By Tad Dickens – The Roanoke Times
Certain singers pass through town for a concert, and later, the chatter begins. They had to drop the song down a couple of keys to hit the high notes, some say. He really struggled with pitch in his upper register, others notice.
For John Waite, whose high vocals were at the center of such songs as the No. 1 hit “Missing You,” that apparently is not an issue. Waite said that his range has remained as good as it was when he topped the pop charts and had videos on MTV in the 1980s.
“My voice has sort of improved as I got older,” Waite said. “I don’t even really warm up. I don’t sing backstage. I just tend to drink a bottle of water and look at my watch. It’s a natural thing for me.
“I’m sure it’s got more tone in it. As you get older, you tend to acquire more character. Some of the earlier records, it just sounds so high and young. Now it sounds high and powerful, if I can say that without giving myself a compliment.”
He coughed some during a July 8 interview from Las Vegas, where he was scheduled to do a show. He said he was fighting a cold, but his voice would come around by show time. This, despite the fact that the longtime smoker still has a couple of cigarettes per day.
“It’s a mystery to me,” Waite, 64, said. “That’s the short answer. I really don’t understand any of it. It’s just there.”
Find out for yourself on Sunday, when Waite opens for Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo at Elmwood Park Amphitheater. Add Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” “Love Is A Battlefield” and other big hits to Waite’s set of songs from his career with The Babys, Bad English and solo, and you have a wide selection of smash hits from the 1980s.
The lineup has done a fair amount of shows together in the past couple of years, Waite said.
“They’ve been phenomenal,” he said of the concerts. “Neil comes out and plays with us at the end, and it’s really a great time. We’ve really had fun with that.
“They’re good people. The crew is great. They’re professional and very positive, the crew and the band. They’re very nice people.”
Waite first saw success in the 1970s as a member of English pop-rockers The Babys, playing bass and singing on the hits “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I Think Of You.” After a solo effort, “Ignition,” and single “Change” fared relatively poorly, Waite was ready to give up. He moved back to England.
“I thought, that was a fantastic life,” he said. “Little did I know within a year I’d be back in America and I’d record ‘Missing You,’ and everything went into high gear.”
Superstardom with that massive pop hit wasn’t everything Waite wanted. He was far more interested in making records and performing than concentrating on his career.
“The showbiz thing doesn’t really interest me on that level,” he said. “I’m still very much about the art of it. And literature, too.”
Through solo work, then later with ex-Journey members Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain in Bad English, he found the spotlight interfered with creativity.
“I sort of did what I had to do to get through it. But it was pretty patchy. I was always trying to back away.”
Not that he’s bitter about it.
“When you’re young it’s fun, and you like experiencing it,” he said. “You’re only going to get that once. But I did really enjoy sort of pacing it.”
He still gets calls from guitarists and bands wanting him to step in and “be the guy,” he said. And he feels certain he could get on the phone and have a major label record deal within a half hour.
“I just don’t want it,” he said. “It’s worthless to me. You just always try and do good work. That’s the stuff. I’m lucky that ‘Missing You’ was such a big single and it’s a good song. There’s other stuff, like [the Bad English song] ‘When I See You Smile,’ that was No. 1, that really isn’t such a great song.”
Waite is grateful for the work and considers money from concerts or record sales to be a bonus. Even the recognition is OK. He looks pretty much the same as he did back then, so he gets recognized a good deal.
“And I try to be as attentive and kind as I can,” he said. “I met Pete Townsend once. And wound up going on stage with him. I met Steve Marriott once in New York and wound up going on stage with him, and he actually spent like the next three hours with me talking about music.
“It’s never been wasted on me that when someone you really respect turns around and looks you in the eye and talks to you, it means a great deal. So I try to take that part of it very seriously. I don’t try and sort of fly above it all, even though I try to stay on the outside of the spotlight. Pretty weird, right?
“Some people really like the attention, but after a while, I stay in. It’s nice to be recognized, nice to be appreciated. But I think you can live through that without playing the star.”