Maybe we owe it all to Loretta Lynn. Or, more specifically, Loretta Lynn's chicken and dumplings.
Jack White is a fan of both. He dedicated The White Stripes' album White Blood Cells to her and also covered her song "Rated X" as the b-side to "Hotel Yorba." When word of White's obsession got back to Lynn, the country icon responded in an appropriately folksy manner-she invited Jack and Meg over for an old-fashioned, home-cooked meal.
It had already been a great day-Jack had met, and been fed by, one of his all-time idols. So when the coal miner's daughter mentioned she might want to record again, it seemed too good to be true.
"I told her that if she was looking for a producer that I'd drop anything to do that," he says. "But I was thinking that it would never happen."
But Lynn didn't forget White's offer. A few months after the now-famous feast, White was fiddling with knobs and dials making Van Lear Rose-Lynn's best album in decades.
"Oddly enough, I got the rhythm section of [Cincinnati rock band] The Greenhornes to play on the album," says White. "At that point we had three-fourths of Raconteurs, so recording with Loretta really was the stepping stone for this band coming together."
Thanks, chicken. Kudos, dumplings.
Termed a "supergroup" by overzealous rock writers, The Raconteurs don't fit the label. This is no Blind Faith (or Damn Yankees, for that matter). Instead of four rock gods getting their rocks off with bloated 10-minute guitar solos, White, Patrick Keeler, Jack Lawrence and Motor City native Brendan Benson are just old buddies enjoying themselves.
The media's always lumped White in with rock's most wacked-out eccentrics. Maybe it's the Stripes' dress code or the fact that with his long black hair and pale skin, White looks eerily like Michael Jackson. Whatever it is, he seems to fit the part. However, The Raconteurs are undermining his reputation.
Much of the band's debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers, sounds like The White Stripes with a bassist. Blame it on White's unmistakable whine. But there are some key differences. Thanks to Benson's huge talent for writing catchy pop songs, The Raconteurs are much more playful. And with multiple guitars and tons of keyboards, their music defies the minimalism that defines The White Stripes.
"The White Stripes is all about constriction, and this band isn't," says White. "We only made one rule for the band: There's no such thing as a mistake in The Raconteurs."
If it sounds spontaneous, that's because it is.
After recording the Stripes' Elephant, Benson and White, who'd known each other for years as indispensable parts of the Detroit music scene, sat down and wrote "Steady As She Goes." That one tune was like a crystal ball in which Benson and White saw their future: more songs, gigs, albums and a hard blastin', loud 'n' loose rock band.
Adding Keeler and Lawrence made sense-The Greenhornes had been crashing at White's house since 1997 whenever they played Detroit, and White even produced one of the band's first 45s in his living room in 1998. But it was chance (or fate) that solidified the lineup.
"Luckily, Patrick and Jack just happened to come to Detroit that week and they came over and recorded a version of "Steady As She Goes' with us," White recalls. "Then we wrote "Broken Boy Solder' and more songs and we just became a band.
"The whole album was just live tracks the four of us recorded. After 10 songs, we thought that we needed to stop because we could have just kept going and going. We didn't write anything down on paper or say that we wanted to do a song like this or like that. We just went into a room and started writing songs and grabbed a rhythm section to help us perform them. It was just sort of a car crash where we all just crashed into each other."
From the beginning, this project has been steeped in impulsivity and first drafts. What came out of those few writing and recording sessions is basically what's on the album-unfiltered mess-around rock.
"All four of us... wanted it to be natural and real," says White. "There was never any sculpting of aesthetics in the band, and I didn't want anything like that because I already have The White Stripes, which is completely focused on aesthetics. There was no reason to do that again. We're just trying to create an environment when Brendan and I could write together. We made an album that we love, and now we get to go play it live."
For a side project, The Raconteurs is a fulltime job. After a score of dates over the last four months, the band has another three months to go before they're done. Following the tour, all four members will return to their new common home of Nashville.
White talks about The White Stripes in the present tense but won't say when he'll be back on tour or in the studio with Meg. However, he says he and Benson have almost finished enough material for a second Raconteurs album, which they hope to record as soon as possible.
"I just record when it's time to record," he says. "I've always let it go the way it's supposed to go. For example, Elephant sat on the shelf for a year before it came out. We couldn't put it out because White Blood Cells was doing so well. But I had to record the album right away."
Between The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and Loretta Lynn, it seems like White's up for anything. But he says he won't be dueting with Santana or producing Chris Martin's solo debut anytime soon.
"I only want to do things that make sense," he says. "I don't want to do things that are just selfish acts. The Loretta Lynn thing was actually both. It fulfilled something for me but also made sense. The same thing goes for The Raconteurs."
So until White's third musical personality shows up (or his White Stripes' side resumes control), he'll be a Raconteur. No more black or white or red; no more control-freak, garage-rock genius stuff. Just a guy and his buddies playing straight-ahead rock 'n' roll.
"I'm just glad that after all these years I'm still compelled to write and create," he says. "I was always worried that it would go away one day, but I still have it right now. That's all I care about right now."
The Raconteurs play with Kelly Stoltz at Soma on July 19. The show is sold out. www.theraconteurs.com.