British rocker John Waite is taking the title of his highly successful 1984 album No Brakes to heart. The thin, wiry, energetic rocker with the golden voice has been working hard since 1975 when he was part of the nucleus of the hard rock band with a pop edge, The Babys. The band was successful in certain parts of the globe (particularly here in the US where their singles were staples on AOR radio stations) and became known as a solid, reliable, hardworking live act. At the dawn of the 1980s, the band disbanded after opening the floodgates for so many bands who toyed (and then ran) with the hard rock/pop blend the Babys perfected. Waite wasted no time in establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with as a solo act though. After releasing his moderately successful debut album featuring the perfect pop single “Change”, Waite benefitted from heavy exposure on the then burgeoning music video channel, MTV. His sharp, striking looks, his fiery red hair and a provocative video for the single were the perfect blend of visuals for the channel to boast. Oh…and that voice. That rich, soulful, emotive voice that soars as effectively as it whispers. Having one of the most distinctive and versatile voices in the rock game sure didn’t hurt Waite’s chances at becoming a bona fide solo rock star.
And then came the undeniable moment when he crossed into a whole different stratosphere. In the summer of 1984, a time when broke teenagers were buying as many records as affluent yuppies, Waite unleashed a song that would make him a household name for the duration of this time here on earth. “Missing You” was the perfect combination of power ballad and soulful, sentimental song that seemed to appeal to everyone who was buying records in record numbers at that time. Kids liked it, moms liked it, older folks liked it. Waite tapped into just about every possible demographic and delivered a four minute pop gem that would allow him to live a comfortable life for many years to come.
A brief stint with late 80s/early 90s radio friendly group Bad English (also featuring ex-Baby and Journey member, Jonathan Cain) kept Waite on the charts with the likes of more power balladry in the form of “When I See You Smile”, a syrupy rocker that was no doubt a popular prom slow dance song in 1989, the year it stormed up the charts.
And so Waite has been busy releasing solo albums ever since. Maybe not reaching the heights he did at the peak of his 1980s apex, but pretty solid releases throughout the years. And his fanbase has remained solid. Whether dating back to the days of The Babys or his solo years, many people have remained loyal and true to the 64 year old rocker.
Touring with a full rock band or as a solo acoustic act, Waite has remained a steady live act throughout the years too. Opening for a variety of acts and bands, Waite has been lucky enough to still be considered a solid opener as well as a reliable headliner who can draw plenty of his loyal legions out to see him.
And in a pretty amazing showing, Waite did just that last night in Clearwater, Florida…in the same night. As part of a pretty impressive double-package, Waite served as opener for ex-Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Delivering an impressive, hit-filled set that thrilled the hall, Waite set the stage for a night of memories and music for the mostly 40-plus aged crowd. And, as soon as his set wrapped, he jetted over to downtown Clearwater’s outdoor block party event, Blast Friday, where he was scheduled to headline. Playing to thousands of fans on a cool, breezy night, Waite and his three piece band delivered a loud, raucous 70-minute set of solo hits, deep album cuts and a variety of Babys songs. Amid food vendors, liquor stands, craft tables and the normal array of local restaurants, the closed off portion of Cleveland Street more resembled a carnival-like atmosphere than its normal quiet, subdued state.
Ending things with a smoking cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, Waite looked eager and raring to go for much longer. In fine vocal form throughout the night, this veteran rocker showed that he’s still a hard worker and that he still has plenty of fire and rock and roll in his veins.
Call him a dinosaur. Call him an 80s rocker. Call him a power balled aficionado. Call him what you like. But just don’t say John Waite is lazy.