“I think the songs that moved me, it wasn’t like let’s put on this because it was a hit, or because somebody asked for it, I just followed my instincts completely on what sounded great to me and it’s a piece of art to me, it’s not product, so if people respond to it as music, should it matter?”
John Waite is someone that seriously needs no real introduction, so you’re not getting one, but I must say that it’s always amazing to me when I get a chance to speak to an artist that has been making music longer than I’ve been alive, and in this case been listening to since I was eight years old. So when I had the chance to call John Waite directly, with no time limit, we talked about his music, his new live album, his non-existent Australian tour, Bad English, The Babys as well as the story behind arguably his biggest hit ‘Missing You’… Ladies and or Gentlemen, I give you one of the best voices of our generation. John Waite.
Thanks for your time today John, it’s an honour to speak to you!
Thank you very much.
So, why was now the right time to release you’re a new live album that being ‘Live All Access’?
It was because the band was playing really great, we had a new guitar player in the band eight months ago, Keri Kelli, he came straight from Alice Cooper and he’s been with Slash in Snakepit and he just walked in, we needed a guitar player, he showed up. We didn’t have rehearsal, we had a gig in Detroit in three weeks, gave him a list of songs to learn and threw him in the deep end and we had a pretty tremendous gig, a big open air thing by the river, headlining, so you know it was the deep end, it was great. For about two more months we were playing gigs, small gigs, medium sized gigs, the same sort of open air kind of big things, and it suddenly got really good and in the middle of one of the shows I must’ve thought to myself, we’ve got to get this on tape. I mean it was that good, it felt like we were flying so instead of just enjoying the show I was being a producer and being ambitious to get that to people I suppose, I wanted to get it on tape as fast as possible so I started recording gigs.
You mentioned Keri Kelli who as you said has worked with the likes of Alice Cooper and Slash who are more of the hard rockers, what dynamic does someone like Keri bring to your songs?
Musicality, he can fight his corner, it’s a three piece band it’s very difficult, its three people playing instruments and then me at the front. You’ve really got to know your chops and you’ve really got to be able to play into the rhythm section and take it somewhere else every night, it has to be different every night and yet still be somewhat like the original, and I don’t sing the same way twice and I’m more interested sonically in that early seventies three piece band sound than I am in synthesizers and keyboards, I just have no interest in it you know? I just like the raw element, I sing better, I enjoy it more, I communicate with the audience more, I always look for a great guitar player, I always turn around to play to the band in the middle of the songs and Keri’s that kind of guy, he’s like a gunslinger, even just playing the parts he is the guitar solo, he is the guitar, he’s like a walking piece of music.
How did you choose the set and songs for the release as some of them go way back to the start of your career…
Well the songs that were playing the hellfire out of I thought some of them were balance, ‘If You Ever Get Lonely’ turned out beautifully, and ‘In Dreams’ also, but the other songs were like rock songs, hard rock songs and I wanted to get that across, we’re still kind of grooving on having ‘Rough & Tumble’ out two years ago, over here we had a number one single at classic rock, nationwide and it was a big deal for us you know, so we’re loving playing the newer songs. We do a couple of Babys songs, we do a couple of Bad English songs, we do a Dylan song, we know about thirty songs that we can flip in and out at the moment and I suppose in another six months we’ll have another thirty songs and hopefully it’ll be another live album out very quickly, I’d like to make one every eight months and put it out and see what happens. I think the songs that moved me, it wasn’t like let’s put on this because it was a hit, or because somebody asked for it, I just followed my instincts completely on what sounded great to me and it’s a piece of art to me, it’s not product, so if people respond to it as music, should it matter? I mean there’s a lot more to me than the top ten, enough is enough, we’re going forward and we’re writing new songs, and number one with ‘Rough & Tumble’ I mean do I really have to keep playing songs from thirty years ago? Seriously, I’m not a jukebox, I’m a human being and I’m a creative person and I write songs and I’ve got this new idea where I want to go back to the seventies sound, but we’re playing the songs, I’m singing the hell out of them and we’re having a ball, but I mean people who just give up and play the same twenty songs every night they could be stamp collecting or out on the golf course. I’ve got no idea what that means, I give it a lot of thought, I react to it a lot, I create songs that really kick my ass.
I loved it; some of the songs are almost as old as me…
It’s an amazing thing isn’t it, we got this review in South America today from Buenos Aries saying we should add keyboards and I should take it back in the studio and done backing vocals over it and I remember thinking ‘Fuckin hell, what do they want? It’s supposed to be a live album’ you know? If The Faces were making an album like that, they would do it like that, it’s honest, there’s not a single overdub on the record, and the point I’m making is, that’s music and I don’t want to be part of this arena rock silliness where everybody’s playing along to tapes and pulling expressions like they’re really expressing themselves and they’re just playing along to a computer. This is absolutely live and if I go down with the ship, then aye aye captain *laughs* women and children first. I have no intention of changing direction, so that’s what’s going on.
I have to ask about Australia, you’ve never been here and you have now been scheduled to come twice, what happened?
You know, we didn’t have management, we were dealing with a promoter, Tim my bass player that doubles as tour manager on certain dates was talking to him and he booked us into like ten or twelve gigs, he said he was getting a great response, then he sent the deposit which was very nice of him, then he put us in bigger gigs, which we were very surprised about as it was our first time down there. He changed from 1,500 to like 2,500 seats I think it was, I can’t remember I wasn’t really dealing with it, but apparently I have a friend of mine who went back home, he used to work at the Barnes & Noble around the corner, he moved back to Australia and near Sydney and he was saying he’d seen it that we were playing but it wasn’t really advertised and I thought with the internet being what it is, do you really need to advertise? I think the guy sunk his money into getting these deposits for bigger gigs and ran out of money to advertise, that’s what I think, but it could be that nobody’s interested, I honestly don’t know… it was a big disappointment, we cancelled two months’ work in America to come and play, we’d sold our records in Australia, I felt it was part of the deal to come down there and play, I’d love to see it, we were getting all these stories that it was going really well but I still don’t get it. There was no management and I think that might have had a lot to do with it. Do you know any more than I do? As I honestly haven’t got a clue…
I know that a lot of people were disappointed that you didn’t come, as the whole thing came out of nowhere and like you said with the advertising, we saw a little bit and billboards at the venues and then it just didn’t happen, so we were all a bit surprised.
Yeah I haven’t got a chance to even go public, I could go on facebook and say we’re heartbroken and the bottom of our lives fell out, we were just looking so forward to coming, I mean everybody was going to be in business class, they offered me first class and the band just get in coach, I said fuck it, no, we’re all going business, we’re a band, so we’d planned to get there four days early, they’d agreed to that and put us up in nice hotels, it was all four and five star stuff, we were set. We were going to get a keyboard player for the songs for that tour as we thought it might be more of a greatest hits set, and we wanted to leave a good impression. It really meant a lot to us, and I didn’t really have a chance to call up everyone and say I’m sorry, but it was out of our hands apparently, one minute one weekend it was gone but we kept the deposit and split it with the band so they didn’t lose money for the month. What can you do?
Is there any chance we will ever see you here and you’ll try and come back down?
Yeah, well the new management deals a lot with Australia, Philippines and Japan and he has connections on tours and he represents pretty big bands and has all sorts of connections, I think it’s very likely, I do. I wish I had a better explanation for you, and I wish I could put into words what I really felt about it, but it’s just what it is. I feel bad about it.
Well I’m truly sorry you didn’t make it, we’d love to see you here…
Well God bless you, I’d love to see it, I just really would love to see it.
‘Rough & Tumble’ has been out for over a couple of years now, have you been working on new material for a new studio album?
Yeah I’ve got a couple of things up my sleeve, what I want to do is get another live album out in six to eight months, just knock one out, same thing, and then go into the studio in about September / October around there and cut as much as I can, then take a couple of weeks off, stand back, write some more, then get in before December finishes and finish it before Christmas. I’ve had this song in the back of my head for a year and a half, I’ve got the first verse, a b section and a chorus, but it’s a very complex little song, but I know I could finish it in the studio almost overnight. Then last week I got another song that was winning to sort of compliment the other song, it was a complete opposite which is what I’m looking for, it’s not like doing the same song over and over again. Then yesterday I got all these cassettes out and finally sat down with a big pile of note sand lyrics and sort of made preparation to dive in, so I’m sort of committed now and I’ve got a direction for it, I was just waiting to see what felt right to me, but I’ve got it. Every couple of years you get this realisation of what nobody else is doing at the moment and that I could do that and just smash it, and I’ve kind of got it, and I’m kind of heading off in that direction.
A song like ‘If You Ever Get Lonely’ is and should’ve been a modern day hit in my opinion, and recently ‘Love and Theft’ have covered it, what do you think of their version and how do you feel when your songs are picked up this way?
Well I think I was very touched, I mean it’s a beautiful song, and everybody thought that was going to be number one, and when we released ‘Rough & Tumble’ the record company at the time picked ‘Rough & Tumble’ to go to radio with, it went to number one, I couldn’t believe it as it was so raw, three piece band and a singer, but it was really raw. It was baby let’s live this one out, it was pretty macho and it’s pretty romantic because of that, but I didn’t think it was going to be a number one song, fuckin’ hell it went to number one… but ‘If You Ever Get Lonely’ everyone thought that was going to be number one, but we’ve just remastered and re-released it as a single, the live album has a really beautiful version on it, and at the moment Love and Theft are number 47 with a bullet on the country charts and there’s just that possibility if it gets picked up and into rotation that we could have a hit on the country charts and the rock charts. So, nobody’s seriously thinking big time single, but you never know, that sort of thing happens overnight, if Love and Theft, they had a number one single last year, they’re taken pretty seriously, but if they have a number one single with ‘If You Ever Get Lonely’ then we will certainly have a top twenty single with it in rock and roll, and that would be really fascinating. I mean, I’m pretty familiar, I spent a lot of time in Nashville and I did the duet with Alison Krauss on our record and I know a lot of the people down there and they’re really substantial country people, Larry Sparks and Del McCoury, they’re more Bluegrass, but that’s really my kind of music after the blues, but modern country is a mystery to me… it’s very, very, very, very young and it’s aimed at very, very young people, so I’ve lost track of that, you’d probably be able to tell me more about that than I would be able to tell you about it…
It’s rock and roll with banjos…
Yeah, well yeah, yeah exactly… when I was down there fourteen years ago and writing songs when nobody was going down there and I still love the history of Hank Williams and just that southern strange, exotic approach to poetry. They all wanted to write songs ‘Missing You’ and I was trying to write songs like ‘I Walk The Line’ and I could tell right then and there they wanted to be rock and roll more than they wanted to be country and I wanted to be country more than I wanted to be rock and roll. The outcome of that was an album called ‘Temple Bar’ and another album after that called ‘When You Were Mine’ but they weren’t directly country records by any means, but I was taking the song writing storytelling and putting that in a modern context.
Your voice is one that has truly stood the test of time and is still renowned as one of the best out there, what’s your secret?
Well I smoke the odd cigar, I quit cigarettes six months ago, I don’t drink as much as I used to, I never do drugs, I like to think that I eat pretty well, I’m pretty thin, and I’ve got great genes. I mean, that’s it, I don’t really even warm up before I go on stage… when I was a kid and I heard Steve Marriott sing and then I heard Paul Rodgers sing, I knew I’d never be as good as they were, but I knew I could bring something to singing that was me, and I knew that I had soul and I wanted to tell stories. I still have people I regard such as Etta James, Aretha Franklin, just tremendous singers and I look at them with wonder. I know I bring something to it that’s mine and I’m not being coy, I hear people like little old me, I know I’m pretty good and I know I’m good live but I don’t know where it comes from I really don’t. My mum can sing, I come from a musical family you know.
I wanted to ask, as a song like ‘Missing You’ is still played today, almost thirty years on, what do you think it is about that song that has stood the test of time?
Well if I knew I’d write one every week… I made it up over somebody else’s chord changes in a bedroom studio, and I made up the first verse, b section, chorus, most of the second verse because I choked, second b section, second chorus without stopping, I made the whole thing up on the fucking spot and you look at that and I knew I’d done it, I write songs like that a lot, I just run for it, close my eyes and step forward, but that. Someone said to me this morning, if I had just done that ‘I’m missing you’ it would’ve just been like thank you and goodnight, it wouldn’t have mattered, but ‘I ain’t missing you at all’ the denial in it, it was so unexpected in a song that was so heartbroken. That was the male twist, that was what Hitchcock used to call the macguffin, it’s the weird thing you put into something that makes it interesting, but I didn’t even know I was going to sing that. I was struggling to finish the record to go home, my marriage was in trouble, big trouble and had been for a while, and I’d met somebody and I was really conflicted, and it was the last song I wrote for the record, the band was mixing with David Thoener down in the studio, I’d been producing but I knew we still didn’t have that song and I was still working in my spare time to try and get one more song on the record and that was the song. So it came out of nowhere, I knew it was number one immediately and it was a song for the times. I look back and at the structure of it, the words are so heartfelt and so unselfconscious, the thing is it was so unpretentious and then that twist in the chorus, and that guy yesterday or today or whenever it was saying without that it wouldn’t have been the song it is, I hadn’t even thought of that, I’m so unselfconscious about song writing. There’s something other than just writing it down in a book and getting it right, and there’s something about just winging it, and it’s a mixture of the two things and always being wide awake and continually thinking about things, it’s a busy job your mind never stops. You could be talking to somebody and in the back of your mind you’re putting two ideas that are complete opposites together and seeing if you can make them rhyme. It’s the weirdest thing, it never stops when you’re falling asleep, I’m still doing it.
Well it truly is still such a good song…
Thank you. I’ve never sung it once and not meant it.
I have to ask as we have readers that are fans, would there ever be a chance of a ‘Bad English’ reunion?
Well last night I did a big major radio transmitted nationwide thing with Bob Coburn called Rockline and they dropped me off early and it was where all the film studios are in Burbank I think it is, and I walked down the street and there was the apartment building that Bad English used to live in when we were making that second record and I actually felt sentimental for the first time in twenty years. Then back on the show when I finally got on the show they played ‘Forget Me Not’ and I thought fuckin’ hell that’s good. There’s been a lot of controversy about it, but it’s difficult to go from being solo back to that, but Neal’s a hell of a guitar player, there’s always that temptation to go out and do something, but when you got older which I’ve certainly got, I’ve certainly grown up and become a full grown man, it’s like the stuff that you think about and you read, and the stuff that you spend time with, there’s only so much time left, and I seem to be going back into a much more simplistic way of music and I don’t know if I could really ever make a big production record again, it was an experiment you know.
And what about The Babys reunion, that’s an interesting topic…
Yeah, Wally and Tony, God bless them, I give them my entire blessing, they should’ve done it fifteen years ago, I don’t know why they didn’t, they did offer me the job, it was kind of like ‘will you please come and do this?’ and I said ‘no I will not, I will not do reunions’ it isn’t what I do. I’ve gone out on a limb and I’ve made different sounding records and it means I’m more concerned with the poetry and the stance of it and being a little bit more left of centre than I am with supply and demand, and being in a band of that nature you’re going to be stuck playing greatest hits for the rest of your life. But they’ve got two very capable guys in keyboard player and back-up singer and they played a gig two weeks ago and apparently it was packed and they had a great time and God bless them and I love them and I wish them all and every success and I hope they write great songs and make a great record.
Lastly, do you have a message for your Australian fans?
I would love to come, I’ve always wanted to come, we almost came, there’s a strong possibility now with management that we will be able to come. We’ve sold a lot of records in Australia from The Babys forward and to me that means it’s implicit in the deal that I come and play, if you buy my record I’m going to come and play, and it’s such a long way it gets complicated, but now with the management in the middle, it’s big time management, I’m hoping to knock it out of the park and be down there as soon as we can get down there. Actually we’re working on the Philippines, and so I mean if we get anything at all like Japan or the Philippines, guess where we’re going to come first? Australia. I would love to see it; it would really be a huge disappointment in my lifetime if I didn’t come down there.
Latest release: ‘Live All Access’ (out now via iTunes and http://www.johnwaitethesinger.com)