aggression of power chords, and the clamorous assault of the solos at the 2:05, 3:00, and 4:40 marks that could technically be described as rhythmic fills, but who honestly cares? They’re unambiguously vicious.
6.) Seven Nation Army:
This is the White Stripes’ signature song right here, and it’s one that just about every human being on this planet has probably heard at least once in their lifetime. It’s critically acclaimed and widely revered as one of the best songs of the 21st century, and for a number of reasons. First off: that iconic riff that sounds like it could fit right into a James Bond film. Second: those stoic lyrics that just screams “screw you, I’m going to do what I want and you’re not going to hinder me from doing so.” Third: That awesome guitar solo that makes one feel like they’re in the center of a battlefront, and Jack White is leading the militia with his musical artillery.
5.) Catch Hell Blues:
Jack White’s slide guitar mechanics are on full display here; this is his true form as far as the Blues is concerned. The ghost of Elmore James works vicariously through Jack as he tears through the wax like a tornado of smoldering filth and unease; one can practically taste the dry pits of Hades out of the licks he plays towards the beginning.
The solos that take charge at both the 1:30 and 3:15 mark are in stark contrast of the aforementioned slide work; these are more angst-driven, yet still follow the same formula of the dirty Delta Blues he exudes on the tune.
This is a great little tune that’s actually a cover song by the Irish electronic-rock group, Jape. The Raconteurs’ Brendan Benson was a huge fan of the tune, so they would incorporate it within their live shows from time and time again. The guitar solo Jack plays during their 2006 performance at the Leeds Festival is nothing short of incredible; this is why he’s in a league of his own. Plus, the real sagacity lies within that sequence of triplets he plucks in a menacing manner right before the solo begins and after it ends.
3.) Icky Thump:
We won’t even get into the fact that this is not only one of the most killer Alternative Rock songs of the last ten years, but also one of the most socially and politically relevant songs of today; look no further than the following passage:
White Americans, what?
Nothing better to do?
Why don’t you kick yourself?
You’re an immigrant too?
That’s an entirely different conversation, so for now, we’ll just stick to the script and reroute our attention towards the incomparable guitar solo that fittingly curtails Icky Thump. It’s distorted. It’s unnerving. It’s destructive. It’s sloppy. It’s infectious. But most of all, it’s brilliant. Of course the true nature behind the guitar solo’s brilliance has to be the effects pedal Jack uses to achieve that screeching sound; a sound that makes the entirety of the album the second best work he’s ever done.
2.) Blue Veins:
It should be mentioned that these guitar solos also pertain not only to the album versions, but also live performances as well; Jack is at his best when he’s on stage improvising. This Raconteurs song is from their 2006 debut, Broken Boy Soldiers. The live interpretation of Jack’s guitar solos far exceed the studio version, simply because he unleashes a side of him that is too powerful to contain on an analog recording.
The 2008 “Eden Sessions” performance, which runs nine minutes long, shares a striking resemblance to the minor key gloom of Since I’ve Been Loving You by Led Zeppelin. But it’s the solos he pours from his heart and soul that accentuates the angry temperament he puts forth through his craft.
1.) Ball and a Biscuit:
For those who remember the White Stripes list I composed a while back, you may recall Ball and a Biscuit being definitely number one; well, that kind of unequivocal proclamation stands firm right here also. It’s not only the greatest song Jack White ever recorded, but it also encloses a pungent perfection not one, not two, but three solos that are the epitome of his legacy; the standout solo, though, has to be the third one at the five minute mark.
Jack White doesn’t just play the notes, he literally breaths life into them. He evokes the spirit of every bluesman that’s ever inspired him, while infusing the dynamic imposition of punk rock into wax-laden palate. This seven minute out-of-body experience, jam-packed with memorable riffs and pentatonic runs galore, is but a living reminder of why this man is quite possibly the Jimmy Page of the 21st century.
A certified legend in his own right.