Nobody in modern music is doing more to preserve the legacy of rock and roll music than Jack White. A born-and-bred Detroit rocker with roots in blues traditions, White is a man who favours amplification, analogue equipment, and natural effects. Throughout his three decades of musical activity, White managed to hit genres as diverse as folk and experimental jazz, but everything White does retain his signature guitar-heavy rock and roll edge.
It all seems to return to his Detroit roots. The hard-scrabble American city was never a fashionable hub for music, art, or culture. Instead, Detroiters became notorious for their grit, grime, and pride. The car manufacturing capital of the United States quickly turned into a burned-out cautionary tale of industrialisation and capitalistic greed, but out of the ashes came human beings who could weather hardship better than almost anyone in the country.
White was no stranger to the desolation of his hometown. As the youngest of ten children from a devotedly Catholic family, White never had the money for new toys. Everything was hand-me-downs, including musical instruments that his siblings played and discarded. When none of White’s siblings had what he was looking for, White discovered an alternative way of making new discoveries: dumpster diving.
“In Detroit, in the alleys, we would have these giant dumpsters. They were trying to kill the rat problem in Detroit, so they got rid of garbage cans and put giant dumpsters out,” White told Questlove on the Questlove Supreme podcast. “So one of my favourite things to do, on the way home from school, was to walk down the alleys, flip the top off each dumpster, and see what was in there – dumpster diving and trash picking.”
During one particular escapade, White stumbled onto Detroit rock royalty just sitting in the pile of garbage. “I found The Stooges’ first album, on vinyl, in one of those dumpsters. And that really changed my life. I recorded ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ on four-track because of that, and that led me into punk rock in a bigger way.”
It wouldn’t be long before White seriously began taking up the drums and found a home in Detroit’s underground punk scene. Years later, White would also describe The Stooges’ sophomore record, Fun House, as “the greatest rock and roll record ever made.” And it all started when White was flipping through dumpsters as a kid.