When I asked singer John Waite in 2013 why he wasn’t part of the Babys reunion, he gave me a very direct answer without a shred of bitterness or regret. “I wouldn’t want to give up the direction I’ve gone in,” he said matter-of-factly. “the Babys will always be a part of me because I was writing a great deal of their songs. But they had a sound that they initiated. Wally and Tony were great together. They were the Babys. They deserve every success in the world. I wish them the best.”
A rather refreshing take when you consider the scores of bands who have been less than amicable during a parting of the ways. For the Babys, together again after 34 years and spearheaded by original lead guitarist Wally Stocker and drummer Tony Brock, the harmony extends beyond the 12 songs comprising their 2014 album, I’ll Have Some Of That!. Along with new lead vocalist and bassist John Bisaha and rhythm guitarist Joey Sykes, the Babys are excited about their future and ready to pick up from where they left off.
In 2013, they played a handful of shows to get warmed up and gauge their bearings. Bisaha, who was brought up on the Babys, effortlessly slipped in the frontman role, allowing the rest of the band to reel off “Isn’t It Time,” “Every Time I Think of You,” “Head First,” “Back on My Feet Again,” and “Midnight Rendezvous.” Audiences who witnessed these shows were ecstatic at how tight and solid the band sounded. Making a new record seemed the next logical step to take, and the result is I’ll Have Some Of That!. Just prior to the new album’s release, I spoke to Wally Stocker and Tony Brock. We talked about where the Babys have been, what they’re doing now, and where they’re going. Highlights from those conversations are condensed and edited below for your reading pleasure.
So The Babys are back with a new record. I know you did some shows last year, but let’s go back a little before that. What was the motivation behind re-forming the band?
Wally: Tony and I had been really kicking the idea around for quite a few years. He was off busy doing his thing, producing and playing the drums and we’d always keep in contact. From time to time, we’d throw the idea around.
Tony: We wanted to do one more album that put us right on top. We felt like it was all unfinished, you know. It was just something that we’d been trying to do for years, and we’d been asking John Waite to come back and see if we could re-form. But, of course, he’s got his own project going, which is understandable. He basically didn’t want to revisit the Babys.
Wally: I said, “If John doesn’t want to do it, we’re going to have to find a singer that’s going to have to replace John. We can’t just go with a John Waite sort of lookalike clone, you know, sort of become a karaoke band of ourselves. If we can find the right singer that can pull off The Babys songs but still have his own sort of charisma and his own style, yeah, let’s shoot for it.” So, that’s really where we started, looking for a lead singer. We went through the process of auditioning many great singers, but we finally settled on John Bisaha and we probably brought him back at least half a dozen times just to be sure, and he fit in really well — his personality, his charisma and especially his voice. He had been a big Babys fan any way all of his musical career, and he was actually a big fan of John Waite. There we were. We finally found ourselves a singer and, you know, that was really the starting point of this whole sort of reinventing ourselves.
I get the impression it really took someone like John Bisaha to come along and make you guys move on this. Because you had tried it before, but obviously you needed a singer there, right?
Tony: I was lucky enough to play with Rod Stewart for 12 years and play with Jeff Beck and people like that. So my career and my production career as well has always stayed there. So it’s just that there’s something in our blood that just needs to finish this Babys thing off, you know, and feel great about it. And I think doing it this way is not going backwards, basically. I don’t think it’s going backwards. By doing a new Babys album everything’s fresh and brand new. John Bisaha, we got him in. Once he was in, then we knew we had a really good lineup and we got Joey Sykes in on guitar, who’s a good songwriter as well and sings, and John plays bass, which is the same as our original lineup — which is what I was trying to get to The first original lineup with the four of us, that was the best, that was the best there ever was — before we started stretching out and doing more Americana kind of music.
Were last year’s shows mostly to see if it would actually work?
Tony: Yeah, it was kind of a James Brown test — where you put your foot in the hot tub, “Ow! Too hot!” We did a few shows. We did release as single, “Not Ready.” It was kind of a giveaway to test the waters and everything. And when we did the shows, our audience has stayed with us. We still had the girls crying in the front and the guys saying, “It’s about time you did this.”
Wally: Everything went so well — you know, old fans, new fans. I mean, places were packed. They were singing along; they knew the lyrics. Everybody had a good time. That really made us feel like it was good to be back. They made us feel so welcome. At that point, we knew that, even after all this time, our fans had stuck with us and they were so loyal. It was all sort of very humbling. Then I think we kind of knew that we should pursue this even more. At that point, we were just doing some shows and getting our feet wet and just getting the name back out there. Obviously we knew that without John Waite it was going to be a tough ride for our new singer, but he was up for the challenge and so were we. He’s come through it with flying colors and he’s got his own little fan base himself. Babys fans have really sort of accepted him as the Babys new lead singer, and now it’s just full steam ahead.
How important was it for this reunion to work and have new music behind it? Was that part of the motivation, to write new music and play new music out live?
Wally: We’ve witnessed other bands that have re-formed and maybe replacing one or two people within the band or maybe their lead singer. Journey, for an example. But we weren’t just re-forming the band and going out like you say and just doing the circuit and playing the old catalog. We were looking further down the road than that and actually had already started writing songs together as a band with a new album in mind. There’s nothing better than when you’re doing live shows where you can go out and promote a new product. We thought the best way would be to get some new material out there, introduce the new band and hopefully, you know, it would sort of escalate from there. We didn’t really want to just fall into that just doing the circuit, round and round the country all year, without some new material out there. We owed it to the fans to get them something new after all this time. So that was in mind from the very beginning but we had to sort of take one step at a time. But our ultimate goal was to get some new material out there. As you know, the new single is out now and the album will be out in about a month’s time. So we’re really pumped about that. We’re very excited about that. It kind of inspires you to move forward when you’ve got something new out there as opposed to just relying on the old catalog, even though people still want to hear those songs. That’s been part of the process all along. When we first started, you write the songs, you rehearse them, you record them and you go out and tour with them and promote them. So, you know, we like doing it that way and we felt to get a new product out there was really in our best interest. We didn’t want to fall in with the crowd and just do the circuit for the sake of doing it. I’m very proud of the new record and it’s kind of exciting after all this time to actually have something new out from the Babys.
On I’ll Have Some Of That, you’ve got a great variety of rockers and power ballads. And I imagine, because Tony has his hand in the production, that’s why the drums sound so awesome.
Tony: Oh thank you. I appreciate that. You know, the drum sounds and Wally’s guitar sound have always been in the forefront of the Babys since day one, so I wanted to keep it that way. I did a lot of the drumming; I play for the song rather than show off as a drummer. I’m pretty proud of the way it sounds and the songs, and we didn’t have a lot of time to put it together, which probably didn’t give us much time to think about things too much so we can try and it ends up if you start thinking about it too much, you mess it up.
Wally, Babys songs always have those hooky riffs coming from your guitar, and of course this record is just full of them. “Sunrise & Goodbyes,” “Grass is Greener,” “You Saved My Life,” “It’s a Gas,” “Stay the Night” — those are just some of them. Are riffs something that you’ve been stockpiling all these years?
Wally: Some of them are brand-new songs. Some of the songs, Tony and I wrote quite a few years ago actually. When we had time and we would get together, and just the musical tracks, you know, just having some fun. When it came time to record this record, I said to Tony, “You know, I’ve got some old cassette tapes from years ago of some of the ideas that we had back then. I’m going to go through them all and dust them off and see what’s on there.” And low and behold, I found a couple gems on there and brought them to his attention. He said, “Yeah, yeah, I forgot we even had these.” So we kind of brought them up to date and obviously we recorded them. It’s probably like 50/50 on the album — some brand spanking new stuff and some things that have been sitting around for a while. I’m always messing around with riffs and different ideas and different melodies. Like I say, once I dug out all these old tapes, I had even forgotten myself that we had some things in there.
I’m listening to this record and going, “These songs would sound good on the radio.” But we’re not in 1978 anymore, we’re in 2014 and they don’t play good songs like this on the radio. Is that frustrating for you?
Tony: No, I don’t think so because the kids like a lot of bands like Journey and Styx and REO, people like that. They captured a younger audience too, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t get some hit singles. It’s fresh to the kids now. It’s like something they haven’t heard before and rumor has it this late 70s, they’re coming back, and we want to be part of it.
You have received endorsements from John Waite, Ricky Phillips and Jonathan Cain, who just during a press conference that I sat in on, said that the whole reunion is awesome and great and he’s behind you 100 percent. But there’s one person we haven’t heard from, and that’s Mike Corby, your original second guitarist. What is his stance on all of this?
Wally: I don’t actually know, to be honest with you. I haven’t seen Michael in I don’t know how many years. He moved back to Great Britain, actually, back to Scotland, and him and I have never really kept in touch. I don’t really know what his thoughts are on this. I’m sure he knows all about it, but as far as how he feels about it I really don’t know. I couldn’t tell you that. I just haven’t been in close contact with him in a long time.
Tony: I’m sure he is very upset because we unfortunately had to let him go two, three years before we actually disbanded, so Michael was never part of it in the end anyway. He’s just been a little upset about the whole thing. He himself wanted to put the band back together, but we just felt the combination wasn’t right anymore. Hopefully we’ve done the right thing. I’m sorry Michael’s not part of it, but it was a thing to where I don’t think we could go back to where it used to be with Michael. I’m sure he’s not enjoying the fact that we’re putting it back together.
Looking back at the late 70s, you guys obviously had all the essential elements. You were good looking guys; you had the chops; you had so many great songs. You mentioned Journey, Styx and REO — they achieved quite a bit of success back in those days, the kind of success I never really felt the Babys enjoyed. How do you look back at those days?
Tony: That goes back to the question you asked of why are we doing it again. It’s because we still feel we’ve got something to say and be relevant today. And we didn’t get to finish what we started out to do. It kind of felt a little bit rubbed from there, and that’s why we’re back together. We could have taken it to the Journey level on American soil, but Jonathan Cain joined Journey, obviously, and John wanted to do a solo thing; that’s partly why we disbanded and broke up.
Wally: We were trying to do everything we could from our end. We were with Chrysalis Records then and when we signed with Chrysalis, with like Jethro Tull, they had UFO at the time and a few other people. When we signed with them, things were going good. We were trying to take one step up the ladder at a time. But then they went out and signed Blondie and they signed Huey Lewis and the News and they signed Pat Benatar. I often wonder if we got pushed aside a little bit by Chrysalis, who moved onto the next flavor of the month. At first, they were really concentrating on pushing, but once they signed themselves two or three more what turned out to be major acts, it seemed like we got left in the shadows. Even though we were out and we were doing everything we could possibly do; we were trying to make the best records we could at the time. We were getting on some great tours, opening up for some really great bands and playing in front of a lot of people every night and doing ad jobs as musicians and artists and trying to be creative and push the whole thing. But I don’t know — it just didn’t peak for us. And I can’t really put my finger on it. I was certainly hoping that would be the case, but it did fall a little short. I really couldn’t pinpoint any one reason why.
So, once the record drops, what’s next? Do you have touring plans? What do you see on the calendar maybe for the next year for The Babys?
Wally: We don’t really want to be playing sort of small clubs and bars and things like that, because between us now we’ve got a seven-piece band. When we play live, it’s a really full sound. It’s the sound that we’ve got on the records. We can reproduce the songs the way they were originally recorded. We have a nice big sound and it would be great if we could get out and open up for a bigger band on a nice tour and get to play for a lot of people.
Tony: Obviously we need to tour and start pushing the record a little bit. The new single’s just been released and we’ve had nothing but good feedback on that. Now we’re talking to the promoters to make sure we can get on some good tours and get everything in line so we can play for the fans, you know, and start selling some records. We’re looking to jump on somebody’s tour and do what we did with Journey. We went on the road with Journey for like a year and a half and supported them. That way you get to see more people and get to play in front of more people instead of doing the smaller venues.
What would you like to see happen with the band over the next year?
Wally: I’d certainly like to see this new album well received. I’m hoping it gives not only the old Babys fans a lot of enjoyment, but hopefully, since we’ve been gone, there’s a whole other generation of Babys fans who have grown up around their parents who used to be our fans back in the old days and now they’ve turned their kids onto us. So the shows we’ve been doing, we’ve been seeing two generations of Babys fans at the shows. And hopefully, we can gain a lot more fans with this new record. I’d love to get out and play as much as we can. Looking down the road, say a year from now, it’d be nice to have this album successful and do some really successful shows or tours and be ready to go in and cut another album. Hopefully before the year is out. I think that’s the kind of goals we’re looking at. Obviously it’s just one step at a time. This day and age, nobody can really guarantee anything, but you know, we’re all very determined and excited. As long as we can keep that passion alive within the band, who knows what the future can hold for us.