Of Canadian and Polish descent, White, the youngest of ten children (seven sons, three daughters), was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Teresa and Gorman Gillis. His father and mother worked for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as the maintenance man and the Cardinal's secretary, respectively. White eventually became an altar boy, which landed him an uncredited role in the 1987 movie The Rosary Murders, filmed mainly at Holy Redeemer parish in southwest Detroit. As a child he was a fan of classical music.
Jack White began playing instruments (a drum) at the age of five. White grew up in a lower middle-class neighborhood in southwest Detroit. His musical preferences were not those of his classmates, who listened to electronica and hip hop. White, as a teenager, was already listening to the blues and 1960s rock that would influence him in The White Stripes, Son House and Blind Willie McTell being among his favorite blues musicians. He and his childhood friend, Dominic Suchyta, would listen to records in White's attic on weekends and began to record cover songs on an old 4-track reel to reel. At the time White was described as "a kid with short hair and braces". He has said in many interviews that Son House's "Grinnin In Your Face" to be his favorite song of all time.
In 2005 on 60 Minutes, White told Mike Wallace that his life could have turned out differently. "I'd got accepted to a seminary in Wisconsin, and I was gonna become a priest, but at the last second I thought, 'I’ll just go to public school... I had just gotten a new amplifier in my bedroom, and I didn’t think I was allowed to take it with me."
At 15, White began a three-year upholstery apprenticeship with a family friend, Brian Muldoon. White credits Muldoon with exposing him to punk music, and pushing him to play music together as a band: "He played drums...well I guess I'll play guitar then." The two recorded an album, Makers of High Grade Suites, as The Upholsterers. White later started a one-man business of his own, called Third Man Upholstery. The slogan of his business was "Your Furniture's Not Dead" and the color scheme was yellow and black — including a yellow van, a yellow and black uniform and a yellow clipboard. While Third Man Upholstery never lacked business, White claims that it was not profitable, due to his complacency about money and his business practices that were perceived as unprofessional, including making bills out in crayon and writing poetry inside the furniture. Shortly thereafter, White landed his first professional gig as the drummer for the Detroit band Goober & the Peas. He also played in other local bands and did solo shows.
White formed The White Stripes along with Meg White in 1997. The band began its career as part of the Michigan garage rock underground music scene, playing with local bands such as Bantam Rooster, The Dirtbombs, The Paybacks, Rocket 455, and The Henchmen, among others. In 1998, The White Stripes were signed to Italy Records, a small and independent Detroit-based garage punk label, by Dave Buick. The band released its self-titled debut album in 1999, and a year later the album was followed up by the cult classic De Stijl. The album eventually peaked at #38 in Billboard Magazine's Independent Albums when the band had established their popularity.
In 2001 the band released White Blood Cells. The album's stripped-down garage rock sound drew critical acclaim in the UK and soon afterward in the US, making The White Stripes one of the more acclaimed bands of 2002. The album was followed up in 2003 by the commercially and critically successful Elephant. Allmusic wrote that the album "sounds even more pissed-off, paranoid and stunning than its predecessor ... darker and more difficult than White Blood Cells. "The album's first single, "Seven Nation Army, " is the band's most successful to date.
The band's fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan, was recorded in White's own home and marked a change in the band's musical direction, with piano-driven melodies and experimentation with marimba and a more rhythm based guitar playing by White. The band also released Aluminium, an avant-garde orchestral album containing past music written by White. The band's sixth album, Icky Thump, released in 2007, entered the UK Albums Chart at number one and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. The album's sound also included more punk, garage and blues influences than its predecessor. In late 2007, the band announced the cancellation of 18 tour dates due to Meg White's acute anxiety problems.
White had revealed plans to release a seventh, as of yet untitled album in the summer of 2009. This didn't happen, though, as of yet The band also made their first live appearance since Meg's anxiety problems in September 2007 on the final episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien on February 20, 2009.
A documentary, The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights, about the band's 2007 tour, in which they played a gig in every Canadian province and territory, is expected to close the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.
In July 2007, The White Stripes made history by playing the shortest concert ever by only playing one note, in St John's, Newfoundland. They played a full show later that night at the Mile One Centre in downtown St. John's.
It was rumored that in 2003 White collaborated on Electric Six's song "Danger! High Voltage". Both he and the Electric Six denied this, and the vocal work was credited officially to John S O'Leary. However, a recent radio interview with Tim Shaw on Kerrang! 105.2 in the UK had Electric Six lead singer Dick Valentine talking openly about White singing on this song as well as speculating on the amount of money he was paid ($60,000). Also, a Q magazine article stated that Jack White did in fact work with Electric Six on the song "Gay Bar".
White formed The Raconteurs in 2005 along with Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler. The origin of the band was the song 'Steady, As She Goes' which White wrote along with Benson. This inspired them to create a full band with the addition of Lawrence and Keeler. The band came together in Detroit during 2005 and, for the remainder of the year, recorded when time allowed. The band's debut album Broken Boy Soldiers was recorded at Benson's home in Detroit. The band set out on tour to support the album, including eight dates as the opening act for Bob Dylan. The band released its second album, Consolers of the Lonely and its first single "Salute Your Solution" simultaneously in 2008. The tour included shows at Lollapallooza at Grant Park in Chicago, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Bonnaroo Music Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival, T in the Park in Scotland, Oxegen festival in Ireland and The Open'er Festival in Poland. The album received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album.
Jack White and Alison Mosshart performing live with The Dead Weather at the Glastonbury Festival, June 26, 2009.
In early 2009, Jack White formed a new group called The Dead Weather with The Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart. White takes drum and vocal duties, while The Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence and Queens of the Stone Age keyboardist Dean Fertita round the four piece out.
The group debuted a handful of new tracks on March 11, 2009 in Nashville from their debut album "Horehound, " due July 13, 2009 in Europe and July 14, 2009 in North America, on White's Third Man Records label.
In 2008, White collaborated with Alicia Keys on the song "Another Way to Die", the theme song for the James Bond film Quantum of Solace.
In 2009 Jack White was featured in "It Might Get Loud", a film in which he, Jimmy Page, and The Edge come together to discuss the electric guitar and each artists' unique playing methods. White's first solo single, "Fly Farm Blues" was written and recorded in ten minutes during the filming of the movie, in August 2009. The single went on sale as a 7-inch vinyl record from Third Man Records and as a digital single available through iTunes on August 11. Jack White has also mentioned a plan for a solo album in the next six months. He is currently rumored to be collaborating with Punk warlord Phil Lin and currently recording sample tracks.
Jack White uses numerous effects to create his live sound, most notably a Digitech Whammy WH-1 to create the rapid modulations in pitch he uses in his solos. The guitars he uses live are two 1965 JB Hutto Montgomery Airlines (one which he received from a fan), a three pickup Airline Town & Country (Only used in the "Steady As She Goes" music video, a Harmony Rocket, a 1970s-era Crestwood Astral II, 1950s-era Kay Hollowbody, a Gretsch White Penguin(as seen in the music video for Icky Thump), and a custom Gretsch Rancher Falcon acoustic guitar. When playing with the Raconteurs, White usually plays two custom Gretsch-styled copies of the Duo Jet double-cutaway guitar, one of which, dubbed the Triple Jet, is his main guitar that is made of copper and features a Gretsch logo from 1912. For their first tour, Jack also played Gretsch Anniversary Jr. with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece and three Filtertron pickups. He also uses a Gretsch Rancher acoustic guitar and he now uses a custom Gretsch Anniversary Jr. with two cutaways, a built-in retractable microphone, and a theremin next to the Bigsby. Jack has dubbed this one the "Triple Green Machine". Also, he plays occasionally with his Gretsch Rancher, a Gibson J-160E. Also, he plays a Gretsch Duo Jet in Cadillac Green. Recently, he has featured his latest Gretsch, a custom white Billy Gibbons/Bo Diddley signature Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird in the music video for "Another Way to Die", this guitar is also used on his concerts with The Dead Weather. He has also been known to play a variety of Fender Telecasters, featuring one in the music video for Loretta Lynn's "Portland, Oregon."
In concert with an MXR Micro-Amp and custom Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Distortion/Sustainer, White can produce a very distinctive sound. In 2005, for the single "Blue Orchid", White employed the use of a new Electro-Harmonix creation, the Polyphonic Octave Generator (POG). Similar to (but more versatile than) the Whammy IV, the POG lets the user mix in several octave effects into one along with the dry signal. He also has three Zvex Tremolo Probes, that are hand painted black. All of the pedals that he uses live have been professionally painted red to match his red/black/white color scheme (with the exception of his Whammy and the other pedals that are already red). He plugs this setup into a 1970s Fender Twin Reverb and two 100-Watt Sears Silvertone 6x10 combo amplifiers. With the Raconteurs, he has many more unusual pedals. And also, for the Raconteurs' 2008 tour, he had all of his pedals copper plated by Analogman.
White also produces a "fake" bass tone by playing the Kay Hollowbody and JB Hutto Montgomery Airline guitars through a Whammy IV set to one octave down for a very thick, low, rumbling sound, which he uses most notably on the songs "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button" during live performances.
On occasion, White also plays other instruments, such as a Black Gibson F-4 mandolin ("Little Ghost"), piano (on most tracks from Get Behind Me Satan, and various others), an electric piano on such tracks as "The Air Near My Fingers" and "I'm Finding it Harder to be a Gentleman". White also plays percussion instruments such as the marimba (as on "The Nurse"), drums and tambourine. On Broken Boy Soldiers, he is credited as playing the album's synths and organ; however, bandmate Brendan Benson also received credit for these instruments and it is unclear who played on which song.
White plays power chords with a different technique than most musicians. Instead of using his ring finger to fret the higher notes, Jack uses his little finger. This is because of a car accident in which his left index finger was injured and also the fact that his brothers would never teach him the proper way to do so, which he explains in an appearance with the Raconteurs on the show In the Attic.