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After fatal fire, Great White places focus on victims
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Members of the band Great White are doubling up in cheap hotel rooms and schlepping from city to city in cramped vans. When they fly, they�re in coach�accommodations unfitting for one-time rock �n� roll royalty.

Things have changed since Feb. 20, when the band took the stage at The Station nightclub in West Warwick and started its set with a shower of pyrotechnics, sparking the nation�s fourth-deadliest nightclub fire. The blaze killed 100 people and injured nearly 200 others.

Now, the band that boasts gold and platinum records and a Grammy Award nomination isn�t reveling in its stardom. Instead, it�s focused on jump-starting a career that could have died along with one of its guitarists, while also trying to raise money to make amends with the scores of families affected.

�Now it�s not about me,� lead singer Jack Russell said in a recent telephone interview with The Associated Press. �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. ... What�s important is helping these people out.�

Great White is on a low-budget benefit tour to raise money for The Station Family Fund, a nonprofit organization created for fire survivors and victims� families.

The band planned to hit 41 cities and towns, playing low-profile venues similar to the ones it had been playing before the fire, most with capacities of about 500 people. The band�s manager, Obi Steinman, said the number of tour stops may grow, as promoters let go of worries that Great White would back out of engagements or become a liability.

On the tour, the band is dealing with renewed fame, as reporters bang on hotel room doors to talk about the fire, not the music.

The band has so far donated $37,000 from more than a dozen shows through mid-September, according to Victoria Potvin, president of The Station Family Fund.

Great White could have raised $20,000 more, Potvin predicted, had it played a show in southern New England, a region the band had at first promised to avoid out of respect for people still sensitive about the fire. Despite the band�s sizable following in this region, promoters� plans for a show in southern New England have twice been foiled by criticism from family members of victims.

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.�

People like Pembroke, Mass., resident Charles Sweet, the father of 28-year-old fire victim Shawn Sweet, say 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 Pembroke looking at the gravestones of my son and his beautiful girlfriend. It�s me and my wife.�

Formed in 1984, Great White emerged from southern California and favored a blues-rock sound to the glam-rock scene that saw other bands sport makeup and wildly styled hair.

Great White�s best-known song, a cover of the tune �Once Bitten, Twice Shy,� was nominated for a Grammy Award for best hard-rock performance 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 days in the limelight were numbered by then.

Since the fire, and against the advice of his attorneys, Russell continued touring�partly for the charity and partly as therapy since losing 99 fans and guitarist Ty Longley.

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

Dave Szatmary, author of �Rockin� in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll,� described Great White as �a nuts and bolts touring band.�

�If they want to stay together then they will,� he said.  ï¿½This incident will probably be behind them and I think they�ll keep on going on.�

The band has some tour dates planned through the end of December, Steinman said, and is in talks with promoters in Europe and Asia.

There are also talks of a DVD containing footage from the tour and discussions of a 1980s hair-band pay-per-view reunion concert, including Great White, Steinman said.

�There�s no rockstardom,� Steinman said. �I don�t see them doing anything else right now except trying to help the victims.  Their whole life is over.�


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