John Waite plays "The Brixton" in Redondo Beach, CA Sat. Aug. 11th
LOOKING BACK AND THINKING AHEAD WITH LEGENDARY JOHN WAITE
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge contributor
Energized by the addition of star guitarist Keri Kelli, Waite plays a successful concert at Pershing Square — and these days, it’s always on his own terms
LOS ANGELES — John Waite is sitting backstage Saturday a few moments before his heavily anticipated rock concert at Pershing Square against the tilt of downtown L.A.’s tallest buildings, and he is contemplative.
The British singer is 60 now, still going strong in the September of a career that has seen him go from pin-up boy with the Babys in 1970s to No. 1 on the record charts with “Missing You” in the 1980s to frontman for supergroup Bad English in the early 1990s to playing in Ringo Starr’s band 10 years ago to where Waite is now – still headlining rock shows but on his own terms with none of the rock-star trappings that make many of his compatriots nothing more than nostalgic parodies.
Thirty-two years earlier to the day, Waite performed with the Babys before a crowd of 80,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1980 at the famed Summer Blowout with Cheap Trick, Journey and others – and it all happened just a few blocks up the road.
“I remember that Coliseum show very vividly actually. It was a gigantic stage,” Waite said. “I was pretty good friends with Robin Zander and Cheap Trick back then, so we were hanging out for while.
All the bands were pretty friendly in those days. Then we jumped on stage, and the zipper in my pants ripped, so I had to keep pulling my t-shirt down.”
Interestingly, Waite specifically remembers being more self-assured than nervous.
“Playing live shows, that’s how the Babys made our reputation, so for us, playing in front of 80,000 people at the Coliseum was the most natural thing in the world,” Waite said. “We were not intimidated, but I will say this: Doing a show at the Coliseum, that’s something that was breathtaking to be recognized on that scale.”
And then there was the filming of the “Missing You” video a few blocks west in what proved to be the turning point in Waite’s career. He was one of the first to focus on concept videos, and when “Missing You” hit No. 1, it was the first time in Waite’s life that he began making more than $200 per week – his just-stop-calling-us salary for five years in the Babys with Chrysalis.
“I’ve downsized everything apart from my ambition of music,” Waite said. “I didn’t go corporate.”
Well, technically he did — for three unhappy years with Bad English, and Waite still regrets it, proving so by playing only “When I See You Smile” in the proceeding concert that had the crowd totally captivated in a 90-minute performance that could have gone on well longer if the spectators had their way.
"There will never be a Bad English reunion.” John Waite
“I think it’s garbage. I mean, I hate to say it, but I listen to Journey and think, ‘Jesus Christ, that is just wrong.’ That’s why there will never be a Bad English reunion,” Waite said. “It’s for super white people listening to super white music. Fuck that. I’d rather shoot myself.”
These days, Waite is totally pumped up, specifically because of the addition of new guitarist Keri Kelli, the former Alice Cooper guitarist whose lineage goes back to Slash, Vince Neil, Skid Row and L.A. Guns all the way back to the Sunset Strip starting with legendary underground glam band Big Bang Babies.
It was suggested that Kelli is Waite’s most dynamic guitarist since Neal Schon, and Waite readily agreed.
“Keri Kelli brings a tremendous amount to this band. We’re just fired up since we got him,” Waite said. “I really want to mention this about how pleased we are to have him. He’s a real professional who kind of throws me a curveball and makes me sing better. He’s a nice guy, super bright, and when he straps on that Les Paul, which is the hardest guitar to play, Keri just turns into Satan. He’s a brilliant player.”
“Keri Kelli brings a tremendous amount to this band.” John Waite
Waite said Kelli’s presence has changed the whole dynamic of the band, rounded out by bass player Tim Hogan and hard-hitting drummer Rhondo.
“This is something I didn’t expect. Something has happened that I didn’t expect once Keri joined,” Waite said. “We’ve got to the next level very quickly, and that’s something that’s very inspirational.”
When the lights went down, Waite quickly took command with a set featuring nearly all of his best classics – starting with “Change,”
then “Back on my Feet Again” – as Waite traversed his way with new songs from his latest CD “Rough & Tumble” interspersed with some of the world’s catchiest songs like the Babys’ “Head First,” “Midnight Rendez-Vous” and “Isn’t it Time,” along with an exceptionally well-executed version of “Missing You” and the final “When I See You Smile,” on which Waite started off by himself with just a guitar before Kelli half-surprised him by joining in midway through.
“He’s spontaneous. I guess that’s the difference between Keri Kelli and Neal Schon,” Waite said. “That sort of arena-rock thing leaves me cold, even though Neal is a tremendous player at that kind of music.
But I’m something else. Neal was brilliant, but I’m having an absolute ball with Keri.”
Waite is touring throughout the summer, including a concert Aug. 11 at Brixton in Redondo Beach, and he has no plans of stopping anytime soon with a possible series of dates in Australia coming up along with plans for another record soon – perhaps a live CD.
“Looking back, you know what else about that show at the Coliseum?”
Waite said. “Slash told me later that he was there that day. I still can’t get that image of a teenage Slash out of my mind.”
When I See You Sludge