White Stripes 1999-2011

Photographer looks back on his years shooting the White Stripes

Everybody who saw Jack White in Detroit before 2000 knew he had a gift. My introduction to Jack was seeing him play with the Go at the Hamtramck Blowout in 1999 — at the Motor Lounge, then one of Detroit's preeminent techno clubs.

After I'd already photographed too many bands to remember that night, my jaw dropped when I heard Jack's guitar playing. Not only did he wrench amazing tones from a cheap old Crestwood Astral guitar — his solos were passionate, concise, Ron Asheton-inspired frenzies that suddenly cut out, as if someone had pulled the plug. The effect left you wondering what the fuck just happened. You immediately wanted to know more about the guy.

Later that Blowout, I caught the White Stripes at Paycheck's, where I discovered what a lot of Gold Dollar regulars already knew. Not only was Jack a great guitarist, he was a gifted songwriter and a vocalist with whom to be reckoned. And the drummer — the bemused foil to his drive and intensity — was primitive, primal, powerful ... and beautiful.

As always, Detroit had great bands then who inspired and supported the White Stripes, such as the Go, Two-Star Tabernacle, the Hentchmen, the Wildbunch and the Dirtbombs. But the scene was an amazing if not sleepy collection of the same hundred people who'd show up at Zoot's or the Gold Dollar for shows. None of these bands was going anywhere; the rest of the world, it seemed, could care less about Detroit and its music. (It's funny how the world would soon be all over Detroit; its hip hop, techno, garage, Eminem and Kid Rock, but how were we to know?)

Jack clearly had drive and vision then. Even a small show meant a lot to the Stripes — hell, they'd haul in a red carpet and a huge American flag backdrop only to entertain 50 Gold Dollar fans and regulars. It was his drive that'd inspire the same Detroit bands that had inspired him, and countless others in their wake, both here and around the world.

It shocked fans last week when the White Stripes called it a day. In last December's Vanity Fair, Jack, talking about the White Stripes reissues, said, "We thought we'd do a lot of things that we'd never done: a full tour of Canada, a documentary, coffee-table book, live album, a boxed set. It was one long project that took almost three years. Now that we've gotten a lot of that out of our system, Meg and I can get back in the studio and start fresh." Of course, after the White Stripes announcement, the sarcasm flew as fast as the tributes on Facebook.

So for those who don't see what's the big deal about a Detroit band that conquered the world, a band that single-handedly changed the course of pop music, breaking up is, well, huge.

Remember that Jack White is an incredibly passionate guitarist who rose at a time when there appeared to be none. Rock 'n' roll was suddenly in again. Jimmy Page said when he first heard the White Stripes, it was like being a kid again and hearing a rock 'n' roll guitarist for the first time.

Remember that the White Stripes understood the connection between what's old and what's new; they weren't arrogant enough to dismiss musical history, much less its soul, but still played on the novelty of the new, and made it wholly artful and original. They were as inspired by the Stooges and Captain Beefheart as they were by Son House and Blind Willie McTell. They became a valid (and necessary) music history lesson for young bands and music lovers around the world.

Remember that Jack and Meg inspired countless kids to pick up drums and guitar. Meg literally picked up the drums to join the band, became a great, inspired drummer in her own right.

Remember that the White Stripes helped boost the local indie rock scene to a world that was previously indifferent to Detroit music. Remember that they wrote great songs, and made sweet albums. Remember.