HANKINSON, N.D. — Mitch Malloy grew up in Dickinson, N.D., but he looks at his show this Saturday, Oct. 19, at Dakota Magic Casino in Hankinson as a special homecoming.

Malloy will be fronting Great White for the first time in his home state. The all-female hard rock group Vixen opens the show.

“North Dakota come out and support your own,” he says from his home in Florida.

It’s been a long and winding road leading up to this concert. Two years ago, the singer wasn’t even that familiar with the band. When Great White was topping the charts as part of the hard rock revolution of the late 1980s, Malloy knew of them, but not much about them.

“When they came out, I definitely noticed them, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the band,” he says. “I wasn’t a big fan of the singer. I really liked the band, but for me, the singer sounded like he was trying to sound like Robert Plant to me and he was doing it really well, but if I’m going to listen to Robert Plant, I’ll listen to Robert Plant.”

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Fast forward 30 years to 2018 and Malloy gets a call to come in and sing background vocals for one of the band’s recordings. The group had gone through a handful of lead singers since original vocalist Jack Russell, the one Malloy didn’t like, had left.

A couple of months later, Malloy got a call from his manager, asking if he’d be interested in being the group’s new lead singer. He was interested, but didn’t know if he was the right guy for the job.

Mitch Malloy and founding Great White guitarist, Mark Kendall. Neil Zlozower / Special to The Forum
Mitch Malloy and founding Great White guitarist, Mark Kendall. Neil Zlozower / Special to The Forum

“I wasn’t actually sure I would fit into that music,” he says. “I don’t sound anything like their original singer.”

The group sent him a track and asked him to record himself singing over it. When he listened back to the recording, he liked that it was different from Russell’s style. He dug back into the group’s catalog and became a fan.

In July 2018, he was named the new singer — and he hasn’t looked back.

“There’s really just a great chemistry between us, musically… It’s a really nice fit and the fact that I’m almost the same age helps because we’re coming from the same place, we have the same influences,” the 58-year-old says.

Malloy was influenced by Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Heart, Foghat and Deep Purple and says Great White’s “Lady Red Light” reminds him of Deep Purple’s album “Machine Head,” his favorite.

He gets a kick out of all the songs in his new band’s setlist, even if some of them are new to him. He’d never heard “House of Broken Love” before having to learn it.

“‘Rock Me’ is a blast. I think that song is epic. I think it’s a perfect rock song,” he says, adding that the group’s cover of Ian Hunter’s “Once Bitten Twice Shy” is “a classic because almost everyone knows the words.”

Another thing that almost everyone knows about Great White is The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 100 people in 2003. The blaze was started by stage pyrotechnics set off by the group’s manager during their opening number. The group’s guitarist, Ty Longley, died in the fire.

Malloy knew about the disaster, but didn’t have any hesitations about joining a band with that kind of tragic association because it was former lead singer Jack Russell’s Great White that played that show.

“It was after Great White had broken up,” Malloy says. “It doesn’t really pertain to the guys. That’s Jack’s thing. Great White gets thrown in with that, but it’s not really fair that Great White gets thrown into that.”

Malloy joining Great White — which now features core members guitarist Mark Kendall, drummer Audie Desbrow and keyboardist and guitarist Michael Lardie — isn’t his first foray with an established band. In 1993, when rumors started swirling that Journey was looking to tour with a new lead singer, Malloy’s record label at the time, RCA/BMG, was so nervous of him being called on, they warned him that he was under contract with them. A couple years ago, he was offered the job fronting Chicago, but had to pass it up because he was too busy working as a producer.

Still, he’s perhaps best known as the singer for Van Halen that no one got to see. In 2006, after the classic rock group split with Sammy Hagar, Malloy was invited to Eddie Van Halen’s studio to try out. He jammed with the group and even recorded a demo of the classic “Panama.” The next day, Eddie told him he was in the band.

Before the new lineup was even announced, however, the group was scheduled to appear on MTV’s Video Music Awards. Malloy watched on TV as his new bandmates took the stage with singer David Lee Roth, announcing a reunion of the original lineup.

Malloy was shocked and figured he was out of the band, so he told Eddie he was done. Weeks later it was announced Roth was out — again — and Van Halen would tap Gary Cherone of Extreme as the new singer, a move derided among fans and critics. After three lackluster years, Cherone quit the band.

Malloy’s involvement with the band wasn’t well known until a short documentary, featuring only interviews with the singer, called “Mitch Malloy: Van Halen’s Lost Boy” appeared on YouTube in 2013.

Despite the emotional roller coaster, he considers his Van Halen experience as a highlight of his career.

“The moment Eddie Van Halen told me I was in Van Halen was something I’ll never forget, an absolute epic moment in my life,” he says now.

He doesn’t look back on what may have been, but instead enjoys where he is now.

“I have to say, what I’m doing right now, going out on the road with Great White, is great,” he says. “The chemistry in the band and the growth I’ve made as a frontman for a rock band, at my age, to be able to grow and get better at something is really cool. When you get to be my age, there aren’t many new things, not many firsts left. This is a first. To be able to do what you do best at 58 is pretty cool.”

If you go

What: Great White and Vixen

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19

Where: Dakota Magic Casino, Hankinson, N.D.

Info: Tickets range from $25 to $45; www.dakotamagic.com