This past Tuesday night John Waite kicked off his acoustic “Wooden Heart” tour in New Hope, PA and I was fortunate enough to be front row for the show. As with the three previous times I saw John live, this concert was excellent. However, it being an acoustic performance made for a much different atmosphere. This time around the performance was more intimate and the softer guitars placed John’s voice front and center, which is a good thing because the first time he sang a note it blew my mind how good he still sounds. The man is 63, yet his voice barely sounds any different than it did back in the 1980s. His tone is perfect and he emotes in a way few of his peers can. It’s really something to marvel. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
Today, I interviewed one of my all-time favorite drummers, Deen Castronovo of Revolution Saints, Journey and formerly Bad English. Deen was a pleasure to speak with and we covered a lot of ground, everything from his drumming as a child to his current project with Revolution Saints. Speaking of which, make sure you pick up a copy of their debut album when it’s released on February 24. It’s the greatest melodic rock album I’ve heard in years – stay tuned for my review of it. Until then, enjoy my interview with Deen.
This past Friday night, John Waite, an iconic rocker known for his work with The Babys, Bad English and as a solo artist, brought 40 years worth of brilliant music to Wilkes-Barre, PA. From start to finish, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand with charismatic stage presence and jaw-dropping vocals. But what he did onstage was made more meaningful by what he did backstage before the show.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time: Jonathan Cain. In addition to having written or co-written more than 100 songs for Journey, he has penned numerous hits for The Babys and Bad English, while also maintaining a prolific career as a solo artist. In other words, the quantity, and most importantly, the quality of Jonathan Cain’s musical output is astounding.
This summer Journey is on the road with the Steve Miller Band and the Tower of Power, performing for sold-out crowds across North America. I saw them live in Holmdel, NJ and I plan on seeing them again this year. Check out the tour dates on the band’s official website to see when they’re in your area. The current lineup puts on a phenomenal show that shouldn’t be missed.
Below is part one of my interview with Jonathan Cain. Part two can be read here.
I recently interviewed Styx’s bassist and former member of The Babys and Bad English, the incredibly talented Ricky Phillips. Styx is currently on the road with Don Felder and Foreigner on the The Soundtrack of Summer Tour and they released a companion album, The Soundtrack of Summer: The Very Best of Foreigner & Styx, featuring a new version of “Hotel California” that’s performed by Felder, Styx and Foreigner. Enjoy the interview and make sure to catch the guys when they come to your area this summer.
The following is the first of a three-part interview with rock legend John Waite. This year marks his 40th in the music industry and during that time he’s had quite the career. Whether it was being the lead singer of The Babys or Bad English or topping the charts with his #1 smash hit “Missing You,” John Waite’s voice has remained unmistakable and his music endures. I hope you enjoy the first part of this interview. You can read part two here and part three here. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of John Waite’s new album, “Best,” on his official website.
Earlier tonight I interviewed one of the most underrated musicians of all time: John Waite. Over the past four decades he’s served as the lead singer for two stellar bands – The Babys and Bad English – and his solo career has produced numerous hits, including “Missing You,” “Change” and “How Did I Get By Without You.” But John Waite is much more than hit maker: He’s an artist whose vocal, lyrical and musical abilities are second to none. He’s celebrating 40 years of unforgettable music with the release of Best, an 18-track snapshot of his illustrious career. What makes this album special is in addition to featuring a handful of hits, there are several deep cuts from albums that didn’t get the attention they deserved – Temple Bar and When You Were Mine – as well as live cuts from 2013’s Live All Access. Best also features three re-recorded hits: “Back On My Feet Again,” “Isn’t It Time” and the iconic “Missing You.” There are two versions of “Missing You” on this album but it’s OK because they’re markedly different. The duet with Alison Krauss has a country vibe and their chemistry together is magnificent, while the newly re-recorded version is a heartfelt modernization of a classic that 30 years later still sounds as fresh as it did in 1984. If you’re a hardcore or casual fan of John Waite, Best is an excellent way to celebrate his impressive career. I highly recommend you pick it up when it’s released on May 12.
Stay tuned for my interview with John Waite, which will be posted in multiple parts over the next several weeks.
I suppose the idea for Best came to me last December. I was in Beverly Hills just walking in the rain. There was an exhibition of the photography of Richard Avedon and I’d always been interested in his work so I thought I’d check it out, get out of the rain for a while and then get a glass of wine. I remember a huge white wall with at least 60 different photos–all figurative stuff, all different. It was a very ‘60s approach. I write, play and sing music but I’m also very interested in art. I don’t really see the difference in the different mediums; literature, painting, acting, etc., it’s all expression. I saw the pictures presented that way and considered what its counterpart would be musically and BEST came out of that. I didn’t want to do the obvious thing and simply put out a “Greatest Hits” record as anyone can do that through iTunes. Just download a play list and hey, “presto.”
This collection is called Best because it’s my best. It’s me putting together my favorite work and it’s totally subjective; I had no one to answer to but myself. It was, I have to say, great fun. I re-sang “Missing You” and “Back On My Feet Again” as the lyrics and melodies had been written literally hours or at most a day before recording the originals so long ago. I always felt I could “do” them better and bring something to them that I’d missed, update the production and make them more vital. And besides, a retrospective was a nice way of looking at my work. I wanted to connect the dots as much for myself as for anyone who might hear it.
I set about the task at hand on my return from England on New Year’s Eve. I’d been making lists over the holidays and decided to simply follow my heart. There was no way I could exclude “Bluebird Café” or “Suicide Life.” I also wanted to add live tracks from my great live band–Tim Hogan (bass), Kerri Kelli (guitar) and Rhondo (drummer)–and I remembered I had a steaming unreleased version of “Every Time I Think Of You” from last year that was so real it bordered on ‘60s soul music. My duet with Alison Krauss on “Missing You” was important to me on a profound level as it showed my love for country, bluegrass and in fact, Alison, whilst “Rough and Tumble” was pure blues rock .There are 18 songs on Best. It’s been a long career and this is the story – Best yet actually. The story is far from over.
Back On My Feet Again (newly re-recorded)
We had written all of the songs for the record and we thought we had a great record. There was a song that the record company insisted on us doing called “Yesterday’s Heroes.” It was really a song about being a failure. I don’t know what they were thinking. There was this guy called Roger who worked in the A&R department and he was saying, “This is a great song and you need to cut it.” I kept saying “no.” Our producer, Keith Olsen, kept making excuses for me. The band cut the track when I wasn’t there, as they were trying to appease the record company. I kept telling them that I was not singing that song. I was not going to sing those lyrics, as they were a piece of shit. On the last day of recording, I was getting out of bed and I was getting a cup of coffee and lighting a cigarette—a Marlboro Light, it was—and I sat down in my dressing gown and I wrote “Back on My Feet Again.” I wrote the lyric out and I sang over the top of this other song with a completely different melody and a whole new set of words on it. The next day I came in and put the “Hey babe, I’m back on my feet again. Here I am…” Everyone was really speechless. They had cut this song that wasn’t that good and now we had this.
Isn’t It Time (newly re-recorded)
It was like a Philadelphia soul song. Our producer came up with the song and said, “Hey, I’ve got these guys that I work with and I’ve got a great song.” With “Isn’t It Time,” you have to really appreciate that we did an absolute number on it, all the backing vocals and I changed the melody.
Rough and Tumble
I thought it was just a great name. It was quite a poetic track on one level; it’s quite sexual on another level and it’s quite spiritual on another level – if there’s a difference. “Rough & Tumble” just seemed to me to encapsulate my life and my music at the time. I thought it was a great title – some song titles just say “use me,” it’s got music in it and besides the syllables work. “Rough & Tumble” made it to number one of the Classic Rock charts in America.
Missing You (newly re-recorded)
“Missing You” is an amalgam of three different people. In his book, Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust says that when he imagines a country girl he also imagines the country. You can’t separate the girl from the river and the trees and the grass because everything is the same experience. I was writing about these women, I was writing about New York, and I was also writing about distance. Each girl played a very large part in that song. I’ve never got bored singing it. It took ten minutes to write it, and maybe that’s why. It came out of nowhere, and was made up on the spot. It’s very genuine. It’s almost like a blues song. It’s about denial. The lyrics are good. It came off the top of my head. It was the last thing I wrote for the record, and it always gets that same response, where people just stop breathing for a second; it’s that big. My marriage was in a mess. It was kind of over, and I was torn. I was living in LA trying to finish the record, then I’d be living in New York, and my life was just a mess. When I hit the chorus, I didn’t know I was going to sing, “I ain’t missing you.” Somebody said the other day, if I had just sang, “I’m missing you,” it would have been just crap. Then he said, “You put denial in there, and it’s what every man goes through; denial.” So it made it extra twisted and kind of clever.
If You Ever Get Lonely
There was a song floating around Nashville called “If You Ever Get Lonely” and my manager kept telling me that it was a great song. I kept telling him “no.” The chorus was great, but the rest of it was really pretty much like one of those things that come out of Nashville, where someone writes a verse, and one person writes a chorus, and everyone writes a different part. It actually sounded like a Cat Stevens song or something. I got what he was saying about the chorus, though. After one of the days in the studio with Kyle Cook, who is from Matchbox 20, we talked about the chorus and how it had something and how the rest of the song was not working. We started going back and forth with different lyrics and the whole thing happened in about five minutes.
Better Off Gone
“Better Off Gone” was the first thing me and Kyle (Cook) wrote together. We literally came up with it between “hello” and “how you doin’?”! We were both playing acoustic guitars. I was watching his hands and he was watching mine. It was a great start to four songs for the Rough & Tumble album. I wrote “Evil,” “If You Ever Get Lonely” and “Love’s Going Out Of Style” in quick succession. Great guitar player and nice guy. He played on the American and European gigs too.
The album When You Were Mine was originally called Suicide Life. The record company politely requested the title be changed as it might scare people off. They had a point. Try to imagine explaining that title in every radio station you went into. Good idea actually. It’s my best album. It was really ahead of the curve. I’d spent a lot of time in Nashville trying to find the heart of country, the honesty in the songwriting. “Bluebird Café” is on that CD as well as “Imaginary Girl.” “Suicide Life” wasn’t country but I was casting about for subjects that had meaning. Hollywood Boulevard east of Musso and Frank’s restaurant slowly turned into a wasteland–space cadets, runaways, hookers, rough trade, junkies, the works. It felt if you kept walking into the darkness you could fall off the edge of the world! I was staying in Hollywood and found myself wandering around there after dark. The back stories on those people are probably simple but what happened to them isn’t. It’s one of my best. Wrote the music with Shane Fontayne.
I remember getting a cassette in the mail of “Change” by this group called Spider. I played it on by little tape recorder and thought, “Christ, that’s a great chorus” but I didn’t dig some of the lyrics so I rewrote some of the words. I thought it would be a great single. It was timely. It sounded a little bit like The Babys but it had something else. I thought it was a very good song but it needed a tweak or two and I gave it those tweaks. The crowd goes nuts when we play it. I still open the show with that song.
Every Time I Think Of You (live)
We tried to repeat the success that “Isn’t It Time” had by using the same situation. That’s something that Steve Marriott and Paul Rodgers showed me from a distance is you can sing hard rock and flip the coin and sing a ballad and it’s still believable.
Head First (live)
I’d already called the album Head First so I felt, “Why don’t I just write a song called ‘Head First’?” I made up all these lyrics about what was in my head and it didn’t make any sense at all and for a couple of days we called it “Sunday Afternoon.” As for the music, Tony came up with the revolving piano line for “Head First” and then Wally came up with the guitar line over the top playing it as a one line thing. We recorded it in a room as big as a broom closet. We’d gone from using cathedral style huge recording rooms to something the size of a drum booth in a tiny mix room at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.
“Evil” is almost like “Miss You” by The Stones. It’s very New York City. It sounds like somebody’s really out of their mind and it’s sexy because of that. It’s very seventies and very Studio 54.
Saturday Night (live)
I co-wrote “Saturday Night” with Gary Myrick who was a real Texas blues guy but he played extremely unorthodox guitar. All you have to do with me is make a noise and I’ll give you a lyric. I’m very responsive like that. We decided to play some flat out fuckin’ rock and then I took the music away to work on the lyrics. Bruce Springsteen’s guitar player, Nils Lofgren, had a song where he sings about dancing in the streets (“Secrets in the Street”). I thought about Nils dancing in the streets at dawn coming home and that appears in the song, (recites lyrics), “Ain’t it just like me to be dancing in the streets.” But I was thinking about Verlaine, the poet, and that thing where you’re a moment away from making something rhyme. Expectation. Ten Seconds to Midnight. And I was thinking about (Johannes) Vermeer (Dutch painter) when things are pre-dawn and you’re with somebody and it’s a really beautiful moment. Then Gene Vincent gets name checked in the song, (recites lyrics), “and just like Gene Vincent, I’m longing to groove…” and he was a flat out rock icon. I put them all in the same tune. It was a time to really throw down if you were gonna throw down. I was living in New York City and was just coming out of my shoes. It was a very creative time.
Bluebird Café (unplugged)
I was raised on Western music. Cowboys and Indians to rock and roll was a natural move. The acoustic guitar came before the electric and so did the storytelling. “Bluebird Café” is probably the best thing I’ve done. Donny Lowery had the line, “young hearts can fly, restless and wild.” I had nothing. It was such a great line. We quit for a beer at a local bar. Maybe that would help. Out of nowhere came this super pretty Iranian waitress. We were flirting with her. How could you not? She was playing The Ace of Clubs that night with her band and I could tell how much it meant to her. Pure Nashville. A light went off over my head and I thought, “why not the Bluebird Cafe?” All those young hopeful singer/songwriters on “open mic night”! Me and Donny went back to the studio and I killed it. It’s my best. I’ve said in the press “if Willie Nelson covers it I’ll kiss his feet.” I’m only half kidding; an older voice singing about a young girl making her way in Nashville….
I’m Ready (unplugged)
I wrote “I’m Ready” in my cottage in the Lake District at night towards the end of a bitter cold winter. It’s folk. The acoustic guitar is “first” in everything for me when it comes to songwriting. I don’t think it could have been written anywhere else. It’s a song about reincarnation, finding the same girl over and over through different lives. It had to go on the record. It’s just me alone.
The film company, Morgan Creek, sent me a video of a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s new movie called True Romance. Tony Scott was directing and the cast was “A” list to say the least. I was working with the songwriter MarkSpiro at the time so I thought it just might be an easy thing to “knock out.” It was the first time I’d actually written something for a movie. It came together very quickly at Mark’s home studio. The demo is the “master.” The vocal is what happened winging it. Mark and I work well together and he’s still a close friend. As for me and Tony Scott, we wound up shooting the video for “In Dreams” in Monument Valley with me on top of a mesa and Tony dive bombing me in a helicopter shooting at 360 degrees. It was a life memory. Not only to be on top of that mesa and close to God but to work with Tony. I liked him enormously. I still think about him. He’s missed.
The Hard Way
I was spending more time in Nashville. It was still pretty much undiscovered. Rodney Crowell and Vince Gill were putting out killer stuff and there was such a feeling of “trueness” to everything. I would sit outside the Ryman auditorium and just stare at it. I could never go in for some reason. How I met Jeffrey Steel is a story in itself. He was playing down the street from me in Santa Monica and Debby Holiday invited me down. It was a songwriters circle. Jeff was really outstanding on stage and off–great guy. We made a loose arrangement to work together the next time I was in Nashville. I had the title of “The Hard Way,” a basic plot of two people with different expectations facing in opposite directions, a guitar lick and even a rough bit of melody. But for the life of me I couldn’t do anything with any of it. Me and Jeff met up in a writing room one morning, coffee-d up and jumped in. I remember a train whistle blowing from far away. The south. He was on! I’d come to the table with the best I had to offer that wasn’t finished. I took him very seriously. Jeff immediately got it and took over. I just stood back. He was great. Within an hour it all made sense, was complete and didn’t sound like anything I’d heard before. He’s one of the “real ones” in Nashville. Good song. It’s almost country.
There was an old upright Steinway at Sony Music on 5th Avenue. Totally beaten and out of tune. It looked like it had been through a war. It had a poignant tone to it and it always moved me. Glen Burtnick and I would spend hours just talking about the song we would be thinking of writing and suddenly it would just happen. “Downtown” was a song about a long walk in the city and the movie that plays memories back in you’re mind as you remember the past. It’s a difficult song to talk about. It was so personal. I can’t add anything; it’s complete.
Missing You (duet with Alison Krauss)
I recorded this album Downtown that had a lot of my favorite songs on it. We tried to rework the songs a little differently but when it came to “Missing You” I couldn’t think of anything to do with it but a duet. My favorite female singer is Alison Krauss so I called her up and she said yes. I was in Nashville at the time so she just came down one afternoon and away we went and we got it in an afternoon. I went and sang on her record after that and then I played The Opry, which was a very big deal for me.
I saw John Waite live twice in 2012. The first concert was in New Hope, PA. After that performance I was invited to attend a second concert the following week, for free, at Philly Sound Studios in South Philly, and I was told that the show was going to be recorded for an upcoming live album. That album, Live All Access, is now available, and here are my thoughts on it.
Both John Waite concerts I attended were awesome. The singer’s high-energy performance and vocal strength and clarity made it hard to believe he was 60 years old at the time. The set lists included solo material, as well as a few songs from his time as the lead singer of The Babys and Bad English. Simply stated, a fantastic time was had by all. Therefore, I expected Live All Access to be a tremendous album. Unfortunately, it comes up short in one key area.
With a total of only eight songs, Live All Access clocks in at 31 minutes and 19 seconds. While these eight songs rock hard, in this day and age, this kind of brevity is completely unacceptable. All live albums should be at least 60 minutes long and feature between 12 and 15 tracks. With digital music erasing the capacity restrictions of CDs, there’s no valid reason why this album isn’t longer.
Despite being too short, every song on Live All Access is full of energy, expert musicianship and impressive vocals. And half the tracks are live renditions of songs from Waite’s most recent studio album, the fantastic Rough & Tumble. Being a huge fan of Waite’s new material, I was thrilled to see that it got so much attention on this album. However, if you’re looking for hits like “Missing You” and “When I See You Smile,” you won’t find them here.
In 2010 John Waite released a live album called In Real Time; it was an excellent collection of 12 songs that covered the singer’s impressive career. If you combined that album with the content on Live All Access, you’d have a spectacular live recording that I would highly recommend. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Live All Access is only worth buying if you’re a hardcore John Waite fan, like myself. All others need not apply.