Some have called Jack White the Willy Wonka of rock-and-roll; if that’s the case, Billboard scored a golden ticket visit to visit his chocolate factory.
For the latest Billboard cover story, we got a guest-of-honor’s behind-the-scenes peak at Jack White’s Third Man Records headquarters. The story begins with editor-at-large Joe Levy expecting to meet White in Memphis, Tenn., only to get a mysterious man with a black suitcase and instructions to hurry to meet White three hours across the state in Nashville. In the end, Billboard watched the Third Man team turn a Shabazz Palaces performance into a live record on the spot and got an earful from Mr. White himself waxing poetic on his love of vinyl.
Here are five revelations from the Jack White cover story, which is out Friday, March 6:
1. White Was the Mystery High Bidder on Elvis Presley’s First-Ever Record
When the first vinyl record Elvis Presley ever cut (featuring covers of the 1930s ballads “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”) hit the auction block, the 1953 wax was expected to net about a $100,000. In January 2015 it was announced that an unknown Internet bidder won the single with a staggering $300,000 bid. Turns out, that was White.
2. Third Man Will Re-issue the Presley Single on Record Store Day
That mysterious black suitcase Levy got in Memphis actually contained the sought-after Elvis 10-inch. Upon arriving at the Third Man office in Nashville, he presented it to White. “This,” White announced, “is the first recording ever made by Elvis Presley. On Record Store Day,” he told a crowd of his employees, “Third Man Records will issue this on vinyl.”
But White doesn’t listen to vinyl all the time. “Digital in the car, vinyl in the bedroom,” he tells Billboard. “Because I like to listen to music in the car really loud.” And CDs? They’re not so bad, either. “It’s portable, it still has the artwork and lyrics, and it sounds really good,” White says. “And you can turn it up really loud.” Unfortunately, his new Tesla and Apple laptop didn’t come with disc drives.
3. White Has a Very Specific Dress Code For Third Man’s Employees
Third Man’s 26 workers can’t just show up to the office wearing anything. The men wear black suits with yellow-and-black ties and women wear yellow dresses. White, who’s been sporting a side-buzzed pompadour lately, likely wears whatever he damn well pleases.
4. White’s Office Is Kind of Like a Dentist’s Office…With a Giraffe’s Head
A vintage door that reads “JOHN A. WHITE III, D.D.S., FAMILY DENTISTRY” leads to White’s Third Man office. His walls feature a massive portrait of 1930s Delta bluesman Charlie Patton, smaller shots of blues legend Son House, and ’80s rapper Slick Rick. Oh, and there’s a six-foot-tall stuffed giraffe head.
Inside that office, he reveals Third Man’s goal: “to take what’s beautiful and soulful and feels like it’s etched in stone” and “see how it applies to what’s happening right now.” The musician loves using the word “scenarios”: to him, this represents whenever he can reframe his interests — from early-20th-century music to vintage ’70s electric cars — in the present.
5. White Keeps His Treasures (Including Jack Johnson Music) Inside a Special Vault
Down the hall from White’s office is a fireproof and climate-controlled vault, ensuring his prized possessions stand the test of time. The vault includes the White Stripes’ master tapes (which the band owns) along with recordings from artists like Neil Young, Beck, and Jack Johnson made at Third Man.
For more, read the full Jack White cover story out Friday, March 6.