Interview: John Waite Discusses New Live Album, Guitars and The Babys
John Waite’s new live album, Live All Access, is as real and raw as it gets.
Recorded live in Philadelphia and New Hampshire with absolutely no overdubs, the album features Keri Kelli on guitars, Tim Hogan on bass and Rhondo on drums and showcases the former Babys and Bad English vocalist at the top of his game.
Waite has achieved international success over the course of his 35-year career. His hits included 1984's "Missing You," which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100.
I recently spoke with Waite about his new live album and more.
GUITAR WORLD: What made you decide to do a live album?
The band was the reason. We also added Keri Kelli as our guitar player, which really upped the ante. I remember there were nights when we were out on stage and I just looked around and thought, "God, this is where I want to be!" This is where I live and I want to share it with people. It sounded so great. I knew I had to get it on tape somehow.
What was the recording process like?
I recorded a few shows at Philly Sound. It's a church in the blue-collar part of Philadelphia that was converted into a recording studio. Our friend Jacky Bam Bam at WMMR announced it on the radio, and we threw the doors open. It was a free concert and I brought along three kegs of beer each night [laughs]. We did two of those shows and it was wild. Then a few months later, I decided to try to record again, and we got another beautiful performance in Manchester, New Hampshire. I then mixed the best of Philly with the best from Manchester. I'm proud of it. There isn't one single overdub on this record, and it's fucking great. It came out exactly as I wanted it to.
You have a few songs from your last album [2011’s Rough and Tumble] on this package. How did you decide which songs to include?
My intention was never to create an album and then sell it as a “Greatest Hits Live” package. I really wanted to share with the rest of the world just how great this band is. I enjoyed the songs from my last album. It was watershed for me because I made half of it with Kyle Cook [Matchbox Twenty] and took a month to record five songs. The rest of the songs I recorded in three days in LA, and that's including writing "Rough and Tumble" the night before we went in. There's a magical aspect to that album where one side of it was methodical and thought out and the other was hell for leather. When you put them both together, it created quite an amazing album.
How did you get hooked up with Keri Kellie?
I think Jacky Bam Bam was the one who tipped us off to him. I had a bunch of gigs coming up and was in between guitar players and one day, Keri showed up for a run through. He came in and ran through the songs but also added some great licks as well. The thing I like is that he looks you in the eye and really gets it. Two months after playing those gigs with us, he [Keri] suddenly had an epiphany and realized he was the guitar player and there was going to be no one else.
Speaking of guitars, you actually started out playing yourself — as the bassist in the Babys.
I did, but I made a decision early on where I knew I could never do a version of Andy Frasier, but I could do an extremely good version of John Waite. I remember there was some dissension in the ranks at first, but I told everyone I just couldn't do both. From the moment I fronted the band, we were playing huge places. It was nerve-racking, but there was no choice. I didn't want to give the public some Mickey Mouse version of the Babys.
How did the band come up with the name the Babys?
Our manager in London was fairly contentious. He was a very dry and sardonic kind of guy. I remember he always used to stand there in his overcoat and just sneer at us. I could give as good as I get, so one day I just looked back at him and said, "What?" He looked and he said, "Ah, you're just a bunch of fucking babies!" and walked out. Then he came back in and said, "That's it! The Babies!" At the time, I had dyslexia and instead of spelling things with "ies," I'd just put a "y" around it. So I would spell it "Babys." He took that and it became the name of the band.
When you look back over your career, what thoughts come to mind?
My life has been unbelievable. I think back to when I was just a kid at age 5, listening to Marty Robbins and living in a cottage in the English countryside in the black-and-white 1950s. If you were to look at that and then step forward to where I am now, there's such an air of fragility that sometimes even I don't believe it. It's almost like I'm asleep. It's been such a great life, and it's nowhere near over.
For more about John Waite, check out his Facebook page.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.