John Waite Interview
John Waite first came on the music scene as the bassist and singer of the British band The Babys in 1977. After releasing five studio albums with the band and having three Top 40 hits including “Isn’t It Time,” “Back On My Feet Again” and “Every Time I Think Of You” as well as several other AOR singles such as “Head First” and “Midnight Rendezvous,” Waite decided to call it quits and try a solo project.
He hit the ground running with the single “Change” which was in heavy rotation in the early days of MTV. That eventually led to the #1 smash hit “Missing You” and a few other Top 40 hits.
In the late 1980s, Waite decided to put a super-group together with two of his former bandmates from The Babys, Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips. Cain brought along guitarist Neal Schon of Journey and drummer Deen Castronovo, which led to three more Top 10 hits including the #1 single “When I See You Smile,” as the group Bad English.
After Bad English broke up, Waite resumed his solo career and has maintained it ever since, releasing six studio albums.
John Waite will be performing at the Kent Stage on Thursday, September 28th. We got the chance to chat with Mr. Waite to discuss his career and his upcoming performance in Kent.
Greg Drugan: Hey John, how are you doing?
John Waite: Great, thanks!
GD: So, have you started your Wooden Heart tour yet?
JW: Well, I’m in the middle of packing a suitcase at the moment. We’ve been on the road this year playing with a full band. But there’s not much difference really. We take our drummer with us and we have two guitars and an electric bass. It’s just a few decibels less. It’s pretty spartan and more intimate. I grew up with that stuff so it’s coming full circle for me. I rather enjoy it more than the other stuff. I can’t wait to get out there.
GD: What made you decide to do an acoustical tour instead of using an electric band?
JW: About a month ago we were playing Milwaukee and the band was blazing and I was thinking: “This is where I belong.” Then two months later, we do an unplugged date and I think “This is where I belong.” I started out playing an acoustic guitar. As I get older I find that it has the light! It’s the reason why I got involved in the first place. It’s got a lot of interesting twists. The fact that you can hear everybody on stage without the monitors being turned up to ten and there is a real conversation going on stage.
GD: Is there a song or songs that you prefer to play acoustically rather than electric?
JW: No, because both have real value. That’s the charm of it. One is extremely rugged and loud and more bluesy. The other has more conversation that’s going on with the audience. So it’s two entirely different things. The songs were written to stand the test of time.
GD: Well, you’ve done that! Looking back on your career, how did you end up joining The Babys; I read somewhere that you actually lived in the Cleveland area before you joined the band.
JW: I came over to join a band called The Boys that were kicking around. I had come over because the singer in the band had come over to London about six months before. I had come back to London from my hometown with no prospects (of joining a band). Within five days of getting back, I got a letter in the mail that said “Come to Cleveland, we need a bass player.” I was a bass player at that point, I sang a bit but I was a bass player. Somehow, I spent four or five months in Cleveland. Actually it was Northfield. The radio was amazing, ‘MMS! And I really got the whole thing. I got it. I got the press and Rolling Stone and Creem magazine and the underground press. After about four or five months I went back to London and found a band that was looking for a bass player who could sing and write songs.
GD: Now, is that when you met Neil Giraldo when you were in Cleveland?
JW: No, that was much, much later. The Babys happened when I got back to London. We were together for six years then we broke up and I went back to England and got married. I settled down in the English countryside then went to New York to make a record. Neil produced my first solo record there. Which incidentally, I just got the rights back! It’s a great thing, after thirty-five years I got the rights back and it’s selling unbelievably well. It’s weird to be on the receiving end of something you’ve done thirty-five years ago.
GD: Congratulations, that’s great news! Now, when you first joined the group, you were the singer and the bassist, but later concentrated on singing. Do you still play the bass?
JW: Yeah, I’ve got my silver bass in living room. When I’m watching TV my eyes wander over there. When I sing, I think of bass notes, I don’t really think in chords. You can sing all kinds of things around the root note, or you can not play the root. My whole style of singing comes from playing the bass. I was raised on blues and country. It’s a fairly small universe.
GD: The Babys signed an unheard-at-the-time one million dollar contract right out of the gate; did you feel any pressure to have hit songs or big record sales right away?
JW: No, not really. We were very secure with what we were doing. It wasn’t until we got to America that if we didn’t have hits, it wouldn’t matter because we would be tossed out pretty fast. You get a million dollars or whatever it was and the manager gets his cut, you have to spend most of it on tour support, making the record, flights, hotels and the whole thing. They just give you the money to spend instead of writing the checks. It’s a fallacy that you are going to buy a house in the country and disappear. Unless, of course you are Led Zeppelin! (laughs). Robert Plant bought a house in the country and was extremely happy. In our case, we had to spend every cent to make the thing work. We went in broke and we came out broke!
GD: But you had a good time doing it, I’m sure!
JW: Well, it’s a good way to spend your youth. I wanted to go to America to make music and to be in that position. It was the romance of it, we didn’t care about the money at all. I still get checks from the song writing. Four times a year I get a sizeable check for songs that I wrote so far in the past that I don’t remember what key they’re in. But there they are!
GD: You had a few Top 40 hits and many singles that were played on FM radio, why did you decide to leave the band?
JW: We were burnt out, we were done. After Head First, our third album we were on the radio with “Every Time I Think Of You” which was AM. Then “Head First” was all over FM. You couldn’t turn the radio on without hearing us. Then we had all the touring and the record company said we weren’t selling any records. That was the end of the road really but we staggered on and made two more records. I hadn’t stopped for seven years, I hadn’t even taken a vacation and we had no money. We were either on the road or I was back at the apartment with the girlfriend. But that was enough. At that point we were done. We had a falling out and there were a bunch of fights and I was like “Oh, fuck it. What am I doing? I want to go back to England."
GD: You went on to have a great solo career including having the #1 hit “Missing You.” Did you go out and buy anything extravagant? Did you buy that house in the countryside after that success?
JW: Yeah I did, in a roundabout way. I didn’t have any money when I went to number one. I was living in the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City with a flight case full of clothes. I went to make my second album about six months later and they advanced me enough money at EMI, very graciously, to put a great deal of money down on a house in the country. I had a fairly big property outside of New York City and everything came like it should have and it was great. Having a house that size on a beautiful piece of land in the swankiest part of Westchester was really something. If there was a dream come true, that was it.
GD: After a few more hit singles, you decided to join another band in the late '80s with some guys you already knew from The Babys. What was it like working with Neal Schon?
JW: Neal’s great! He’s like a walking piece of music. If you hum something to him, he’ll play it back. You can’t really go wrong with Neal. He’s so easy going and he just want’s to play. I’ve always had a great time with Neal.
GD: You went on as a solo artist after Bad English broke up and you put out six studio albums; which is one of your favorite?
JW: Oh man, what a question. I would have to say and I mean this sincerely would be the Wooden Heart Volume 2. When you listen to it, it’s a lot of songs put together and six song that are re-sung like “Missing You” and “Isn’t It Time.” Then there’s these original masters on there and you listen to it and that’s my story. I really think it’s the best I’ve sung. It surprised me. I didn’t go in the studio with that intention. Like most things that are magical, it just comes out of the speakers and you just go along with it.
GD: Are you working on any new music or collaborations?
JW: Well, last month I had a new greatest hits out called Best. I had the Ignition album, my first solo album go back onto iTunes and I had the Wooden Heart Volume Two come out. So that’s three albums in a month. It’s a very busy period for me, so I’m not really thinking about collaborating right now. I’m just thinking about playing these gigs. There’s an overseas tour planned for next year, if we want to take it. But, the more I listen to this record, the more I know there’s something else coming.
GD: Last question. You touched on it a little bit but what can fans expect from your show in Kent?
JW: Wow! I think it will be an interesting night and I think we will all get a lot out of it. The songs sometimes takes you to places where you didn’t think you would go. The band sort of becomes the audience and the audience becomes the band. It’s an intimate evening. It’s our past, and at the moment, it’s our future.
GD: That’s excellent! John, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I wish the best of luck on the tour and I look forward to seeing you next week!
JW: Well, we’re looking forward to it and Ohio means a lot to me. Thanks a lot and God bless. We’ll see you soon!