In the music world, you’ll find lots of entertainers. You’ll also find some great songwriters, musicians, and singers. These days it’s extremely rare for any one person to have all of these qualities. However, singer/songwriter John Waite is one of those people. He’s a legendary performer with hit singles for two separate bands, as well as having numerous hit singles as a solo artist including the #1 smash hit “Missing You” from his “No Brakes” album. As a music journalist, I talk to a lot of musicians and rock stars, but you’re not likely to talk to anyone in the business who is as humble, friendly, and as honest as John Waite is. These same qualities come through in his songs and make him a truly unique artist with an incredible ability to connect with people through his thought-provoking lyrical content. When I first called John to set up the interview, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He was on a quite noisy, city bus filled with people, so we scheduled the interview for the next day and what followed is what I personally consider to be one of the best interviews of my career so far.
XS ROCK: So you just got back in LA, right? And you were on the bus when I first called?
John Waite: Yeah. I had to go into the office to sign some contracts. And it’s about a mile down the road. It’s a straight shot on the bus so I just got on with everybody else. I quite like the bus. Fights break out, and people talk to you. And the bus driver usually is pretty friendly. So, there’s always something going on the bus. You could write a full album about it.
XS ROCK: It’s reality TV just without the camera, right?
John Waite: Oh man, I’ve seen things on the bus. I was once going to, I don’t know where I was going, but I was wearing an Armani suit and I looked impeccable. I don’t know where I was going. I was going into Beverly hills for sure. And I got on the bus looking like something out of GQ but with taste and a fight actually broke out. This guy was out of his mind trying to pick up this girl. And I thought they were a couple, right? And then this other guy got in there and said, why don’t you leave her alone? And this guy went kind of like completely left, he was really out of it. I didn’t realize a full-scale fight broke out. I just sort of stood there watching this thing go down looking immaculate. But that’s life.
XS ROCK: Life in the city.
John Waite: Yeah. Life in L.A. for sure.
XS ROCK: So, you just released this new anthology, the Wooden Heart Acoustic Anthology, Complete recordings, volume 1, 2, and 3. Can you tell me a little bit about those songs and how long you’ve been working on this project? I think you’ve recorded the first part in 2014. Is that right?
John Waite: Yeah. Well, maybe it’s 2014. I thought it was 2015 but it could be. I cut four songs just because I really love those songs and I was going to make it into a full record but the guitar player couldn’t hang, he had places to go, Shane Fontayne usually gets into that kind of stuff. So, we cut four songs and he said look “I got to go”, and I’m going, yeah but hang on. But he had to go. And I thought about it for a couple of days. And I thought well they’re great. There are two Richard Thompson songs. There were two original songs. So, I put it out. It’s Wooden Heart. It was an EP. And we were doing a lot of unplugged dates. Well, they’re semi-unplugged. We have drums, and bass, and everything, but we stop and talk about songs. It’s an interesting evening. I went back to it a couple of years ago and it was like an anthology. It was like, Isn’t It Time, Missing You, some of the really dark songs like Downtown or In God’s Shadow. And a Donovan song that I cut in Wales a couple of years ago and put that out as Volume Two. And then with the pandemic lockdown, I went to the studio to cut an electric record and I had a lot of different players come in. Neil Giraldo (Pat Benatar) was helping out on keyboards. I had all these different players. And I couldn’t get the songs to work. I think that I’d been covering ground that I’ve done before. So, being in the studio I started cutting acoustic songs again. And it worked. It felt great. And I think I’m just more at home in these times with an acoustic guitar in my hand than an electric. If you give me an electric guitar and I’ve got a house full of them, I’ll start telling you what a great-looking guitar it is and what year it is and I’ll be sort of like looking at it and admiring it and wish I had two of them. But I won’t play it. But if you give me an acoustic guitar, I won’t look at it too much. I’ll just start playing it and I’ll write your song right there. So, that should tell you something about where I’m coming from. I think everything I have ever written that was any good, it’s on the acoustic. It’s just that these days I haven’t got the patience for something that doesn’t work.
XS ROCK: Well, these songs are great. I’m definitely impressed. The cover songs you chose were excellent. I like your spin on those things. To me, you’ve always been what I would consider an honest songwriter. Your lyrics are very honest, very down-to-earth. You write about subjects that most people can certainly relate to. Yeah, I think that makes for a really nice connection with your fans. But yeah, it’s just amazing. You’re a talented guy for sure but there’s some sort of underlying element there, I think you’re the sort of singer that exudes honesty in your lyrics along the lines of people like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, people in the past that had this interesting connection with their feelings and being able to communicate.
John Waite: Well, that’s very kind of you. And it’s great to hear that somebody thinks of me on the beam. But I think it’s about the truth. I think there’s business, and there’s writing pop songs, and writing songs to create money. And then there’s just that thing with the guitar where you’re talking to people and you’re trying to identify what you’re feeling. I mean, today I got out of bed and I put my robe on, had some coffee picked up a guitar because I’ve got a photo session tomorrow. And I wrote almost an entire song half asleep and the melody was, I never even thought about that melody. And that stuff lives in the ethereal, sort of like that Michelangelo painting in the Sistine Chapel where God’s going to touch somebody’s finger. And it’s the moment of connection. But it really is. You just pick it up and it speaks through you. But the generic thing, the pop thing, the rock thing, it’s just like filler to me. I’ve always tried to put a spin on things. And you recognize in other artists, I mean there’s a lot of artists that channel that but it’s the only place worth living. I mean I think when people hear a song like that, they respond. And you don’t make music to put in your back pocket and forget about. You’re trying to communicate with people. It’s a limited audience maybe but it’s a beautiful thing.
XS ROCK: Well, I think you have it right. I mean, from your perspective, certainly, you don’t write music, like you said, to put in your back pocket. But I think that’s the difference between what’s happening in the music industry today maybe versus what we saw previously over the years is that a lot of bands that are out there now or artists are simply trying to channel some sort of hit. And some of them can’t even play their own instruments. They record on a computer. I’m not knocking that but again it’s not so much about feeling for them as it is just trying to establish a hit song.
John Waite: I know it’s the music business. And I think there are musicians, and there are soulful people, and there are artists. And the people are very technically adept. And they borrow ideas, they have no real second thoughts about ripping something off. It’s business. And you go watch these people play and it’s a rehearsed thing and there are tapes playing and the singers lip-syncing. It’s a big bullshit arena rock thing. It’s heartbreaking to watch it. But if you become successful, the record company that you’re with, they have a board of investors that at the end of every year, the head of the company has to explain to them why they’re not making money. And his job is contingent on your success. So, once you become really kind of in that arena, you either make a choice to pull back and be an artist or you go into this thing, that’s the marketplace. It’s big business, man. It’s a huge business. I was very lucky when I was younger to have bonafide hits that I can go and play anywhere in the world. And then I had “Missing You”, which was like killer, but it enabled me to stop being part of that machine and simply go my own way. I might not sell a million records every time I put a record out or even 100,000, but I can do absolutely anything I want. And I feel so lucky to have had that chance to become that famous at that point and then go my own way. I mean, it’s great. When you create something that’s really good and you know it’s good, and there’s no point in being coy, you just know you’ve rung the bell, you hit a bull’s eye, you walk about half an inch taller. Everything’s bright and sunny, and positive, and life’s worth living and you’re in love and you sort of laugh more. You feel completely engaged in life. And if you’re just clocking in to write some arena rock crap, that’s the life you’re going to lead and you’re going to meet that kind of people that are there only for the same reason. So, your life becomes somebody else’s. It’s worthless, actually.
XS ROCK: Well, I do. I think that’s the difference. That’s what makes you a true artist. I loved to hear that. It’s great that, like you said, you were successful at the right time and that actually enabled you to, I guess, be more creative and take your own path the way you really wanted to do it. So, that’s fantastic. Let’s go back just a little bit. Let’s kind of do a brief tour of history here as we can. We’ll go back to The Babys. Actually, one of our readers had a question for you. She wanted to know what was going on in your life when you wrote the song, You (Got It)? Is it about someone specific?
John Waite: Yeah, it was about my girlfriend, we ended up getting married but I was in Hollywood. And we’ve got to, I think it was the third album and they weren’t writing anything. They weren’t really songwriters. They had great bits and pieces that I could piece together into songs. Left to my own devices I would go back to the acoustic guitar. I wrote that about my ex-wife. And it was a pretty erotic kind of love song to somebody. We still get requests for that. I mean the record company thought it wasn’t any good, but we still play it.
XS ROCK: It’s a great song. I like it.
John Waite: Yeah. Well, I mean it depends who’s listening to it still, after all these years. I’m toying with the idea of re-recording it for the next Wooden Heart album. It sounds intense when I look back at those songs how adult they were because I was only like 22 or 23.
XS ROCK: But you guys started really young.
John Waite: Yeah. But I think I hit the ground running. I kind of knew what I was doing.
XS ROCK: The songs have a maturity to them that’s beyond the age that you guys were, I think.
John Waite: Yeah, it’s true. I mean The Golden Mile was about an acid trip. Broken Heart was about living in Hollywood coming from Britain. California was about going home to my hometown broke after being abroad for a year and I’m wondering what hit me. And then things like Head Above The Waves was about my best friend when I was about 15. He went one way and I went the other. But I think since I was a little kid, I’ve always listened to lyrical stuff and read. I’ve always enjoyed other people’s work like Dylan, the great bands like The Band or whatever. And Humble Pie and the Small Faces. I was very lucky to be born into a generation where there were maybe a hundred bands. They were absolutely off the charts. And they didn’t sound like each other. So, it was like being in music school. I was really, really lucky with that.
XS ROCK: So, what ultimately led to the demise of The Baby’s as a band?
John Waite: Well, the record company, we just couldn’t get any bigger. And it was album to album tours. When we did Head First, the band broke up. We went back to a three-piece, Mike Corby got fired. And I wrote a couple of songs to push us to the next level. But we went on tour with two new band members Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips. And we had every radio station in America playing Head First. And then you put the radio on to AM and they were playing Every time I Think Of You. We were opening for Journey, Cheap Trick Styx, god knows what, and headlining everywhere else. But we were blasting. We were about to really happen. And we came back from the tour, just take a break and change clothes and the phone rang and it was the manager saying it’s time to make a new record. And that was the message. They just couldn’t do it. They couldn’t put the records in the stores. And I think we’d become a tax write-off. And that’s what I think happened. I don’t know why we stayed together after that because we couldn’t have got any bigger. I mean we toured for the next two years trying to catch it before it went away but I think we couldn’t make it happen with new records.
XS ROCK: Yeah. And with that timetable, I mean, do you think the songs suffered somewhat by having to try to do them quickly?
John Waite: Well, no, because the first three albums were made in a kind of lull then we were touring, but we were going back to the studio at a fairly leisurely pace. But after that, I stopped playing bass, which I think interfered with the band hugely. I mean, when you’re playing bass, you suggest chords and you can really keep control of the drummer. You can do all these things. But when I stopped playing bass, the style changed a little bit for the next album. But it was a good album. It was Midnight Rendezvous and Back On My Feet. They were both hits. But the original style returned more on the last album. They had the style of songwriting that I thought was more us. But you always try for something new. So, whatever it was, it was great. We had a great time when we were together. It just ran its course.
XS ROCK: Got you. Well, of course, your solo career jumped out to a really good start when you released your first album with Ignition. I remember MTV was playing Change, in heavy rotation just every time I turned it on. I’m serious.
John Waite: Me too. I was on a mattress on the floor in New York City watching on a little black and white TV and every time I turned it on there I was. MTV saved my ass. They were just the greatest people. I mean all those, Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman. I mean all those people were just great.
XS ROCK: Well, that brings me to one of my next questions, So, of course, everything changed when you hit your number one hit with Missing You, which is a classic song, everyone loves that song. And of course, you’re still widely known for that. In Nina Blackwood’s book, VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave, she stated that the song Missing You was about her. I was just curious if you could confirm or deny that statement?
Is your hit song “Missing You” written about MTV VJ Nina Blackwood?
John Waite: Yeah, it’s true. I mean it was about my wife at the time we were breaking up, and then there was a girl called Patty Forbes in New York City, and Nina. So, it was just kind of a story about the three women in my life. And she was one of them. So, I can’t deny it. It’s absolutely true.
XS ROCK: I guess you were just away from all of them.
John Waite: Yeah. I really was. I was in L. A. So, when I came back into America, I’d come over to sign contracts with EMI. And I was only supposed to be there for a week. I just stayed. I got introduced to the guitar player and we hit it off, and immediately started writing songs. And it was like Jesus Christ where did that come from? It was just like out of the blue and I was really ready. I mean I was ready. I mean some of the songs on the No Breaks record are just the best I ever wrote. Euroshima, and Saturday Night, Dreamtime, is was adult and hard-hitting. So, we just kept going. I called my bass player in New York, Donnie Nossov, and Gary Myrick the guitar player, had a drummer called Curly Smith. They were both from Texas. So, they had that kind of blues roots, kind of like real fiery thing going and very unorthodox players. And Donnie was such a great bass player who held it all together. But we had a great band. It was a three-piece band. And then I put keyboards on as an afterthought. But it was an easy album to make, great to be on EMI.
XS ROCK: So, just to step back one step for a minute, on Ignition, that album seems to be out of print. What’s going on with that album? Do you have any plans to re-release it?
John Waite: There’s a law saying that you have to return the masters to the artist after 35 years, I think it is, or something. But they actually gave me it back about two years ago and then changed their minds and took it back again. So, yeah, it went to court but they don’t care about it. Universal owns it. And their lawyers, it’s just money to them. They don’t care if they destroy something. They just don’t care.
XS ROCK: So, pretty much just tied up in limbo.
John Waite: Yeah. I mean, it’s a shame that somebody’s got control of your work.
XS ROCK: Sure.
John Waite: But it will never happen again. I mean The Baby’s stuff got re-released and re-mastered really badly, just somebody without any brains at all did it. But it wouldn’t occur to them to say, okay, we’ll give you some of it back if you master it and look out for it and select the tracks. But they wouldn’t even think that. They just want to make as much money as cheaply as they can. And like I say, for those people of that sort, they haven’t a fucking clue. They’re the weirdest, coldest, nasty, most spiteful people you could ever hope to avoid, really. They’re just bad news.
XS ROCK: Yeah. So, that’s really the line between music and the music business, obviously. And I hear that a lot, unfortunately. Most artists are going on their own these days and not dealing with large labels and things.
John Waite: It’s tough, you can’t do it. I mean you can’t actually be an artist unless you’re like Bruce Springsteen or something that you’re already in that 2% that you’re so big, nobody’s going to fuck with you. But if you sign a contract now, they’re looking at you like how many years you’ve got in you? Will you do what you’re told? Can they have all your merchandise on the road? It’s called a 360 deal. When they see you coming now they really take everything. They’re not even polite about it or pretend it’s not about that. It’s a rough, rough, nasty business for young artists.
XS ROCK: Yeah. And I hear that, like I said, most of the advice that I get from seasoned musicians like yourself when I asked them what advice they give young musicians, Don’t do it, Don’t tie up with the label.
John Waite: Yeah, you can get a lawyer. If you go into the lawyer and he’s a good one, then you have a good manager that’s going to protect you. But a lot of them are after your money. It’s pretty sordid. It’s just what it is. But like I said, I was very lucky and I do very well away from that.
XS ROCK: I mean, while your solo career continued on after No Breaks with great albums. I mean Mask Of Smiles, Rover’s Return. And you did that and then you kind of went back to the band gig again, with Bad English, which in a way you had a little bit of The Babys reunion in there with Jonathan and Ricky. How was that? You scored a number one hit again too, which is truly amazing. I mean you go from The Babys who were successful and then a solo career over the top with the number one hit. And then you come back with Bad English and do it again with When I See You Smile. So, it’s really fantastic to see you do well in a band setting and you do well on your own.
John Waite: But the record company too, Epic was like built, built to kill. It’s like being at the helm of a battleship. You’d sort of like turn around and it’s next year. Or Polly Anthony, the late great Polly Anthony, you know what I mean? These people were absolutely the best in the business and we made a pretty great record. It was like pulling teeth sometimes because there was that thing about let’s just be mainstream. It’s like Journey or something, but I kept pulling it back into a darker place and you have songs like Forget Me Not which was based on the Anne Rice books, I mean but it gave us more substance and so it took a long time to make the record. There’s a lot of compromises, but that’s what a great record should be, really.
XS ROCK: Sure.
John Waite: But I think everybody was pulling to make it a great record. And that’s what made it one to remember.
XS ROCK: How did you guys get together as a group? I mean I’m assuming it probably started maybe with Jonathan and Ricky and you but I mean how did you pair up with Neal Schon?
John Waite: My manager Trudy Green walked me into Epic. I met the A&R guy and it was just like when I met Polly Anthony and I told him it’s all these big names. And the label was great. And I thought man I’m finally home, this is really good. I’ve just come from EMI which is really a wonderful company but they’ve changed now. But here I am on Epic. And then the A&R guy started telling me that I couldn’t write songs. And I thought, oh no, I had my feet on his desk at one point.
XS ROCK: How surreal. Did you pull out Missing You and say this was number one on the charts? But, I can’t write?
John Waite: I know, but he’s an A&R guy so his job is to find writers and songs and the same thing, the corporate thing, without doing that, he hasn’t got a job. So, I’m looking at this guy and I’m thinking, he’s quite a nice guy, but he’s going to make my life hell. And I thought what if I do a band? I left the office with my manager Trudy Green. And as we’re walking down Madison Avenue, I said, look why don’t I do a band? We’ll put a supergroup together and it’ll knock everybody out and I won’t have to deal with this A&R guy. I’ll have to deal with four or five people. It’s going to be fantastic. And she looked at me and said, really? And I started looking for a guitar player and I just couldn’t find one. I really couldn’t. I went all over. I went to England. I went to all the places that I can remember that a lot of musicians hung out in America. In the end, Trudy said go and talk to Jonathan Cain. I said, but he’s not a guitar player. She said, well, just give it a shot. It doesn’t matter.
So, I talked to Jonathan went to see him and we started around a couple of songs and it seemed to work. And then Neal came by and put guitar on it. And then we needed the bass player. So, we’re talking to Ricky and Ricky came in. And then one day, as we were rehearsing just trying out drummers, and Neal came in with Deen (Castronovo) . Deen had been at the club the night before and actually it was a funny story, Deen just played like fusion music for about an hour and I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t do anything with it. And every time we went there and he would go to it was like oh Christ, where’s the melody? Come on. And so he didn’t get the job. He didn’t get the job. I can’t deal with this guy, he’s crazy. And Neal talked to him and he came back about four days later. It was so great. He was just nervous. He was a kid. He was about 23. It was a big deal for him to be in that kind of company. But he really hit it hard, really great the second time. And there was no question about who was going to be in the band. That was it.
XS ROCK: Wow. So, this sort of happened almost a happy accident?
John Waite: Yeah, everything. I mean just everything. It was supposed to be a solo deal. And then the A&R guy looked like he was going to be trouble. So, that turned into a band and then we got back. It’s just like the river running to a sea. It was just like it’s going to be this. It’s going to be everything, get on board.
XS ROCK: That’s so interesting. I guess I’ve never heard that story before. I always wondered why, when you had such a successful solo career why you would go back into that band situation.
John Waite: I’ve told that story a few times. I mean that’s really what happened.
XS ROCK: And clearly it works. I mean, a number one single came out of it.
John Waite: So, that’s the thing about it. You always make something work. I mean even if the house is on fire, you go inside to rescue the piano. It’s like you always try and make something work if it’s going wrong. And if you’ve got any imagination at all, there’s nothing you can’t solve, really. You just take a deep breath, and think about what’s wrong with this picture and fix it. If you’re willing to bend with the wind, you can make just about anything happen on your own terms.
XS ROCK: So, how did the band ultimately break up with Bad English?
John Waite: Well, it was just me and Jonathan Cain just couldn’t get on. I mean honestly, even when Journey was successful, he wasn’t that friendly. He was always leaving early and coming late, He was a very difficult person to get on with. And in the end, I just said fuck it. We were in the studio and it was just awful. I mean it was just like pulling teeth. We haven’t written any songs that worked. We’d gone back in too soon. And the producer was just not the right man. And the band just fell apart. I just got up and left. I mean I really hung in there for as long as I could. I was working 18 hours a day on songs and singing. And I come in the studio and it would be like stony silence. There’s just like this political bullshit. So, I just turned around and left.
XS ROCK: So, tell me a little bit about your musical inspirations over the years. Who really inspired you to want to start to be a musician originally?
John Waite: Well, my cousin Michael was a great banjo player, great guitar player. He played me Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, a lot of skiffle music, and Blues, Country. I was only about six, but I was his favorite cousin. He was about 15 then, 16. He took me under his wing. He was at art school and showed me all about painting. I went to Art school after that.
XS Rock: Yeah. He must have been a huge influence on you in more ways than one.
John Waite: Yeah, it was fantastic. I mean he was like a really Bohemian guy. He was living with my grandmother because they kicked him out of his parents’ house. He was just like a really wild kid but he was such a beautiful guy and still is. He is a great painter but a really gifted musician. Somewhere around the age of 11, my brother turned into a guitar player and a really, really, really gifted guitar player. There was a telecaster up against the bed. I was always around music. Those guys, the two of those had a tremendous influence on me. They made it accessible. Instead of seeing a guitar in a shop, I had my hands on them. I could tinker with them and listen to them and look at catalogs of guitars. I was listening to Blues music, Country and Western, a lot of Western music. I love Marty Robbins that was huge to me as a kid, Marty Robbins. And songs like Ghost Riders in the Sky. How could you not love that when you’re six? It’s all cowboys and Indians. It’s rock and roll wherever we went. Yeah.
XS Rock: Well, which one of your songs specifically not a cover song but one that maybe you’ve written, do you feel would be like a good theme song for your life so far.
John Waite: Well there’s one called Masterpiece of Loneliness. I wrote in Nashville about 10 years ago and I thought that was beautiful. It’s about a guy coming home to an empty house and painting a picture. Well, it’s a little sad but you can’t be afraid of that. It’s like I was deep into country music at the time and it was a long time ago but the artistry of having a plot inside a song, a story, and the thing about the painting and the solitariness of a house, an emptiness in the house, and in the kitchen light. When you flip the switch, the kitchen lights always too bright.
XS Rock: Sure.
John Waite: That’s pretty lonely. I got that in there too. It really spoke to me I thought I’d rung a bell, I thought that was it but there’s Bluebird Cafe too and Downtown. It’s very dark. It’s about drugs and the end of the road really but Downtown was a very good song too I thought.
XS Rock: Yeah and again we discussed this earlier but you write about subjects that I think people can relate to. I mean almost sort of an audio cinematic version, I mean. I think most people, certainly before music videos, would put these images in our heads of what we were listening to.
John Waite: Yeah.
XS Rock: It makes it personal for each person and your lyrics have a tendency to pull that out. I link things together in my mind, a lot of time I think about things and images, from my own personal life from the lyrics in your songs.
John Waite: You paint emotion into the songs, into the poetry with chords, but it isn’t poetry and sometimes the cinematic thing is wonderful. I do see things in a cinematic way when I’m writing. I do have a scene in my head and a location and a person. I definitely have that and I’m glad you saw that.
Everything I paint is figurative which is interesting. There’s always got to be a human figure. I think that might relate to the fact that a lot of the songs are in the first person. If it’s not figurative, what is it? It’s just impressionism. There is a relation between the painting and the figurative work and the first person in the songs. That’s a good point.
XS Rock: What musicians would you like to collaborate with that you have not at this point if you have a chance?
John Waite: Well, there’s a lot. I admire a lot of people and their work. It moves me so I just listen and stand back. I think working with Alison Krauss was, I didn’t see that coming.
XS Rock: Yeah, it was great though.
John Waite: Yeah, but I was in Nashville. I’d been in Nashville for a couple of years. I revered Alison’s work and the Union Station. She was the highest note in Bluegrass. She was authentic. I just casually asked if she would be interested and she immediately said yes. We started a relationship of years together and it was absolutely- I didn’t see it coming. It was just like bang! but that was real, there’s only a couple of times in your life you should be doing that. A lot of artists go and work with incredibly famous singers and it’s like an album of duets and look at me, I’m as good as this person but it’s not about that, There’s an emotional engagement between two people that’s almost physical. It’s like with a woman, it’s almost a sexual thing. It’s like when you look at her and you think I understand you. I get who you are and then you’re going to do something together that’s just off the charts. If you’re just looking for somebody who propels a single, I think you’re just going to come up with the usual big record company product.
XS Rock: Yeah.
John Waite: I think working with Alison was enough. I think unless somebody came into my life, knocked on my door and looks me in the eyes, and said let’s go, I’d probably just do it. Yeah.
XS Rock: How about someone from the past that has passed away. There are lots of great musicians. Is there somebody you would have loved the opportunity to have worked with?
John Waite: Well. Yeah. Good God. I mean there’s Jimi Hendrix and there’s B.B. King. I mean there are so many people, just genius people and they’re no longer with us. I never thought about that about going back in the time machine but Hendrix? I think Jimi Hendrix was about as good as anything ever. He was almost God like.
XS Rock: Hendrix revolutionized everything. He completely put everything on it’s head.
John Waite: Yeah, he really did. 2-foot pedals and a standard American Stratocaster. You know what I mean? He could tap the neck of his guitar and make it sound like waves. He died at 27 and there’s a reason for that. People that luminous can’t possibly live into midlife. They just die.
XS Rock: You can’t. Yeah, exactly. It’s like a fireball. You just can’t continue at that level. Right?
John Waite: Yeah.
XS Rock: Tell me a little bit about your creative process. What’s that like? When you’re writing lyrics, do you just sit down and take time out just to do that, or do you just jot down notes? Do they come to you?
John Waite: I make it all up except this morning when I get out of bed with the robe on. I had this theme that I was thinking about and I have no idea where it comes from. It always helps to be half asleep or not looking for it. I do, I collect notebooks. I’m looking at 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, eight blank notebooks! that I bought, brought back from New York City. I just like to look at them so I bought them and a box of my favorite pens, but my house is full of notebooks and lyrics pinned on the wall. If I’m reading a book, I would underline and line here and there that’s just beautiful or something.
But when I pick up the guitar, it’s only my subconscious and I very rarely refer to the notebooks. I seem to have it all stored in my head. It’s like with Missing You, it came out almost in one piece and I wasn’t looking for that. If you look for it, it won’t work. That’s the ironic part. It’s like a woman, if you take a woman for granted, then she starts to ignore you, and then she’ll leave you. Your muse is like that. If you think, “Oh muse come over here. I need you here.” It doesn’t come. It’s something you have to play with them and flirt with them, and almost be in love with. If it’s like a shadow… you take it everywhere you go, but you don’t introduce it as, this is my shadow, but it’s just part of your world. It will always be there. If you treat it with a kind of acknowledgment without introducing it, it’s your deepest most personal part. Actually, it’s your feminine side, is what it is.
XS Rock: In touch with your emotions?
John Waite: Yeah, I know. but it’s true. It’s the part that’s sensitive, that’s full, that’s compassionate or that’s passionate or whatever but it’s certainly the feminine side of men. If we don’t have a problem, we’ve got a problem, but that’s where it lives.
XS Rock: I never thought about it that way but it certainly makes sense because like as the guy, typically there’s a tendency to push that sort of thing away.
John Waite: Yeah, exactly but I mean that’s why there are so few great male artists.
XS Rock: Yes. True. You have a lot of accomplishments obviously throughout your career. What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment so far?
John Waite: Oh my God. Alison (Kraus) invited me to the Opry and I went. I took my band, me and Allison played “Missing You” and then Vince Gill came out. We did “Whenever You Come Around”, which I had recorded a couple of years before, but Vince was there that night, he came out and played guitar. I’ve played in front of 100,000 people and I’ve played to three. I’ve run the gamut in my life but that was a powerful night for me to be there. I mean this is just before Country really kicked in, it was still kind of odd for me to be there. I mean Alison introduced me to that world and they embraced me. It was really something. I was incredibly moved.
XS Rock: On the country side of things, I mean that’s the pinnacle. I mean being part of The Grand Olde Opry is incredible.
John Waite: I knew it. Before I went on stage, It was like I was nervous, I really was. I didn’t know what to look at or what to do with my hands and I was just like, Oh my God.
XS Rock: Wow. In a way that’s kind of neat that after all these years of performing and everything that something can still bring about that kind of feeling for you.
John Waite: Well if you’re aware of what’s going on. I mean Hank Williams, I’m reading a new book on Hank. I’ve always been intrigued by Hank Williams. This is a new book. I just picked this up in a second-hand bookshop. It’s called Hank and it’s The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams. It is by Mark Ribowsky. It is very well written. There’s a guy called Colin Escott who wrote a couple of books that I read in the past and there are some famous people going in Hank’s life, but this is particularly good. It’s written really very direct. You might want to check it out.
XS Rock: Yeah. He was such an amazing guy. My Dad was a huge fan of Hank Williams. He was kind of rock and roll before rock n’ roll existed.
John Waite: I think before Elvis, before any of it. He was like from nowhere. I mean he was born in a shack. He didn’t really have a dad for a lot of his life. He had spina bifida. It’s just an incredible life for him but when you look at the fact that he was such a renegade and that he was so out of control. I mean, again he was burning in such a bright way. There was no way Hank was going to live a long life. You take Hank into a bar and he’d have one beer and then he’d start telling people, you know he was going to kick their ass and stuff. He was absolutely out of control but how could you write Mansion on the Hill or I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry or Kaw-Liga or Jambalaya or Settin’ the Woods on Fire or Tennessee Border. How could you possibly write all that stuff and not be that kind of person?
XS Rock: Yeah.
John Waite: I think that’s brilliant. The brilliance comes with a lot of danger but he exemplified to me the absolute original, the rock and roll rebel.
XS Rock: Yeah, absolutely. Before anybody else like you said before Elvis.
John Waite: Yeah.
XS Rock: Tell me a little bit about John Waite, the artist. When I say the artist, I mean I’m referring to you as a painter or other art mediums. Most of what I’ve seen that you’ve done have been self-portraits but what else do you like to draw?
John Waite: I’m working on a really big canvas at the moment on a boxer. I’m thinking of doing a project that’s going to be a musical project about boxing. I ran upstairs and got this huge canvas that I bought in a junk store and painted over it. I got to work and I’m halfway through it but anything could be good, anything at all. I was trying to be an illustrator and I was going to illustrate books, again figurative work. The self-portrait thing is almost like a lighthearted sort of self-portrait kind of cartoon for if you want to hang one in your bathroom or in your den or if somebody’s a fan out there they can pick it up for a couple of 100 bucks and it’s an original piece of art. It’s not like life and death, but there is some of the stuff up there that’s on my site that is pretty serious.
I do tend to do the selfie thing on people’s albums. If they’ve been outside a gig and they couldn’t get in or for the lifelong fans and stuff, I’d always spend a minute or two talking to them. I’d always do a small cartoon on whatever they were carrying. It meant a bit more if they got something out of the evening. Then people were ringing up and emailing and saying can you get me one, will you do me one? I thought well I’ll just I’ll put like 10 of them up on the Internet and sell them. We have sold nearly $50,000 worth of cartoons. It works. I’m kind of the point where you’re doing cartoons of yourself where you turn into a cartoon. haha! It’s like we will do it but it’s still fun. I’ll probably do it after a year or so before I really just say thanks for the memories. It’s good fun to see somebody light up when you get something like that. It’s a big deal for them.
XS Rock: It’s cool. I mean it looks like you.
John Waite: Yeah I know but it’s a cartoon. It’s personalized. What it is, is an extremely elaborate autograph but yeah but it’s a nice keepsake. There’s a guy in Connecticut who has bought 20 of them. He’s got a portrait of Patti Smith I did and Eric Satie. I did a really good Eric Satie and he got that too. It’s not just a selfie thing. It’s like he was going for the stuff that was different.
XS Rock: It’s really good. I mean I appreciate that. I appreciate good artwork when I see it and you definitely are multi-talented. For anyone that doesn’t know you, John, what would they be surprised to know about you?
John Waite: That I’m a wonderful human being?
XS Rock: Well you definitely have this incredible sense of humor. I was having a chat with you yesterday. When I talked to you just briefly before we set up this interview, you are just a fun guy to talk to you.
John Waite: Oh well that’s good. There’s this documentary “ The Hard Way “, it’s now being edited, and it’s the story of my life. There’s a major movie coming out in about six or seven months. I got the same questions. Somebody asked me the same questions. Who are you? I just said you tell me, I don’t know. I mean you’re on the outside; I’m on the inside. I’m not promoting a logo. I have no idea how you find me. Different people see you differently.
XS Rock: Absolutely, just like the songs. We all have a personal connection to a lot of the lyrics.
John Waite: That’s a great point. That’s exactly right. It’s extremely subjective.
XS Rock: It’s in the eye of the beholder.
John Waite: Philosophically, every single person you meet in your life sees a different version of you and I couldn’t agree more. How could I possibly explain myself?
XS Rock: Do you have a new solo album coming out again? Is that correct? Are you working on it?
John Waite: I’m working on it. I have a cassette player with 30 songs of 30 choruses and verses just ideas that I have in the middle of the night and put down and that’s an album. It’s a full album. I’m getting closer and closer to just booking studio time and going in and put in a song a day, just putting the tracks down and then having it. That would take maybe two or three weeks and it’ll be a new album.
XS Rock: Wow. You’re getting closer in the demo stage?
John Waite: The demos won’t exist. It’s just me after a glass of wine or me at three in the morning waking up with the guitar and it’s just little snippets of songs, but I can go in the studio, count them off and arrange them as I go. I think that all I have to do is go in the studio but getting this Wooden Heart album out was very important with the lockdown. I just wanted to get something out to people.
XS Rock: Yeah sure.
John Waite: We are doing gigs. We are doing a gig in three weeks. We are playing in some gigantic private event and at the moment we had another gig coming this morning. We’re going to Holland in October. That’s right.
XS Rock: It does seem to be improving. I do think the situation in most places, obviously, other parts of the world are having the largest problems still with the pandemic. Here in the US and UK, it seems to be kind of maybe turning the corner. I know that’s been kind of back and forth, but a lot of Europe seems to be kind of stabilizing at this point. I think so. I would assume for, and again I’m only making assumptions, I would think that you would love to get back out on the road to get that immediate feedback and connection.
John Waite: It is another thing. It is a two-sided coin. I mean I know the first gig we play, I’ll be like something unleashed. I mean I’ll be very focused seriously; I think it’s going to be tremendous. We are going to record a lot of it because I think it’s going to be really fiery. I think there’s a live album in there to be got. I mean when you go through something really harrowing. I lost my dad about 12 years ago and it certainly changed how I sang. We made a live album around that time and you can really tell that I just developed into something else. I mean you have this thing like you can’t speak to people for a year and then you’re in a crowded room. It’s bound to be an exciting period.
XS Rock: Yeah, I just recently started getting out more frequently. I have both of the COVID vaccine shots and literally went from seeing maybe a maximum of 10 people over the last year to being in a crowd of 100 to maybe 1000 people. It’s a little overwhelming at first but it’s exhilarating at the same time.
John Waite: Yeah. Absolutely. I just got back from New York City. I went there just to take some time a couple of weeks just to go home really, that’s home for me. I was just like walking down Park Avenue and looking at buildings and people coming out of doorways and delivery guys and girls. Times Square is still kind of busy but everywhere else, it’s just like it was in the 80s. It’s not really full. It’s beautiful. It was a nice way to ease back into that but I think if I walked into Heathrow airport and it was jammed, I might have an anxiety attack and you’re just looking at them, “Jesus Christ.” I’m looking forward to going out and play for sure.
XS Rock: Yeah. I mean there’s something about that when you first get back out into the area. It’s nice. Your brain triggers that yes, the world is still here. All of this happens but at the same time it’s almost foreign; if you’ve been a little more confined over that time period.
John Waite: Yeah, it’s not for everyone.
XS Rock: I guess in closing, what would you like to say directly. I’m going to give you an opportunity. I usually do this during my interviews. What would you like to say directly to your fans out there?
John Waite: Well I know it’s a little sentimental but like I said, thanks to everyone that stuck with me through the ups and downs and the twists and turns. I enjoyed it as much as I hope you did and it’s not over yet. I’d like to see you soon.
John Waite: I have to say I didn’t expect this. I mean you’re a good interviewer. I mean I really enjoyed talking to you.
XS Rock: Thanks! I was looking forward to interviewing you.
John Waite: Thank you. Your questions were really good and you were insightful. I think that brought out a lot. I talked about stuff like life being in art and figure in music and that was completely out of the back of my mind. It was interesting. You’re very good at what you do.
XS Rock: Well thank you. I’ll take that as an extreme compliment coming from you. I appreciate that greatly.
John Waite: Make that check out to cash. ha ha! have a great day.
XS Rock: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today.
John Waite: You too. Bye!
Visit John Waite at his Official Site and Social Sites:
Official John Waite Site: http://www.johnwaiteworldwide.com/
Get John’s Latest Album (also available autographed) right here: http://www.johnwaiteworldwide.com/online-store/
Photo credits: Jay Gilbert