Talking to one of my "alltime heroes" was a dream come true. Most of the questions were prepared for an interview to happen two and a half years ago. Due to misunderstandings with the time lag, we weren't able to speak together. But now, John was in Holland for a promo trip for his new album "Figure In A Landscape" and he couldn't "escape" this time. And the guy had much to say...

What can you tell me about your musical influences?

I listened to Black Music first - everything from Leadbelly, Otis Redding, Stax Vault. Apart from it there was country music, Hank Williams and Jim Reeves . When I was eleven, The Beatles happened and from that point it was just music - RocK N' Roll.

Have you had any special experience in your youth which made you decide to become a rock musician?

My cousin Michael was a tremendous, very gifted guitar player. He used to play me all those country classics on his instrument. I heard all those wonderful American songs when I was five years old and I was thrilled.

Which instruments did you learn to play ?

I messed around with the guitar when I was a kid and there was always a piano in the house. To be honest; I'm not able to play anything perfect. I always watched music as a sense of wonder... I walk into it!

John Waite But you have a wonderful instrument... your unique voice!

Thank you. I know that I have a voice that works. But I never warm up before coming on stage. I always care if the band is in tune and if we know the songs. If you can rely on your voice everything works just fine. Now that my voice is half destroyed it sounds better to me. People wanna witness that spiritual experience you're reaching. The best example is Paul Rodgers, my favorite vocalist of all times. He always gives a hundred per cent when he's on stage. He lives his music... and so do I!

The Babys were the first band you were in with a record deal. This put your name into the spotlight in the United States. You had five records out and in the last period Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips joined the line-up. Was it because the record company wanted more songs in a "radio friendly" way?

No. We had a top ten hit with "Everytime I Think Of You"; a successful album "Broken Heart" and even bigger "Head First". We worked with Ricky and Jonathan for a record and a half. Half means Jonathan had already joined Journey and it was very difficult to work with him. "Union Jack" was the only album we were together as a five piece band... and it surely wasn't our best effort. The music changed into a more American way. When The Babys were started, it was four English guys with Black influences who knew how to rock. I was writing these very personal kind of songs presented in a rock way. We came fresh from London in '76, inspired by Thin Lizzy and the Small Faces. America wasn't prepared for us because it was always a year behind musically at that time.

Your solo career started in 1982 with "Ignition" , which did mainly one thing: it rocked. Maybe I'm standing alone , but in my opinion it's one of your best albums if not your best containing undying personal favorites of mine like "Change", "Temptation" and the cool "Mr Wonderful".

I moved to New York City which is still my favorite place in the world and lived there for two years. My head was on fire and I met a lot of new friends and a girl I was with for eight years. I came into a real "New World". The result of everything was "Ignition" , probably my first autobiographical album. It was recorded at the famous Powerstation and I had all the wonderful musicians like Frankie La Rocka (drums) and Tim Pierce on it. The later famous Patty Smyth added some great backing vocals. Yes you're right, a fine piece of work and far away from the music everybody was expecting !

John WaiteLater on you had this starring role in "Paper Dolls", one of the first American TV soap operas. You played yourself. Was this a clever act of your record company because "Missing You" was part of the soundtrack?

Yes; I was in. I had "Missing You" out and the production company looked for someone who had a hit at the moment. So they chose me and the shooting was great fun. I was on the road and if there was a day off I flew on the set to play my role. I reached a point in my life where I was a very restless guy. Making music only didn't fullfill me at all. So I tried to be an actor and I surely don't regret it!

I read in the internet lately that a film about your life is planned. What can you tell me about it?

Really? I hope they've got enough film. (laughs). I have a long and full life. But I can tell you, nobody approached me to talk about it. .....

"Missing You" was a number one hit in the United States and included on your second record "No Brakes". But the next two singles "Tears" and "Restless Heart" failed to enter the Top Twenty. Surprised?

Yeah. If the record company would have come out with one of those tracks first instead of "Missing You" it would have been a whole different story. But you couldn't stop "Missing You". We even called the radio stations asking them to n o t to play it.... in vain! It went huge and it was obvious we couldn't top it. But hey, who's complaining... it was number one!

But his must have put you under pressure for the next album "Mask Of Smiles"...

"Mask Of Smiles" was a lot more personal than its predecessor. A lot of people still think it's my best work. Great songs on it and a great period of my life. I loved living out of the suitcase. But the record was very difficult to promote for my record company because they had this enormous changes at the A&R front, even the boss was replaced. But when listening to this record, I have the same feeling I had with "Ignition" - it was all like reading in a diary. But I didn't get that with "No Brakes".....

Was "Mask Of Smiles" the originally planned album title? I own the vinyl and it has this giant poster inside called "Welcome To Paradise"...

This was the first name, later "Lust For Life" and then "Mask Of Smiles". They couldn't decide which one to use so they took each and every one of them appearing somewhere on the sleeve. I said "Hey, why not"?

"No Brakes" is on it as well. But why not on the one with the same name? Did you use it because your touring band is named after it as well?

Actually "No Brakes" was written when I was living in Manhattan, just after "Ignition". EMI had the "great period" of refusing every song I came up with. And man, I had great tunes.They wanted me to colaborate with other writers, they wanted total control. But it was my show - I loved to confuse people. Nobody ever expected me to have "No Brakes" on this record.

"Rover's Return" from 87 saw you teaming up with the "Hit Machine" Desmond Child. How was working with him and was it your own decision to co-write with him?

He rang up and asked me what I was doing. He lived in New York as well and was very keen on doing a song with me. Desmond was used to be alone in a room and expected me to come back later on to ask for the result. To be honest, he wrote two third of "These Times Are Hard For Lovers" but we worked on the chorus together. He had "These Times Are Hard For Lovers" and I added "...But I Believe In You" and he cried "Yes". So I had another great song....

"These Times" failed to climb on top of the US Billboard charts...

Yes, I went to Germany to promote "Rover's Return" and it was Number One on the radio charts. When I came back two weeks later it was only at Number Fifty. My record company had great problems again and changed from EMI America to EMI Manhattan. So this album which was really great got lost... a real shame!

Next thing you did was the so called "supergroup" Bad English. How did you get together?

I put my name under a new solo deal with Epic and I had that giant management company HK at that time. The A&R guy Don Grierson treated me like I was ten years old. And I hate being treated like a puppet or an idiot. He wanted me to change into Michael Bolton. I was in the studio for nearly three years and nothing happeneed. It was a nightmare and I decided to forget my "super deal". Later on I got into a conversation with Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon and we changed my solo contract into a band deal. So that was Bad English....

The debut is one of my alltime favorites...

Playing with Neal was a dream come true. He is a very fiery guy and has a lot to say. But wait until he put on his guitar... away it goes! I was on tour with Journey and Peter Frampton this summer and at the end of every show, Neal used to come on stage to play with us.
He was the real reason I was in Bad English. You could never predict what he would come up with. I always knew what Jonathan would bring in. I hated synthesizers but I loved acoustic keyboards and he came up with this synth stuff again and again. Me and Jonathan couldn't get on after the second CD "Backlash". No matter what I did, we always argued. My personal life was too important for me. I was engaged once already and had a fiancee who he ignored.

Have you ever been asked to join a band ever since?

I got one or two phone calls from well known guitar players to join but the Bad English experience made me careful. Look, I was around with so many great people, especially my new guitarist Damon Johnson, who has his own band Brother Cane. He is a very gifted musician. He plays from the heart and he is a very funny guy. Sooner or later I'll lose him again but I enjoy playing with him at the moment.
I never wanna be involved in that supergroup bullshit again. If someone would ever come up with the words "Let's do it to become famous" again I would say "Leave me alone I'm famous already". I don't wanna be treated ridiculous ever again. Large record companies can kiss my ass!

What about your new CD "Figure In A Landscape"?

To be honest, this is the first album I ever made without a theme. The boss of Gold Circle Records asked me to do a record after he listened to the bunch of new songs and I agreed. I chose eleven out of fifteen and went into the studio to record them. That happened in three weeks time. It is more a singer / songwriter with the melodic influences of the past. Ed Thacker did a wonderful producer's job and I was surprised. He was recommended by a friend because I needed someone available for the moment. I did an acoustic gig for the first time ever last night in Holland in a small club and it was fantastic. The old Bruce Springsteen speech "If you can't play a song alone, it isn't a good song" is still true.

What about the song you offered to MTM Records. I read they refused it, because they were too country-tinged?

I put together a record with all the demo stuff and things over the last fifteen years or so. There was so much great material on it and I was so proud of the record, especially this big ballad with Adrian Vandenberg and the unreleased Bad English tracks. So I looked for someone who really cares about my music. But the label manager didn't want to release it because he wanted a more middle of the road pop album.

Will we ever have the chance to hear this material?

I don't think so. It was a period between records for me an I wanted to give something special to the fans. I spent a month or so with the remastering and only wanted it released completely. But they blew it and that's it!

Better chance then for a live record?

We talked about it the other day. When It will be done it definetely won't be the usual "Greatest Hits" one. It'll contain songs I really care for, tunes I never played live before. A couple of Bad English tracks which didn't get the chance to raise their heads. The band is so great to play with, we could record gigs wherever we want as long as the recording gear fits in. If I do a live record I would never do it for the money but for the love of my music!

Any chance to see you live in Europe in the not too distant future?

We're playing the "Garage" in London November 15th and If possible do a club tour with venues up to 800 people in Italy, Spain, France, Britain and Germany around end of november, so be pepared!

Interview by Andreas Höhn

Some images borrowed from