Bad English frontman John Waite plays Wolf Trap after ‘Missing You’ during pandemic

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews John Waite at Wolf Trap (Part 1)

He’s been “missing you” during the pandemic, and can’t wait to “see you smile.”

Bad English’s John Waite performs at The Barns at Wolf Trap on Wednesday night.

“We’re out on the road promoting a new three-CD set called ‘Wooden Heart,'” Waite told WTOP. “We’re doing a lot of unplugged storytelling things behind that. We’ve been out with Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo … then in the middle of that, we’re playing headline shows … life is good, we’ve been out on the road for three months despite the COVID thing.”

Born in 1952, Waite grew up atop a hillside in Lancaster, Lancashire, England.

“It was a musical family,” Waite said. “We lived in a cottage (and) there would be western TV shows, ‘Champion the Wonder Horse,’ and they’d always have great cowboy music. My cousin Michael played guitar and banjo, kind of famous in England. My brother Joe is a really excellent guitar play … my mom played piano, it was always in the background.”

As a teenager, he got hooked onto rock ‘n roll and wanted to get on stage.

“When I got to be 14, I started taking it more seriously with Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who,” Waite said. “Next thing I knew, I was in a local band going to London playing any gig I could get my hands on, going to America to Cleveland to start a band, I was there for four months, that blew up, I went back to London and started The Babys.”

Indeed, The Babys formed in 1975, landing the hit single “Isn’t It Time” (1977).

“It was an opportunity to put African American singers on a white soul song,” Waite said. “It was a very unusual thing to do and caused a lot of consternation … there was a lot of racism in America and a lot of times I put myself between the girls and the audience. That was a big step to have a Top 20 hit to have a white guy with (Black) backup singers.”

The groundbreaking sound also landed a hit with “Every Time I Think of You” (1978).

“There’s a charm having an English guy who’s that young who’s being backed up by three girls from the church,” Waite said. “I liked it and I think a lot of people liked it a lot, too.”

They recorded another accidental hit with “Back on My Feet Again” (1980).

“The record company was insisting we cut this outside song, but I thought the melody was bad, the lyrics were bad, I thought it was crap, so I refused to sing it,” Waite said. “I got out of bed, lit a Marlboro Light, had two or three cups of instant coffee, wrote the melody and words for ‘Back on My Feet Again,’ went in the studio and sang a whole different song.”

In 1982, he went solo for the massive No. 1 hit “Missing You.”

“One night I was working with this guy, we were looking for this song we’d been working on the night before,” Waite said. “He hit the play button at the wrong time and a different song, an instrumental came up and I liked it … I went in the spare room, put the headphones on, got on the mic (and) I sang the whole first verse and chorus in one bit.”

In 1987, he formed the supergroup Bad English, reuniting with The Babys keyboardist Jonathan Cain and bassist Ricky Phillips, along with Journey guitarist Neal Schon and unknown drummer Deen Castronovo for the No. 1 hit “When I See You Smile.”

“I said to the band, ‘This (A&R) guy has been really cool … why don’t we just cut this song that he’s trying to get us to do as a thank you? It’ll just be a show of respect.’ We cut it, we didn’t think it would be a hit. I knew (songwriter Diane Warren) … we went into studio and cut it, everybody played the shit out of it and we all stood back and said, ‘It’s No. 1.”

Today, he’s grateful for such a long and successful career.

“I’ve been No. 1 on the Billboard chart twice in my life, once as a solo (artist) and once with Bad English,” Waite said. “If you’ve done that twice, you’re going to be taken seriously for the rest of your career. That’s why I’ve been able to go off and do acoustic albums, make a rock album or a duet with Alison Krauss … I just want to make the music I want to make.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews John Waite at Wolf Trap (Part 2)

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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