By Ken Sharp
It’s a wonderful thing when your dreams come true. Just ask bassist John Bisaha, who grew up idolizing John Waite and now finds himself filling The Babys’ former frontman’s shoes.
GOLDMINE: Run down your background as a singer and how you wound up getting The Babys gig.
JOHN BISAHA: I started singing jingles for AM radio stations when I was very little. I’m from New York. Both of my parents used to sing doo-wop on the street corners when The Four Seasons, Del Satins, The Miracles, etc., were just coming into their own. They passed that love on to me. Frankie Valli was probably my first vocal teacher, along with Smokey Robinson — singing all day long in my room. As I got older, Hall and Oates, Chicago and ELO were my favorites. I’d sing for hours every day! Then came this band called The Babys. I had been doing my own solo project called Bisaha the past four to five years or so. I had a great group of guys and girls who made up the band. I had members of the family in, as well — my wife, Holly, and daughter, McKenna, sang background vocals. My son played acoustic and other guitars. It’s so funny when you tell people you are in a band, then you tell them that your family is in it. They kind of look funny at you.
Then you hit the stage. We killed it. Had a blast. Did some great shows. The week before we were opening up for Roger Hodgson at a festival in Southern California, I was driving to a rehearsal and received a call from an old friend of mine named Mike Hanson. Mike and I played together back in the ’90s after he had left Glass Tiger; today he plays with Hurricane. We had formed a band back in the day called Hall of Souls and had a great time together. We had a great band; we happened to run up against that wall though that most classic rock bands did in the day: The dreaded flannel shirt. Mike had seen Bisaha a couple of times and knew that I was looking to get back into the scene. He said he had been asked by someone representing a band if they knew of any singers. He told me someone was looking. I said that I would only consider it if it was a classic band from the ’70s and ’80s looking for a lead vocalist, or some brand-new, up-and-comer on a major label who had some juice. He said, “Yeah, it was one of those.” Then he started playing the name game, told me Ricky Phillips was once in the band and told me Jonathan Cain had been, as well. I’m thinking, “No way! Bad English!” Then he said it was a ’70s-’80s band. I had to pull over and ask, “Tony Brock?” I was floored! I went through three months or so of auditions to get the gig, went to Tony’s perhaps five or six times. In late November 2012, Tony called me and told me I got the gig. What a dream come true!
GM: The Babys have a trademark sound. Working on the band’s first new album in 30-plus years, discuss the approach you took on this album in terms of being faithful to that sound, yet also the group’s interest in taking it into a new direction.
JB: When we first knew we were going to write and record the song “Not Ready to Say Goodbye,” we knew we needed to create something that was built on the signature hits of The Babys. It had to have the feel of “Isn’t it Time” or “Every Time I Think of You” in order to be accepted. Likewise, I needed to try and channel something of a vocal that John would perhaps have written or sung. Adding strings and horns, and, of course “The Babettes,” made it in the pedigree of their classics. We were and are very proud of that song. It came together nicely.
When we set out to create the album, that was a different story. We had two months from a dead start to get the album cut, mixed, mastered and out to the distributors to meet the summer crunch. We all brought in songs. The album has songs that Tony and Wally wrote together just after The Babys moved on. There are also some tracks that Wally had noodled with over the past 20 years and several songs that Joey and I had brought to the table. It’s a great blend of tunes, with several different genres to satisfy most. Our approach to being faithful to The Babys sound from back in the day was the big drums of Tony, and the tasty “bits” that Wally has been known for throughout the years, that signature “riff” or that telltale Stocker lead. Tony really wanted to tie this together with a back-to-the-basics feel. This is early Babys with a current flair. Tony produced the album at his studio — Silver Dreams Studios. It was fun hearing some of the stories from back in the day. Now we have some stories to tell!
GM: What’s the significance of the album title, “I’ll Have Some of That!”?
JB: You may get four different answers from us if you asked us all individually. Our two British friends had a fancy to that line one day. Could have been about a beer, or about a nice track that was being laid down or … The more we kept saying it, the more it had to become a song. I took one of the Tony/Wally tunes from back in the day and put lyrics to it. Let’s just say that we want to hear it in the pubs when we hit your town!
GM: For those who don’t know, you are a major fan of The Babys. What impressed you the most about the band?
JB: What didn’t impress me! I found them when “Broken Heart” came out. Who were these guys?! Killer tunes, vocals, drums, guitars, keys, strings, horns, girls. No one was doing that in the rock scene at that point. I was an immediate John Waite fan since I sang and played bass. Tony and Wally were locked with this groove thing they had. And I have to say Michael Corby rounded it out very nicely. The four of them were a force. When Michael left and Jonathan and Ricky came on board I was concerned, but they powered on through, as well. In the late ’80s one of my original projects was built just like The Babys. We thought they had the winning formula. People would say we sounded like Journey, but we’d point to our version of The Babettes and say, “No one has anything like this today.” And it worked.
GM: Speaking of being impressed, what has impressed you most about the musical talents of original members Tony Brock and Wally Stocker?
JB: The first time I came and rehearsed the classics — very nervous, I must add — I tried to just lock in on Tony. Wally was still in Florida at the time, so I had nothing to go on with him at that point, but Tony? Man, that guy bangs! I could feel the kick in my gut from across the room. He hits hard; not many expect that. Practice, gigs — it’s all the same to him: Hit it hard. I met Wally in a whirlwind weekend session when we were tracking “Not Ready.” Wally flew in, heard the song a few times, kept to himself while we had a million things going on that weekend. We had interviews, photo sessions, dinners, meetings, record companies, management, etc., all in the 48 hours, and it was a circus. Then Wally straps on his guitar, we get a sound — the signature Stocker sound! — and he starts playing his bits and breaks into the lead. We knew we had a killer tune — a Babys tune — when Wally played his riff line in the chorus. Magic!
GM: Stepping into John Waite’s shoes is a highly intimidating proposition. How have you handled that?
JB: I would just say I am excited as all get-out to be the new guy singing these incredible songs! I don’t look at John Waite as an adversary. I look at him like a little brother would look up to his big brother when trying to walk in his shoes after he has moved on in life. Having been a fan for all these years, thinking that there may never be a day when my favorite — and to some out there, our favorite — band would ever get back together in any fashion. This is the day and age where almost every heritage act has someone new at some key position out there. Foreigner, Journey, Styx, Boston, INXS, Queen — all needed new singers to keep the music alive. That’s what I am all about: Keeping the music of The Babys alive. The songs begged to be played. And if we can do them justice, why shouldn’t we?
GM: Tell us about the single “I See You There.”
JB: It’s a great tune, isn’t it? Every song that is on this album has had a special touch or stamp put on it by all of us. We all have a hand in making sure we have it right, that the arrangements are crisp and clever and there’s a story to tell. We all worked it into the feel of The Babys. We have a killer string quartet in there that adds some great dynamics and feel. The chorus tells the story pretty well; we are all busy, and life just steals the time away. But at the end of the day, when you are with the one you love, you get those moments back, and time no longer matters.
GM: What songs on the new album work best for you?
JB: There is a wide range of music and style on the record. It would depend on the mood I was in, I guess. We have some cool rockers, some crossover tunes, some nice and torchy late-night stuff and then the traditional tunes most would expect from The Babys. We have some sleepers in there, as well. Too many to choose!
GM: Name a few vintage Babys songs you’d like to add to the set.
JB: “True Love, True Confessions,” “Postcard,” “Gonna Be Somebody,” “I’m Falling,” “I Was One,” “Money” — the list goes on … GM