Well Worth the Waite: An Interview With John Waite
by Ken Sharp
The music scene is littered with loads of good rock and roll singers, but singularly distinctive, world class vocalists are few and far between. John Waite is one of those singers. With over three decades of music making, Waite has carved up massive hits with The Babys, Bad English and as a solo artist. Waite’s spectacular voice – versatile and vulnerable, gritty and refined – has served as his passport to global success. It’s almost supernatural, as if the Lancaster, England native met at the famous crossroads in the deep South where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson made his fateful pact with the devil and brokered the same deal – because this guy sings as well, if not better, than ever. Still not convinced? Spin Waite’s terrific new CD, Live All Access, from the balls-out rockers “Saturday Night” and The Babys’ classic “Head First” to the exquisite vocal dynamics that underpin “If You Ever Get Lonely” and “In Dreams,” this guy’s got “it.” Ken Sharp sat down with the gifted singer/songwriter who regaled us with stories of his adventures on the rock and roll highway.
You’ve done ten solo albums, what made this the right time to release a live record?
I did actually do a live album previously, but it disappeared. I made one that got signed away to Sony and they deleted it. I’m trying to find that and get it back. But this one, Live All Access, is about the band suddenly becoming a great three-piece band with a singer like some of those bands in the ‘70s.
Yeah, exactly, like Free and all those great bands back then, when there were no synthesizers. Back then, if somebody was going to play keyboards it was a Hammond organ. That’s what I was looking for. About eight months ago we got Keri Kelli on guitar. He just showed up, I don’t know quite how he came into the picture. We needed a guitar player and he’d been a fan for a while and was checking us out. He fit and he was great. It took him about two months before he could find his way being in a three-piece band. He’d played in Slash’s Snake Pit with more than one guitar player and he also played with Alice Cooper who had Damon Johnson with him as well. So in those bands he was always playing with another guitar player. But as the sole guitarist in a three-piece, Keri has to carry everything. You’ve got to have the chops. I saw the change in his playing over time. It just became progressively more confident, defined and spontaneous, all the things that I love so much about great guitar players. I thought I’ve got to get this band on tape. It doesn’t matter how we do it. We might just give it to the radio or put it on as bonus tracks for albums to come. But it turned out to be so great that I felt I’d like the world to have it. I did it through my own label, put it up on iTunes. It’s not a greatest hits; there’s “Head First” on there and there’s “Change” and then the rest of it is what I thought was the best stuff that we played.
Does playing live with a three-piece band who tackle the material in a more stripped down fashion make it more exciting for you?
Yeah. You’ve got to be on a different level. You can’t coast. Nobody can take their eyes off the ball for a second. You’re playing to each other; it’s a musical conversation or a musical argument on stage and that doesn’t exist with most classic rock bands because while a lot of them play live, quite a few play to tapes. But there’s that thing about the audience making each night different and we play slightly different each night. That’s the whole point. The freshness comes from being so stripped down. Everybody plays in a more concentrated way. You can’t miss anything. If you miss a beat or I sing a different lyric or hit a bum note, it shows so you have to go out there with complete concentration. It’s like Zen. You go out there and then you forget it and you just perform the songs and that’s the magic.