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The Catalyst interview: John Waite

Bill DeYoung

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John Waite 2022. Publicity photo.

Englishman John Waite is no stranger to American rock audiences, from his tenure out front of the Babys (“Isn’t it Time,” “Every Time I Think of You,’ “Head First”) and Bad English (“When I See You Smile”) and a string of solo-artist successes (“Missing You,” “Hard Times For Lovers”).

Waite’s singing voice is strong, soulful and supple – imagine, if you must, a cross between Rod Stewart and Sting.

He and his band are at Ruth Eckerd Hall Thursday, sharing the bill with Colin Hay – with whom Waite once performed in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band – and Hay’s ‘80s hit act, Men At Work.

Tickets for the Aug. 4 show are here.

 

St. Pete Catalyst: I’m surprised – although not surprised – to find that you’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

John Waite: I don’t make enough money to be in it. It’s very much about making money. I don’t think I’m ever going to see the inside of that. That’s OK with me.

The Babys, 1977: John Waite is second from left. Chrysalis Records.

Between the Babys and Bad English and your solo stuff, that’s ridiculous. So does it not have anything to do with merit?

My life matters more to me than my career. And that’s, I think, why the music has remained intense, because I put one thing before the other. And I’m really not very good, or interested, in the music business. It is what it is. If it’s being a musician and a songwriter, I am. I just go my own way.

When the door closes at night, and you’re with the one you love, or you’re by yourself on the road or whatever it is, you gotta live with yourself. And I’m really not interested in the other thing. I want to make the best music, and reach out to people.

When you’re onstage out there and you’re really in the middle of something, you look out there and somebody’s looking right back at you – right in the eyes – and you’re communicating something that really means a lot to both of you, that’s what it’s all about. The rest of it takes care of itself.

  

You’ve just released a new four-song EP, Anything. Tell me about that.

About 15 months ago I put out a three-CD acoustic record called Wooden Heart. That was something I’d been putting off for 25 years. It’s kind of like my pride and joy. That was to solve doing nothing in the time of Covid. The acoustic songs lend themselves to being pretty introspective and dark, and (this time) I wanted to put something out that was the other side of the coin, really.

 

I think the last time I saw you was an acoustic show, just you and one other guy on guitar.

I love that, we do quite a bit of that in between the bigger shows. And now we actually kick off the main shows with two acoustic songs, and then the band come out and join in. It’s a big part of what I am. I don’t want to come out and sort of like blast people. There’s more going on. It’s kind of an interesting set that we play.

Anything can happen, I swear to God. We’re looking at each other in the wings going ‘Should we start with this?’ ‘What do you think about that?’ Right up to hitting the mic, I’m not that sure what’s gonna happen. But there’s so many songs to draw from, you want to be careful not just to do the expected thing, not just performing the hits, smiling and taking the money and run. It’s a lot more to me than that, and I want to bring that to the picture every time we play. So it’s a roll of the dice every time we go out there.

 

How do you feel about being 70 and still rocking? Are you one of those ‘Oh, age is just a number’ guys?

I turned 70 on the 4th of July. On the 3rd we were playing in New York; in a hotel by the airport, I woke up 70! I was looking at my shoes, and looking out the window, and eventually went and had a shave, and looked at myself. It’s the progression of life, and I’m doing the work that I really want to do. And it’s more mature than it was so many years ago. So I can’t be interested in going backwards, or being what I was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago.

I’m singing the daylights out of the songs. My voice is as strong as it ever was, if not better. But it’s a different thing. If you’re gonna go out there at this age and bring it, you better bring it Big Time. It has to be the work of a mature artist – it can’t just be entertainment, you know?

We go out there and absolutely kill it. Everything’s in the original key. When you have to lower the keys, I take that as God’s way of saying you have to come out of the water. And we finish with ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – I just do it to mess with the audience, really.

 

 

 

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