Though known mainly for his ballads, John Waite is an out-and-out rocker at heart. Born John Charles Waite on July 4, 1955, in Lancaster, England, this versatile singer’s first stage appearance comes very early in life, when his older brother Joe’s band is missing its lead singer for a local gig. At Joe’s request, John then only ten, fills in for the singer.
“It was incredible!” Waite recalls. “I was in short pants, and there we were, trying to put across all this gutsy rock ‘n’ roll by The Small Faces and The Rolling Stones.” Several years later that gig eventually leads to Waite’s first art college band, Chalk Farm. He attends Lancaster Art College (graphic arts) for four years to pursue his original ambition - illustrating children’s books - while still playing in bands. His new band, Graf Spee, plays college dances. After art college, Waite leaves Lancaster when local police wrongly accuse him of a jewel robbery. He goes to London. Joining the jazz/rock band, England, as their singer, Waite lives in a ten- by eight-foot room in West Hempstead, which he shares with the guitarist/roadie, using the p.a. as furniture. The three-piece band does not work out, and he returns to Lancaster. But he soon receives an offer from England’s former vocalist to cross the ocean to Cleveland, Ohio, and join him as a guitar player in a new band.
The band, a punk/pop energy outfit called The Boys, rehearses for six months and signs to the NEMS label. They cut one self-titled U.K. album with Waite in the line-up, credited on the album as Honest John Plain. The punk album contains one Waite-written track: “First time”. He once again feels stifled by his role in the band. He isn’t allowed to sing, and he feels uncomfortable with most of the band’s material.
In 1975 Waite decides to fly back to London. In a pub in London’s notorious East End, he meets a similarly disillusioned character, guitarist/keyboardist Mike Corby. The two go on an all-night drinking binge which results in the pair making firm plans to form a band in which they can really express themselves musically.
The result is The Babys - “spelled like that,” Waite says, “because I’m a lousy speller!” It takes the band an eighteen-month struggle before they finally get a contract. Waite remembers, “For a long time we felt like underdogs, but we were desperate to make it.” May labels turn their demo down point blank. Their cute looks are a drawback. “The only way we could prove that it was us playing on our tape was with a video presentation,” says Waite. The band borrowed money to make the video. (According to some sources, Ringo Starr, who really believed in the band, funded the video). The four- or five-song color video tape, produced by Mike Mansfield, is an innovation at the time.
The Babys (completed with Wally Stocker on guitar and Tony Brock on drums) sign to Chrysalis - for “elephant dollars”, according to John Waite - and make rock history by becoming the first band to be signed to a major record company on the strength of a video demo. According to unconfirmed sources, Chrysalis paid between a half and one billion British pounds for the contract. Between late 1976 and late 1980, The Babys make five albums. January 1977 sees the release of their self-titled debut album, The Babys, which is recorded in Toronto, Canada, by famous producers Brian Christian and Bob Ezrin. The album isn’t a big success though. In the U.S. and the UK a single, “If You’ve Got the Time”, is released.
The Babys cross the Atlantic just once, for a U.K. tour in the early 1977, where they perform as an opening act for The Damned and Deaf School.
In this period of punk rock The Babys go down rather badly with the Damned punk following. Shortly after however, during a USA tour, they are met with more enthusiasm.
Their second album, Broken Heart, (released September 1977) proves their breakthrough; a track from this album, “Isn’t It Time”, becomes an international hit. The Babys tour extensively in the USA and also visit Japan. In the UK they perform “Isn’t It Time” on Top of the Pops’ Waite is very excited about this native success. The group visits Holland to promote the album. Waite tells Dutch Magazine, “Oor”, that he regrets he didn’t write their hit, “Isn’t It Time” himself.
The first real problems inside the band occur while recording their third album. Mike Corby leaves The Babys during the “Head First” sessions. Corby, who wants to play straight rock ‘n’ roll, doesn’t really fit in the concept of the band any more as The Babys turn into a more melodic style. The remaining three Babys members finish Head First, which is released in December 1978.
In order to be able to promote the album on the road in the USA, two new musicians are added to the band. Jonathan Cain comes in as keyboard player and Ricky Phillips joins as the new bass player. In an interview Waite is asked how he feels about quitting playing bass guitar in the band. “I prefer singing. Rick is a better bass player than me and this new situation allows me to focus on singing.” A single from this album, “Every time I Think of You” becomes another international hit for the band. Although always plagued by managerial and personnel problems, The Babys firmly leave their mark in 70’s rock music. Generally considered the best Babys’ album, Union Jacks (released January 1980) contains hit singles, “Back on My Feet Again” and “Midnight Rendezvous”. During an extensive tour in 1980 (“our best shows” according to Waite) The Babys open for Journey.
On the Edge (fifth album) is made during the tour and released in October 1980 Playing a gig in Cincinnati, Ohio, on the ninth of December (the day after Lennon is shot), during The Babys final tour, Waite is pulled from the stage during the encore by an overzealous member of the audience. He damages the cartilage in his knee and it forces him to do the last gig of the tour, in Akron, Ohio, on crutches.
Waite recall, “I collapsed, I couldn’t keep on.” The remainder of The Babys’ tour is cancelled.
This means the end for the group. Much has been said since about the reasons why this excellent band split. In the interviews, various band members said that The Babys were underrated and never really achieved worldwide success, for which they worked so hard, despite the high quality level of their albums and live shows. Their home-country England practically ignored the group, as England was really focused on punk. Also, the name of the group wasn’t considered a very good choice, “We were better than people thought we were,” according to Waite.
Besides the five official Babys’ albums, released by Chrysalis, a somewhat obscure album, The Official Unofficial Babys Album is released in 1978 on the NEMS label, containing ten tracks featuring the original five-piece line-up in its rawest state. The tapes for that album were handed to NEMS by a band member because Chrysalis found the material unsuitable for release, even though two of the tracks did appear, albeit in a more polished style, on their Broken Heart album. The songs indeed sounded like demos.
Due to his long stay in the States, Waite misses England and his English girlfriend who has already gone home. From Akron, he flies back to New York for some surgery on his knee and then flies to England to see his family in Lancaster for Christmas.
Jonathan Cain is asked to join Journey while Wally Stocker and Tony Brock want to do “something different” and end up in Rod Stewart’s band. The Babys have recorded some tracks for a new studio album, but these, along with many other titles, remain unreleased. Back in his motherland, Waite buys a cottage in the Lake District with his girlfriend, where he spends six months writing new songs.
In 1981, John Waite returns to New York, where he lives in an apartment on 72nd Street. In New York he records his first solo album, Ignition, for Chrysalis. Produced by Neil Geraldo and released in June 1982, it is a superb set, but the album receives little attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Geraldo is well-known as songwriter and guitarist for Pat Benatar. The album reaches number 68 on the U.S. album charts. Disappointed with the reception for Ignition, Waite decides to quit the music business altogether. Nothing is heard publicly from him for two years. In an interview some years later Waite stated he felt very bitter toward Chrysalis because the album was hardly promoted. He goes back to England again in the summer of 1983 and stays eight months; he gets married in Kendal, a few miles from his Sedgergh home.
At his country home in the Lake District in England, he continues to write material, and is coaxed out of temporary retirement by a new management team and a new label, EMI America. He flies to LA where he hires musicians for his new album. Guitar player Gary Myrick co-writes several songs with him.
“EMI treated me with much respect, which was really good for my confidence,” Waite recalls. The sessions result in the million-selling No Brakes album (a Number Ten on the Billboard charts), which includes one of 1984’s biggest hit songs in the United States and Europe, “Missing You”. The album goes platinum. On September 22nd, 1984 “Missing You” hits number one in the U.S. singles charts. Another two singles are pulled off the album (“Tears” and “Restless Heart”) while in Japan a unique twelve-inch is released with special versions of the three singles.
At the same time, Waite is topping the U.S. TV ratings, playing the part of himself in “Paper Dolls”, a soap opera starring Morgan Fairchild. He appears on “Top of the Pops” in England. His first solo album, Ignition, is re-released by Chrysalis, complete with a new photo sleeve. “Change” is included in the soundtrack of the film “Vision Quest” and becomes a frequent feature on MTV. Meanwhile, Waite tours extensively with his “No Brakes Band” opening for the group Scandal. The “No Brakes Band” features drummer Alan Childs, ex-Dire Straits keyboardist Tommy Mandell, Bowie bassist Carmine Rojas and Earl Slick (ex-Bowie, Ian Hunter) on guitar. The video release of this tour is proof of the high musical standard of the band.
Waite’s third solo album, the lushly produced Mask of Smiles, follows in September 1985, containing (what Waite called the “ultimate down song”) “Welcome to Paradise”. The single pulled from the album, “Every Step of the Way”, receives considerable airplay. To promote the album, Waite embarks on a lengthy U.S. tour in September 1985. A non-album song, “If Anybody Had a Heart” is included in the soundtrack of the film “About Last Night”. The song is released as a single in June 1986 and reaches Number 76 on the U.S. charts.
Work begins on a new album in August 1986. Rover’s Return (US release: August 1987), named after the famous pub in Britain’s long-running soap opera Coronation Street is the result. Working with top musicians and some of his strongest material - “These Times Are Hard for Lovers”, “Act of Love” - Waite returns to his English rock/blues roots. The album is a fine, strong set.
He promotes his new single, “These Times Are Hard for Lovers”, on UK TV shows in June 1987. A planned tour, however, (opening for Bryan Adams) never happens, probably caused by the fact that promotion for the album folds due to internal changes at the record company.
In mid-1988 Waite signs to Epic. Shortly after signing, Epic is stunned when he tells them that he doesn’t want to continue as a solo artist but plans to form a band. He is unable to find a guitar player that he likes and starts looking for a keyboard player instead. He runs into Jonathan Cain (ex-Babys) and the pair start recording. They come up with the name Full Circle for the band, but fear it will remind people too much of The Babys.
Cain comes up with the name Bad English, an expression used in American pool. Later in 1988, Waite re-unites with ex-Babys’ Ricky Phillips. Waite forms a rock supergroup with guitarist Neal Schon, Cain’s Journey colleague. Schon brings drummer Deen Castronovo in and Bad English records the debut album with CBS/Columbia. The self-titled album (produced by Ritchie Zito) is released in June 1989 and climbs to Number 21 in the United States. The album sells a couple of million copies and makes platinum in the U.S.
Bad English is on the road in the USA in October 1989 to promote the album. Their first single, “Forget Me Not”, does fairly well, but the second release, “When I See You Smile” hits the number one position in the USA in November 1989. From March until June 1990 the band tours the USA again with much success as the opening act for Whitesnake. They perform in several TV shows, always playing live, and the band releases a video with five songs from the album.
Another three singles off the album are released in 1990, of which “Price of Love” hits number five in the USA. Waite fans are surprised when a solo Waite song appears on the soundtrack of the film “Days of Thunder”. Epic even releases the song as a single, “Deal for Life”.
The band goes into the studio to record a second Bad English album. They hardly have any new songs and while recording there is a big bust up about the future of the band. According to Waite he is more or less forced to sing songs he doesn’t like. Because he wants to maintain his musical integrity, he decides to quit the band, but honors all contracts. He finishes the album Backlash (released August 1991), does a bit of promotion and leaves.
By October 1991 the band is history. Looking back on it now he says, “It colored me in a bad light, ‘cause I walked away from a very successful thing.” The album stays in the US charts for eight weeks and climbs to number 72.
Several singles - “Starlight to Your Heart” and “Time Stood Still” - are pretty successful. Waite would love to release a live album of Bad English, but it turns out that none of their live shows are recorded.
In November 1991 Waite makes plans to record with Adrian Vandenberg. He knows Adrian well from the Bad English/Whitesnake tour. The teaming-up seems serious and they are booked for Dutch Countdown TV on January 20, 1992. However, at the last minute the project is called off. A greatest hits album Essential is released early 1992 by Chrysalis. This contains several unreleased Babys’ songs, which makes the album interesting for the hard-core Babys/John Waite fans.
After the split of Bad English, Waite disappears for a while and leaves for Italy to write new songs. He also lives in Britain and Lancaster for some time before returning to his house in Pound Ridge, New York.
His neighbor there is Imago chief Terry Ellis (who originally signed The Babys and Waite solo when he was head of Chrysalis Records). Waite goes over to his house for a glass of wine and a chat and leaves with a recording contract. He records a new album using three studios in downtown Manhattan. Waite recalls, “Terry Ellis was completely behind me, he gave me a lot of freedom to make this record, I was very grateful.” As a result, Temple Bar is released in February 1995. The album, containing mostly ballads, has seven new songs written by Waite and three covers from Van Morrison, Bill Withers and Hank Williams.
Waite’s remake of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” proves that his voice hardly needs a musical back-up. The quite-unknown-instrument “dobro” is used on this song. The album cover resembles the Stones’ Beggars Banquet album and, years later, Waite admits smiling, that “it was a rip-off”. “In Dreams” of this album turns up earlier on the OST of the film “True Romance” and is released as a single as early as 1993.
“How Did I Get by Without You”, a track from Temple Bar, makes it to the U.S. top 20. At this time the record company Imago folds which makes further promotion of the album impossible. Waite is quite upset.
Another compilation album, Falling Backwards, is released in 1996. Waite produces the album himself and is thus able to put some of his own favorite tracks on the album. Without doubt, this album gives the best overview of Waite’s career, but due to the lack of inclusion of the songs from Mask of Smiles and the missed chance to include obscure/unknown songs on the album (like on Essentials) the compilation is considered slightly disappointing by the fans.
In 1997 Waite signs with Mercury and records a new solo album in New York in the first half of 1997, working with the same musicians as on his previous album. He produces the album himself. In August he does a radio interview to promote the release of his new album. On the same day that the Rolling Stones kick off a new world tour (September 23, 1997) “When You Were Mine” gets its U.S. only release.
Waite says he got inspiration for the album while making a car trip through the USA. The album contains a Dylan cover (“Just Like a Woman”), but Waite’s favorite song is “All I Want for Christmas”. The album release-party takes place in quite an unusual setting - near a small bar in the subway of New York.
The release is followed by a short promotion tour in the USA in late 1997. Waite performs several acoustic shows, together with guitarist Shane Fontayne. The title song of the album is planned as the first single, but Mercury doesn’t release it. A second single, “Imaginary Girl”, is released as a promo in February 1998.
In February 1998 Waite moves from New York to Los Angeles. No live dates are planned yet for the near future. Volume 2 of Falling Backwards is planned for release later in 1998 by EMI. In May of 1998 John Waite leaves Mercury and his management team at Gold Mountain.
It is regrettable that a great singer like John Waite never got the lasting recognition in Europe that he, on behalf of his excellent records, deserves. However, several Babys’ songs, “Missing You” and various Bad English’ singles were hits in Europe. He is often confronted with problems with record companies in his musical career. The promotion of his records wasn’t always done as well as he might have expected. On the other hand, neither the Babys and Bad English, nor John Waite himself, ever played live on the Continent. The last chance that any European fan had to see Waite in concert in Europe was in August of 1986 at London’s Marquee. His albums remain on a high level and in that respect one can say that it seems only a matter of time until Europe re-discovers Waite. In the USA, several fans have made “home pages” on the Internet to promote Waite. But also Europe is “on the move” for him. A fan club has started in Scotland in 1997, with a publication made by European fans. Due to Tina Turner’s cover of “Missing You”, Waite’s name was heard of again. Renewed success in Europe for Waite seems really possible; however, it will take proper promotion, possibly a hit single or album, and a tour to achieve it.
Waite has developed into a truly great songwriter. He considers songwriting a form of art. His lyrics are evidence of an intelligent poetic style. He hates to be called a superstar and is quoted as saying, “The only difference between me and the audience is the microphone.” He is also actively concerned in social matters; He has played benefit concerts for the homeless in New York. John Waite has lived in the USA for most of his musical career, but in his heart he’s still an Englishman. In 1987 he stated in an interview: “If my records sold well in England I wouldn’t think twice about going back.” But, as his albums are mostly recorded in New York and they nowadays get a “US only” release, promoting a record with a tour only makes sense in the USA. For the time being he regularly goes back to England for holidays and to visit family and friends.
Since 1995 Waite has produced five solo albums including his latest album Downtown: Journey of a Heart. He still tours, including in 2003 with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, and as an opening act for Journey in 2005.
In 2006, “Missing You” was released as a duet with Alison Krauss and reached the Top 40 on the Country Charts in the United States. Waite appeared with Krauss on the Tonight Show on February 5, 2007 to perform “Missing You.”