June 17, 2010

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Worth the Waite
1980s “Missing You” songster returns
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Some of John Waite’s best songs came after he quit playing. In the early 1980s, the former Babys front man went solo and then moved to the English countryside when his first record failed to dent the charts. After a two-year exile, Waite returned to music with No Brakes and the MTV smash hit “Missing You.”

A decade later he parted ways with supergroup Bad English, found an apartment in New York City and enjoyed a few years of relative anonymity. Eventually, he began writing songs again. Temple Bar, released in 1995, cracked the Top 20 with the single “How Did I Get By Without You?”

“Every time you take some time off, you revert back to who you were. The damage seems to heal and you start thinking as a musician again,” Waite said recently from his home in southern California. “When I was living in New York City, I would spend half my time in the art galleries or museums. You can have a life outside of the music business. But when you quit, you start living that life and you start writing songs about it … the next thing you know, you’re making a record. It’s just a type.”

Fans of Waite’s upbeat love songs — “Every Time I Think of You,” “Back on My Feet Again,” “When I See You Smile” — may have been surprised by the urban landscapes and dark themes of Temple Bar. “It had the same motives as those early classic country albums,” said Waite, “introspection, spiritual yearning and divorce/mid life crisis — you know, the big ones.”

Unfortunately, hardly anyone heard it.

“The record company went bust, just as I released a single,” Waite said. “So it was kind of like divine intervention. It wasn’t time to have that kind of thing be successful, I gather.”

He’s had some hits since then, most prominently a 2007 remake of “Missing You” with Alison Krauss, a collaboration that rocked a bit harder than the original. “Alison’s a big AC/DC fan,” Waite said with a laugh. “She likes everything, she’s a great musical person, a beautiful person.”

Waite recently released In Real Time, a live album that brings together several high points of his long career. The hits are there, of course, but what makes it even more enjoyable are the overlooked gems. “NYC Girl,” from 2001’s Figure in a Landscape, likens Times Square to “Avalon in a Disney morphine dream” and is also the source of the album’s title. “In Dreams” is a lovely ballad that deserves to be a wedding day standard and originally appeared on the True Romance soundtrack.

Though the singer was born in the U.K. and still speaks with a deep brogue despite living in the United States since the early 1980s, Waite’s music never resonated in his home country until recently. A recent tour of Europe was a rousing success, selling out shows and generating press raves.

“It was just a club tour but the interest tripled,” Waite said, adding mischievously, “it was intentional — we went back there to get ’em.”

He and his band — guitarist Luis Maldonado, drummer Billy Wilkes and bass player Tim Hogan — are working on another visit later in the year. “There’s a level of confidence and focus in the band,” Waite said. “We go out there to have as much fun as possible, but deliver. … it’s a serious thing to us. We’re into it, we’ve no choice.”

Waite hasn’t given up on the record industry; he just doesn’t have a lot of use for it when his life’s on the stage. “I mean look, everybody seems to make a living out playing live, and music is music. If it was up to me, I think I would just give it away. Making a profit out of music doesn’t really concern me, “ he said. “I think the rules have changed and I like it better. It seems more fair.”

That said, Waite recently finished a project with Matchbox 20’s Kyle Cook, a songwriter born in 1975, the year the Babys first toured the U.S.

“We got something that I think is going to be a single, that’s going to make a dent,” Waite said. “I didn’t expect it at all, but he’s a very gifted guitar player and a soulful guy. It’s interesting about the generation gap; we know enormous amounts about music, so it isn’t a chasm of age … we’re big fans of music anyway, even when we’re not playing.” Sony will release Waite’s five-song EP with Cook later this year.

On Saturday, June 19, Waite and his band perform at Boynton’s Taproom in Manchester. True to his roots, Waite plans a high-energy show.

“I was raised on country and blues and rockabilly,” he said. “All those British bands that came out in the late ’60s moved my world. If I were raised on cowboy songs, I’d be Marty Robbins. But I am at the end of the day a rock singer — that’s what I do, super-amped blues, you know? Maybe it’s not an obvious enough thing for people to look at and go, ‘Oh yeah,’ but I’m having a ball. I always do — I do what I wanna do.”


John Waite
When: Saturday, June 19, at 8 p.m.
Where: Boynton’s Taproom, 155 Dow St. (3rd floor) in Manchester
Tickets: $40-$55, boyntonstaproom.comm