Interview with Musician John Waite Coming to Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts
John Waite has been around the rock scene since the 70s as lead vocalist of the British band The Babys. They charted on Billboard with “Every Time I Think of You” and “Back on My Feet Again.” One of his bandmates for a time was Jonathan Cain of Journey. John moved into the 80s and the early days of MTV with the song “Change” written by Holly Knight, and it was on the soundtrack of the movie “Vision Quest.” Then came the monster #1 worldwide hit “Missing You,” which is the title of this tour, “40 Years of Missing You.”. Waite’s next move was to join up with former bandmate Cain and Journey’s Neal Schon & Deen Castronovo, and Ricky Phillips, who is currently with Styx, in the supergroup “Bad English.” They scored with the hit “When I See You Smile.” He toured with Ringo’s All-Star Band in 2003. John has continued to tour solo and release new music. He made a documentary during the pandemic on his career that was released in 2022 titled “A Hard Way.” A great interesting music doc you can catch on streaming services. The trailer is here, John Waite Film.
He is coming to Van Wezel this Wednesday for his premiere show in Sarasota. There are some tickets still available. Do not miss a great show! Van Wezel We talked to John while he was on the road, and it was a humorous convo.
SP: How are you, John?
JW: You want the truth or no? (laughs) I’m fine, actually. This is our fifth day on the road with three shows in a row, and now we’re driving five hours driving down South. So, you know I’m looking forward to a night off.
SP: Are you doing a bus tour?
JW: No, nobody sleeps on the bus, so what’s the point? We just jump in a van, throw the guitars in the back, and drive a couple hours from the gig to a hotel and drive to the next gig in the morning. You can have time of your own in your own space in the hotel, and it’s all routed, and it’s an easy piece of cake.
SP: You’re really a road dog, aren’t you?
JW: Well, you know, I guess (chuckles). But you know, there’s been times when I couldn’t tour you know there was there was nowhere to go and nothing new out & stuff. Then there are times when there’s a lot of work, and I tend to miss the audience. It gives you a sense of a purpose, you know, and you can see the work that you’ve done bouncing off the audience. It makes sense of a lot of things. so it really is nice to be back on the road. But you know, I mean touring like some of the old Blues guys, you know, I’d like to avoid doing that. We love what we do, so we go out and play if we can really.
SP: That’s what true musicians do, right?
JW: Yeah, you know, the only time it really counts is when you are in front of an audience, everything else is kind of in the shadow of that. Everything you know, I mean videos, TV, even making records. The real thing happens all on stage with the audience, and that’s why we all come.
SP: Have you ever been to Sarasota?
JW: I think I have I mean it’s like asking somebody stepping into the next town over. I’ve played with other bands and done acoustic tours all around Florida.
SP: Sarasota is a real music town. There’s a lot of great local music here, and of course on top of that we’ve got Brian Johnson, Joe Perry, Rick Derringer & Dickey Betts in the area. Of course, you don’t see those guys out and about too much, occasionally.
JW: Oh, wow, cool! One-time years ago, when my hair was down to my ass, and I had all kinds of earrings, I lived in Pound Ridge, NY, and I went into a hardware store, and Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult was buying some grass seed, and I always thought that was fantastic. Doing the most normal stuff, and I think that makes people happy. I think you will live a little longer if you do.
SP: You have a guy like Steven Tyler who is in serious trouble with his voice, so what do you do to take care of your voice?
JW: Well, I still roll my cigarettes and I smoke about three a day. I don’t really warm up at all, and I don’t really think about it. I don’t care. I’m always more concerned about the tempos and everybody being in tune, and after that, it’s every man for himself. I mean, as I got older, my voice became much stronger. I don’t think about it when I’m on stage; it is an adventure for both me and my voice. I mean, I’m amazed how much fun it is now to sing when I used to worry about it. I just go out there and give it everything I’ve got, and it works. But I’m sure that one of these days I’ll go out there giving everything I’ve got, and it won’t be there, but and then I’ll go home and buy some grass seed and be Buck Dharma! (laughing) I think that, yeah there’s a point you know that you just wanna go out with a bang, and I don’t know, and then again. I only know my own life I know and what works for me and the people I admire, and what I think is the right thing or the wrong thing or whatever, but I mean, I only know my own thing.
SP: I want to ask you about “Missing You.” you so I know you’re touring behind 40 Years of Missing You, and it’s just such a great song, but my question to you really is about Tina Turner covering Missing You and how that came about and that must have been mind-blowing to you.
JW: Yeah, it was! I was living on Madison Ave. You know, at a crash pad in a really elegant building, and I got the phone call that she had done it, and they were sending over her cassette, and it was winter. I went and sat by the Central Park Children’s zoo put the headphones on, and listened to it. It was a moment. You know because when I was 12, I used to watch “River Deep-Mountain High” by Ike & Tina going around on my little record player. I got to know her when she was number one, and I was about to be number one. We met at a party, and we had done some festivals together in Europe. So, it was a momentous thing to have somebody of that caliber sing your lyrics and melody and not really change it. I thought that was like a full circle moment because I’ve always been incredibly influenced by black music, and that’s just the truth. My phrasing comes from blues and soul music, so to hear that come back to me through such an elegant force of nature such from the Queen, yeah, I was just completely blown away.
SP: My personal favorite song of yours is “Change,” such a great tune.
JW: You know that was written by Holly Knight. I did some work on it and then rewrote one of the verses & arrangement, but I must give her the due, and it was very timely. I heard it when I was living in New York, so they used it to finish off the album “Ignition,” which was a darker record and it fell right down the middle, I think, with the video.
SP: Was the video your concept, John?
JW: Well, no, that’s a guy called Kurt Faulkenburg III, you know I can only take where credit is due & he ended up doing the video for “Missing You” because I liked it so much. What can I say? He had a concept, and it was like kismet! I mean, the night before we made the video, I went down to the Let It Rock clothes store on Melrose and bought a zuit suit and pale blue pinstripes. The concept that he had was that I was going to be a reporter, so you had this kind of New York urban kind of weird thing that just came together. There were only a few people working in video movies at that time, so you are really brainstorming when you’re making this stuff. It’s like in “Missing You” when I lay down on the bed and put the headphones on, and she is knocking at the door. I mean, that was my idea, but I mean, you know, everybody would pull together and do the best they could to bring the project home, you know.
SP: You pulling the mask off at the end is like, wow!
JW: That’s it’s based on an old black and white movie. I think it is Burt Lancaster, and he’s like a criminal. The movie is based in the 40’s about murder in the British countryside and at the end somebody, it might be Burt Lancaster. Pulls his face off and smiles at the camera. It’s like a trick, so there’s an homage to that.
SP: I know you did the All-Star band with Ringo in 2003; it’s been a while back in the day, but how was that for you touring with, you know, Ringo?
JW: Well, I just showed up with my bass and tried to do the best I could for everybody that was involved. I mean, if it is just playing Ringo songs, it’s pretty straight ahead, but there’s a lot of different music there that you must deliver for, so I focused completely on that and not the singing part I would have quite happily got up and just played bass. You know you show up and do the best you can with Ringo.
SP: Do you ever play bass anymore, John?
JW: Once in a while in the studio. It was the first instrument I played, and I played on the first 3 Baby’s albums. I really love playing it, but I got sick of carrying this big, heavy case around. (laughs)
SP: My next question is, do you have a favorite artist? I know you were blues influenced but I mean, The Beatles must have been an influence for you being British, right?
JW: Yes, they were; sometimes some people ask you questions like this, but there were these artists before The Beatles. There was Cliff Richard, The Shadows, who were stupendously gifted, and there was Peggy Lee, Marty Robbins & Brenda Lee. They absolutely bowled me over, you know, it’s just I couldn’t believe it, and a lot of them were American, and it was attached to the massive cowboys back to the Marty Robbins thing. Especially when you’re five years old, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” is a pretty cinematic thing for a kid to hear, and you just got through playing David Crockett, and then you hear something like The Shadows. It all sort of comes together, and then you know, when I was about nine, The Beatles came out, and they seemed to make everything crystallized. But I was already there, living in this musical kind of daydream. There was blues music in England, and we had radio Luxembourg, which was really like the Armed Forces radio for the Americans based in Germany you listen to them when you could get it on the radio. All these wonderful old Elvis Presley and Hank Williams songs. It was really called Americana. It was coming at you, and there was really nowhere to run. I mean, it’s just coming at your preteen brain, and I always get asked the same about The Beatles, but it’s way more serious than that, and its way earlier than that.
SP: Do you have a favorite current artist you like now?
JW: It’s so commercialized now that I wouldn’t know what I was listening to. OK but when we’re driving around after the gig heading down on the highway, the R&B station usually has some incredible artists on it, but I couldn’t name one of them. There is so much rap, and you wouldn’t believe how intricate the arrangements can be when you are listening. These guys are in the stratosphere, and they sing very well. I dig singers when I hear someone singing really, really great like Pink and Lady Gaga is good. There are singers out there that really nail it, and they’ve got those kinds of roots, and you can really tell. They sing the crap out of things, the feelists. Then there’s this sort of pop stuff that’s just aimed at a certain market to make a lot of money. Honestly, I couldn’t name you some of the biggest songs on the charts right now, I don’t even know.
SP: I have been listening to Chris Stapleton, and his vocals are great; he could easily be a rock or soul singer. What do you think?
JW: Oh no, I agree. I couldn’t fish his name out of the back of my mind, but I think he’s good. I think he’s got a new approach to country; the danger is when you’re a classicist is to cling to the past, and anything that comes that’s new, you push it aside because he’s not wearing the right uniform, and that’s BS because this is an incredible talent is coming up, and the idea is not to be put off by his appearance because his influences are going to be way different from the ones you have. He is really good, I get that.
SP: You live in California, right?
JW: Yeah, in Santa Monica. It’s really on the edge of the world. It is nice. It IS the edge of the world, you know, and the middle part of the world seems to be on fire.
SP: Do you miss living in New York? I know you were in New Yorker for a long time.
JW: I really do, but like, it’s changed a great deal and I think maybe I don’t know what to say. Things like, you know, when I was there, and I was there a long time. I just thought people changed; generations changed, and the economy changed. The average rent now in New York City is over $5,000 a month; somebody told me that yesterday. I don’t know, apparently, people from different countries are buying up large buildings, and New York is really going through a lot of changes, but it’s still a beautiful city, and it’s still got a lot to offer. I love the city; I still feel at home there more than anywhere.
SP: We look forward to seeing you here in Sarasota. I think you will love the Van Wezel, and I sure do appreciate your time.
JW: I look forward to it. It’s good to talk to a woman when you are moving around America with three guys in a van; it’s nice to talk to a female. Right guys? (laughing) See you soon! Check out John’s tour dates at John Waite Worldwide.
Photos from Vicky Sullivan