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Great White Tour Focuses on Fire Victims

September 23, 2003 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Seven months after a nightclub fire that will always be associated with their band’s name, members of Great White are still trying to make amends.

``It’s not about Great White. It’s something much, much bigger. This is the sole purpose of Great White right now. It makes each second on stage matter,″ lead singer Jack Russell said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ``What’s important is helping these people out.″

As the band has continued to tour, Great White has donated $37,000 from more than a dozen shows to The Station Family Fund, according to fund President Victoria Potvin. The nonprofit organization was created to benefit victims’ families and survivors of the Feb. 20 blaze at The Station nightclub in West Warwick.

Great White started its set that night with a shower of pyrotechnics, leading to the nation’s fourth-deadliest nightclub fire. The blaze killed 100 people _ including the band’s guitarist, Ty Longley _ and injured nearly 200 others.

On the current tour, the band is dealing with renewed fame. But reporters are banging on their hotel room doors to talk about the fire, not the music.

Still, Russell said, touring is the right thing to do. ``And if I have to take some heat from some people,″ he said, ``then I’m willing to do that.″

Such heat comes from Charles Sweet, the father of 28-year-old fire victim Shawn Sweet. He says the benefit tour is a feel-good tactic by the band to divert bad press.

``I think they they’re trying to protect their own rear end by being the nice guy,″ Sweet said. ``It’s not Jack Russell coming down to (visit) ... the gravestones of my son and his beautiful girlfriend. It’s me and my wife.″

Despite the band’s sizable following in southern New England, plans for a show in the region have twice been foiled by criticism from family members of victims.

Formed in the early ’80s, Great White emerged from Southern California and favored a blues-rock sound to the glam-rock scene. Great White’s best-known song, a cover of the tune ``Once Bitten, Twice Shy,″ was nominated for a best hard-rock performance Grammy in 1990. The album ``... Twice Shy″ went double platinum, and the band toured on the high-profile Monsters of Rock tour with Kiss and Iron Maiden.

The band’s 1991 album ``Hooked″ went gold, but Great White’s popularity subsequently waned.


Since the fire, and against the advice of his lawyers, Russell continued touring _ partly for the charity and partly as therapy.

A grand jury is investigating the fire to determine whether criminal charges are warranted. Attorney General Patrick Lynch has said band members have been cooperating.

Dave Szatmary, author of ``Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll,″ said Great White probably can put the deadly fire ``behind them and I think they’ll keep on going on.″

The band has some tour dates planned through the end of December, the band’s manager, Obi Steinman, said, then Great White hopes to head to Europe and Asia.

However, renewed rock stardom isn’t the motivation, he said.

``I don’t see them doing anything else right now except trying to help the victims,″ Steinman said. ``Their whole life is over.″


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