A Portrait of Jack White

Article by Phin Upham


jack white
John Anthony Gillis was born in Detroit Michigan in 1975, the son of working class Catholic parents and the youngest of ten children. The man who would become Jack White fondly recalls his connection to the Diocese of Chicago: “I feel strongly connected to God,” an intense and ongoing connection that would eventually lead him to serve as an altar boy.

White learned how to play the drums in first grade, perhaps his first foray into music. Though he says that priests and blues singers have equal passion, he definitely chose to move away from the clergy and into rock and roll. Before White hit high school, he was making his own lo-fi recordings of his own compositions.

His first paying musical gig came with his first job as an upholster’s assistant. He started a band with a co-worker called The Upholsters, and that helped spring board him into the role of drummer for a popular Detroit band called “Goober & the Peas.”

Then Jack met a woman working at barbecue joint called Memphis Smoke. Her name was Meg White, and the two married at the tender age of 21. Jack took on Meg’s name in an unusual move, and the two moved in with Jack’s parents.

The White Stripes began as Meg taking an interest in Jack’s music. He was still working days as an upholsterer, but she wanted to accompany him at night. He taught her simple drum beats and she gave him the back beat for his guitar. Her percussion struck both of them, as it did many critics, in a way that suggested a childlike kind of creativity. Though the Stripes eventually broke up, both are considered ground breaking musicians in the modern revival of the blues scene.