John Waiteís scorching just-released concert souvenir Live: All Access gives us a chance to talk about past successes ó from the Babys and Bad English to his newest studio effort, the aptly named Rough and Tumble ó as well as this mercurial iconoclastís plans for the future.
Waite is best known, of course, for a period of hitmaking in the 1970 and í80s that included 1977′s "Isnít It TimeĒ and 1979′s "Everytime I Think Of YouĒ with the Babys; 1984′s "Missing YouĒ as a solo artist; and 1989′s "When I See You SmileĒ with the supergroup Bad English. But heís continued making music ó in fact, some of his most intriguing music ó in the years since.
In the first of what will be an exclusive two-part SER Sitdown with Waite, we use Live: Access ó which documents the beginnings of his new touring relationship with a nervy trio that includes guitarist Keri Kelli (Jani Lane, Slash and Alice Cooper), bassist Tim Hogan and drummer Rhondo ó as a leaping-off point Ö
NICK DERISO: Live: All Access gets off to a quick start with a muscular new version of "Change,Ē from 1982′sIgnition. How did you come across Holly Knightís song?
JOHN WAITE: Well, it came in the mail. I was living on West 72nd Street, in a tiny one-room crash pad with a mattress on the floor. It came in the mail. I donít know who sent it to me, but I heard it and I thought: "Thatís a hit song.Ē I didnít like the words, so I rewrote some of them so that it sounded more like me. Iím sure she didnít like that (laughs), but she made a lot of money out of it. Iím a producer, and arranger and a writer ó and it was right for the time. Me and Ivan Kral (who co-wrote "Mr. Wonderful,Ē as well as three other tracks on Ignition) were suddenly writing some great stuff, and I think left to our own devices we would have written a possible landmark album. But, having got to New York City, and living the life of Batman ó Iíd sleep all day, and go out all night ó the record company wouldnít leave me alone. They were always messing with me. They were always threatening the cut the record off. In the end, I had to leave. I just got on a plane, and went back to England.
NICK DERISO: Youíve maintained that Chrysalis mishandled things from the start.
JOHN WAITE: I put the record out, and they blew that. Theyíd blown most of the Babys records. It just broke my heart. I flew back to England, got married, bought a small cottage in the Lake District and disappeared. I disappeared for about a year. Finally, some lawyers got me out of my contract, and I came back and signed to EMI and sold two million records! Chrysalis, wow.
NICK DERISO: "EvilĒ from Rough and Tumble also finds a home on this new live set. Your work with Kyle Cook on that 2011 album led to such a present, hard-rocking effort. Is that a collaboration that will continue?
JOHN WAITE: Well, weíve talked about it. Last time I saw Kyle, I was in Indiana doing a private show last Christmas. I called him up, and said: "Come play guitar.Ē He lives in Nashville, so he jumped in his car and drove up. His mom and dad showed up, because heís from Indiana ó Indianapolis. We hung out, and we talked. We e-mail each other a bit. I hope that we do write together again. We talked about it recently. Heís a very cool guy. When we were still looking for a guitar player to play the American tour, after making the album, he joined the band. Then, when we couldnít find a guitar player to come with us to Europe, he did the European tour. My mum loves him. Itís one of those things where heís just a great guy. You meet people, and you go: "My lifeís better because I met him.Ē Heís one of those. And a hell of guitar player.
NICK DERISO: Were you familiar with him because of Matchbox 20?
JOHN WAITE: Thereís a mutual friend of ours ó thatís why I was in Indianapolis ó called Jeff Whorley who knew Kyle, and knew the Matchbox guys. He kept saying: "Youíve got to meet John Waite; John Waite and you would write a great song.Ē I went to stay with Jeff and his family one weekend, and weíre driving and he plays me Kyleís solo album. Itís very punk, and Iím thinking: "This is pretty good.Ē Iím very hard to impress anyway, so Iím just sort of listening, with my eyes closed as weíre going down the road. I was living in Nashville at the time. It was one of those crazy things where somebody actually makes a phone call and says: "What are you doing next Tuesday?Ē We met cold. We met cold, in a writing room in Nashville. He was wearing shorts, an old T-shirt and sandals. I was wearing a black suit. We were really kind of opposites, but within minutes I could tell how serious he was about music ó and he could tell that heíd met his match, really. We developed a lot of mutual respect. We started to write what turned into "Better Off Gone,Ē in the first 10 minutes of being in the same room.
NICK DERISO: Does it bother you that, 20 years later, Bad English isnít best known for originals like "Forget me NotĒ ó which is much more in keeping, it seems to be, with your core aesthetic ó but rather for a Diane Warren cover song?
JOHN WAITE: The Journey audience wanted Journey, and the Babys audience wanted the Babys. But "Forget Me NotĒ was based on the Anne Rice books. "Ghost in Your HeartĒ was written, really, about some kind of unrequited suicidal love. (Stream it!: "Ghost in Your Heart.Ē) There were darker themes. And you could see the audience wanting to just ó sing along. That was too sophisticated. So, I think I was the odd man out. An old girlfriend of mine once told me backstage at a Bad English concert: I was the guy that didnít fit. And I was glad. (Laughs.) Iím still glad.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Before Bad Engish, Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon were in Journey, a band that's continued without either of its original frontmen. Still, there have been some notable reunions.]
NICK DERISO: As with that band and Neal Schon, youíve got a distinctive and hard-edged guitarist in Keri Kelli for the current tour. What makes that such an attractive combination for you?
JOHN WAITE: Nealís a brilliant guitar player. Sometimes, when youíre writing with him, you have to find a place to put the vocals. (Chuckles.) But heís a brilliant guy, and he loves to play. I love Neal, I do. I miss playing with him. We were both pretty much up for having a great time. Weíd rip it up on stage, then go out and rip it up in every club in town afterward. I donít know how we survived it, but we had the best time possible. I was sad to see it go, but there were personalities that made the band more difficult, and thatís just the way it went, you know? You canít have a great singer in a rock band without a great guitar player, though. Itís a relationship thatís confrontational, and itís one thatís extremely emotional. Itís loud; itís like a musical argument ó or at best, a musical conversation. Without the guitar player, the singer ainít much.
NICK DERISO: Keri certainly brings such an edge to Live: All Access.
JOHN WAITE: And weíve only heard the beginning of it. If we could do another live album in eight months, I think that would be our high-water mark. I think itís going to be absolutely off the hook. That might turn into a studio record. We might do it like that. I havenít decided what yet. Iím doing everything on instinct. Iíve got great faith in Keri. Heís a great guy. Tim, our bass player, is the cement of the band. And Rhondo is like Big Ben: Completely in time. Itís very difficult being in a three-piece band, and thatís the way I want it. I want it to be where anything can happen at any moment. I want to be able to take off. There is no plan. The only plan is: "Make sure you play the right chords at the right time. Show up for rehearsals, and Iíll buy you a drink later.Ē Itís something you canít interfere with. Itís just the force of life. You count it in, and itís the most fun youíre ever going to have.
NICK DERISO: I wonder if the tough tenor of some of this new music led you to pick a rocker like "Saturday NightĒ forLive: All Access over the smash "Missing YouĒ ó which is from the same album?
JOHN WAITE: Right, yeah. I put out a live album a couple of years ago, and it did have "Missing YouĒ ó and thank you very much, good night! (Stream it!: "Missing You.Ē) Somebody gave me a review in England and said "Saturday NightĒ is the only song where somebodyís mentioned Gene Vincent, Verlaine and Vermeer in the same song, and I thought to myself: "Quite right!Ē (Laughs.) I have this sort of thing where I am reading William Blake in one hand, and playing guitar with the other. Iím aware of a lot things, and I try to reflect that in the music. When I walk through the city, Iím sort of seeing the architecture and the people and the colors and the shapes and the size of everything. Iím wide awake.
NICK DERISO: There certainly is this sense of freedom coursing through your music now.
JOHN WAITE: I think Iím free of the constraints of a career. I donít care anymore. Thatís whatís going on here. Before, Iíd always have to deal with people. Now, I have absolute autonomy, and it fits. So, Iím sort of edging around the keyboard every day, and then Iíll hit a few chords on the guitar. Every time I do it, I get a new song!
NICK DERISO: I guess that answers the question of why you didnít rejoin the Babys, when Tony Brock and Wally Stocker fired the group back up recently. You seem to be perfectly happy all by yourself.
JOHN WAITE: I love Tony, and I love Wally, and I wish them the best. I want them to have as much fun as possible. I think they were meant to play together. Thatís what made the Babys work, to me, those two guys. Everything else was irrelevant. When Wally came to join the band, he was the last guy to join, and everything changed. I have giant respect for both of them, and I hope that they can take it where it needs to go. Theyíve seem to have very responsible, capable players with them. Who says they canít do it, you know?