How Jack, Jack, Brendan and Patrick Became the Raconteurs
Here are my liner notes for the Raconteurs "Live at Montreux" DVD. I figure no one is crazy enough to buy the whole thing just to read what I have to say, so here it is in its entirety.
For a band whose every move has been overly documented since the instant their existence was known, there's still a large part of the Raconteurs story that's largely untold.
While Jack White was at the time the most well-known musician amongst the self-proclaimed "new band made up of old friends,” it is oftentimes overlooked that Benson had the earlier success. His impressive debut album, One Mississippi, was released on Virgin Records in 1996. Benson supported the likes of the Wallflowers, saw his song "Insects Rule" covered by the Foo Fighters and even enjoyed a successful tour of Japan all before the White Stripes would play their first live show.
Benson moved back to his hometown of Detroit in 1998 after a stint living in California and soon met (and hit it off with) White. Brendan was the first artist to ever cover the White Stripes when he performed “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” at the Magic Stick in Detroit on November 27th, 1998.
At that same time, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler were barnstorming the Midwest as the rhythm section in the Cincinnati-based act the Greenhornes, quickly making a name for themselves as the nation's premier garage/soul band. It was a given then that all future Raconteurs would know each other by the release of the Greenhornes debut album Gun For You in May of 1999, but that it would take until 2004 for them all to collaborate was almost odd given the collabo-happy times they were enjoying.
There were previous pairings of the friends that would happen first. White and Benson did a one-off performance together (doing songs each had written) at the Garden Bowl in Detroit on March 14th, 1999 and recorded demos of songs like "Now Mary" and "You've Got Her in Your Pocket" in Brendan's attic later that spring. Benson would later appear in the documentary Detroit Rock Movie performing "…Pocket" while the White Stripes would begin to cover Brendan's "Good to Me" live in the fall of '99 and released their version in 2003.
Benson and White also performed together in the short-lived and posthumously-named Jack White and the Bricks along with Kevin Peyok (the Waxwings) on bass and Ben Blackwell (the Dirtbombs) on drums. While they only existed for a handful of shows in the summer/fall of '99, their first performance was actually opening for the Greenhornes on the Garden Bowl Lanes on July 9th…White's 24th birthday.
With a set comprising mainly of songs written by White that had yet to be appropriated by the White Stripes, the Bricks were never a serious concern to any of its participants. The band is only really remembered because of a decent audience recording (easily found online) made live at the Gold Dollar in Detroit on September 16, 1999.
Come September 2002, the White Stripes were personally selected by Jeff Beck to serve as backing band on songs from his Yardbirds era in a career spanning 40th anniversary concert at London's Royal Festival Hall. Needing a bass player to fill out the group, the Stripes tapped Jack Lawrence for the spot and the result was an unqualified success, as the YouTube videos will attest.
By August 2003,White had Keeler and Lawrence serve as the rhythm section for the sessions that would yield Loretta Lynn's universally acclaimed Van Lear Rose. Released in April 2004, the album would go on to win two Grammy's and found White, Lawrence and Keeler backing Lynn for performances on The Today Show and The Late Show with David Letterman. It would also seemingly be the last necessary step before all members of the Raconteurs would finally play together.
In the summer of 2004 Benson, recording in the attic of his grand Detroit home, was stuck on an uncompleted lyric of “Find yourself a girl and settle down, live a simple life in a quiet town.” Good friend, neighbor and occasional musician White came up with the fitting conclusion and de facto song title, “Steady as she goes.” Slide in Keeler and Lawrence as the best bassist and drummer around and it all fits together like pieces to a musical puzzle…while they'd all been knocking about in the same space for years, they were finally locked-in together in the right configuration.
The sessions in Benson's attic at 419 E Grand Boulevard (a house that at most recent check was boarded-up) yielded the ten tracks that would serve as their debut album Broken Boy Soldiers. During overdubs White managed to lay down a demo of "As Ugly As I Seem" which would later make its way into the Stripes' repertoire.
With all songs written and produced by the White/Benson pairing, the album was more-or-less finished by the beginning of 2005. The fact it wouldn't see release for over a year was understandable as '05 saw the White Stripes release Get Behind Me Satan, the Greenhornes East Grand Blues and Benson The Alternative to Love. Each album was accompanied by extensive touring. The bulk of the Stripes' dates had the Greenhornes as openers while Benson opened a handful as well.
The Raconteurs' first live performance was an unplanned occurrence on October 1st, 2005. The event was a private party held in White's home at 1731 Seminole in Detroit's Indian Village and followed a Stripes concert at the Masonic Temple. While the Greenhornes served as the planned entertainment, with all four members in attendance it didn't take much urging to get the Raconteurs playing. White's house, where …Satan was recorded, was less than a mile from the attic where …Soldiers was recorded.
White moved to Nashville in December 2005 and it wasn't long before the rest of the Raconteurs were rehearsing in his living room (footage of which is viewable on Third Man Records' Vault fan club), pulling up their stakes and moving there too.
The public wouldn't hear music from the Racs until XL Records released 1000 copies of the 7" single of "Steady, As She Goes" in January 2006. Their public live debut would come a few months later on March 20th, 2006 in Liverpool, England but from there, the rest of the story has already been told.