Behind the Band Name: The White Stripes

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

When discussing the prolific, historic American rock duo, The White Stripes, color inevitably comes up.

Whether it’s the band playing the blues (a traditionally Black music form) as white people or talking about their candy-coated red and white color aesthetic or their very name, hue seems always essential.

Let’s dive in.

Origins

Born in Detroit, Michigan, the White Stripes formed in 1997. The group released its self-titled debut LP two years later ahead of the turn of the millennium in 1999. Comprised of Jack White and Meg White, the two members were married, and after divorcing, humorously called themselves brother and sister.

Said Jack of his bandmate, “Meg is the best part of this band. It never would have worked with anybody else, because it would have been too complicated… It was my doorway to playing the blues.”

The band rose to prominence on the backs of Jack’s guitar playing and songwriter prowess as well as Meg’s superb, yet at times, childlike drumming. It was an intricate meets rudimentary match made in rock heaven. Sadly for rock fans, the group disbanded in 2011 after recording six albums.

The Sound

The band’s sound was lo-fi, garage rock. It utilized two, or three instruments at most—guitar, drums, and sometimes keys, along with the human voice. The music was raw, and aggressive at times, often taking advantage of Jack’s ability to shred on the guitar with bright, electrified solos.

At its core, however, was the blues. Jack has a profound love for blues music and is a student of music history, fully understanding how the blues was the precursor to rock and roll.

The Early Years As A Band: Discovering A Name

Jack Gillis (as he was known then) met Meg White at the restaurant Memphis Smoke. That’s where she worked and where he would read poetry at open mic nights. The two became friends and hung out at coffee shops, local music venues, and record sites. At the time, Jack was playing drums and working in an upholstery shop as an apprentice.

The two married on September 21, 1996. Jack took his wife’s name.

Meg started to learn how to play drums. Said Jack of this time, “When she started to play drums with me, just on a lark, it felt liberating and refreshing. There was something in it that opened me up.”

The couple then became a band, considering the name Bazooka and Soda Powder. They later settled on The White Stripes.

Said Jack of the name’s origins, “Meg loves peppermints and we were going to call ourselves the Peppermints. But since our last name was White, we decided to call it The White Stripes. It revolved around this childish idea, the ideas kids have—because they are so much better than adult ideas, right?”

Band Motifs

From then, the duo established motifs and aesthetics. They pretended to be brother and sister. They outfitted themselves in black, red, and white. They heavily leaned on the number three onstage.

White has talked about their need to use colors to distract fans and critics from the fact that they were young, white musicians playing Black music. With distortion and color-coated designs, the essence of their music was hidden and their aesthetics took center stage.

The band played its first live show on August 14, 1997, at the Gold Dollar bar in Detroit.

The rest, as they say, is candy-coated history.

(Photo by Tabatha Fireman/Redferns)

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