Looking back at The White Stripes’ powerful cover of ‘Jolene’ at their 2001 Detroit gig
If there are two things Jack White loves it’s Detroit and country music. The White Stripes singer, and guitar impresario, was awarded an honorary doctorate by Wayne State University for his contribution to his city and his adoration of artists like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton is widely cited and, one might argue, the foundation of his and The White Stripes rise to success on the back of some filthy jams.
We’re digging into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you the moment those two loves collide at a very special hometown performance. It sees Jack and Meg White deliver a frenetic performance of Dolly Parton’s timeless classic, ‘Jolene’ from back in 2001. The show is a small one and although the group were already on their way to the top of the rock pile, they were far from the stadium-sized band they became. The performance is therefore charged with intimate electricity that makes it one of the finest cover songs of all time.
White may now be as close as the rock world gets to a music mogul, with countless projects through music with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and his solo work, not forgetting being the head of Third Man Records. But he started in rather more humble beginnings in the club circuit around his hometown of Detroit, standing on stage and delivering a plethora of grimy guitar jams.
By providing swirling, crazed vocals and thrashing his guitar as nobody else had done before, the band were gaining traction as garage rock heroes. In the video below, back in 2001, he was still honing his unholy wail with the Stripes—those unstoppable red and white juggernauts—by covering some country and western classics.
The band were beginning to find their feet internationally and with the release of White Blood Cells in 2001, they started to set roots as the somewhat deranged guitar heroes of the garage revival scene. Jack and Meg, a simple duo of guitar and drums, had the ability to create a sound nobody thought possible. Meg’s pounding tribal drums were always matched by the crunching, twisted pageantry of Jack’s frenetic guitar.
His ability to create weird and wonderful noises capable of bringing down a house in a single note set the scene alight. To then couple that with the songmanship on tracks like ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ and ‘Hotel Yorba’, showed that this band understood and delivered the storytelling that is reserved for timeless artists. They had the power and they had the poetry, things were on the up and greatness awaited.
Somehow there’s no better way to show this than on the band’s beautiful cover of Dolly Parton’s heartwrenching classic ‘Jolene’. It’s a cover which would become a part of the band’s live set and offer a glimpse of White’s love affair with Americana and country music, if not Dolly Parton herself.
White effortlessly conveys the yearning and desperation of Parton’s sensational protagonist, all while still adding his own unhinged flair for the dramatic. The fret-shredding performer is full of rage and burning hearted love and with every lick of his guitar, he bewilders and beguiles the audience. That is, before switching to the buzzsaw fuzz of a jilted lover threatening to burn your house down.
It’s a piece of history that remains one of the crucial columns on which the band was built. While the sound was, at times, a wall of unholy distortion, it also offered a powerful human connection. Not between necessarily White and his audience but between himself and the song. It’s the kind of show that made White and his band one of the most watchable acts of all time.
During the performance, the band use their whole body mind and soul to tell the story of ‘Jolene’ and through lyrics and instruments, they create perfect harmony.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene Oh, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene Please don’t take him even though you can Your beauty is beyond compare With flaming locks of auburn hair With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green Your smile is like a breath of spring Your skin is soft like summer rain And I can not compete with you, Jolene And I can easily understand How you could easily take my man But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene And he talks about you in his sleep There’s nothing I can do to keep from cryin’, when he calls your name Jolene, Jolene Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene Please don’t take him even though you can Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene Please don’t take him even though you can I had to have this talk with you My happiness depends on you And whatever you decide to do, Jolene And you could have your choice of men But I could never love again Cause he’s the only one for me, Jolene, Jolene Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene Oh, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene Please don’t take him even though you can Jolene, Jolene