The man who could have been king

By Martin Smith HE'S Sheffield's own rock and roll enigma.

Frank White, guitar legend, devout Christian, family man.

The man the Rolling Stones wanted, the man who influenced generations of Sheffield musicians, a man who could have had it all.

With enough talent to give even Eric Clapton a run for his money his self-taught genius has been appreciated by a loyal following in his home city and beyond for 40 years.

But this is a man who could have become a rock icon throughout the world.

Only his loyalties, laid-back approach and desire for control stopped him chasing that dream.

Instead he stayed at home, raised a family and played in the pubs and clubs of South Yorkshire rather than compete for audiences in the great rock venues of the world.

He played The Pheasant rather than football stadiums, the Esquire instead of Earl's Court and stayed with bands like the Frank White Band, Dixie Chicken, the Ralph Salt Trio and the Hillbilly Cats.

And he doesn't regret a moment of it.

"I had offers but I needed to be my own man," said Frank, at his home in Herdings.

"I heard the Stones wanted me to join them in the 60s but I don't really want to speculate on what's been said and I don't have many regrets about that.

"When I had my first album out in 1972 the kids were little and I could not be away from them for too long.

"My wife Jean and I wanted a boy and a girl and that's what we had. I didn't want to be an absent father. You have to make a decision in that position and I did.

"That meant putting my career on the back burner. I don't regret it for a moment because it was the right thing to do, but it did make a difference."

The choices he made back then meant the superstar life was never going to be his but his talent was not to be denied.

His grandmother bought his first guitar when he was 15-years-old.

"It cost about 2.50 I think and I didn't have a clue," said Frank, who says he still feels 21 when asked about his age.

"I thought you tuned a guitar by just tightening the strings. Then, and this is true, I was walking in a field near where we lived and I found on the floor a piece of paper with instructions on how to tune a guitar. It was just lying there.

"Three months later I was the lead guitarist in a band, not that I was brilliant or anything but I just found a way to get the things in my head out through a guitar."

The ability to express thoughts and ideas through melody is a gift great musicians share, to be able to transform experience and emotion into art is the essence of creative talent.

A God-given thing that separates the mighty from the mediocre.

And God is something Frank White knows a bit about.

He became a Jehovah's Witness 28 years ago and adheres to the highly-principled tenets of that faith, which include spreading the word to others door to door.

"I'm still rocking and knocking and will be till the day I die," said Frank. "I believe that this system will come to an end soon. We are definitely in what The Bible calls the time of the end.

"Armageddon is coming but you have to do Jehovah's will and keep doing what you're doing in life.

"There has been no contradiction between rock 'n' roll and God. I learned a long time ago how to keep certain people at arms length. I never got into drugs, that's madness.

"I had been searching for something for a long time and when I realised that God actually did exist it helped me get things in proper perspective.

"Music started to mean a lot more to me and I didn't think that was possible. I appreciate music at a much deeper level now. Being a Witness has not made me any less ambitious or hungry for success.

"But it means I have my priorities right. I have never sought fame for its own sake. To me music is the closest thing to knowing God. It's difficult to explain in any other terms. Music has that ability to instantly move people. You can hear a song you haven't heard for thirty years and it can transport you back to the person you were when you first heard it.

"It is a deeply spiritual thing to be able to move people like that.

"I play music because I have to. I could not live without playing. To me it's like eating and drinking. I would fall apart without it."

How would he like to be remembered if he should die before Jehovah cleanses the earth and gives him eternal life?

"I would like to be remembered for being honest as a person and as a musician. My honesty may have cost me chances over the years but I don't regret that.

"You have to be able to live with yourself. I can do that."

Changing faces of a Sheffield music legend

Stock 'n' roll

SO what do old rock 'n' roll rebels do in the daytime?

Jack Daniels and deafening music? Martinis and MTV?

Hardly.

Frank White is more likely to be in front of his television with a cup of tea watching share prices on Teletext (p521).

He became a stock market watcher eight years ago when he received some windfall shares from his building society.

And he's been dead keen ever since.

"I got into it by default really," he said. "I got some shares from a mortgage company and I got into it because of that."

As he speaks he is drawn back to the screen and spots a share bargain.

"Oh I like it," he says. "That one there has lost almost half its value recently and now it's on the way back up."

He makes a note, refers to his Financial Times, and comes back to the conversation with one eye still on the rows of figures on screen.

"I never gamble on the stock market. You can lose a lot of money thinking you are going to make it big. You can make money but you should aim for steady growth.

"I make a living at it but I'm not obsessed. Zealous, but not obsessed.

"Oh, there's a good one," he adds, going back to the television.On the road again ... it's the only way to be

FRANK White is going back on the road.

With his fifth album ready to be released in the New Year, the 60-something rocker is ready to roll.

After 40-plus years in the business, Sheffield guitar legend Frank is putting the finishing touches to his album – and a single due out in the New Year.

"This is my fifth album and it should be my 50th," he said.

"It's been 12 years since the last one and that's just stupid. I have recorded stuff over the years and not put it out but it's time now.

"I'm still a dreamer. I'm still a kid inside – I feel 21. I liked it first time round and that's the age I'm staying at. I have the ideas and the energy, I still want to do things."

His uncompromising attitude to the way he works has led some to say he never really wanted success, an idea Frank rejects.

"People think I never wanted that type of success but I did," he said.

"I want this to be the most successful album I have done. I think anybody who cares about what they do wants to be successful. I'm going to do some old songs I used to hear at my grandma's as well as my own stuff. It will have a bluesy feel but it's not a blues album."

Frank is the uncle of Sheffield singer Richard Hawley – his wife, Jean, is Richard's mum's sister – and he is hoping to get the Mercury Prize nominated artist to play on his new album.

"I would like Richard to play harmonica on one of the tracks on the album."

Recording an album will give satisfaction – and make up for some lost time – but it's playing live that inspires him.

"Playing live is the thing I have to do," he said. "The reaction of people is the thing that inspires me."