By Ken Sharp
Fans of The Babys have been holding out hope for a reunion ever since the band called it quits in December 1980. And after three decades of fielding reunion offers, The Babys are granting that wish.
The Babys’ explosive, radio-friendly sound melded the bratty bravado of The Small Faces with the gritty street muscle of Free and Bad Company. Add in consummate musicianship and the extraordinary vocal talents of lead singer John Waite, and you’ve got the recipe for a kick-ass rock band. The Babys toured with a veritable Who’s Who of 1970s rock acts, including Alice Cooper, Journey, Cheap Trick, Styx, REO Speedwagon. And despite the band’s deceptively sweet name, The Babys quickly established the act as a lethal concert attraction that could duke it out with any headliner and score a knockout.
Between 1977 and 1980, The Babys delivered five exceptional albums: “The Babys,” “Broken Heart,” “Head First,” “Union Jacks” and “On the Edge.” The meticulously crafted, picture-perfect AM/FM songs on those albums made a serious impact on the charts, too — “Isn’t it Time,” “Every Time I Think of You”, “Head First,” “Back on My Feet Again”, “Midnight Rendezvous” and “Turn and Walk Away.”
Founding members Tony Brock (drums) and Wally Stocker (lead guitar) are teaming up with new recruits John Bisaha (bass and lead vocals) and Joey Sykes (guitar). Sitting out the reunion: John Waite, who’s enjoyed a successful post-Babys solo career and has also given the new incarnation of The Babys his blessing; original keyboardist and guitarist Michael Corby; and latter-day members – keyboardist Jonathan Cain (keyboards) and Ricky Phillips (bass), who are current members of Journey and Styx, respectively.
Goldmine checked in with Brock and Stocker to get the details of the band’s resurrection, including the release of the new album “I’ll Have Some of That!”
GOLDMINE: The Babys are one of the few popular ’70s bands that never reunited in any form. How did this reunion finally come together?
WALLY STOCKER: We’ve had numerous offers through the years for the Babys to reform. John (Waite) has been approached many times as to whether he was interested in reforming the band. Unfortunately, his response was always, “Well, I’m happy with what I’m doing now, and I don’t see that happening at this time.” And I respect his decision and also respect him as a singer and person. I would have loved to have had him join up with us again. I still think he’s one of the great rock singers, and his voice is his trademark. You always know it’s John Waite as soon as the song starts. Our work with him in The Babys will always live on.
TONY BROCK: John has been real classy about us reforming. He’s totally on board with us reuniting and given us his blessing; and we appreciate that.
GM: Did you reach out to other members of the band like Michael Corby and latter-day Babys members Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips?
TONY BROCK: We reached out to Jonathan but knew he wouldn’t want to join the band because of his ongoing commitment to Journey. They’re always on the road and always busy. We talked on the phone; he was very excited about The Babys getting back together and wants to be part of the writing team again. As for Ricky, same thing. He’s with Styx now, and they just don’t stop playing live. I don’t know how Ricky does it; it’s incredible. Ricky was also really positive about The Babys reforming, too. They wanted to put Journey and Styx together on a tour, and I thought it would be a great idea if The Babys did it with them. Then Jonathan could go and play a song with us and Ricky could play a song with us before their show. It all sounded great, but then Journey and Styx ended up going their separate ways, no pun intended. And as for Michael, he obviously was considered, but he still has some issues with what happened in ’78, when he was let go, and that would make it uncomfortable for us to have him in the band. That’s why we decided not to ask him. The whole premise of this band is to keep The Babys alive and have a good time doing it. We want no drama or no issues with anybody.
GM: Tell us about the new band members, singer/bassist John Bisaha and guitarist Joey Sykes. Were they fans of The Babys?
WALLY STOCKER: John was in other bands, and he’d also been playing Babys songs in his sets, so he was definitely a fan before he joined the band. That always helps. We auditioned a lot of good singers, but they couldn’t pull off singing Babys songs, whether it was the way that they sang them or just the texture of their voice didn’t suit the songs. But there were some amazing singers. Tony (Brock) said to me, “If we weren’t reforming The Babys and we were just putting together a brand-new project, we would’ve had our pick of a dozen great singers to front the band.” Joey adds a whole new dimension to the band. He’s a pleasure to work with and a very easygoing guitar player who has a style that works well in tandem with me. In addition to being a really good guitar player, he’s also a very talented songwriter. He co-wrote “Not Ready” with the band. Joey’s done a great job in learning the parts I need him to play, and the band has a really tight sound. We’re now able to reproduce what we did on the records all those years ago. It’s like a breath of fresh air to have Joey in the band. I’m really thrilled, and I think the fans will agree he’s a great addition to the group.
TONY BROCK: John Bisaha is an incredible singer. When I was holding auditions, we had singers lined up around the block to join the band, and John was better than anybody. He’s also a really good bass player. We’ve been rehearsing practically every day and getting the rhythm section tight. Being the drummer and co-writer of this stuff, I’m doing the harmonies with John, so we’re working on that.
GM: Who is playing keyboards?
TONY BROCK: A guy by the name of Francesco Saglietti. He’s not a member of the band but a side player.
GM: For some longtime fans, reforming The Babys without one of the greatest singers in rock and roll, John Waite, leaves some pretty big shoes to be filled.
TONY BROCK: You’re right. John Waite left some really big shoes to fill. But our new singer John Bisaha is up for the challenge, and he’s a great singer in his own right. He’s also a big fan of John Waite as a singer. We all are. He’s bringing some songwriting to the table, and he shares a lot of the same influences and likes a lot of the same bands as The Babys.
WALLY STOCKER: John knows he’s in for his fair share of criticism, but he’s strong and so dedicated and into that that it’s not gonna phase him at all. That’s what we wanted from a singer. I don’t think he’s intimidated by criticism at all; that only makes him stronger.
GM: Tony, the nucleus of the band is you and Babys original guitarist, Wally Stocker. Discuss the chemistry/musical connection that you have with him.
TONY BROCK: We’re like brothers. His birthday and my birthday are four days apart and we asked everybody (laughs) never to book a show in between those dates, because we’d be out having a good time. We have a great chemistry and share the same sense of humor. We just love each other to death, so when we get together it’s just magic. The same thing happens with the songwriting. We just feed off of each other, and it’s magical. The heart of the band is still there; we’re just adding the icing on the cake with a new singer and one more guitarist. It sounds just like The Babys; it’s so good.
GM: The girl singers and various orchestration on “Not Ready” brings to mind classic Babys records like “Isn’t it Time” and “Every Time I Think of You.” Was that a conscious decision to reference the band’s past?
WALLY STOCKER: Yes, it was a conscious effort. We discussed when releasing our first single that it had to have the flavor of what we were known for some 30-odd years ago. So we wanted to try and incorporate that into the first song released from us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there for the creation of the song but I did go out there and participate in the recording.
TONY BROCK: The song was written by myself, JP (Cervoni), John Bisaha and Joey Sykes. Joey is gonna be a major influence as far as songwriting goes on this next album, because he can write great songs. He’s talented in ways of doing stuff for The Babys ‘cause he knows all our chord changes that we love.
WALLY STOCKER: At the time, because I was living in Florida and the rest of the guys are in California, they were sending me early demos. The song is almost like “Every Time I Think of You” meets “Isn’t It Time” meets “Back on my Feet Again.” To me, that’s what it sounds like. We’ve taken the best of those three songs and managed to sort of consolidate them into one song, but it still represents what we were doing back in the late ’70s on the “Broken Heart” and “Head First” albums. I thought that was the only way to go with the first song out of the box, as far as a brand-new lineup.
TONY BROCK: I produced the song, and I was there for every moment of it. Joey came up with the original chord changes, and we built it together from there as a team. It was just magical putting it together. By the time I finished putting brass and strings on there — it was a conscious effort of making it sound like we did back in the day — it was a wonderful feeling to know that we could do it off the back of the band that we have. It was just magical the whole way through.
GM: In July 2013, the band played its first show in almost 33 years at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, Calif.
TONY BROCK: It was joyous. It took so much work to get the show together, from putting band together, recording the new song and all the preparation for this first live show. I enjoyed the concert immensely, and it was great to see fans of all different ages just loving it to death. That part was fantastic. I got emotional afterwards. The amount of work that we put into it really paid off. For my kids to finally see The Babys was meant so much to me. The whole band was ecstatic. This is a dream come true for us.
GM: Tell us about the live show. What can fans expect?
WALLY STOCKER: Obviously, we’ll be playing the hits and what’s expected of us, the obvious ones. We’re playing “Looking for Love” from our first album, “Turn and Walk Away” from “On the Edge,” which was only played live on our last tour in 1980. We’re playing “Love Don’t Prove I’m Right” and “Run to Mexico” from “Head First” and “Anytime” from “Union Jacks.”
TONY BROCK: I think the fans will be pleasantly surprised. I think those fans that are skeptical will walk away saying we’re great musicians. I can’t see anyone not liking it. I think we’re gonna grab the respect of being awesome musicians, because that’s what The Babys were all that time ago.
GM: The Babys songs have your musical DNA all over it. What’s it been like to play these songs again, 33 years later?
TONY BROCK: It’s been very emotional playing these songs again. As we go through each song, I think, “Oh, I remember this,” or “We used to play it this way,” or “This is the ending we did.” “Give Me Your Love” has really come alive in rehearsal.
WALLY STOCKER: I’m very excited to be playing these songs again. It’s been a long time since Tony and I were in the same room playing together. Last time we played together was when Tony had a studio in West Hollywood, and I’d go over there and he and I would just kick ideas around. Actually, we dug out all those tapes, blew off the dust and dusted off all the cobwebs and found that there’s some good ideas even though it’s from many, many years ago. So we might take a look at those tracks as far as new material.
GM: Any chance that Jonathan Cain or Ricky Phillips will be involved with a new
WALLY STOCKER: Jonathan has said, “If you do a record and you’re looking for some songs, I’d be happy to jump in and come down and help you record and do some songwriting with you.” Ricky is all for it, as well, but both of their schedules are really busy, being full-time members of Journey and Styx.
GM: How would you describe the new material?
WALLY STOCKER: It still has The Babys sound that people know and love, and I don’t think we’ll ever lose that simply because that’s just the way Tony and I sound and play. And we’re proud of that. I think we sort of maintained that sound and playing style throughout the entire Babys recording career ... It’s been really enjoyable and exciting to write songs for the band. Everybody’s on the same page and understands that we want to continue on not only with our sounds that we’re known for, but also the material we’re writing and recording.
GM: Run us through some of the songs on the new album.
TONY BROCK: “Not Ready” was our introduction to the band again and to get us back in the limelight and for people to what the band can do. A single from the new album will be a song called “I See You There,” which was written by our guitar player, Joey Sykes; I arranged and produced it. We tracked it in my studio in the Valley. It’s a big, full-on production and has the “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I Think of You” vibe. We don’t want to let go of that, because those were our Top 10 singles. The Babys are still known for those kinds of songs, which still get played in America and Europe every day. Also “Head First” is played every day, too. We’re a rock and roll band, but we love to do big production songs as well. The rest of the album has more of a Backstreet Crawler/Free/Bad Company vibe. That’s what we grew up on. There’s a song called “Uncivil War” that’s really good, another one written by Joe Sykes. It’s about a love gone wrong. That song is bad-ass, and it has a real Bad Company rock vibe. That’s the type of stuff we’re good at, and we don’t want to stray too far from our roots. We’re also going to be cutting songs that Wally and I wrote about 25 years ago, right after The Babys split up. Wally and I kept going and working and writing together. The sound of those songs that we wrote back then fits in perfectly with what we’re doing now. I think the fans are really gonna like what we’ve come up with.
GM: The new Babys album is being released on both CD and vinyl.
TONY BROCK: Absolutely. I am a true believer that vinyl is so much better than CDs. With the way that I’ve recorded the album and with the analog sound I’m getting, it’s going to be true to form like the old days. For me, the sound on vinyl is so much warmer than digital and more pristine, too. It has a sweeter top end and a punchier low end; the kick drum is fat sounding and awesome, and that’s all because it’s analog. The kids listening to vinyl these days are realizing that the sound is so much better on vinyl than CDs. When you get a vinyl, you get a completely artistic package, as opposed to artwork that’s replicated very small on a little CD package. With vinyl, it’s first class all the way. You get to experience it all from a much-improved visual level, from the liner notes to the artwork. CDs really lack the punch and warmth of vinyl. After all these years I still have a pretty big collection of vinyl, maybe 300 to 400 albums. I’ve got my favorites — Zeppelin and Free and, of course, Elton’s John early albums. His first album with “Your Song” was a big influence on me when I was 15 years old. That song in particular really got me hooked on music. The quality and sound of “Your Song” on vinyl is just incredible.
GM: Tony, you’ve worked with everyone from Rod Stewart to Bernie Taupin, but The Babys still remains special for you. Why?
TONY BROCK: It’s all about passion. When we first put The Babys back together, we worked so hard to make it what we wanted it to be. Instead of making a Rod Stewart album for Rod Stewart, it’s making a record for the band. It’s more rewarding, because I can play the kind of drums that I like, and I can stretch a little bit more than I ever could with Rod. I mean, Rod never once told me what to play, but the fact is there are limits to what you can do because he’s the lead singer. But The Babys is real band unit. Plus, I can show off a little more — but I don’t have to if I don’t want to, so there’s no pressure.
GM: Back in the ’70s, being in a band called The Babys, did you have a hard time being taken seriously by critics and the listening audience?
WALLY STOCKER: We were a little worried, because we started to get these screaming young girls at our shows. We wanted to appeal to the older music lovers and didn’t want to get into that screaming teeny-bop thing. At first it was difficult, because people couldn’t work out what kind of group we were. With a name like The Babys, but playing more of a hard rock sound, it was really down to them coming to the show and seeing what we were all about.
GM: Do you have a message to Babys fans who’ve waited more than 30 years for a reunion?
TONY BROCK: Don’t put us down until you hear us. Come see us with an open mind and enjoy the old songs like we’re doing. We’re having a really good time doing this, so come and enjoy it with us.
WALLY STOCKER: I think they’re going to enjoy this new version of The Babys. We can’t wait to get into the studio and start cranking out some new songs. Although we enjoy revisiting our catalog of songs, writing new songs is always inspiring and exciting. GM