The Babys dominated FM radio in the late 1970s and early ‘80s with such hits as “Isn’t It Time,” “Back On My Feet Again” and “Every Time I Think Of You.” After five albums and a few lineup changes, the band broke up after a performance at The Tangier in Akron in 1980.
Two original members, Wally Stocker and Tony Brock got the band back together in 2014 with some new members, including John Bisaha on vocals and bass and Joey Sykes on guitar. They have been going strong ever since.
The Babys will be performing on October 1st at the Music Box Supper Club. We spoke with Tony Brock and John Bisaha to preview their upcoming show and to discuss their career and what the future holds for the band. .
Greg Drugan: Hey guys! Great to speak to you today.
JB: Thanks for having us!
GD: So I hear you have some exciting news. What are you guys up to?
JB: We do! We have some great exciting news! The past couple of months, we’ve been in the studio re-recording some classic tunes as well as some of the deeper cuts from the past albums and we’re getting ready to launch a pledge campaign to start a crowd-sourcing campaign that’s going to have a bunch of exclusives.
TB: Yes, we’ve re-cut everything that we’ve had a hit with or songs that we love and they are sounding so good! We want to show people how the band has grown and improved so much because we are having such a good time with it.
GD: So you guys are re-recording all of the hits with the current band, that is exciting. Will there be any new songs?
TB: Yes, we’ve done one new song that Joey Sykes wrote and then we had to “Baby-fy” it and it’s turned out really well.
JB: We’re also putting “Not Ready To Say Goodbye” on that because we’re re-mastering that. It’s the first song that we did when we got back together but it didn’t get to the record I’ll Have Some Of That so we’re putting it on this one. Then there’s one little surprise that we have from our fantastically talented keyboard player Francesco (Saglietti).
GD: When are you guys planning to release that?
JB: We’re right in the middle of trying to finalize things. Some things are mixed and there’s a lot that we’re holding open because we have this crowdsourcing campaign through Pledge Music that will allow us to provide really unique experiences for the “pledger” like hand claps on “Midnight Rendezvous” or having your name sung in “Head First” because there’s plenty of opportunities to sing “Me and Jenny or Me and Susie are going out tonight.” Tony came up a great idea that we can get as many people as we can in the studio and we do a “We Are The World” kinda thing on one of the songs like “Back On My Feet Again.” We all sing it together and then at the end of the day, you get your own copy of the music.
GD: That sounds like a great idea!
JB: It’s pretty cool, there’s a lot of acts out there that are doing it now. (Cheap Trick and Foreigner) It’s just another way to get the fans involved. We want to get that experience to the fans that they never got back in the day.
TB: Plus we want to show off our new singer, John Bisaha who’s really taken us to another level. I’m really proud of him and we’ve all really stretched out on this album.
JB: Dude, you played the crap out of the whole set! It’s seventeen tracks and Tony Brock is a mother all over this thing!
GD: I’ve had the opportunity to see you guys twice when you played in Akron at the Tangier’s so I know what you’re talking about! John is a great vocalist and Tony is fantastic on the drums!
JB: Will you be in Cleveland, Greg?
GD: I believe so, I have it on my calendar on October 1st.
TB: That’s the Music Box, right?
GD: Yes, the Music Box Supper Club is a great place to see a show. I think you’ll really like it.
JB: Perfect! We’re looking forward to it.
TB: We’ve always been accepted pretty well in the Cleveland area. In fact, we got the key to the city! It will be nice to go back!
GD: That’s awesome, I wasn’t aware of that! John, what was it like recording with the group for the first time? You came out of that with a Top 6 song “I See You There” on the Adult Contemporary Chart.
JB: The first song that we wrote together organically was “Not Ready To Say Goodbye” and that was an amazing experience. I hadn’t met Wally at that point and we were doing everything in Tony’s studio. We wrote the song and fleshed it out in Tony’s studio. We laid down almost everything and then Wally came in on a weekend and laid down his tracks to this song. It had a cool Babys feel but when Wally stepped in, it became a true Babys song. I was over the moon!
GD: Tony, when you and Wally decided to get the band back together, how many people did you audition before you selected John and Joey?
TB: I get this quite a bit. I was auditioning singers by myself because Wally was in Florida. We had singers all the way around the block. It’s not an easy job. We had to find someone with a lot of soul and rock and roll history. When John stepped in, it kinda was immediate but I kept auditioning more people. But then I kept asking John back.
JB: Yeah, I auditioned 95 times! (laughs)
TB: I’m up to eight now.
JB: Yeah, I think the over-under is eight. But then there was the begging session! (laughs)
TB: I saw him through the video and we just knew. Then when Wally came in, I said “My god, we have something special here.” For once in my career, we are actually enjoying each others company!
GD: This one’s for both of you. Who were some of your early influences?
TB: I was lucky enough to have been in the era of John Bonham and Keith Moon and Bad Company, well it was Free at that time. We all played the same clubs because we grew up together. I was in a band called Strider who always supported The Who or Zeppelin or someone at the Marquee Club because that was the hip club to be. My influence was John Bonham, who was one of the finest drummers in the world. I grew up with all these famous people and it really didn’t sink in how lucky I was until much later. They all became my friends.
JB: My folks were doo-wop singers in New York back in the ‘60s. So we had a pretty diverse range of music in the house. We had a lot of R&B stuff. Smokey Robinson, Four Tops, Spinners, a lot of Motown. Then we had the Carpenters, Jim Croce and a lot of Americana, folk and pop. Of course, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I grew up singing a lot of Four Seasons tunes and Bee Gees tunes. Pretty much everything but mainstream country. I patterned my voice from Frankie Valli, Robert Plant and this guy named John Waite. I was a big fan of The Babys and that’s why I was drawn to them.
GD: Those are all great! Do you remember the first band you saw in concert?
TB: My first concert was the Isle of Wight Festival when I was 14. I was in two foot of mud and watched three days of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Free, Joe Cocker. Anybody that was anybody, I just watched and was blown away. I’m really lucky to have seen that. To be there, oh my god, my life changed! Then I went home and put my first band together and that’s when I met Greg Lake and he produced my first album.
GD: That’s impressive. John, I don’t think you can top that! (laughs)
JB: I can’t top that, but my first gig was Journey opening up for ELO. I was sixteen years old. I was so high that day and I didn’t even do anything! I just passed stuff around. I was like “What is this?!” It was right when Steve Perry just joined.
TB: John, you’ve never told me that story!
JB: I’ve got a bunch of stories! (laughs)
GD: Tony, is it true that The Babys were the first band to sign a million dollar contract with Chrysalis Records?
TB: Absolutely and we’re very proud of that! We put three songs together and we didn’t even have to do an audition. We had three companies that were fighting over us. It sounds easy but we really did pay our dues.
JB: It was the first million dollar record deal signed on the basis of a video because they had never played out live. That was even bigger! They put out all this great music and this was before videos were even popular. This was like 1975-1976 way before MTV.
GD: Was that a five album deal?
TB: I believe so. We signed it in England and the immediately put us in America. We went out and played The Whisky and they put us on top of Tower Records, when it was there. It was unbelievable for us. I’m very proud of what we’ve done and we’re making it better now.
GD: Why was Ricky Phillips brought in on bass? Did John Waite want to concentrate on being the front man?
TB: I thought John was a really good bass player. John wanted to be just the lead singer and wanted the freedom to move around and that’s when we found Ricky. We also needed a keyboard player and Jonathan Cain auditioned at the same time. That’s when we added those two.
GD: John, is that something you would like to do or do you prefer singing and playing?
JB: I have fun when I’m just singing but if I did that, we would have eight people on stage. I absolutely love playing the bass, especially with Tony. We sort of lock in and I think I perform well with the bass guitar.
GD: Speaking of Jonathan Cain, I’ve read that he had written most of “Open Arms,” “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” while he was still with The Babys, is that true?
TB: Yes, half of that is true. A lot of stuff that came out, he had a lot of those melodies and chord changes before he left. That very well could have been the next Babys album had he stayed. It wouldn’t have sounded the same but he did have a lot of those ideas. Steve Perry is a great song writer too and together they had a little magic going on.
GD: Tony, after the band broke up, you played with a few different artists. What was it like playing with Rod Stewart back in the ‘80s?
TB: It was crazy! We were invincible. We did things that you wouldn’t believe. It wasn’t Rod Stewart and his group like he has now. We were The Rod Stewart Group. We wouldn’t let him have his own dressing room, he had the same one as us. We went to dinner every night after the show. It was an incredible time. I was with him for 12 years and I did every album, single, TV show. During that time we played with Tina Turner, Elton John and we played with Jeff Beck on tour. There’s ton’s of stories.
GD: Tony, after a 30 plus year absence, what made you and Wally decide to put the band back together?
TB: I went to Australia for seven years and I was producing Keith Urban and Jimmy Barnes, who’s the number one male singer in Australia. We had seven number one albums with him. It was just time to move on.
I built a recording studio and I was recording other people and I just thought “If we just had one more album with The Babys.” Wally and I always talked about it and one day I just said “Let’s do it.” He was just coming out of Air Supply so he wasn’t doing anything. We said we weren’t going to do it unless we did it together. Then it all just came together.
GD: John, now that you’ve been in the band five years, what is your favorite song to play live?
JB: That’s hard. That’s really hard! There’s some that have great bass lines. I love “True Love True Confession.” We added a little line in “Midnight Rendezvous” that when we play live, it’s probably my favorite to play. When I’m just droning on that open E, it allows me to do other stuff.
GD: When you guys are on the road, what is the one item you have to bring with you?
TB: Toothbrush! (laughs) I used to play a lot of tennis but now I take my personal stereo unit and bring my favorite music. I also take a picture of my children because they are the love of my life. They go everywhere with me.
JB: I’m lucky because I get to bring my wife! Bam! I win! (She’s a Babette background singer).
GD: So you guys are going to be playing in Cleveland on October 1st. What can fans expect from this show?
TB: We’re gonna kick ass and everyone’s gonna be pleasantly surprised. We’re really growing, but we’ve gotten to such a level. We’ve got a smile on our face for the whole set. The audience is going to be blown away at how good we are.
JB: We’ve hit a stride right now and we’re crushing it!
GD: That’s excellent! Thanks again for your time and I look forward to seeing you in October. I’ve told my friends that The Babys are back and you need to check them out!
TB: Yes, get as many people in there as you can because we want to tear the place up!
Be sure to check out The Babys at The Music Box Supper Club on October 1st. Tickets are available at www.musicboxcle.com
For more information about the Pledge Music campaign and other Babys info go to www.thebabysofficial.com