May 10, 1980
By Gene Triplett
The Babys - (Journey - Journey, The Babys - Fort Worth (TCCC))
The Babys Back on the Road Again
John Waite runs his hand through his unruly thatch of incredibly dark-red hair and takes a generous swig from a bottle of Courvoisier.
"This is natural," says the 25-yearold singer of the Babys. His long, pallid face creases in a proud grin. "I've always had this red hair. It's really mine. In school, I never did fit in. You know, I was always painting and drawing and writing poetry and shit...and I was a bit unusual. All the chicks used to love me and all the guys used to beat me up. I looked funny. It gave a tremendous chip on my shoulder I think."
The chip is nowhere to be seen tonight. Waite has just finished a well-received opening performance for Journey. He looks satisfied and content as he reminisces about harder times. We've retreated to the huge shower stall of the Fairgrounds Arena dressing room to escape the noisy backstage crowd, but Waite's soft, London accented voice is still barely audible above the partying in the next room.
"I really went through hell in school," he continues, "and so I thought, damn, one day I'm really gonna show those guys. In fact, still, some nights on the stage I wonder what they're thinking of me out there. I've gone through years and years of that insecurity. But I adore music and I want to play music before anything else. That's what has kept me together-music and the will to survive."
Like so many British rock musicians, Waite went straight into art college from high school.
"A lot of British rock and rollers go to art school because they're misfits. The other schools try to control you if you're too individualistic. At art school, they teach you a new attitude. They tell you all about the Impressionists and the Fauvists and communism. They teach you so much that it's unbearable to live in the system afterwards.”
"I had four years in art college, and they made me an urban guerilla. I came out like Jesse James. I had wilder times, in art college than I have at rock and roll. I learned about Leonardo, I learned about Courvoisier, I got my sex education. I was allowed to do what I wanted to do. I just grew up in a very avant-garde, bohemian kind of working class. It's very hard to describe to most Americans."
The Babys began as a four-piece street band in London in 1975, shortly after Waite graduated from art college. Initially, their name choice was intended as a joke, but as their reputation spread throughout the London club scene, the name stuck. Within a few months, the band landed a contract with Chrysalis Records and recorded their debut album, The Babys. They followed that up with the LP Broken Heart, which yielded the hit single, "Isn't It Time." During the recording of their third album, Head First, a long-brewing personality conflict between Waite and keyboardsman Michael Corby finally exploded.
"It's hard to say things without being sued, everybody could play except him. We were fighting all the time-fist fights, you know? It was getting to the point where it wasn't everything it was supposed to have been. We all came to music and not just to be cute and rely on a lot of other people to help us make music like the Monkees or somebody," he said.
Corby made his exit and Waite, guitarist Wally Stocker and drummer Tony Brock went back to the studio as a trio to complete Head First, which subsequently became their most successful album. The Babys then have recruited Chicago-based keyboardist Jonathan Cain and bassist Ricky Phillips for their first album as a quintet, Union Jack. Keith Olsen of Fleetwood Mac and Foreigner fame was hired as producer.
"We choose him because he's good at getting that basic sound that we wanted," Waite explains, "and it was not because we wanted to sound like Foreigner or something. A lot of people compare us to them or Bad Company. All our roots are basically in the same place, which is American soul music. We all sing with that same blues whine, you know? But, I don't think I sing like Lou Gramm or Paul Rodgers.
"I just think it's just a blues comparison. We were all mods back in the sixties, and we listened to people like Sam and Dave, Tina Turner, Percy Sledge...and there was Wilson Pickett. He's fucking great man. That's who influenced me. I have the same feel, I think, that he did."
Despite vast cultural differences, Waite professes a kinship with American rock and roll musicians. Among his backstage visitors are all four members of Cheap Trick.
"I think the world of Cheap Trick, man. They're the type of guys I like to hang out with. We both play the same kind of music. Melody with a hard-on'.' At that point, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielson, wearing his famous cardigan sweater and Bowery Boys baseball cap, wanders into the shower stall looking for Waite.
"I gave them all their ideas, I write all their songs. I sing lead on all their records and that's why they're not doing well," Nielsen tells me with a straight face. Then he turns around to Waite. "Call me later," he says and he turns and walks out again.
"See what I mean?" Waite laughs. "He's completely insane. We met them when we were recording Head First in Los Angeles and they were in the next studio making Dream Police I think it was. We just struck it off. Rick took me to his house and we got drunk together. He once tried to ring me at my apartment and I was out on tour. He rang my manager and my travel agent and finally tracked me down right across America to my room-which is almost impossible to do since we use fake names when we check into hotels. He just wanted to wish me luck on the tour. He's beautiful.
"We may have grown up in different countries, but I think anybody who's a real rock and roller has never had it easy. Some have it harder than others. I've been pulled into police stations on a weekly basis in England and accused of jewel robberies and car theft. They almost had me imprisoned on several occasions, just because I was a rock and roller. I mean, they were out to get me."
Waite takes another long pull from his bottle and looks thoughtful for a moment.
"I don't think I'll ever feel at ease with being quiet. When they don't want me anymore, I'll leave the stage, I won't make any comebacks. Maybe I'll produce other bands.
"I don't know. I think eventually I'll settle down. I plan to marry Bo Derek, have four kids, and a dairy farm in England. Well not Bo Derek. What I'd really enjoy, actually, is to have a farm, a wife and some little kids.”
"But, I'm a tremendously happy man right now. People have gotten thousands and thousands of dollars out of me and I'm still broke. But I'm enjoying myself. We are gladiators going out there without a clue. This is five guys who wanna play together. If the roof caves in, okay Max, that's it, but at least we'll go down fighting."