With a string of hits including “Isn’t It Time,” “Every Time I Think of You” and “Back On My Feet Again,” the Babys’ brand of classic rock/power pop played a huge part in the musical transition of the late Seventies.
Following their breakup in 1981, members of the band went on to achieve continued success — Jonathan Cain with Journey, Ricky Phillips with Styx and original singer John Waite as a solo artist and with Cain and Phillips in Bad English.
Now, after more than a three-decade absence, guitarist Wally Stocker and drummer Tony Brock have reformed the Babys and will release a new album, I’ll Have Some of That! June 24.
Originally brought on just to contribute songs for the project, guitarist Joey Sykes’ wizardry and work ethic impressed Stocker and Brock so much that he was asked to sign on as a new member of the band along with bassist/vocalist John Bisaha. The two musicians add a new dimension to the Babys and bring with them a style that works well in tandem with Stocker and Brock.
I recently caught up with Sykes to ask him about the Babys reunion, the new album and more.
GUITAR WORLD: How did the Babys reunion come about?
Over the years, the guys would often tease about doing one. Obviously, Jonathan Cain is a huge part of Journey and Ricky Phillips is firmly entrenched with Styx, so it was tough to do a full-on reunion. The closest they got was a few years ago with John [Waite], but in the end John decided to continue with his solo career. But there was no animosity. At the end of the day, everyone is a fan of everything that made the Babys’ legacy so great and gave the reunion their blessing.
When it comes to LIVE albums, it doesn’t get more real or raw than John Waite’s LIVE ALL ACCESS.
Recorded live in both Philadelphia and Manchester, ‘LIVE ALL ACCESS’ features performances from Waite’s most recent solo album, “Rough and Tumble” as well as songs from his Babys days and early solo career.
Fans who attended Waite’s performances not only participated on the album, but were also privy to seeing the former Babys/Bad English vocalist and his band at the top of their game.
I spoke with Waite about the new album as well as The Babys, Bad English and some of his biggest hits!
What made you decide to do a live album?
The band was the reason. I remember there were a few times 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.
How many shows do you think you’ve performed over the course of your career?
As a solo, I’ve spent most of my life on the road. The Babys also did an enormous amount of gigs and Bad English spent a year on the road. I’ve played small clubs, arenas, the lot. I don’t really think about how many shows I’ve done. I think about it more in terms of how many times I’ve gotten on an airplane [laughs].
What was the recording process like?
I recorded a few shows in Philly at Philly Sound. It’s a church in the blue-collar part of town [a recording studio in the church]. It was a free concert and I brought along three kegs of beer with me each night. 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. There isn’t one single overdub on this record and I’m proud of it. It came out exactly as I wanted it to.
Discussing The Babys, Bad English and Biggest Hits
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’d always stand there in his overcoat just sneering at us. I could give as good as I get, so one day I looked back at him and said “What?” He just looked and he said, “Ah, you’re just a bunch of 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.
What caused the breakup of the band?
The whole thing had turned sour. At the time, some of us weren’t acting as sweetly as we should. Our record label [Chrysalis] had done such a poor job with everything and Jonathan [Cain] was also leaving to join Journey.We all knew it was the end.
Let’s discuss some of your biggest solo hits. How does a song like “Change” come across your desk?
I’ve always been street wise for knowing that you need a hit, but also that it had to be quality. I was writing with Ivan Kral [Patti Smith / Iggy Pop] putting together the ‘Ignition’ album when I got a cassette in the mail. I remember playing it and thinking “Wow, this sounds like a John Waite song!” [laughs]. It sounded like it was written in my style. I changed some of the lyrics around to make it more “me”, and it worked.
What was the concept for the video?
I was a reporter running around in a zoot suit. I was meant to be a sort of Jimmy Olsen character trying to talk someone down off a ledge. She was having a hard time in the film business. Kort Falkenberg III shot that video and also shot “Missing You”. The thing I liked was that he really understood and loved film. I follow old film religiously [it’s my love, other than music], so I knew a lot about what he was talking about.
I was living away from my wife (we were on the edge of divorce) and was torn. I had spent time in New York and obviously had met Nina Blackwood [MTV] and we were close. The thing is, when you think of a girl you think of the setting in which you see that girl too. New York City comes into that song. It’s a song about distance and not being there.
Did you know at the time that it was going to something special?
I knew it immediately. I started by taking “Every Time I Think of You” [which is the title of a Babys song] as the first line just to get going and it just all came out from there. I got the whole first verse, bridge and chorus in one go and remember standing back and just being so overwhelmed with emotion that I couldn’t even speak. It was one of those moments where all of the things that are sitting in the back of your mind come to the front.
When I hear it, I always think of two songs which must have been an inspiration. One was “Wichita Lineman” (Glenn Campbell sang the quintessential version) and the other is “Catch a Train” (by Free). You couldn’t get two more opposite songs, but they’re both about distance and I used them as a reference going into that song. I wasn’t trying to compete with those songs. I just understood what they meant. ‘Missing You’ would have come out anyway.
How did the Bad English project come together?
I had done four solo records and was about to make a 5th. I had just gotten out of EMI and my manager walked me into Epic and the A&R guy there told me he was going to find great songs for me. Then I thought, “Why don’t we just do it as a band? No one would expect it!”
I started looking for guitar players, originally trying to find someone like Johnny Marr [Morrissey]; a prodigy to that kind of north of England, working class, ambitious rock. I met a lot of people, but couldn’t find anyone to fit the bill. That was when the suggestion was made to reform a core of The Babys, and it was great to play with those guys.
What was it like working with Neal Schon?
The great thing about Neil is that he just wants to play. Even after a complete night out, when you’re all tired and bleary eyed, he’d still come up with something. “Lay Down” [off the first album] was a song that was written after we had just been up all night. We were destroyed from the night before and just decided to go into the studio and write something and the two of us wrote that song.
Are you working on any new music?
We have a song called “If You Ever Get Lonely” which the country band, Love and Theft has released. In September, I intend to go back into the studio.
Tony [Brock] and Wally [Stocker] have recently reformed The Babys. Did they approach you about taking part?
They did. I love Tony and Wally, but think we probably should have done it twenty years ago.
When you look back over the course of your career, what thoughts come to mind?
My life has been unbelievable. I think if you were to go back to when I was a kid at age five [listening to Marty Robbins and living in a cottage in the English countryside in the black and white 50’s] 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.
Be sure to check out my interview with John Waite on GuitarWorld.Com where we discuss more about “LIVE ALL ACCESS”