JOHN WAITE: BEAUTY IN IMPERFECTION
From The Babys to Bad English and beyond, singer looks back on 40 years while searching for purity
By Keith Valcourt — Special to The Washington Times –
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
For most artists the pre-show backstage waiting can be a tortuous affair full of pacing and anxious anticipation. Not John Waite. Already in his well-tailored stage suit, the English singer sits calmly, speaking in hushed tones about his storied 40 years in rock and roll.
It started in the 1970s as lead singer of The Babys, arguably one of the most underrated rock bands of that decade. A stellar solo career of hits followed that included “Change,” “If Anybody Had a Heart” and the megahit “Missing You.”
In the mid-‘90s Mr. Waite reteamed with former Babys cohorts Jonathan Cain (also of Journey) and Ricky Phillips (now in Foreigner) to form Bad English. That group released two albums and the No. 1 single “When I See You Smile.”
Today he transforms from soft-spoken Brit into a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll icon with voice still in prime form. Before his tour stops at Tin Pan in Richmond, Virginia, Wednesday and AMP by Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland, Thursday, he spoke about purity in song, the joys of touring and why the imperfect is perfect.
Question: What keeps you motivated to keep making music for 40 years?
Answer: Well, it’s what I do. I started off wanting to be a painter but it wasn’t fast enough. I couldn’t get the thoughts out as quickly as I wanted on the canvas. Singing worked faster. It was a lot more spontaneous and there was a lot more honesty in it. I wasn’t going to change the world with anything I was painting or drawing.
When you’re young you have this wild ambition to leave your mark, to make something that counts. I did with music.
Q: Who inspired you?
A: I found that listening to people like Neil Young, who isn’t really what you would call a “singer’s singer.” He was faulted. Neil Young had a big effect on my decision to go into music and be a singer.
Q: What was it about his music that drew you in?
A: Partly because it was acoustic. But the voice [was flawed] and there was an edge to it. It was a new thing. In a lot of ways punk rock had its sort of genesis in Neil Young. And I knew it. It appealed to the artist in me.
Q: Are the imperfections where you find the beauty?
A: I think so. When I first came to work in a studio with producers, they would tear the music apart, cut the instruments separately. You would wind up trying to sing over a track. I had no idea what they were trying to get at. Other than take all the soul out of everything. A slight imperfection in a groove is where the humanity is. Imperfections are key. If something is esthetically perfect it stops having meaning.
Read the rest of the interview here.