Rock The Cradle:
An EXCLUSIVE interview
and John Bisaha
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
The Babys didn’t invent Classic Rock, but their back catalog rivals the best of any of their contemporaries. Influenced by British Blues-based Rock ‘n’ Roll outfits like Bad Company, The Babys originally formed in London 40 years ago but didn’t release their debut album until 1977. The line-up of the band at the time included vocalist/bassist John Waite, guitarist Wally Stocker, drummer Tony Brock and guitarist/keyboardist Michael Corby. The album included the single “If You’ve Got The Time,” which received a healthy amount of airplay, landing at #88 on the Billboard singles chart. Later that same year, The Babys released their sophomore album, Broken Heart, which featured “Isn’t It Time,” a bona-fide smash in the U.S. (#13) and a decent sized hit in the UK (#45). With two best-selling albums and two hit singles, the band was gearing up to set the charts on fire. Their blend of gritty Rock ‘n’ Roll, memorable melodies, soulful female backing vocals (provided by The Babettes) and the occasional horn section was a recipe for certain commercial success. By the time they released their third album, Head First, in early 1979, Corby was gone. However, the band’s momentum continued with the hit single “Every Time I Think Of You” (#13) and the title track, which became an FM radio standard. The album narrowly missed out on the Top 20, rising to #22 on the album chart. When the band released their 1980 album Union Jacks, they had swelled to a five piece with the addition of keyboardist Jonathan Cain and bassist Ricky Phillips. The Babys scored another U.S. Top 40 hit with “Back On My Feet Again” although sales of the album didn’t achieve the upward trajectory of their first three LPs. At the end of the year, the five-piece line-up issued the album On The Edge to a lukewarm response. It seemed that the record-buying public had switched their allegiance to the new breed of Punk, Post-Punk and New Wave bands and hitmakers like The Babys were deemed ‘irrelevant.’ Though the band were still creating great music, they became disillusioned with their lack of deserved success and split up in early ‘81
The Babys may have gone their separate ways, but the members continued to create a lasting legacy in a variety of different projects. John Waite began a successful solo career while Tony Brock and Wally Stocker hooked up with Rod Stewart. Jonathan Cain joined Journey and co-wrote many of their biggest hits during their most successful period in the ‘80s. Waite, Cain and Phillips reunited in the late ‘80s in AOR supergroup Bad English alongside Journey’s Neal Schon and drummer Deen Castronovo. Even though they all pursued different musical paths, their fanbase has always hoped that the band would return in one form or another. Now, after more than three decades, their dream has come true. With the blessings of Waite, Cain and Phillips, Tony Brock and Wally Stocker have formed a new version of The Babys, recruiting bassist/vocalist John Bisaha and guitarist Joey Sykes. The first album with the new line-up, I’ll Have Some Of That!, is a raw and rockin’ platter filled with songs that retain the classic sound of the band while still feeling like a modern Rock ‘n’ Roll album. If you are looking for some hook-filled melodic Hard Rock/AOR tinged with Blues influences, then look no further – The Babys are back!
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Tony Brock and John Bisaha and discuss the new album and much more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: I’ll Have Some Of That! is just about to drop. How are you feeling so far about the reaction you’ve received and the whole buildup to its release?
TONY BROCK: We did the album in just a little over two months in my studio here and I got a chance to produce, engineer, and mix it. So, at the end, we were just totally exhausted, but the reaction is fantastic. I’m feeling elated, really. I mean, there are some things I’d like to go back and redo, but that’s the same as any album I’ve ever done so… it’s a good feeling. I hope everybody loves it.
JOHN BISAHA: The response has been great. We’ve only previewed it out to just a handful of people. Those that we’ve talked to have enjoyed it so we are getting decent positive feedback on it. It was a whirlwind to get it created, I’ll tell you.
SPAZ: The album is very warm, raw and rootsy. Did you purposely avoid the whole over-production thing and focus on the songs?
TONY: Yeah absolutely. The Babys have always been sort of Bad Company - Back Street Crawler-Free type of band, but on every album we would put a couple of really glossy singles on there and we’ve done that the same on this album. There are two songs that are really over-produced with real strings. But that’s the way we’ve always done it. It just seems to be the magic formula and sometimes those glossy over-produced records are the big ones or they have been in the past for us. We like to keep The Babys name alive. Having that earthy sound and really just good quality songs - that’s what keeps us going.
JOHN: We were on a very, very strict deadline. At the end of the day, we really did go in for the “Hey, it sounds cool, it’s raw, let’s keep it tight” and we just brought in a beautiful old analog board so the warmth that you’re talking about, we were really trying to get that. It came out nice and warm. It has a little bit of that throwback into it and keeping it really raw.
SPAZ: The songs certainly do have a definite Babys feel to them. What was your mind set when you guys wrote the songs?
TONY: Well, obviously there’s been songs as we were putting them together that sounded really modern and those are the things that I had to make sure sounded like The Babys. We sounded like we were at the end of the ‘70s and beginning of the ‘80s so it was on purpose to stay in our style and keep it like The Babys used to sound like. Hopefully we stayed to form.
JOHN: I think we would have been run through the wringer if we put anything out that really didn’t have the signature stuff that Wally and Tony brought to the table from 30 years ago. Wally’s riffs, you know, just a solid bass line. We actually deviated a little bit and tried to stretch a lot. I mean, the first five songs on the record are almost five different types of music. We hit you with Rock. We go and do a typical love song. There’s a torchy 70s ballad-ish type of a thing in there with some keyboards, then we hit you with another crossover type. I mean, we made the effort to kind of round out the styles of music, but keeping it consistent with what Babys fans would like.
SPAZ: Did you just naturally get this edgy groove between the four of you?
TONY: We held auditions for singers and had them lined up around the block just to try and be part of the band. John Bisaha who is lead singer now, he came back at least four or five times just to double check and make sure he was the one. Luckily, he’s been fantastic and he gets it. You have to understand where The Babys come from and our background and our roots and he understands that. We just kept pushing him and pushing him and he worked so hard just to be his natural self whereas before in other bands I think he’s been taken elsewhere and now he’s singing really soulful – not to take anything away from what he’s done before. He’s done some fantastic projects, but never like this with The Babys where he’s had to sing so soulful and enjoy it. When it gets to actually putting the songs down and everything, it was a natural thing. Joey Sykes, the new guitarist, he was learning a lot from Wally and myself. Our sounds were more than half to do with what The Babys sounded like in those days. Not necessarily the writing, but our sounds were definitely prominent and so Wally and I, when we play together, we just played naturally. It was a bit easier than anybody would have imagined even though Joey and John had a lot cut out for them. They had a lot of work to do and they pulled it together, and I’m really proud of ‘em.
SPAZ: Were you and Wally already writing songs for the band before they came aboard?
TONY: Funny enough, when The Babys broke up, Wally and I refused to give up and I had a tiny little studio about 30 years ago and we wrote a bunch of songs together. I would say four or five of those have ended up on this record. We’ve always loved those songs that we did in those days and now we get a chance to use them.
SPAZ: What were your influences in the early days?
TONY: Wally and I grew up around Led Zeppelin. We played shows together with Zeppelin and Bad Company and all those people in the Marquee Club … we’d be supporting all these big acts and we became friends with them, The Who and all these people. We’d be doing tours and playing with all these bands that we loved and become friends with. In fact, my first album before The Babys was produced by Greg Lake, from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. So, that’s the sort of circle we were running in and so we’d go see Zeppelin play. That’s the influences The Babys had.
SPAZ: The band has always been a great Rock ‘n’ Roll band down to the core. Was it frustrating in the past to have people call you a Pop band?
TONY: No, because we were a Pop band in the sense that we were trying to latch on to what would make everybody sing and be popular. “Every Time I Think of You” and “Isn’t It time” and all those sort of songs are still played today every day on the radio. We’re still proud of them and the way we did them with real strings and quality production. So, no, it wasn’t hard at all to have that Pop side of us. I don’t think we’ve gotten rid of it on this record. We still have lots of melody.
SPAZ: John, knowing that everybody was going to compare you to John Waite, did you stop and think about that at all? .
JOHN: I thought about it. First and foremost, I’m a huge Babys fan and I’m a huge John Waite fan. So for me, it’s a dream come true. I get to sing the songs of a band that I absolutely love. Singing the songs of a singer that I absolutely love. I know there’s going to be pressure on it. I felt that I could do the songs justice. I’ve been singing them forever. They’ve been in some of my sets when I do covers so I know the tunes. I know that I’m gonna be up for a lot of criticism. This is not a ‘me versus John’ thing. It’s me doing my best to bring these songs out. The songs are huge. They’re timeless. Every time we do a concert people know all the words. They’re singing. They’re screaming from the first ten rows. It’s timeless music being begged to be played and we’re playing it right, with all the pomp and circumstance if we need to, and I think we do it very, very well.
SPAZ: Do you have any songs on the new record that is a particular favorite at the moment?
TONY: I was listening to it this morning in the car just because I had stepped away from it for about a week when we finished it… I put it on and I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty good.” It was a great feeling and there’s probably one or two that stand out as being my favorites. “Life Goes By” has been growing on me like you wouldn’t believe because it has such an English sound. Joey Sykes had a lot to do with that song and he’s American, and it sounds like an old Gerry and the Pacemakers type of song. That’s growing on me like crazy. I mean, I don’t think that I have one popular one that I can say that stands out because they’re all beautiful at the moment.
JOHN: I do. We just released “I See You There.” That’s been a song that was destined to be the second single for quite a long time, and it was one of the first songs we started working on when we went into the studio. But, you know, there’s a lot of them. “Sunrise and Goodbyes” is a favorite. The first song we came out with, “Every Side of You” – that song, for me, epitomizes The Babys. It’s got a little bit of a Head First kind of a vibe to it. The second song on the record, “All I Want To Do” is a song that Wally had put together just as an instrumental, but that song spoke to me. That one has a very, very cool vibe. I think it’s probably one of my favorites.
SPAZ: Are you proud of the band’s legacy and are you looking forward to this next chapter?
TONY: I am! We’ve always talked about putting the band back together and speaking to John Waite on and off and because of his solo career, he’s never been that thrilled about putting the band back together. I spoke to him yesterday, and he’s really happy for us. I’m proud of the way the band sounds and we sound just like the old Babys and now we have some brand new songs to put in the set so, yeah, it’s going to be fantastic.
SPAZ: I assume that you guys weren’t resting on your laurels since The Babys initially broke up?
TONY: Luckily enough, all the band members from The Babys have all gone on to do good things, to make some money. I went from The Babys to Rod Stewart. I played with Rod for 12 years and in between that, I played with Jeff Beck and Roy Orbison and others. And then I went on to co-produce with Keith Urban and then Jimmy Barnes in Australia. We had seven #1s and so I almost lived down there. When I came back, no one knew who I was anymore. (laughs)
SPAZ: What’s next for The Babys?
TONY: Just keep moving up and moving on, buddy. I’m really proud of this album, proud of being able to produce it and I want it to be a big hit and prove to everybody that The Babys are still alive. I don’t think there’s one weak song on there. We’ve got several little shows booked and there are all sorts of different bands that we’re supposed to be going on tour with, but none of them are set in stone yet.
JOHN: Getting out and getting interviews, getting some TV, getting the word out that The Babys are back. There’s only so much that you can do on social medial. There are millions of Babys’ fans out there that have no clue that we’re back together again, and that’s the key. For us to really get to them, I feel that we really need to get out and play.
Thanks to Tony Brock and John Bisaha
Special thanks to Kevin Day, Carol Kaye and Dana House
I'LL HAVE SOME OF THAT!