By Jeb Wright
When The Babys Wally Stocker and Tony Brock decided to put the band back together, they knew they had a huge chore ahead of them: they had to replace vocalist John Waite. The task was not going to be easy. Waite has a unique approach to his singing style and a voice that just won’t quit. His vocals made the band instantly recognizable. Not sure exactly what to do, the founding members began auditioning vocalists.
Enter one John Bisaha. “Who” you may say? Yeah, that’s what I thought. While the guy is not a YouTube unknown musical sensation, he’s been around the block and opened for tons of bands, although most people are not familiar with his name. That is quickly changing. Fans of The Babys certainly know who he is, as John Bisaha has done the impossible: Making replacing John Waite look, and sound, easy!
Bisaha, it turns out, was a huge fan of the original band back in the day. He brings his love of the catalog with him to the show, and he is passionate about singing the classic songs. He also adds to the songwriting in the current band and brings a great attitude and a rock solid work ethic to the table in 2014. His vocals on The Babys newest album, the first one in something like 30 years, titled I’ll Have Some of That are incredible. His energy and stage presence –and bass playing- in the live setting make this a better band than if someone with a more recognizable name were there!
In the interview below, John discusses how he got the gig, the new tunes and what its like to work with the boys in the band.
Jeb: How did you first hear about The Babys getting back together and did you think right away, “I’m the prefect guy for that job.”
John: I was getting ready to do a gig opening up for Roger Hodgson. I was on my way to a rehearsal, and I got a phone call from my friend Mike Hanson. Mike and I used to play together back in the day in a band called Hall of Souls. I hadn’t seen Mike in awhile – but he knew what I was all about. He said he knew of a band that was auditioning and looking for a singer. I told him I was really only interested if it was a 70’s-80’s classic rock band who needed some new blood, or a new act ready to hit that I would be a fit for. He started playing the name game – Ricky Phillips, Jonathan Cain, and I said – no way – Bad English?! And he hits me with – you said 70’s-80’s right? He asked me if I had heard of Tony Brock – and I had to pull my car over before I crashed. I’ve been a huge fan of The Babys since Broken Heart came out. I’ve been singing these songs as long as they’ve been out. If I had to pick a classic rock band that fit my vibe and my feel – I would have to say The Babys would be THE one. So – yeah – I do feel like I’m the perfect guy for the job!
Jeb: Journey replaced Steve Perry and Foreigner replaced Lou Gramm, so why not replace John Waite.
John: You don’t replace a signature voice like John’s. He’s one of my favorites as well – naturally. The catalog begs to be played – I just happen to be the guy singing them now – with other members of the original Babys. So – why not? Let the music carry on! With all of the other bands out there with new singers – it just gives them a new lease on life. I think Kelly does a great job for Foreigner. I met Arnel in the Philippines when I was doing a DoD tour in the Far East. Was told to be at a certain club in Manila at 9pm to go on. We got there at 8. Journey was on the stage – at least that’s what it sounded like when we went in. Arnel was doing Journey tributes back in 1986 out there. He couldn’t speak a lick of English when we were introduced that night to each other. Another person’s dream came true.
Jeb: You are not just a sound-alike. You pull of the classics but you have your own style. Is this something the band wanted from you?
John: When I was auditioning with Tony – he stressed the need to focus my tone and channel John on at least the two top hits – Isn’t it Time and Every Time I Think of You. He thought we would be hard to get over if we didn’t do it that way. The easy part is my tone has similarities to John’s. We are not the same voice – but it’s just step to the left. We knew my style was going to have to come out sometime though…
Jeb: Were there a bunch of auditions or were you the man? If there were auditions walk me through the process.
John: There were several auditions. The process took about three months or so. When it came down to it – there were three of us at the end. I came in last into the mix – and we had three months of back and forth between ourselves. We had a variety of auditions, each time recording two songs – Isn’t it Time and Head First. One week it seemed I was the guy, another week one of the others, a week later the next guy. Was a pretty stressful but exciting time. All told – I probably went back and forth 5 or 6 times.
Jeb: If you auditioned what song do you think you nailed that got their attention the most?
John: Isn’t it Time I think was the one that got me the gig. I had been singing Head First though in practically every cover band I had been in when not doing original tunes – so that one was in my blood. But man – singing THE SONG that put The Babys on the map was one of my favorites. The final audition for us was to sing both songs – recording and video taping each of them two times – with no punches. I told Tony I had no problem with that – but I was concerned that singing with fat cans on my head – with a fat mic in front of my face wouldn’t amount to much. I asked him to give me a 58 and a cable and let me stand in front of his drum set – and I would lip sync to one of the tracks I had just laid down, and perform it a bit. He thought it was a great idea. The moment I put the mic to my face – he had the camera on a close up and said – man – you look like John Waite a little. Done deal. Crazy…
Jeb: Growing up were you fan of the band? If so, what albums did you own and what were your favorite tracks?
John: I was a HUGE Babys fan. Like I said – I started at Broken Heart, went backward, then waited with baited breath for the next album. I owned them all except the live album. That one was hard to get at the time. Favorite tracks? Every song on Anthology (they picked the good ones!). I like Postcard, Gonna Be Somebody, You (Got It), Wrong or Right, too many to mention Jeb.
Jeb: This was a unique situation as you were not just stepping into a fully functioning band. The Babys had been idle for many years. What was the process like watching Tony Brock and Wally Stocker come back to life, so to speak?
John: I had only a few ‘jam’ sessions with Tony once I was selected. But I was immediately blown away by how HARD he hits those drums. You can feel it in your chest. He’s a tank. I met Wally for the first time when we were recording Not Ready to Say Goodbye. Walt was living in Florida – so we flew him out for a whirlwind weekend to do meet and greets, pictures, dinners and oh yeah – RECORD – the first single The Babys had done in over 30 years. In the middle of Walt laying down a little ‘bit’ during the chorus of the tune – we knew we had something that The Babys fans would identify with. The two of them are the DNA of the band. Signature sounds start with them.
Jeb: Was your bass playing as important as your vocals or did it just give you an extra something to add to the pot?
John: I hadn’t fronted and played bass in a LONG time. When Mike told Tony about me – he mentioned that I had played bass in the band we were in. It was not my intention to be playing bass for The Babys as well. After my first audition, Tony said he heard I played. I told him I’m no fancy player – there’s no Geddy Lee in me. He told me to listen to the bass lines in the main songs. I told him I had and would work on it. When I sat down with the tunes, it felt WAY too natural for me – so I pushed it. It made sense for me to play bass if we wanted to have two guitars, plus keys. Kept the numbers manageable.
Jeb: Were you tentative to jump onto the songwriting process, or was it like you’re here so lets go.
John: Jump in with both feet. I had been writing tunes that were similar to The Babys when they were still around in 1980. It was a very natural process. The original projects I was in always had big vocals and sounds. But more importantly – I have always had my own version of The Babettes. In fact, the current Babettes of today – were singing with me – back THEN!
Jeb: How did the album get the great tongue-in-something title I’ll Have Some of That!?
John: When you get cooped up with people for hours and days and weeks non-stop – you’d be surprised at what comes out of each other’s mouths. We had many catch phrases during the recording process. I’ll Have Some of That was said during cool takes, cool licks, maybe a beverage… So we made that catch phrase into a song. Kind of like a pub-crawler tune. Hey! Hey!
Jeb: Did you give each song the approach of “What would Waite do?” I am thinking on a song like “All I Wanna Do.” That sounds soooo Waite!
John: All I Wanna Do was actually the first song I wrote. Wally had a stack of cassettes from back in the day. He bounced them to CD and sent them out to us. All instrumental tunes. I wrote the lyrics on a long ride home from the studio. This happened before we started working on Not Ready to Say Goodbye. On a song like that – I did ask WWJWD? My vibe for the vocal was plucked from Darker Side of Town – with a twist.
Jeb: Talk about the song “Every Side of You.”
John: Joey wrote that tune. We had narrowed 50 tunes down to 30, then down to 20 for the record. From there, 14 made it. He and I really wanted that tune to make the record. For me – I thought my tone and delivery was a perfect song to open the record with that sounded like The Babys. Wally and Tony helped ‘Baby-fy’ it and off we went. Has a kind of Head First vibe. We were tooling with it when the piano track got laid down with an Elton John vibe and really took the song to another level after that.
Jeb: Tell me about something that is not so easily a Babys tune like “Uncivil War.”
John: Joey had that song in his back pocket for a while. When we were setting down to audition the songs – many of which were either 30 years old by Wally and some with Wally and Tony, or stuff that I had wrote over the years or two weeks prior. The trick was to get them all to sound cohesive. Tony really wanted the record to have a throw back feel. Make it like Free or Bad Company, Back Street Crawlers, etc. Uncivil Ware had a definite BadCo feel to it.
Jeb: “Every Side of You” really opens the album and says this band is back and that this is not just a cash grab or trying to hold onto the glory years.
John: Hit you right out of the gate. We are back and we mean business!
Jeb: What was the most refreshing thing about creating this album for you?
John: To be a part of the mix for the first album The Babys have done in 34 years! What a trip! We recorded the record at Tony’s studio – Silver Dreams Studios. We brought a 30 plus year old analog board in there to warm all up in this digital world and really gave it a good go. Was a blast!
Jeb: What was the most difficult task?
John: We had two months from a dead stop to get the record out. We ran long and hard tracking for six weeks, then mixed and mastered in two! A whirlwind effort. Non-conventional to say the least.
Jeb: Tell me about the first few live gigs. Most accepted you but there are drunk a-holes in every crowd. Were you nervous and how did you handle it, both the positive and negative?
John: Can’t let the negative get to you. Most are folks like the one you mention who don’t have an open mind. Again, it’s about the songs of The Babys. They need to be played. Been dormant forever. Only JW plays a few during his gigs. But not with all the pomp and circumstance that we do when we play live. We play to the record – and do the songs justice. My mantra – give us a shot – you just may find that you like it! I was a little nervous before our first gig. Big shoes to fill – big songs to sing. Once the gig started and the crowd went bananas, you forget about being nervous. Having John, Jonathon and Ricky endorsing this doesn’t hurt either – you know?
Jeb: Was there a live moment you thought, “I’ve kicked this in the ass.”
John: Second song of the set – Give Me Your Love – second time into the chorus – FEELS LIKE I’M FALLING – FEEL LIKE A FOOL! Nailed it. You could see people were waiting to hear that line SUNG like John – so I did…
Jeb: “Not Ready to Say Goodbye” is another song that shows this band may have different members in place but this is the same vibe for sure.
John: When I wrote the bridge – then last line goes – the faces may have changed I know – but the music stays the same – then goes into a Wally solo. We made sure we had a song that Babys fans could identify with immediately. Sort of an Isn’t it Time meets Every Time I Think of You meets Back On My Feet Again kind of vibe. Love that song!
Jeb: Honesty time, how difficult is it to actually be in a band that has VERY famous people NOT in it anymore? Did you and the guys discuss this?
John: Don’t have time to think about who’s not in the band any longer. We are back together, we mean to move forward. One foot in front of the… haha I really don’t try to think about it. I still pinch myself though from time to time. But I feel I was made to be right here, right now. My perfect storm has happened. It’s a dream come true – and I mean to make the most of it.
Jeb: I want to talk about you. You have played many music industry roles over the years and been in bands and worked with famous people in the industry. Give me a quick glimpse into the highlights of your career before joining The Babys.
John: I’ve been singing since I could walk. Started singing jingles for AM radio stations when I was 3 or 4. Drove my folks crazy singing commercial jingles all the way from New York to California when I was 3 and we moved out here. My folks were singers in their day. It’s in the blood. When I got older and into rock, joined a couple of bands that did some damage on the strip in the 80’s and early 90’s until flannel and rap took over the scene. In those days – opened up for Cheap Trick, Heart, Bay City Rollers, Blue Oyster Cult and some others. We had our own unique sound – rockers with Girls backing up. Big keys, big guitars, sounded like – hmmmm… When my partner Gregg and I would sit down to write tunes, there was generally a Babys record or Journey record on. Fancy that. After grunge came and we rockers took a leave of absence, I worked with some friends on a labor of love that took ten years. We produced a rock opera called Destiny Faire. Some day it will see the light. I played Jesus in JCS all over the place for several years – had to keep the chops up. Then this show American Idol came on the scene and since I knew I was too old for that show – decided to bring myself back and formed BISAHA. A true family affair. Whole family was involved. We played in front of Blondie, Foreigner, Barenaked Ladies and Roger Hodgson before I joined The Babys. We had a great set of originals, and played a few covers – All Right Now, Ramble On and Love, Reign o’er Me. Turned a lot of heads. In fact, our last gig with Roger was taped. I edited down my 45 minute set to about 15 minutes of footage for Tony to review during the auditioning process. When Tony saw the backup singers (The Babettes to be) is when I think I got the job. Having Hot Chicks sing backups doesn’t hurt!
Jeb: I saw on your website something about TV sitcoms? What’s that about?
John: I did a Mr. Belvedere episode MANY moons ago. It was an ABC show in the 80’s. I played in a band. True story, another of the guests was a little ten year old blonde girl who was SO cute. My story focused on the older brother joining a band. She had a focused bit on the youngest brother around Valentine’s Day. Her name was Stacy Ferguson. Was too funny to figure out many years later she had become Fergie! Fun stuff!
Jeb: Your solo band BISAHA recorded for Disney. Explain.
John: I was asked by a friend who worked at Disney to write a song for The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim pro hockey team. We wrote a tune called Rock the Pond. It worked so well for the hockey team, through which I began a little friendship with Michael Eisner – that he asked me to redo the song for the D2 movie sound track.
Jeb: Will you still record solo and/or with BISAHA?
John: I am constantly working on tunes. Some tunes that I wrote that didn’t end up on the last album are being tracked to keep alive. There are no plans to release anything though at this time. I’ve got a lot stored up though.
Jeb: What is going to happen with The Babys? Any big news you can break here first? Tours? More music?
John: We are chatting with several agents to try and get us out there. At this point – festival season is about over – but they go towards booking them next year very soon – so – we hope to have news soon. There are a few things in the works though! Stay tuned…
Jeb: I want to know how you found out you got the gig. Was it email or phone?
John: It was a Saturday morning on November 24th, 2012 when Tony Brock gave me a call to tell me I was the guy. How’s that for a memory!?
Jeb: Before we go tell me who your biggest influences are and why?
John: Top Six – in no particular order – Daryl Hall, Robert Plant, John Waite, Steve Perry, Lou Gramm and Frankie Vallie. Each an amazing vocalist. You know each voice the moment you hear it. They have all written songs that everyone can identify with. For some – the signature tunes of their lives.
Jeb: THE UNFAIR QUESTION: Are you better than John Waite? Betcha didn’t see that one coming hahahaha
John: Very unfair! We both get after it! And enjoy it immensely!
Jeb: Last one: When you found out you were indeed a member of The Babys how did you celebrate?
John: After I picked myself up off the floor – I floated around for a week, then started writing tunes for the album! No rest for the weary my friend!
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