Seventies hit-makes The Babys have announced that they are regrouping and will actively record and perform as a functional band. Our exclusive interview with The Babys original guitarist Wally Stocker.

WORDS : TK Smith

The Babys formed as a gang of art students in 1974. The idea of a band was originally conceived by multi-instrumentalist Michael Corby and manager Adrian Miller at Smalls Café on Fulham Road, London. First to join was bassist/singer John Waite who found drummer Tony Brock playing with blues-rock heavyweights STRIDER. Guitarist Wally Stocker was the last to join before the group signed to Chrysalis records home to UFO, Jethro Tull and Blondie.  In December, 1976, their self-titled debut saw little action but did introduce the band’s strong melodic rock direction and the soulful voice of Waite in the cover ballad “I Love How You Love Me”. The album’s cover boasted a cock-sure attitude and a keen sense for fashion. Sophomore album Broken Heart (1977) landed the group their first hit with a driving hard rocker “Isn’t It Time” which catapulted to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Superstar producer Ron Nevison created a clear sound for the group moving from electric blues rock to quiet ballads while paying tribute to the band’s icon, Free.

Paul Kossoff (Free’s guitarist) was a very big influence on me,” says guitarist Wally Stocker over the phone from his home in Florida. “I used to go and see Free whenever I could. If they were in driving distance I would be there. They had this vibe about them, this simple four-piece band. I was there the night they recorded their live album at Fairfield Hall in Croydon. A few years later I would see Koss in Back Street Crawler. Kossoff’s playing appealed to me, it was simple and melodic, not over stated or over done – just soul and feel. I was attracted to that and used a similar style with The Babys. Broken Heart was our tribute to Free.” Stoker lists other influences that played a part in the guitar edge of The Babys, “There were other players that I liked but I couldn’t play like them. Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Leslie West of Mountain, David Gilmore, Steve Marriott, guys that could play simple but to the point.”

It was their third opus Head First (1979) that landed the band squarely in the Top 30 with the power of “Every Time I Think of You”. The single broke the Top 20, landed the group on the TV series The Midnight Special and moved them to headline status. Corby was eventually replaced by keyboardist Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips was recruited on bass for the Keith Olson produced Union Jacks. “Michael left the band during the making of Head First and went back to the U.K. to live in Scotland,” remembers Stocker. “I have not seen or spoken with him since that time. Jon and Ricky were a great fit for us. They brought a lot of ideas and melody but the dynamics started to change with John Waite.” 1980’s On The Edge, also produced by Keith Olsen, would be the last album for the group. Waite quickly fashioned a solo career and in 1984 had a number #1 hit single with “Missing You”. Cain went on to join Journey, Brock and Stocker worked with Rod Stewart and Phillips is currently the bassist in Styx.

When asked, Stocker reminisced about his wild years with Rod Stewart. “Working with Rod was incredible. It was after The Babys broke up and a chance for me to work with Tony Brock again. Tony had just replaced Carmine Appice on drums and had just finished recording Tonight I’m Yours (1981). They were going out on an American / Canadian tour. The phone rang in the middle of the night and it was Tony saying, “Rod asked me to call you, the guitar player’s quit the band and we’re going out on tour in two weeks. Are you up for it?” I though he was joking. “I need an answer right now” he said so of course I said “All right, yeah.”

“I was out on the road with Rod for about 18-months. I knew all those guys; so joining the band was like family. It was like hanging out with old friends. We did a live album from that tour called Absolutely Live (1982). It was in the top 50 and went gold in the US and platinum in Canada. When we got home we went straight in the studio and recorded Body Wishes. Rod changes his band members like he changes his socks. With three guitar players in the band I was getting a bit pinched but before I left I got songwriting credits for ‘Move Me’ and  ‘Ready Now’.” The album sold 9 million copies worldwide and was in the Top 30 in the US with the hit ‘Baby Jane’.

After working with Rod Stewart, Stocker toured with Jackson Brown recording Lives in the Balance (1986) then did a short stint with Australian singer Jimmy Barnes recording the rough and tumble Two Fires (1990). In the meantime Cain and Phillips rejoined Waite in the short-lived supergroup Bad English with guitarist Neal Schon (Journey) and drummer Deen Castronovo (Wild Dogs, Cacophony). Stunning critics the group pulled off a Number #1 hit in “When I See You Smile” and put five other songs in the Top 100. Though their debut went platinum, the group disbanded before finishing their second studio LP. “It was a case of two many egos and Waite’s unrelenting determination to leave his hard rock roots and be taken seriously as a singer/songwriter,” Schon told TCE in an interview in 1998.

“The last time I was out on the road was with Humble Pie in the ‘90s. That was a great time with Jerry Shirley the original drummer and Charlie Huhn who’s now in Foghat.” By 2010 Stocker was spotted as a member of Air Supply. “My guitar setup is mainly Les Paul and a big Marshall stack so you can image that didn’t go over with the Air Supply crowd,” Stockers says laughing. “Dean Markley came out with some mini stack amplifiers that sounded great without all that wattage coming off the stage. They were just right for the job. But for me the perfect set up was always a Les Paul, a Strat and a Telecaster through Marshall amps. In the early days I use to play through a Leslie. You could really crank it up and get some great distortion out of it. If you put the cabinet on a lower speed you could get a nice growl sound, but they were heavy as hell.”

In 2012 Brock called Stocker with one last bid for a Babys reunion. “Tony and I have approached John (Waite) many times through the years,” says Stocker. “Each time he’s declined saying he’s doing his own thing now. So we would put it aside thinking we really can’t go out as The Babys without him - people just wouldn’t accept it. As the years went by we realized other bands were replacing their lead singers and reinvented themselves. Van Halen, Foreigner and Journey are all good examples. Tony and I had been throwing the idea around for quite a few years. We’d had offers along the way to reform. Late last year Tony called me up and asked if I wanted to give it a last shot. So we started looking for singers that could fit our style and still do justice to the old songs.” That’s when the band came across John Bisaha. A native of New York, Bisaha cut his teeth fronting local bands, doing television sitcoms, character voiceovers and equity-staged rock operas (Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspeed and Destiny Faire).

“We had some really great singers come in and audition but they just didn’t have that tone in their voice that we were looking for,” says Stocker. “If Tony and I were starting a new project we would have had our choice of a dozen great singers. But we were looking for someone who could help us re-establish the original Babys sound. Once we heard John (Bisaha) we knew we had found the guy. We haven’t look back since and have been actively writing and recording with him.” Michael Corby was not included in the new line up though he has maintained his rightful position as an original member. “Having seen some of the comments that he made about Tony and myself over the Internet, we decided not to include him in the new lineup,” admits Stocker. In his place is JP Cervoni a multi-instrumentalist that plays a right-handed guitar “upside down” and backwards – just like Hendrix. JP comes with his own legacy. After an impromptu jam with Hendrix drummer Buddy Miles, Cervoni was asked to join his three-piece and tour the world.

“We have a new song out called ‘Not Ready To Say Goodbye’,” exclaims Stocker. “We wanted it to have our older vibe but still keep it fresh and exciting. It sounds to me like ‘Isn’t it time’ meets ‘Every Time I Think of You’ with ‘Back On My Feet Again’. Something universal that’s still relevant and accessible to our fans. That’s what we were looking for in a first song. Our stage show wasn’t all pop music – it was always very diverse from hard rock to ballads. ‘Isn’t It Time’ was a big song for us, that’s the one that put us on the map. We were trying to make sure our first song after so many years still had that flavor from the past.” Stocker admits that “Head First” and “Midnight Rendezvous” were two of his favorite songs to play live because of the crowd response. “For personal satisfaction I liked ‘Run to Mexico’ because I got to let loose a bit on that one.”

Bob Ezrin (Kiss, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd) produced The Babys first record with a clear direction. Ron Nevison (UFO, Chicago, Heart) magnified it with Broken Heart and Head First. “We’ve got Ron (Nevison) on board right now,” says Stocker. “He’s ready to go as soon was we sort out a new record deal. Tony’s been in contact with him and he’s heard the new song. We want Ron to be involved because he gets it and knows our sound. Tony (Brock) will probably want to co-produce. We want to do it properly.” Stocker is excited about putting the group back together again. “We have three labels that are interested right now so we’re very busy writing new material. And we have a big show coming up July 18th at The Canyon Club in LA. It’s a benefit concert for Santa Clarita Food Pantry with a lot of exposure. There is a ton of advertising going out on radio. We are very excited for that just to get out there and let people know where back and ready for action. At this point it’s one step at a time.”

When asked about future dates Stocker says, “Our management is looking to get us on a decent package tour. Jonathon Cain is in Journey and Ricky Phillips is in Styx. There’s a possibility of hooking up with them on the road. I’ll be flying in to LA a few days before the Santa Clarita show so we can spend some time rehearsing in Tony’s studio. John Bisaha and I have been sending demos back and forth. We’ve got about a half dozen great song ideas. We’re hoping to iron out a few of the new songs while were all together. Then we’ll be down at SIR to bring in a proper light and sound set up for the show. I’m sure it will include a full dress rehearsal. Hopefully we’ll find ourselves recording in the studio before the end of the year.”

Stocker’s vision of the reformed Babys is almost the same as it was 33 years ago. “Tony and I can’t really change that much. We’re geared toward what we do and how we sound and how we play. I don’t think changing it around would make it enjoyable for us. I’d hate to see us struggling to get a new sound down when were so set in our ways. We pride ourselves on what we’ve done in the past and how we sound and play. We feel confident that we can continue with that. We’re not reinventing the wheel. We want to pick it up where we left off. We want to be into it 100% and bring that magic back to the fans.”

Website: The Babys

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