Wednesday, February 2, 2011
My White Stripes Story
It was 15 September 2000.
I'd never heard The White Stripes before seeing them open for Sleater-Kinney at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky, USA. Heard of them, yeah, but had never actually listened to them. Still a bit more underground than where I was at the time. In any event, I recall standing with WOXY's Digital Savant Bryan Jay Miller in some sort of dual, slackjawed amazement at the sound these two were making on stage. More noise and more rawk than any had a right to expect. Truth is, The White Stripes were perfect for Cincinnati. Just down the interstate from Detroit, both historical bastions of gritty, blues-based rock, the cities were kindred spirits. I guess it was never surprising that Jack plucked two of the city's own, Patrick & Jack L. from The Greenhornes, to join him in the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, yadda yadda.
So, after Jack & Meg finished wiping up the SGH floor, I made it over to the merch table to ask for a CD. Not buy one, ask for one. At the time, I was still very much of the mind that since I'm going to play you on the radio and y'know, promote your music, then I shouldn't have to pay for one. I don't know if he knew what 97X (WOXY) was or not, and probably didn't care either way but he just wasn't into it. (I also think I was low on funds at the time, and this was a cash-only deal)
I was kind of incredulous. Here I thought I was doing him a favor. Surely 'The White Stripes' in the year 2000 weren't getting any airplay anywhere else in the country - right? (Right...?)
Eventually, and probably just to get rid of me, Jack handed me a CD. Cool! I couldn't wait to get back to the station, listen to it, and beat the world to The White Stripes. What a coup....or so I thought. Upon further investigation, he'd given me a copy of their first record and not their latest, De Stijl. Still, I put "Do" and "St. James Infirmary Blues" into rotation on our indie show Gridloxx. And since we, as a station, hardly ever revisited old records we didn't play the first time, even that was a little out of the WOXY norm.
Fast forward a few months...all of a sudden this 2 minute song called "Fell In Love With A Girl" was blowing up. The video was all over MTV and I. didn't. have. it. For 'The Future of Rock & Roll' to be left out in the cold, well, that's sum bullshit, right there. I dug around to call the label, a little indie called Sympathy For The Record Industry. Hmm...heard of 'em, never had to deal with 'em. OK, they're in LA, lemme find the number and dial 'em up.
The phone is answered by a guy who sounds like I'd caught him mid-bong hit:
SFTRI: (sucking sound) "Yep"
After establishing I had the right place, I introduced myself and where I was from, and said I was calling about getting the new record from The White Stripes.....
SFTRI: (somewhat annoyed) "White Stripes...White Stripes...that's all anyone wants...White Stripes!"
Geez man, excuse the hell out of me. Anyway, kinda like my encounter at the Southgate House, I was telling him all about my radio station in Cincinnati and that I wanted to play the record. I'm thinking,'isn't that what a small label like this wants to hear'? In any event, dude asks me to email him my info and he'll look into it. Suffice to say, I was a bit taken aback. I think that may have been the first time a request to get a disc for airplay was met with that much annoyance. A real WTF moment.
Talking later with an LA-based friend, she explained that I must've been talking to the infamous Long Gone John, Sympathy's owner and, apparently, sole employee. Unbeknownst to me in the Midwest, I guess he'd earned a reasonably well-known reputation as kind of cantankerous eccentric. More likely, I just wasn't that indie at the time. I didn't know the guy. Clearly, here was someone for whom radio airplay had never been a priority - at all. Some time passed, and the CD never arrived. Eventually, a copy made it into our hands, and WOXY's full embrace of the White Stripes began. White Blood Cells ended up as the station's #1 record of 2002, followed by Elephant landing as the #1 record of 2003.
Looking back, I should have just bought the damn thing.