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Interview – John Waite, July 2013

| 9 August 2013 | 1 Reply

By Shane Pinnegar
After recruiting veteran guitarist Keri Kelli, John Waite tells 100% ROCK MAG that his band was playing so well he just had to capture their performance on record, now released as Live All Access.

“I’ve had the same rhythm section [Tim Hogan – bass, Rhondo – drums] for about five or six years,” says Waite, his Lancashire accent still strong after years living in America, “and we’ve had a succession of guitar players pass through the band, but the chemistry was not quite right and we were always sort of thinking we were looking for someone a bit more… fiery really.

John Waite 01

“Tim, our bass player, calls it a ‘gunslinger’ – y’know, someone who can really play the songs with edge, still be technically on a level where the songs are, staying true to the song, but putting a lot of passion into it – it’s an odd combination ‘cos you usually get one or the other, you get a technician and you get that kind of flatness, which for a singer is kind’ve uninspiring. And occasionally you get one of those that shows up that brings a lot to the table but still respects the song. Keri met [us] at a friend’s house and just jammed through some songs, and he was really interesting – he didn’t know the songs in a perfect way, he didn’t replicate the record, but he brought a lot [to the songs], had a great energy to him, and he was really enthusiastic and had this intangible thing.

“So we never really rehearsed – we just said, ‘we have a gig in Detroit in three weeks, we’ll have a soundcheck, see you at the airport!’”, Waite chuckles. “It was this big open air show in Detroit we were headlining, and we threw him in the deep end, and from the word go he was fighting his corner.”

The veteran solo artist and ex-member of The Baby’s and Bad English, who turned 60 earlier this month, says it took about two months for Kelli to find his feet as the sole guitarist after years playing with the likes of Slash and Alice Cooper.

“He’s always played with a second guitar player.” Waite explains, “With Alice Cooper he was playing with Damon Johnson, who’s a very capable guitar player who used to be in my band. And with Slash’s Snakepit he was obviously playing with Slash. Leaving it all to one guitar player, psychologically that’s like asking someone to pick an elephant up! It’s a huge thing! The bands that drove me as a kid only had one guitar player – it was a very American thing to have two guitar players, like Lynyrd Skynyrd or bands that were popular in the Seventies. In Britain, the bands that were touring the college circuit that I saw, really only had one guitar player, and if there were keyboards involved at all it was a Hammond Organ, there were no synthesisers. And that’s really where I come from and that’s the sound I was going for.

Keri Kelli

Keri Kelli

“He got it, y’know. When we were touring a couple of years ago with Kyle Cook from Matchbox Twenty, me and him had produced half the album that came out – Rough n’ Tumble. There was a moment where Kyle was doing the same thing Keri was – not quite knowing how to solve the problem, or how to approach his playing. Kyle came off stage at BB King’s in New York City and before we could even say ‘great show’ he turned around and said ‘I get it’! It’s something that guitar players come to. When you’re left to be the sole guitar player that’s a big deal. Keri had the same sort of epiphany and he’s never looked back. The last show we did in Dayton Ohio was for four thousand people, outdoors headlining, and it was our best show. He’s just ‘arrived’ – he’s on the top of his game at the moment.”

The first attempt to record the album was in Philadelphia, and Waite explains that after hiring a church hall and putting a few kegs of beer on for two shows, there were still difficulties to overcome.

“Maybe 2 months into it we started to have really magical, on fire performances, and I wanted to capture that. So when we decided to record the shows, I thought it was for prosperity really, just to have. Maybe to give them away on the internet, or put on albums as bonus tracks, but from the first performance it sounded like something unique to me.

“So I just went for it – I hired a church in Philly called Philly Sound, which is in a very blue collar area which has a recording studio built alongside it. They make albums there, and the hall itself holds about 400 people maybe. So we announced it on the radio, bought three kegs of beer for each of two nights, threw the doors open for a free concert and we got a lot. But the heat was so much in the room – it was really sweaty and raging – that by the time we got halfway through, [everything] got out of tune. We stuck with it and got two great performances, and we got all the way through to mastering after the mixing and everything – I went back to Philly and stayed about ten days with the guy who runs the studio, mixing the record, and we got all the way through to the mastering and some of it was brilliant but some of it was out of tune.

John Waite Live All Access

“So I put it on the back burner, and about two months later we once again changed gears, and the shows were becoming undeniable, and I just had to have it. We had a day off in Manchester, New Hampshire in a really great theatre and the sound guy was an audiophile – he had all this great gear like German boutique recording gear, and he was a great guy and he hung with us to do the soundcheck and brought all this gear in, and stayed up all night doing transfers to hard drives and so on. So we caught that show, that show was the one we got the majority of the songs for the album from – it was one of those shows where the soundcheck was absolutely fucking awful! Then we plugged in and I thought ‘here we go again…’ [laughs] and it was absolutely the best show we played.”

In a bold move that reflects his faith in his band’s abilities, Waite says the album is exactly as the songs were played on the nights.

“A couple of the earlier songs were from Philly Sound, and the rest of the songs are from Manchester, and then I just set to work on mixing it – and there’s no overdubs at all!

“Did that create extra pressure for the band? Well yeah! Because most bands have been together for a couple of years before they put out a live album, and they’ve done a studio record which we haven’t yet with Keri. But that’s the level we were playing at. Something that’s really as delicate as If You Ever Get Lonely has the precision that’s needed and the light and shade, and Saturday Night was like a no holds barred throwdown, rockin’ piece of music. It really had all the things that you look for! We really just picked the best songs and there it was!”

In another bold move, most of Waite’s biggest hits are conspicuous by their absence from Live All Access. His worldwide smash of 1984, Missing You doesn’t make an appearance, nor the top 50 follow-up Tears, no When I See You Smile or Price Of Love (both top ten hits from his Bad English days) and only one number from his five albums with The Baby’s. In fact, of the eight tracks on offer, four come from Rough n’ Tumble. Waite says that having sold millions of records, he still has things to prove and to say with his music.

John Waite 02

“I think that, getting older, there’s more to write about.” he insists. “Missing You isn’t on the new live album. Half of that is that the Missing You we recorded, I didn’t like the version – the other half is me saying there’s more to me than that [song].”

Waite seems excited by the rawness of the three piece band – just bass, guitar and drums – backing him, and again expresses a distaste for keyboards when it’s suggested that their absence may be the reason his more chart-friendly songs are absent from Live All Access.

“I have to admit, the keyboard thing… I dunno.” He says, “The original Baby’s was more guitar driven than anything, even though we did use orchestras occasionally and backup singers, but the core band was guitar driven. And I feel that at the moment there’s such a lot of production in music, [with] protools and autotune, that if I’m going to continue it’s going to be on my own terms and in a stripped down format. Everyone fights their own corner, everyone’s exposed. As a band you’re playing into each other and there’s a kind of musical conversation. Occasionally it’s a musical argument, which is even better! But the stuff that moved me as a kid was played like that, and I found myself singing better – I just have more confidence, I can hear better… the keyboards exist in a frequency that’s the same as the vocals exist in, and on stage it can wash everything out. And also the keyboards cover up a lot of mistakes! And synthesisers – I just don’t know what that’s about! It’s never been something that I’ve liked. So, I found myself returning to the things I loved the most, which is spartan, very direct performances.”

Waite seems happy being in control of his career now, and is resolute that he’d rather be in a friendly, respectably-sized group, playing music inspired by his early influences than be a part of a band playing arenas that he didn’t get along with.

“There was tension in Bad English – quite a lot!” he admits. “But it was a short lived experience and we survived it. I think autonomy only really works if you’re listening to and appreciate the people around you. If I can’t be one of the guys backstage then I wouldn’t be happy. I have a very high standard and I expect it to be met. That’s what we’re there for, to play this music – it’s not one of those things where people are playing along to tapes and we’re just looking to make money. It’s just really the values of what I listened to in the early Seventies like Humble Pie, Free, the great blues rock bands that came out of London – the real McCoy! You know, [music that] serves the lyric – and it works best in a three piece band.”

John Waite 04

In August 2012 the Metal Sludge website published an interview with Waite ( in which he made some disparaging comments about his former Bad English bandmates Neal Schon, Deen Castronovo and Jonathan Cain playing “super white music” with Journey, and insisting that “Fuck that – I’d rather shoot myself” than play that sort of music. Cain himself told 100% ROCK MAG in December 2012 ( ) that he was hurt by the outburst, stating “It’s wrong to do it like that so I’m a little disappointed in his outburst. I think he should take another look at it, maybe think about what he said because it certainly didn’t make him look very bright.”

Waite remains pleasant as we discuss what he points down to an off the record joke, but a hint of regret seeps into his voice as he explains.

“It was at the end of an interview,” he declares, “[the interviewer] was a friend of mine and we did this long interview, and we were laughing – I was laughing when I said it. But the guy seized on it as an opportunity to make good press.”

There’s no hint of bitterness or animosity as he clarifies his position on Journey’s music, just a fleeting bewilderment that what he considered a joke between friends could have blown up so out of context.

“I’m not a fan of arena rock, I’m not. I could easily follow that path and make a small fortune – I keep getting offered jobs with major bands, but the ‘middle of the road’ thing… I just don’t get it. Maybe THAT’s saying too much? I’m not the kind of guy who would openly go for someone in the press – I think its bad form. That was said to a friend at the end of an interview and we were laughing.

“It’s the first time it’s been done to me, I trusted this guy completely. It’s a bit sad. I mean – Neal [Schon] got engaged a month ago and I sent him flowers! You know, I love Neal. It’s just, really, at the end of the day, Journey isn’t my cup of tea!”

Australian audiences were excited around the same time when a ‘John Waite Greatest Hits’ tour was announced, but alas, it never came to pass. Even now Waite is disappointed and unsure of why.

John Waite 05

“[The tour being cancelled] was the biggest disappointment of last year. The promoter put in, I think, fifteen shows, which is a goodly sum, and then – I think – didn’t advertise it. We cancelled two months work so we could come down there and do it properly. Everybody lost out.

“We’ve sold a lot of records in Australia. The new live album is right behind the greatest hits on iTunes Australia, which I’m very pleased about. I mean, it’s a dream come true to be offered to come down and play. The Baby’s never made it, and I never made it solo, so there was a chance to go and we said ‘Let’s go!’. We were doing everything we could to make it work. I still can’t really explain it. Still, honestly, I don’t wanna sound like I’m making an excuse, I don’t know what happened…”

“It’s a bit embarrassing that we haven’t been able to come. I always felt that the Australians ‘got it’. I was really looking forward to bringing it home. I kind’ve feel like I owe it to people, you know. I think its part of the deal, someone buys your record you’ve got to go and play it for them. There may not be a fortune to be made – and that’s putting it mildly – but there’s a sort of an agreement you make. You owe ’em – to show up, y’know. I felt the same way about Australia – I really felt like we shoulda gone.”

Despite having his biggest hits with keyboard-laden ballads in the Eighties, Waite seems to be over the moon with the niche he has carved for himself with his harder rocking band, and chatters excitedly about recent chart successes.

“Rough n’ Tumble – the rock song – was number one on the classic rock charts over here, which is a major accomplishment, and if you’ve heard Rough n’ Tumble, it’s really like Free, it’s really harsh. It’s the last thing I thought that was gonna happen! I think that people respond to performance [and] truth. It hasn’t been a wrong turn, because people have responded to it. It’s what I would have done with The Baby’s had we not been [so] produced – it’s the sound I hear in my head.

“We’re playing much bigger places and the results have been through the roof. It surprised the hell outta me – I mean, the reviews we’ve had on the live record have been the best reviews we’ve had in 20 years. It surprised me ‘cos it’s a risky record – it’s not a greatest hits record! I’m really proud of it.

John Waite 06

“If You Ever Get Lonely has been released by a country band called Love & Theft – I think they’re 47 with a bullet on the country charts – it’s good news! And we’ve just released the remastered version on iTunes of If You Ever Get Lonely, and there’s a shot we could have a hit with that on the rock charts. They were number one a year ago, Love & Theft – so it could be number one on the country charts.”

At an age when many of his peers are settling down to ever-longer gaps between records and tours, Waite is the opposite – having found where he’s happiest, he wants to share it with his fans.

“I hope to get back in the studio in September and if the live album has any kind of success, I’d like to do another live album in eight months – I’d like to keep doing them.

“You know what I said about autonomy? I’ve NEVER got along with A&R guys – some wise cracking guy somewhere back years ago said that A&R stands for ‘Always Wrong’ – and it made me laugh out loud, it’s so Spinal Tap! But it’s true – if I don’t know what I’m doing by now, and if I can’t let myself fly and really reach for higher things then I should be doing something else! There’s a real joy to doing music that you love, and a real disappointment to putting something out that you don’t think is quite as good as it should be – it’s crushing. It’s only happened to me a couple of times – the first Baby’s album was a catastrophe for me. I’m just not good in an office – I’m a songwriter, I’m a musician, I like doing acoustic gigs, I like playing really huge places – I just like to play! I don’t necessarily want to be in that circle of people who are doing massive business and playing arenas, I’m in revolt against that and if I go down with the ship I go down with the ship.

“But I’m not going to change again, this is it for me. I’ve found the thread and I’m going to follow the thread, y’know.”


Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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  1. Diane Rowlands says:

    I love John Waite, The Babys and yes I was disappointed when 2 gigs were cancelled in Adelaide South Australia.
    If and or when is he ever coming to Australia????????????????????


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