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Rockin' The Region with John Waite

Story by DJ Dave Hoffenberg. Published in the Mountain Times, July 25th, 2018.

John Waite is bringing his full band electric show to Friday Night Live, July 27. Waite’s had quite the storied musical career. He was born in Lancaster, England and first came to America when he was 21 to join a band in Cleveland, Ohio – the birthplace of rock and roll. That was special to him because of the history Cleveland has with rock. He was there for five months before that band broke up.

He went back to England and delved into the London music scene. A year later he was asked to be in the British rock group, The Babys. They’re best known for “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I Think of You.” Waite was the bassist/lead vocalist for them. The manager asked Waite if he had any songs that he wrote because they were going into the studio next week. “I told him I had two songs. I thought it was a pretty ballsy move of mine considering I just joined them. It obviously went good.” Over five years, The Babys produced five albums ending with “On the Edge” in October 1980. The group disbanded and Waite started his solo career. He’s really proud of his early recordings, and said “I wouldn’t change anything.”

He found instant success with his debut album in 1982, “Ignition,” which produced the hit single “Change.” His next album, “‘No Brakes,” featured his famous hit “Missing You.” It went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100. He stayed on his solo career for six years and in 1988, he joined former Babys bandmates Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips, Neal Schon from Journey, and drummer Deen Castronovo, to form the supergroup Bad English. He wanted to get back to being in a band and said, “You can only talk about yourself so much.” From the business side of things, he didn’t have to be the main guy.

A year in, Bad English had a hit song with “When I See You Smile.” It went to No. 1 and reached gold-certified single status. Bad English had two albums but went their separate ways in 1992. For Waite, that was back to an already successful solo career.

Waite likes playing the bass. “I like all things bass. I like the cello, oboe, all bass instruments.” While we were talking he was home and said, “I’m staring at three bass guitars right now.” When he was a kid, he would cut out photos of musicians playing the bass and put them on his wall. He would stare at the bass and hoped for the day he would have one.

That day came when he was 12. He loved the Jimi Hendrix song, “Hey Joe.” He would play along to it every day. He loved the blues with British artists like Free, Eric Clapton and John Mayall. “I simultaneously wore out all those records at the same time.” He comes from a family that was into music. “We didn’t have a lot of money so we wouldn’t go see bands play, but there was music at home.” His dad had a huge collection of classical records, his mother sang and danced, and his brother Jo was a guitar player. The two of them were in a band when they were young, called “Chalk Farm.” It didn’t last very long, but Waite said of his brother, “He’s a great guitar player.” His brother doesn’t play professionally anymore.

Waite currently calls Santa Monica home, but said, “Today I’m in California but who knows what tomorrow brings?” He lived in NYC for a while, and said “I really like the change of seasons. I like the snow and the rain.” He also lived in Nashville. That was a great place because he’s really into country music. He did say though, “I lived there before it was country [laughing].” All kidding aside he grew up listening to cowboy music. Marty Robbins was a huge influence on him. When Waite first came to America in 1973 he was excited because, as he said, “I was in the land of the cowboys and indians. Being a big fan of all that growing up made this special.” When he got a little older he discovered Hank Williams, another musical favorite. He’s really big on blues and country.

Waite and Allison Krauss teamed up and remade “Missing You” in 2006. They performed on the “Tonight Show” in 2007. He was going through his catalog for a greatest hits album. When he got to “Missing You,” he thought it would be redundant to just play it as is. He’s a big fan of Krauss and asked her to sing on it. He was blown away that she said yes.

He and his brother were big into the English instrumental rock group The Shadows. Waite’s favorite song of theirs was “Apache.” He actually went to a show that his brother was playing and shouted that request all night long until finally his brother played it. I didn’t know this is the original version that Sugarhill Gang remade in 1981 and is one of my most popular songs that I play.

I’m really looking forward to this show and so is Waite, as with all his shows. He said, “When you step on that stage and take the 15 paces to the mic, you really learn who you are. You instantly feel the energy.”