"To catch the live performance, is like lightening in a bottle ... " ~John Waite.
I don't know how to catch lightening in a bottle, but I am sure going to try. I had the honor of interviewing John Waite for our website and have been thinking about his comments ever since.
John Waite. Yes, THE John Waite. The John Waite who started off his non-stop career as the lead of The Babys singing, "Every Time I Think Of You." A song that has been in our heads and hearts since it hit the top 20 in 1979. Even the backup singers are famous from this song, as readers on our website went toe to toe on liner note researches to figure out who they are. The fame of The Babys brought John into a different format, as he took a mid-section of the 80's and in walked, "Bad English."
Waite has great memories of these bands, and could have rode out his career on the hits, but went solo, only to record more great songs that spoke to the public. "Missing You" was not only a smash hit, but has been covered by Tina Turner, Alison Krauss and even current indie artists on tour, like New Orleans blues singer, Olga Munding. Waite appreciates the attention that other artists and fans bring to his music. However, there is something more that this talented man has yet to do, before the timeless rocker decides his career is complete.
Originally from England, John Waite phoned from California, although he was missing the East Coast weather and New York City. Longing for soulful poets, he 'd rather be walking the streets of Lowell, MA, visiting the memory of Jack Kerouac - speaking to the beats.
I thanked him, as a music fan, for the decades of great tunes he's produced over the years. The Baby's, Bad English, Waite's solo works, all have been a part of what we'd call, 'quality radio,' that we remember. He was gracious and humble,
"That's very kind of you, my pleasure," he said.
New Release, LIVE ALL ACCESS:
Waite is excited about his new release, LIVE ALL ACCESS. He said it turned out exactly as he hoped it would, and that this was the first time a record did that to him, as they often turn out different than you expect.
JW: It came out the best it could be, it surprised me. I can listen to it and go, YEAH. I don't want to change any of it or tweak it or anything. I think it's pretty good.
BBR: Well, you planned it out well. With the live audience listening, there is no pre-recording or overdubbing. It is very raw and of the moment. It is almost like you bought us all a ticket to the live show.
JW: Well, there you go! Yeah, [LIVE ALL ACCESS] is like a live ticket to a show. There are no overdubs, it's very much the real thing. Every record you make, whether it's an album or a single, is very important. You know, if I were hit by a truck or something, this will be my testimony, this will be what people will remember me for, so you try to get it right. I was trying to record something that was honest, to shoot straight from the shoulder.
The changing face of music:
JW: A lot of things are very manicured now and I'm sure there's someone who will come down the road, that will change things even more. Music will change, it always has to, it always does. At the moment, music is very very commercial. But there's nothing wrong with making people happy, either. There is room for everybody, I guess.
BBR: I worry that the commercialism of music is taking away from some of the true talent that some of these new artists have. We work with a lot of unsigned bands or bands who have newly been contracted to various labels. I think some of these artists go into it with a lot of talent, but then their creativity gets kind of washed out, once they get into production.
JW: Well, yeah, it's a business. It is a music business. But then, you'd be surprised, people (the public) don't really want to be jolted that much. Some people can tap dance, some people can't. Some people are in show business because they love to be on stage. Some people have no choice, they just get up there and it's a struggle and a cross. The kid that's going to win is the one that's in show biz. I think it's kind of stacked against the artist anyway.
JW: And anything that's been produced in the past ten years has changed so radically. TV shows, reality shows, talent shows, everything that's gone down in the music business is completely different now. It's very hard to be funny, because at this point, you look at it and go wow! When you do these kinds of interviews and you start going off about things ... it's like - the kiss of death - who wants to read this? It's bad news in the papers! (laughs!)
Waite grappled with balance of things and decided to be positive about the music industry:
JW: Everybody's got a shot. Everybody's welcome and you just try to do the best work you can. And there is always someone new coming around the corner that you least expect. There is always someone out there with something new to introduce. With a different means and a different way of saying things.
American Mainstream Music vs. European Mainstream Music:
JW: At the Glastonbury Festival this year, it was packed with bands that sounded, you know, different. But that's Europe. And Europe has always been, you know, edgy.
BBR: What is the difference between European radio and American radio. Do you think there is a difference?
JW: I think that American music is there for relaxation, a lot of times, in the mainstream. In Europe, it is more like a football match, people want to be involved in it, to really feel it. There is a certain middle-classness to American music, in the main stay, anyhow. If you go back and listen to the old blues records, it sounds like someone is having a meltdown. It's so genuine. But it's business. It's show business, I guess. I wish I could think about something really positive to say about it.
BBR: I'm actually agreeing with you ...
JW: I know, but I hate being negative. I am feeling like I don't want to be sour. I'm an upbeat kind of a guy. But I'd be happier on the street corner with an acoustic guitar. Or playing in a small bar, once a week or something.
We always wish for money
We always wish for fame
We think we have the answers
Some things ain't ever gonna change (Change)
It doesn't matter who you are
It's all the same
What's in your heart will never change ~ John Waite, "Change"
JW: We just played a show, a headline show, a few weeks ago for over 4, 000 people a head. And the band just blew the place apart! We opened for STYX a few weeks before that, to about 7,000 people. It's the same thing, the band on the big stage.
BBR: So here's a positive thing I see ... Throughout your music, you've always stayed close to the ideas that you've had, the man sitting on the bar stool with a guitar, in your case a bass guitar because you started out on bass.
JW: Yes, that's right.
BBR: And you stay true to your vocals. Your vocals haven't changed. They are warm, genuine, and soulful. But I don't think you can help it but produce a hit. The public loves to hear your voice sing anything. You could sing the ABC's on a street corner and it would be a Top 100 hit. The public loves your voice, no matter what you are singing, and that's not your fault, that's a good thing.
JW: (laughs). That might end me up in jail!!
JW: I wish it were that simple. I mean, you're looking at the big stage, and looking at the economy - then the expense of getting to the gig. The promoters want us to put out ten bands. You just become a product. I don't know if you have to have a hit, or a live record. But I've been touring all of my life. We were hoping to get out and get behind this record with some more gigs. We've got some scheduled this Fall and hope to schedule some more.
BBR: I'm also a writer for the Boston Blues Society. So, I may weigh heavy on the roots side, too. Yet, here on Bluebirdreviews, we review all kinds of bands. Pop bands, unsigned bands, singer-songwriters, blues, jazz, soul, and classic rock. So I understand what you're talking about. You want to reach as many people as you can, yet you want to stay close to what the message of your music is. The genuine art of it.
JW: RIGHT. It's more difficult now. If you think about the juke box, people come and see you, they want to buy a hot dog, have a beer, sit down, listen to the hits and go home. So there must be a middle ground. I don't know if it's playing the clubs, smaller clubs or theatres. You can make any place, anything fun. The more money on the table, the less chance there is you can be allowed run free. It's a business. I've been very bad with that. I just don't know what to say to those people. I can't do the other thing. I want to just get up there and sing the songs I want to sing, do what I want to do, it has to be believable. I can't go out there and just play hits. I'd quit. I actually would, I'd just quit. If every night we'd do the same songs, in the same order and say the same things, as if we wanted to just move there, I just can't take it.
JW: I live for the spontaneity where the band takes off. A couple of times on the CD, you can feel it happening. One thing pours into something else. It's all running as fast as it can, or it's focused. It's pure energy! It's pure expression! It's rolling along - it runs on the real thing.
BBR: Yes ... and I think the production of it too - the sounds that you have in the foreground and the background, the production really makes you feel like you are there at a live show. What inspired your song choices?
JW: Just the best songs. I didn't want to leave "In Dreams" off, and I didn't want to leave "If You Ever Get Lonely" off, so, no "Missing You." It just balanced the record, to put songs on there to slow it down, and the rest of it is rock. And I like the fact that "Missing You" isn't on there, believe me, really, it's like - it gives people something to think about. (laughs).
BBR: It's like how Zeppelin once got tired of playing, "Stairway."
JW: (laughs) Well, no, well, maybe it will be on the next one. I just thought it was kind of funny. "If You Ever Get Lonely" is a great song, and I really just loved singing it. I think if you want to hear "Missing You," people can download it, or pick it up at a local shop or something if they want. I just wanted to see those songs crossed off, those songs fit together like a jigsaw. Once together, and running all day, you can't take them apart. I lived with it for about two months: mixing it, mastering it, and listening to the recorded tracks - making sure they sounded right. That's the way it worked. It had to come out that way.
BBR: It's really rockin'. "Head First" was really fun to listen to. It was a great tune.
JW: Well, thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Keri played it really well. Keri Kelli [of Alice Cooper] is a great guitar player. We are a really great band. We play well together. They are a great bunch of guys. And we caught that, because it makes me sing better. We really captured it. And there were no keyboards to fill up the frequencies. It's like being in a 70's rock band, and you can't take your eye off the ball for a second. I mean, you've really got to be really throwing it down. These people influenced me. They were, really committed, they were playing for their lives, really.
JW: I don't get bored. My mind can hear the conversations among the instruments and I can see me singing back to it. I got lucky. People want to make a live record, but I really did make a live record - and it actually worked.
When Talents of Perception are "Wide Awake":
BBR: I believe that people who are talented at making music have talents of perception. I read that you said something in an interview, or on your website, about how you can walk down the street, and not only are you taking in the scenery, but you are seeing the people, the buildings, the depth of it in a different way ...
JW: Well, it's sort of weird, because you can't turn it off! (laughs).
JW: It's like I'm talking to you, but I'm also thinking about something else at the same time. I mean we all can do it, but I'm thinking about William Blake, and a guitar chord, and the band, and how we were going to get from A to B. There is a kind of 'wide awakeness' that comes from songwriting and making things. It can also be a blessing and a curse, you know.
BBR: Did you ever think of doing anything else? Before you were discovered for The Babys.
JW: Oh yeah, I was an art student. I was going to be a designer, a painter. And I had some training at art school, but I knew fairly early on, I wasn't going to be a great painter. I wasn't going to be an artist with my hands. But I also knew that I had a certain way of looking at things, it just didn't move. It was the way I saw the world, and I said it all the time, I didn't really back down. I had a really strong personality and I was wide awake. And I knew that I could bring something to singing and writing songs. I knew I couldn't come close to being as good as the key artists' that paint pictures. And I knew I could bring something more to it, than what I could do if I continued to paint pictures. And when I quit playing bass, it was because I knew I couldn't be as good as Paul McCartney, so why play bass? So you've got to walk the walk. I've said this before ...
John Waite: I sort of refer to Walt Whitman ... and it's kind of corny ...It's kind of like I Sing To The Body Electric, but I refer to that poem. You sort of walk to the stage, and no matter where you are in your life, you bring everything you are into focus. And then, everything is on the line - it's like a very serious thing. There's nothing light about it, there's nothing entertaining about it - it isn't for kicks. There is something else in play that I can't put my finger on. But occasionally, it really comes right and all the time you spent getting there has meaning. It's incredible really. It's like learning to fly.
BBR: What a moment. What a moment. I've never heard anyone express it that way.
JW: Yeah. Yeah, I really leave the planet. With my hand on that mic, and I sing with the band, and everything clicks, and then there really is no excuse for it not to - even with bad monitors. It's the nearest thing to religion. It's when I really know what I'm doing on this planet.
JW: yeah ...
BBR: It's why we follow music, too. The fans. They want to be part of that energy that you generate from the stage. Because the audience is right there with you ...
I Sing the Body Electric
By Walt Whitman
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love
engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till
I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and
charge them full with the charge of the soul.
The WHO, Free, Fairpoint Convention, Van Morrison:
JW: I saw The WHO play. I saw The WHO play on the Tommy tour. I saw Free play, with the original line-up. Fairpoint Convention. I've seen just about anybody, till I was about 18. I saw anybody that I could afford to get in, from the local university. If I couldn't afford to get in, then I could sort of 'not go', which was really difficult, as I had no money. But I've seen the best of the best, when they were young, you know. And they were just, beyond outrageous. And they left a tremendous print on me. And I think with this record, I was trying to sonically - get back to that. I'm so tired of production. I'm so tired of everything being sort of dressed up and overkill. I like to let the music really just be the music. It's the performance, you know. Van Morrison says he's not into anything about the music business anymore ... it's the performance, that's all. The live performance. That's the only thing about it, that's really worth anything, it's the performance and the music.
JW: It was harder to make this record, than it was to make a studio record. Because everyone had to be completely on their game, completely in tune. I know this sound backwards, for them to walk out there and play em. To catch that (the live performance) is like lightening in a bottle ...
JW: When you're in the studio, you just keep playing till you get it right. When you're in front of an audience, you've got the crowd right there. You're really killing it, really rolling the dice with that. You've got to be honest and capture it all.
BBR: You really kept your word on that one.
JW: Why, thank you.
BBR: You really accomplished it.
~From Van Morrison - Rave On, John Donne
Rave on down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age
Rave on down through time and space down through the corridors
Rave on words on printed page
Rave on, you left us infinity
And well pressed pages torn to fade
Drive on with wild abandon
Up tempo, frenzied heels
BBR: I'm a big Van Morrison fan too. I like his more obscure records, Rave On John Donne and No Guru. The poetic stuff, that's what I like.
JW: I haven't heard that one in a while, but I remember that one, that's a good one.
BBR: I was chatting with some of our readers last week, about some of his songs. People were saying, "yeah, we love Brown Eyed Girl" we know he's a talented man, but sometimes we like to hear the quiet, poetic sides of Van. But I think with you, it's the really rockin' passionate performances. You had a wild thing going on, on that stage for this recording, that you captured live. (JW laughs!) And it's going to be a piece of music history, too.
JW: Well, you would hope so ... but I think the other part of me went for it because I know the clock is ticking. And you can only sing like that for so long. And I love acoustic music, so maybe that's something that will happen naturally. I don't know what's going to happen next. I truly don't. I think, the clock is ticking.
John had a brief flashback to his favorite Irish folk band of all time, who recorded with Van Morrison, The Chieftans. It is a band he knew very well. I promised I'd mention them in this article.
JW: The beauty of these recordings are the raw poetics, the new soberness and the lively 'Irishness'. The sad and the hurt, it is all to be admired when it can be captured in song. These works with Van Morrison are "profoundly beautiful".
BBR: Talk to us about Ringo Starr and being in the Beatles' circle.
JW: well, briefly ... (LAUGHS)
JW: Someone wanted me to go back to playing bass and I was going, WHAT? And then I got a call from someone saying, 'You played bass in The Babys ...' and I said, 'yeah'. 'You want to play with Ringo Starr?' and I said, 'yeah'. And I put the phone down and I thought ... 'no .... ' (LAUGHS). [What have I committed to?] This is Ringo Starr!
John's admiration for Ringo Starr and The Beatles came through loud and clear. His experience playing with Ringo was described as 'pure joy'. Years later, during this interview, I could hear the excitement in his voice to have played with this rock legend. His thrill a minute conversations with Ringo, and the account of Ringo's expressions as they played together on stage, were priceless. He described The Beatles as a band he grew up with, and a force that 'changed the world'. We agreed, The Beatles' music will continue to make a positive impact on our culture for generations to come.
Here's John Waite with Ringo Starr's All Star Band, playing Waite's invulnerable hit, "Missing You."
BBR: The Love and Theft track came out great. Loved your original version on LIVE All Access, and the band is doing a great job of their own recording of it.
JW: Oh yeah, great, that is a great thing to mention to everyone.
John described his songwriting experience, as he almost always writes his own songs. Sometimes he will sing something that another writer has penned. He admires Rod Stewart among others who always surprise with their varied recordings. Alison Krauss recommended that he sing one of Gabe Dixon's songs. Gabe Dixon is an unusual Southern songwriter, a bohemian, a very talented guy who played with Paul McCartney for a while. John agreed to sing one of his songs, and after multiple key changes and arrangements, they went back to the original. The most poignant was cut at the studio, 'where you can hear that emotion ... '
One theme that John keeps coming back to in this interview is that the live performance is where you will find the true core of any music. "The only thing that is worthwhile is the performance. The rest is a complete illusion."
BBR: I read that you love country, bluegrass, folk music and other styles. It must have been wonderful to perform with Alison Krauss and be a part of that network.
JW: The Oprey and that whole thing. I had my band on stage at the Oprey. We did "Lay Down Beside Me." by Don Williams. Vince Gill came out, which was a huge deal for me. I'd been to Nashville with The Baby's. And I stood outside the Oprey and put my hand against the wall and didn't go in. It's a Church. I just didn't at that time, have the courage to go in. Over the years, I'd been down there since the early 90's, I would always go there, and just stand outside. I don't know what it was about it, but I just couldn't go in, it was radio active or something. It was out of pure respect, that I had for that place. I respected it so much. And then Alison and I met there and I told her I'd never been. She took me on a personal tour. And that was off the hook. They have Hank Williams jacket in a glass case, in the back, it's got a cigarette burn in it. It's a great jacket too. Just being there. And across the street is the big arena, where all the rock bands play and all the big modern country bands play. It's the antithesis of what the Ryman stands for, you know.
Dylan at the Ryman: It's like God touched the Earth.
JW: I saw Dylan play at the Ryman. And Jack White came out and played - the place went bananas. It was really sensational. I mean It was really just piercing. (It's like f*ckin hell! Off the hook!) Up to that point, I hadn't quite gotten The White Stripes, and then he came out and sang, "Meet Me In The Morning" and he sung it in the highest voice, and Dylan stood like a foot lower and sung it, with his big hat on. And Jack lowered the mic so Dylan could sing. Dylan at the Ryman, it's like God touched the Earth! He touched it that night, you know.
BBR: I saw Dylan twice. And I have to be honest with you, I haven't been able to write about the man. I sit there and I listen, then I feel like I don't have the words to wrap around his performances. I just can't find the words, to write about it. I honestly don't have words to describe what he does. I am just not that smart. I am not smart enough to write about Bob Dylan. There, I said it!
JW: You are smart enough to know, not to try and describe art. "Blind Willie McTell" There is a song called, "Blind Willie McTell," that he wrote. He put it on a recording about 20 years ago. If you download it, it's the most beautiful thing you'll ever hear in your life. The most poignant. He just sat at the keyboards playing. Dylan is like Dostoevsky or Picasso. You can not describe him. He's like a world unto himself. I was just reading yesterday that people are recording Dylan songs to try and align themselves with Dylan. It's an absolute imitation! You can't get anywhere near to what he's trying to say, really. You have to stand back and sort of look at it. Because that is what art is!
BBR: And Jack White. I didn't get into his music yet either, until I started to respect him when I heard him playing Son House and the Delta bluesmen. I thought, OK, here is a younger musician who is trying to uphold all of the blues foundations we are trying to preserve.
Long Live Hubert Sumlin:
JW: Yeah. I've seen him sitting there with that record, he played Son House. He's got reverence for it. Really. It's like Hubert Sumlin. Hubert Sumlin and the other great guitarists are just now getting recognized. Hubert Sumlin- There will be no Led Zeppelin without him. The blues, Howlin' Wolf playing, the blues licks turned into Led Zeppelin songs. Hubert Sumlin was the blueprint for the blues playing for Jimmy Page's major records that made Led Zeppelin. Yet, when he died, the Stones had to pay for his headstone, because he didn't have enough money. Mick and Keith put some money together and paid for his headstone. Hubert Sumlin, it's like Jesus Christ, really! Howlin' Wolf is a big mo fo, really throwing it down and all behind it, you've got this guy playing guitar, and you hear the guitar gets more and more involved. And that's Hubert. It is insane how good he was. He was the originator of the electric guitar style. Charlie Christi did more acoustic stuff, that swing stuff, but Hubert Sumlin, he's the thought behind it all, you know, he's it.
BBR: It's inspiring to know that these artists are being honored. There's a blues record put out by Led Zeppelin called, The Led Zeppelin Juke Box. And they list all of the original songs that inspired them to make their own songs. I was happy that they did that. I'm a big Led Zeppelin fan and we have Zeppelin on the site, so to have the core blues inspirations listed was really great for readers to see. Whenever we see Robert Plant live, he quotes the artists that wrote the songs, such as Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" or Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault But Mine."
JW: Well, you'd hope that they would. He's a nice guy, Robert. I spent a lot of time with him. He's very down to Earth. He's very sweet and friendly and I think he's very genuine. I can't imagine being Robert Plant, though, that would be hard - it would be like being Ringo.
BBR: (Laughs) We saw Robert Plant live in Boston last month. And he put on a really great show. It was special, like magic. He did something very interesting with the crowd. He almost produced a ritual and brought everyone in to his fold. I've been to many Zeppelin related shows and this one was somehow different. I flew to London to see the Ahmet Ertegun Concert (the Led Zeppelin reunion) and that was a real dream. Robert Plant, in this solo tour, though, was really getting back to his roots with the world music band of the Sensational Space Shifters and all.
JW: Yeah, he's walked away from Zeppelin completely. I knew him during that time. He played that one show with Zeppelin and that was it. I was on the road with Alison and him once, and I saw him sing, then he walked off stage and spoke to me about something completely different! And we were commenting about the things backstage, the ropes on the curtains or something, then he went back out and started singing again. (laughs). He's a very un-self-conscious guy! He's a very sweet person. I've grown quite fond of him, really.
BBR: Oh yeah, his spirit seems very kind and generous - and global.
JW: He's very genuine.
BBR: And kind of like you, I think he's one of those talented people, that thinks on levels that the rest of us don't even know exist. It's a matter of perceptions. That's what I'm trying to describe.
JW: Well, that's very kind of you. I hope I can be inspired by what you've said and really, shoot for the stars again. I was hoping to produce, with this record, something that was more illegal, less acceptable. Less radio friendly, something that is like, small rock is what I wanted to produce. There's always more places to go, that's the trick. There's always more doors to open. I sort of wanted to get this album out of the way. Because it's really high, and you can only sing that way for so long before they come and get ya. I mean, Saturday Night, it's wailing, it's really there and I wanted to make up lyrics and change it around. It's like flying off! I think I've been locked into this thing, I just want to play - I just want to play. Live music ... natural music.
BBR: The ballads are beautiful too.
JW: Yeah, well, thank you ... thank you.
JW: Doing an acoustic show is like the exact opposite of a full on electric show. You go to a darker, truer place. You don't feel the energy as much as you have to feel the emotion. Because you can feel a pin drop if you listen. Those songs really have to be good.
JW: There is a joyous, nutcase thing about playing the songs that you love at full volume. But when you come down, to the raw vocal, that's really, something else. Maybe I should do that next, you know? Maybe I should make an acoustic record.
Is this a foreshadowing of what's to come for John Waite's next project? Raw vocals and pure emotion. Let's follow and stay tuned to see what's next. Until then, Mr. Waite bid me farewell with a simple, "Stay safe ... be happy".
It was an honor to sit down with such a wise, creative and honest artist. A classic rocker and music icon, who has inspired so many musicians, past and present. We have yet to come across a music fan who doesn't appreciate his strong unique vocals and straight to the heart songwriting. Thank you, Mr. John Waite.
And many thanks to Al Whirly for content editing. "wish I didn't know now, what I didn't know then ..." ~Bob Seger.