A Conversation With Tony Brock
Rod Stewart is the first concert I ever attended and I’m a big fan of The Babys, so it was a pleasure to speak with Tony Brock. He is a founding member of The Babys and the band’s drummer, and he spent 12 years drumming for Rod Stewart, starting with the 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours.
The Babys have a new album coming out, Timeless: Anthology II, and you can be a part of it. Check out the band’s Pledge campaign for all of the great reward and benefits you can get by support this effort. It’s going to be a fantastic record, and I highly recommend that all music fans check it out.
Tell me about the recently announced album, Timeless: Anthology II and the Pledge campaign associated with the album.
We’re really proud of it. We’re going to have people come in and sing on a couple of tracks. A crowd of people, like “We Are The World.” (laughs) On “Midnight Rendezvous” we’re going to have people come in and do handclaps. Things like that. People can come and meet the band, get drumsticks and drum heads – all those sorts of things. A guitar signed by the band. We’re doing all of this to celebrate the new album called Timeless: Anthology II, which we’re really proud of. We’re finishing it up now. There’s just a few last-minute things to do. We’ve also got some shows coming up. We’re celebrating over 40 years.
Sounds great! What can fans expect from this album?
We’ve got a new singer now, John Bisaha, and the band has really grown. We have the chemistry we needed, and the fans need to hear John on the original songs to see how much the band has grown. We recorded 17 tracks. Two new ones. It’s been a blast doing it. The band sounds incredible. And we actually like each other for a change. (laughs)
The Babys disbanded in 1981. Why?
John Waite wanted to do his own solo stuff. Jonathan Cain had an offer to go off to Journey. We were in the middle of putting things together. Some of those Journey songs were things Jonathan had in his back pocket and they could have very well been on the next Babys’ album. Who knows? I don’t know how much of that could have happened. But I think we needed just one more album to get over the hill.
When you and Wally Stocker decided to reform The Babys, did you reach out to John Waite about joining you guys?
Yeah, I’ve asked him a couple times. He still wants to be by himself. He’s happy just being a solo artist. I’m not sure if I understand really because he could be a solo artist and also be in The Babys. But that’s all gone now and we have a new lead singer. John Bisaha is the new singer of The Babys and we want the fans to have it on record, which is why we have this new album coming out.
So, there’s no bad blood between you and John Waite?
Oh, no, we’re great. We’re still good friends, and we talk to each other all the time. There’s never been a bad word between us since we split up.
When you reformed The Babys, did you reach out to Michael Corby as well?
No, no. Michael was a great lad, still love him to death. One of the reasons we let him go is because he gave up practicing. Ron Nevison stopped using him because he wasn’t rehearsing and it was taking us too long to do things. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t doing his job and we had to let him go. It was sad. He lost his thing for The Babys, and I don’t think he’s done anything since. It’s a shame, and he blames Chrysalis for it. That’s not really true. He had a lot of opportunities to step his game up. But he let it go. I felt really sad for him. I didn’t want to go through that again – those bad feelings. I knew he’d start it all up again, and we wanted to start fresh. So, Wally and I put a smile on our faces and got the right boys in the band and it’s worked out fantastic. I’m so proud of the band right now.
What’s your opinion on how Chrysalis Records supported the band? Did they do enough?
In the early days, very much so. I don’t know if you know this but we were the first band to get a record deal, a huge record deal, purely by making a video. We didn’t even play live for them. They just saw the video. It included three songs, one of which was “Looking For Love.” We had two record companies fighting over us. Chrysalis won and they did everything we could image. They brought us to America. Of course, we didn’t want to go back. (laughs) They put up billboards on Sunset Boulevard and gave us the full star treatment. They really took care of us at the beginning. Of course, as it goes on, we had the best producers in the world: Ron Nevison. He did Zeppelin and all the people I grew up with.
Any interesting stories to share about your time in England?
Well, one time I was with Keith Moon at a club in London. I was down at the other end of the bar. He walks in 10 minutes later, sees me and goes, “Oh, Tony!” (laughs) He gets up on the bar, walks along the whole bar kicking everybody’s drink off, jumps down and gives me the biggest hug ever. I was thinking, oh, no, we’re in trouble now. Everybody, I think, was ready to beat him up. Then he started buying drinks for everybody. It was a huge club. It must have cost him a fortune! We had a great time.
What was it like working with Jonathan Cain? Did you know he was going to go on and become a huge star like he did with Journey?
He was, obviously, in The Babys because he did have a lot of talent. John Waite didn’t want to play bass any more, so we got Ricky Phillips, who eventually joined STYX. We auditioned Jonathan around the same time. We knew we had talent in the band, and we needed them. You’re only as good as your weakest link, and everybody in the band was really strong. We knew he was going to be a star. We thought we were stars, which we, kind of, were. Jon fit in right away and did two albums with us. He did a lot of writing on those last two albums. The man was very talented. He joined Journey when John Waite left. He got the chance to do that. We were on the road with Journey, at the time. They, obviously, knew that John Waite was leaving, so they offered Jonathan a gig in Journey. Who wouldn’t take it?
How many singers applied to be the lead for The Babys before you went with John Bisaha? Was there anyone notable?
There was a line around the block. And people who’ve been doing Rock of Ages in Vegas – two of them auditioned. I got it down to three people, and one of them was John Bisaha. There was no big artist that didn’t want to be their own star. Steve Perry wasn’t an option because he was doing his own album.
Are you friends with Steve Perry?
Yeah, good friends. I spoke with him a couple weeks ago. From what I’m told, his album is complete and mastered. I don’t know when it’s going to come out. But I’m going to tell him that when he’s ready to tour that I’d love for him to tour with The Babys. That would be great!
That would be fantastic! I’m friends with Neal Schon and I was in the crowd at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony this year when Journey was honored.
It was disappointing that Steve didn’t perform with the guys.
I agree. Seeing him come out and speak was exciting, and it would have been terrific if he performed with the guys but he didn’t.
Steve’s speech was classy, so was Jonathan’s. Jon thanked The Babys, which was nice and it was the right thing to do. Steve’s speech was real classy. I thought it was going to be great to see him perform with the band again, but he didn’t. So, I was disappointed.
You replaced Carmine Appice as Rod Stewart’s drummer, correct? How did that come about?
When I first put The Babys together and we were on our way to do our first album for Chrysalis in 1974, I got a phone call on a plane – it was from Rod. He said, “I need a drummer. Would you come and join me? I love your playing.” I said, “Rod, you couldn’t have picked a worse time. We’ve just put The Babys together and I’m on my way to record our first album.” Of course, it all fell to pieces. As soon as The Babys broke up, Rod found out I was available and he called me right away. He said, “Get your ass in here. I want you to be in the band.” It was a little awkward because Carmine and I are really good friends. I didn’t want to take his job. But at the same time, he wasn’t wanted by the band. That’s a shame for Carmine. Of course, it worked out well for me. I had 12 great years with Rod, where I got to play with everyone from Jeff Beck to Tina Turner to Elton John. It was definitely awkward to take Carmine’s place. And, to this day, I still feel a little bit sad about it. But he was going to be replaced anyway, so someone had to do it. Rod really pushed and pushed and pushed to make sure I got the gig, and I’m glad I did.
Are you and Carmine on good terms now?
Oh, yeah – absolutely! Carmine knows. He’s taken over other people’s jobs. He knows how it feels. He’s taken over lots of people’s gigs. That’s just how the music business goes. Some people just don’t fit anymore and they need a new musician. It happened to us with Michael Corby.
What was it like playing with Rod?
It was incredible! We played stadiums. We’re still in the Guinness World Records for playing to the largest crowd ever, where we did that Rock In Rio, one year, and we played to half a million people. It was outrageous! I couldn’t believe it. I did a drum solo every night, and in Rio they’re all brought up to hit things. (laughs) They’re all great percussionists. I’m doing my drum solo and all I can hear is this banging and this crashing. So, I look out in the audience and they’re all hitting something with me. I just stopped my drum solo and let them go. To see half a million people having the time of their lives, hitting something and playing in time…and, of course, I started up again, finished my drum solo and they went crazy. In fact, it was on the news the next morning when I woke up.
I can’t replace those times. And, of course, growing up in England, we played Wembley Stadium, which is everybody’s dream when you grow up in England. I got to do that. We played seven nights at Wembley Arena. It goes on and on. I got to do so much with Rod.
At that time it was always the Rod Stewart group, not Rod Stewart and his band. He never had his own dressing room. He was always with us. We went together to dinner every night. We were just one big team. We’d go out and kill every night. He’s a real workaholic.
Why did you stop playing with Rod after 12 years?
He started talking about wanting to play jazz music, and that’s not what I’m about. I’m a rock and roll drummer, so it was time to move on. Those were 12 of the greatest years of my life. So, I moved on to producing other artists, including Jimmy Barnes and Keith Urban. I did that until I put The Babys back together.
What’s your favorite album that you worked on with Rod?
Oh my god, Camouflage was an amazing album because Jeff Beck played on most of it. Jeff Beck was just incredible. We had such a good time with him. He could never play the same thing twice. If he played something incredible and you asked him to change it just a little bit, he’d play something entirely new but it would be even better. The man is just an incredible musician, so that was one of my favorite albums with Rod. But they were all great. Tonight I’m Yours, Body Wishes – all great.
Any funny stories you can share about your time with Rod?
(laughs) Too many! We used to have this team we put together called the Sex Police. The things we did were outrageous. If one of us brought back a girl from one of the shows, we’d all go and take the guy’s door down and only hold it up with a piece of tape. So, when he’d go to put his key in the whole door would come crashing down into the room. (laughs) Then we completely stripped the room, so there’d be nothing in it. We’d put it all in the bathroom, so if you tried to open the bathroom door you couldn’t. We’d also pull luggage up from a window using rope, which is incredibly difficult to do because it’s so heavy. There are tons of those stories.
You mentioned Tina Turner and Elton John earlier. What was it like playing with them?
Tina came out a couple nights and we did “Hot Legs.” One night she came out and sat on my leg and I’m trying to play drums with her on my lap. (laughs) She’s got the longest legs you could ever imagine, and I’m trying to play around her. And she knew I was trying to play. She had a big smile on her face, and I had to stop. I couldn’t play anymore. (laughs) That was a good time.
We did a whole week with Elton. He’s just a scream. He’s a funny lad to be with. He loves his jokes. Actually, he knew more about me than I did. He knows everything about everybody. We had a helicopter land right outside of my room. I was going to buy a ring for my wife. Suddenly, I heard a knock on my door and someone said, “Tony! It’s Elton.” I said, “What do you need?” He said, “I know what you’re doing? Let me in.” Of course, he bought the biggest diamond there. That ended up being one of his earrings. We had a great show. He’d come out and we’d do some of his songs, and he’d sing on ours. It was fantastic.
Like Journey and KISS, The Babys have to deal with fans who can’t accept the current lineup. How do you deal with these people who are consumed by hate and negativity?
We try to ignore them. They have to accept that everybody changes. That’s how Rod has stayed alive all these years. He’s changed his lineup and his approach to music. If people don’t like it, it’s their fault. They’re missing out on what we’re doing. As far as I’m concerned, Wally and myself are the sound of The Babys and we haven’t lost that. Of course, John Waite was a great singer. But John Bisaha is just as good and we’ve moved on. John Bisaha can do everything John Waite ever did. And we’ve done nothing to destroy the old Babys. John Waite does all the original stuff acoustically. In my opinion, that’s not as good as the way we play it – electric, with a full lineup, the Babettes, string section – it’s fantastic! If anybody doesn’t like the new lineup, too bad. They’re missing out. We ignore them.