By Jeb Wright
The Baby’s are back…without John Waite, Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips. To be fair, Cain and Phillips were not original members. They may have been there for the most famous years of the band, but they are happy with their new gigs: Cain in Journey and Phillips in Styx. Besides, they were not the ones that Wally Stocker and Terry Brock needed to worry about replacing, anyway. The tough band member to replace was vocalist John Waite. Love him or hate him, the guy can flat-out sing. And his signature sound is all over The Baby’s music.
After decades of toying with the idea, Stocker and Brock decided to throw caution to the wind and put the band back together. They went out and nabbed another guy also named John to front the band.
John Bisaha is the full name of the new vocalist, and we are happy to report that he handles the chore of singing Waite’s classic songs, yet he also retains his own personality. This makes the band’s comeback more legit. They are carrying on with a fire in their belly, not content to simply rehash past glories. In fact, the band’s new album, I’ll Take Some of That is a fine collection of tunes that will make fans of hard rockin’ melodic music sit-up and take notice.
This a return to the era of The Baby’s where the band rocked the hardest and were the most unique. The new album borrows heavily from the Broken Heart and Head First albums, which, to the hardcore fans of this band, is quite literally music to their years.
Jeb: Welcome back to The Baby’s. After all of this time you guys shocked me by getting back together without John Waite. When did you know this would happen?
Wally: It is great to be back. Through the years, Tony [Brock] and I have always considered it. We have been busy with our own projects. From time to time, we contacted John Waite and asked him about giving it another shot and he has always sort-of said that he was happy with his solo adventure. He would just decline our offer and we had to sort-of respect that. Through the last four or five years, Tony and I have been bouncing this off each other. Tony called me about 18 months ago and said, “What if we look for another singer and -only if we can find the right person- we can give this another shot.” I said, “Let’s go for it and see what we can find.” That is where it really all started. We started auditioning singers to replace John. We had people lined up around the block to audition. We found John Bisaha and brought him back maybe a half a dozen times just to be sure he was the right one. We liked his charisma and his voice and he seemed like a perfect fit. That kind of got the ball rolling.
Jeb: John Waite has a unique voice and he has had a lot of success after The Baby’s. I would imagine you had to take who was going to replace him very seriously.
Wally: Yes, indeed. John Bisaha is a very big fan of John Waite’s. He grew up a fan of The Baby’s, which was great for us as he had that spirit in him. We spoke to John Waite about him, and he said we can go for it and that we had his blessing. He told us he hoped we did well.
Jeb: I saw none of the former members had any issue with you reforming. Did they want to hear the new band first or did they just give their blessing?
Wally: They just said we should go for it. Ricky [Phillips] and Jon [Cain] landed themselves some decent gigs. John Waite has been very successful with his solo career. We only had positive feedback from all of the guys and they wished us success.
Jeb: I have to admit the thing that made me want to interview you was the new album. When I heard the album I was impressed. The songwriting is melodic and excellent. This sounds like The Baby’s.
Wally: Thank you. We made a conscious effort, Tony and myself, to capture what we had before and expand on that a little bit because we had two new members. We didn’t want to lose what we had, a sound and an identity. We wanted to update it a little bit, but to still stay true to what we do.
Jeb: Too many guys come back and think that they have to sound modern. Baby’s fans don’t want to hear a modern sound. We want to hear the band sound.
Wally: Tony and I were very conscious of that. We didn’t want to lose what we already had. To be very honest with you, that is the only way we know how to play. Between Tony and myself, we have that sound when we play. We wanted to have the full sound we used to have from our early records.
Jeb: All the songs are new?
Wally: Some of them are brand new and some Tony and I had written quite a few years ago. After the breakup of the original line-up, Tony and I would get together and throw some ideas around. Years later, we pulled out the old cassettes, dusted them off and had a listen. We found a few gems in there. Some are brand new. With the new line-up we managed to polish off the rough edges.
Jeb: Which album from The Baby’s would you say this album is most closely related to, music wise?
Wally: I guess I would say Broken Heart and Head First. I think we’ve kind of enjoyed making those records with Ron Nevison. He helped us obtain our sound, if you like. We wanted to have the raw power. We are also known for doing some mellow type of songs, too. We still have that rock edge. In our minds, we wanted to go back to the sound of the Broken Heart and Head First eras. We also kept in mind that this is a new era and we have some new blood, two guys who inspire Tony and myself. As a band, we’ve tried to maintain the original Baby’s sound but bring it up to date.
Jeb: At what point when you were working on this stuff did you know you were on to something?
Wally: Actually, when we put out “Not Ready to Say Goodbye,” which was our first release we put out late last year, we made a conscious effort to capture the sound that we used to have with the brass, the strings and the background singers. We had the rock edge to it with the melody. It was part of the plan, really. The last thing we wanted to do was to shoot ourselves in the foot and go off in a different direction and miss the boat.
With this album, “I See You There,” the new single, is a modern day Baby’s rock ballad. I guess we knew early on with this recording. We were fortunate that we had enough material to where we could pick and choose. We didn’t have deadlines where we had to frantically write new songs. That was a luxury that we had, as far as material was concerned. That made it more comfortable, as far as recording goes. We could weed through what we had and even steal one idea from one song and put it into another one if we wanted. It was very sort of enjoyable and humbling, really, to be back recording some new Baby’s songs.
Jeb: “It’s All I Want to Do” is a very strong song.
Wally: That turned out really good. That is a song that Tony and I had quite a few years ago. It really sat around for years as a musical track. When John heard it he said he thought he could do something with it. He went off and put that melody and those lyrics to it and as soon as I heard what he did with it I knew it was going to be a good one. It’s not a complicated song. It suits us very well, though.
Jeb: “Every Side” starts the album off with a rocker. Too many people think you were all about ballads. The Baby’s had a huge rock side to them.
Wally: You’re right. “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I Think of You” were played a lot on the radio and a lot of people thought that is what we were all about. Until they came to the shows they didn’t realize that the band had a much harder edge. The ballads were part of our catalog and we enjoyed playing those songs, but we also liked playing songs like “Give Me Your Love” and the heavier types of songs. We got off on all of those types of songs. It is nice to have the relief in our music where we can go off and do something a little different.
Jeb: The album comes out in June. What is the plan after that? Will there be dates?
Wally: That’s all being talked about right now. We have nothing in stone, but we are working on it. I would like to open up for someone on a bigger tour, but if that does not happen then maybe we will play some clubs and do our own mini-tour. There is nothing set yet, but we are getting everything together. We will have more news as things are being arranged.
Jeb: Are you happy with the feedback you’re getting?
Wally: Yes, I am thrilled. It has been sort of touch and go. At first, we really weren’t sure what the reaction was going to be. We did some gigs late last year to get our feet wet. We just wanted to get a chance to play the old catalog and the old songs. Lo and behold, we had a packed house every night and people were singing along to every word and we realized they had not forgotten us. That was very comforting and very inspiring to us. The reaction to the new material is also tremendous. I can’t wait to get out there and start playing it live.
Jeb: After The Baby’s you went out with Rod Stewart and then you played with Air Supply. Then you disappeared. Where have you been?
Wally: After Air Supply, I teamed up with Jerry Shirley with Humble Pie and I did about three years with Jerry’s Humble Pie. We had Charlie Huhn on vocals, who is in Foghat now. Charlie is a great singer. It’s not easy to pull of Steve Marriot type of vocals but Charlie did it. I had a very good time in that band. It was a very stripped down sort of band but they had so many great songs that it was fun to play that music every night.
Jeb: Have you stayed in music all of these years?
Wally: Sort of in and out doing some songwriting and some sessions. I moved to Florida for family reasons and I was there for a few years. Florida is not the place to get together with great musicians. I tried two or three times to put something together but things didn’t work out. I am back in Los Angeles now which is where I should be. I should have really never left. I am thrilled to play with Tony again. I feel like I have sort of been reborn. It feels so good to come back and play our original music after all of this time.
Jeb: Did you get your first record deal from a video? You were way ahead of your time…
Wally: We went in and cut some simple demos, “Looking for Love” and “Wildman.” That was many, many years ago. They were recorded as demo songs. Back in those days, you had to do the rounds with the record companies and you would go in and play them your tape. They would say, “Where are you playing next? We will come down and see you play.” Well, we weren’t playing anywhere. It was kind of a Catch 22. Unless you had a record deal you really were not playing anywhere.
We pooled the little money we had and we approached a TV producer that was the producer of a British show at the time which was like a Top of the Pops type of show. We asked him if he would help us shoot a very simple performance video of the demos that we had. We went in and lip-synched to them. We then had a demo video tape to take around as opposed to just a cassette tape with audio. At that time bands were not really doing that kind of thing. They were trying to do live gigs and build up a following and trying to impress record companies. We tried to cut a few corners. Our manager would take this video around of us playing these songs and before we knew it we had major record labels falling over themselves to find out more about us. Although it left us totally broke, we did end up cutting a few corners. The end result was Chrysalis records seeing the video and signing us.
Jeb: Was Chrysalis the right choice in hindsight? They had Jethro Tull and UFO and they are not like The Baby’s at all.
Wally: They are not. After we signed with them they also signed Blondie and Pat Benatar. When we signed with them their major act was Jethro Tull. UFO was also a major act, of course. We were somewhere in the middle of those two. They came up with the best deal and we signed with them in London. Terry Ellis, who was in charge of Chrysalis in Los Angeles, said he wanted us in the States and not going back and forth between the US and London. We sold everything in London and moved to California. Terry had us in the USA and basically we never went back!
Jeb: Did you work with Bob Ezrin?
Wally: We made our first record with Bob. When we worked with Bob were very young and naïve. Bob was chosen by Chrysalis and they flew us all up to Toronto from London and we cut the first record in his studio Nimbus Nine. Brian Christianson was helping out; he was like the associate producer/engineer. We had a dozen songs that we wanted to get recorded and we left it in Bob’s hands, you know.
Jeb: What was different with Ron Nevison? How were you different in the studio?
Wally: We admired Ron’s work with Led Zeppelin. Tony is a big John Bonham fan and he loves that big drum sound. When we were introduced to Ron for the Broken Heart album we went in and recorded that on a mobile recording studio. We rented this old ranch and we took the Record Plant mobile up there and recorded the album on location. It was really Ron that helped us sort of get our sound that we were looking for.
Sounds are so hard to describe to producers. It is like trying to describe a color. You are like, “No I want it to sound like this” but how do you describe what ‘this’ is? Ron had a knack of twisting a few knobs and getting that sound we were looking for. Tony was very happy with the drum sound on Broken Heart. Ron helped us develop our sound. Some producers go with what they know and how they feel it. When you do that you don’t necessarily get the sound that you want. It is very hard to describe a sound to somebody. Ron knew how to mic us up and how to get that sound on the mixing board. Ron was very, very good at that. We learned so much from him that it helped us develop as a band. We took what we learned right up to the present day. Tony produced this new record and we were consciously trying to get back to the sounds that we had on Broken Heart and Head First. We think that is our calling card when it comes to how this band sounds.
Jeb: After Head First is when Rickey Phillips and Jonathan Cain came in.
Wally: Yes, and that is when we went with producer Keith Olsen. Keith is a great guy. We were quite privileged to work with all of these great producers. As time went on, we learned so much from them and it has really paid off on this record. It pays off when you spend a lot of time in the studio looking over somebody’s shoulder. You keep all of that in mind and then years later you put it to work for yourself.
Jeb: Was there ever a time when you regretted naming the band The Baby’s? When I was a young hard rocker, I was hesitant to listen to a band called The Baby’s. I was into bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath…tough names. The Baby’s was not a tough-sounding name.
Wally: I know exactly what you’re saying. Maybe in the early days it did hurt us because people were put off by the name itself. We were fortunate enough that people would listen and give us a chance. You would hear a song like “Isn’t It Time” by a band called The Baby’s and you might thing that is all we are. When you would listen to the rest of the album you would realize The Baby’s were a rock band.
Jeb: You toured with heavy bands and that helped get you out in front of rock crowds. You were an explosive live band.
Wally: Until people started to see us live, I would hear comments like you said every night. After the shows they would say, “I didn’t realize you were such a rocking band. I expected softer songs. You opened my eyes.” To get that kind of reaction was great. Being out on tour opening up in arenas, you get to play to so many more people than you do when you play in small clubs, which makes a difference. Playing to that sort of crowd gave us a lot of credibility and helped us out.
Jeb: Why do you think The Baby’s never got over the hump like Waite did with his solo stuff? Why didn’t you get that big?
Wally: I really don’t have an answer for that. Maybe it was the name of the band. Maybe the songs were not quite strong enough. I don’t know.
Jeb: I disagree. I think Chrysalis may not have given you the push you needed. Did you get buried behind other acts at the label?
Wally: We did, actually, when they started signing acts like Blondie and Pat Benatar. They didn’t put us on the shelf, but they may have put us down the line a little bit. Blondie and Pat became the flavor of the month and they put their energy behind them, the new acts. We may have got left behind a little bit. That is always a possibility. To this day, I really don’t know why. I can tell you every night we would give everything we had when we played live and every record we made we put all of what we had into it. I am very proud of all of that.
Jeb: Union Jacks sold really well and I thought that was going to be the one. “Back On My Feet Again” I thought would be the one.
Wally: That is a great song and I have to say it is fun to play live. The new songs fit in well with the classics. We can’t put in too many new songs the first time out. We want to introduce them all eventually, but people are going to come and see us for the older material. We have to be conscious that we don’t put in too many new ones, but we can sneak a new one in here and there. It is still comforting to know that they are coming to hear the older material and that is the material that has got us this far.
Jeb: It is not 1979. The business has changed so much. How do you sell albums in this day and age?
Wally: We’ve formed our own label and we have a distribution company in Skyrocket Entertainment. You’re right, it is so different now as compared to when we were making albums and signing contracts and getting a recording budget. We’ve really had to work hard to get this one going and to get it out. It is a shame with the Internet and people downloading songs for free. Before people would go to the record store and buy an album, and now you just download a song you want and go on.
Vinyl is coming back and we are releasing this new record on vinyl as a limited edition. I used to love records. You would bring it home and take it out of the sleeve and clean it and put it on and listen to it while you are reading the liner notes and the lyrics. To me, that was all part of the experience of buying an album. Now, you get this little jewel case that you can barely read what it says. With the downloading you don’t even get that and it has taken it all away.
Jeb: Let’s end by talking about the new John in the band. He has the sound, he has the look. I though John Waite would be very hard to replace. The new guy is not a clone but he can do the job.
Wally: We didn’t want a clone. I think if we had come back with a John Waite clone and a look-a-like they would have nailed us to the wall. People would not have taken us seriously and we would have looked like a karaoke band. We need John to sing the old classics, but we also want him to put himself into the songs and build his own following. He is a great person and it is his time to shine. We had a lot of great singers come in and audition, but they just couldn’t pull off The Baby’s material. We needed a singer that could handle the old catalog and also have his own personality within the band.
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