John Waite's career, which began as front man for The Babys, spans some 30 years.
Life the hard way fuels memorable lyrics
Most mornings find John Waite awake at 5:30 in his Santa Monica home. A cup of coffee in one hand, he begins each day the same way: sifting through mail, sorting out e-mails and conducting interviews set up by his manager.
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And on this particular day, the singer-songwriter has a string of interviews lined up before he leaves for a weekend of tour dates.
Outside of promotional work, Waite sees himself as a quiet person. But during interviews, he is eager to please, enthusiastically answering all questions about his career and of his newest project, a greatest hits album to be finished by Christmas.
"I realize this is a phone interview, and you can't see what I'm doing," he says via phone, "so I want to make sure I give you a lot."
While some answers may be inadvertently contradictory in his desire to be helpful, a pattern emerges about Waite: Every enthusiastic answer he gives about himself or his backup band is punctuated with confidence: "We go full tilt. We put on a good show."
"I've had nine solo albums. The last four are the best. The lyrics are pretty good. But I felt that way about The Babys."
"I've lived my life pretty fully, and I've managed to survive some tough moments. I'm stubborn. I've been confronted with a lot. But don't get me wrong, I love my life."
And those tough moments?
Waite laughs. "I've been through a divorce and the music business is a hard business."
THE SINGER obviously takes his singing very seriously, from his earlier days as frontman with The Babys, up to his solo career. It's a career that has included a stint in the band Bad English, a project which included some of Waite's friends from Journey.
The Northern England native with the trademark shoulder-length, plum-colored hair received a good amount of attention some years ago for ballads such as "When I See You Smile" and "Missing You," straightforward songs which have been the hallmarks of both his solo career and previous bands.
But as methodical as he is out about plotting his career, the musician will tell you that some of his most inspired moments have been found not in studio sessions but during off-the-cuff stage performances.
Take "Missing You," possibly the best known hit of his 30-year-long career. That song, a tribute to his then-wife, was written and recorded in a couple of takes. The haunting "Masterpiece of Loneliness," off his most recent album, the 2004 "The Hard Way," was written in 10 minutes after performing the tune on the spot during one stage performance.
"The simplest songs are the most meaningful," says Waite. "It's the simplest thing to write a song. It's about what you leave out, the illusion."
Waite has received positive reviews throughout his career, including "The Hard Way," a rock 'n' roll album laced with blues and bits of country. Waite has promoted the album through a mixture of club dates and appearances at Borders stores around the United States.
An acoustic version of "Missing You" can also be found as a bonus track on his latest album. On why songs such as "Every Time I Think of You" or "When I See You Smile" still stick in people's memories, Waite offers the explanation that the best known hits of his career have followed a time-honored country tradition: good storytelling and great phrasing along the lines of Hank Williams.
Like some of his heroes such as Williams or Bob Dylan, Waite prefers to concentrate on lyrics. (Coincidentally, Waite covered Dylan's "Girl From The North Country" for "The Hard Way.")
"Some writers, like Hank Williams, are sheer poetry. I start with a title (and go from there). I've been pretty lucky that I don't get writer's block. ... I haven't (failed) in my most needful moments."
He laughs. "But it's not high art, it's not Steinbeck. It's just rock 'n' roll. I like all kinds of music -- Lucinda Williams, The Killers, Dylan, folk music, Indian flute -- all except for arena rock. I've no idea what to make of it."