Posted June, 2014
If you were a teen in the seventies or early eighties, music from The Babys most definitely occupied significant real estate on the soundtrack from those days. The band unleashed five albums between 1977-1980 (The Babys, Broken Heart, Head First, Union Jacks and On the Edge) and toured with huge acts such as Alice Cooper, Journey, and Cheap Trick, building a loyal following based on their spectacular songs and explosive live performances.
The band broke up in December, 1980, but their music still lives on through regular air play and CD sales to still-loyal fans. Now, after a three-decade absence, The Babys have reformed with original lead guitarist Wally Stocker and drummer Tony Brock to release a new album, I’ll Have Some of That, which is available now on iTunes (read the Boomerocity review of it here). With a sound that is both familiar as well as new, Babys fans are going to be thrilled with what they hear and are going to want to hear more.
I recently had the privilege of chatting with founding member of (and guitarist for) The Babys, Wally Stocker. He called me from his home in southern California and was very excited to talk about the new album (he and I, both, refer to new CDs as albums and records. Gotta love it!). Right off the bat, we discussed what the pre-release buzz was like for the album.
“A lot of people like the new record and like the fact that we’re back and like the new lineup. We’re excited, too. We’re pumped and ready to go! We released a single recently –‘I See You There’ - which is really the second single we released because we had ‘Not Ready To Say Good-bye’ late last year but this is kind of the official from the new album, if you like, and so far it’s been tremendous. Great feedback. A lot of people like the song. Just all around good things are happening right now.”
If you don’t count the anthology, demo and live albums that were released after the band broke up, this album is the first album – especially of new material – in almost thirty-five years. I asked Stocker how has making this record been different from both the first and last Babys albums.
“Wow! That’s a good question! It was just as enjoyable. Less frantic, I would say. As the years went on with those earlier albums, we went through some line-up changes and a different approach, somewhat in the songwriting once Jonathan (Cain) came in. I wanted to get back to basics with this album. Obviously, we wanted to make sure that we captured the sound that we’re known for. That was high on the priority list as far as not losing the sound that people identify us with. You know, the big drums, guitars but lots of melody – mixing it up a bit between lighter songs and moving on to more rock type tunes.
“But we had a lot of fun making this one – probably the most fun I’ve ever had making a record in a long time. There was no tension there. I got to record with Tony (Brock) again, who did a wonderful job producing this record at his Silver Stream Studios. We’ve got two new members on board. They’ve been really inspiring. John Bisaha showed us what he could do. He’s really a first class singer. It took us a while to find him but out of the dozens of people we auditioned but I think we made the right choice with John Bisaha.
“And, of course, with Joey Sykes in the mix, as well, I get to bounce guitar ideas with him. This all made it exciting and a pleasure to actually go in and cut songs. Some of them we had for a while – just some musical ideas, if you like – but it took the whole band to really to put all the pieces in place. I’m very pleased with the result with this new record.”
When asked what has been the best improvements in recording and did The Babys utilize those improvements, Wally’s answer revealed an approach that other great artists such as Joe Walsh, Boston and Rick Derringer used in recent recordings.
“As far as improvements in recording, everything’s gone digital now with ProTools. We decided to try and recapture some of the sound that we had back then. We actually moved in an analog twenty-four track mixing board into Tony’s studio so that we could get that warmth of the analog sound that we used to get, you know? Although he’s all set up with ProTools, we tried to stay away from that with this record so that we could get more of a natural sound on instruments. Tony was looking for that analog sound from his drums and we managed to capture that. Rather than going too high tech, we wanted to take it back to the way it was and get that warmth out of an analog recording.
“Of course, the music business has changed so much since we made ‘On The Edge’ and those five albums. It’s a whole different thing now. Record companies aren’t the way they used to be. In fact, we have our own record label with this album simply because that’s the way to go now with the lack of record stores and CD outlets. People are either downloading an entire album or a favorite song. That’s the way things have shaped up through the years. I, alone, can’t change the way it’s going. I just have to try and fit in somehow.”
Continuing on the subject, Stocker added, “Yeah, it’s all too easy now with ProTools. You can record a part and just cut and paste and put it in there and, if there’s a wrong note here or there, you can just go into the computer and fix it. That’s all well and good but there’s nothing better than the band standing there in the studio and just going for it and just playing as a band – cutting a track together. And, if somebody messes up, well, you start it again as opposed to, ‘We’ll fix that later on the computer. Don’t worry about it.’ You kind of lose the vibe a little bit.”
“I’ll Have Some Of That!” is an outstanding album with every cut a favorite of mine. I asked Wally if he were to point to just one song from the disc to use as a calling card to entice people to buy the album, which song would it be.
“Wow! Well, there’s quite a mixture of songs on there. Hopefully, they all incorporate our sound and playing styles. I don’t know. If I could pick one favorite, I do like the title cut, ‘I’ll Have Some Of That’. That’s kind of exciting to listen to and a little bit different for us but still stands within that boundary of The Babys. I love the new single, ‘I See You There’. I also love, ‘After Midnight’. It’s the fourth track on the album. If I were to describe the feel of that, it’s kind of bluesy, mysterious. I like that song a lot. Tony and I have had that track for a while. We dusted off the cassette, gave it a listen and we cut it with this record.”
Wally continues, “But, then there’s, “Grass Is Greener”, which I really enjoy. I don’t know that I could pick one favorite. Those are examples of a few that I get off on. Then you have tracks like, ‘All I Wanna Do’, which is kind of a softer, ballad type of thing – kind of an R&B - sort of soul love song. We tried to mix it up and, hopefully, there’s enough there for everybody’s taste, you know?”
When I mentioned that I thought there was also a bit of a Black Crowes sound to the album in addition to the classic Babys sound, the Babys guitarist said, “We were going for more of a vibe or a feel on the songs rather than technically getting it perfect. I know my favorite artists when I was young and growing up – The Who, the Stones and even the Beatles – you would hear mistakes all over their records. It’s the feel and the vibe of the song that you really look at and listening to. That’s how we tried to record this record – ‘Just get it to feel right. Let’s not worry about the technical side of things’. Like you said, just down and dirty. The Black Crowes are like that. They’re a very loose band but they capture that vibe and that feel in their songs. Just like the Stones and just like the Faces used to be. A little untidy but you can forgive them for that because they had such great songs.”
On the subject of a tour to promote the record, Wally replied, “Yes, we are. We don’t have anything solid right now. That’s all being worked on and arranged right now. We’re just looking forward to getting this record out. In the meantime, this is the time for the people who work for us to do their stuff and start getting things arranged. I’m hoping that we can get some festivals under our belt before the summer’s over. If it were down to me, I’d love to get out on a decent tour with somebody and get back to the way we used to do things where we had a chance of going out and open up for a bigger act and bigger venues. Then, when that tour was over, we’d go off and do smaller venues and form our own tour around that. That would be ideal for us right now.
“We did a handful of shows late last year just to re-introduce the band and get our feet wet. The response was overwhelming. It was so humbling to see all the fans singing along to every lyric and just having a good time. It really sort of hit home at that point that we haven’t been forgotten and that our fans are so loyal after all this time. They still came back in droves and enjoyed every minute of it. I think that’s what inspired us even more – to make sure that we’re organized as a band.
“We’re enjoying it because and you project that off the stage. Of course if your fans see you enjoying it, they enjoy it even more as opposed to being up there and going through the motions of playing the old songs. There’s much more than that. That’s why we decided before we go out and do the circuit again that we really wanted to get something new out there in the way of a new record to promote rather than going out and doing the old catalog. Plus, with a new record to promote, hopefully, we can find ourselves on a decent tour and get to play to a lot of people each night as opposed to playing in smaller places and trying to promote it that way.
“So, yeah, nothing in stone, yet, but certainly in the next two to three weeks I think we’re going to have some sort of idea of what the next step is.”
Prior to my call with Wally Stocker, I solicited question suggestions from you, the fans. A fan who lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, and is from Chicago asked if Wally remembered opening for Molly Hatchet in Chicago at the Rosemont Horizon around 1979 where everyone attending was given a 45rpm record of “Every Time I Think of You”.
“You know, I DO remember that show. I think we had to leave the stage early. Not only was Molly Hatchet there, we were sandwiched in between Molly Hatchet and .38 Special. That really wasn’t the right sort of crowd for us. I’m not sure who opened the show. I know we were in the middle. Maybe Molly Hatchet opened the show and then it was it was us and then it was .38 Special. I really don’t remember but I do remember that, after about four songs, we literally had to leave the stage. I mean, they just didn’t want to know about us. It was such a bad ‘fill in’ – mashed in between Molly Hatchet and .38 Special and here we are giving out 45’s and there I am, ducking Jack Daniels bottles being thrown at me. If it wasn’t nailed down, they would throw it at us. I think after about four songs, I was ankle deep in debris. We looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should get off the stage now before somebody gets hurt’.
“Yeah, if that was the show, then I do remember that. Fortunately, that’s the only time that really happened to me. It was a strange bill with .38 Special and Molly Hatchet with The Babys stuck in the middle of it.”
Another reader wanted to know how many guitars Stocker owns and is there one he considers to be the “holy grail”.
“I have a small collection now. Through the years, I’ve had anywhere from twenty-five to thirty guitars – all either Gibson’s or Fender’s, mainly Gibson’s. My favorite has always been the Les Paul. I’ve had that since the very beginning. But I’ve had Strat’s and Telecasters and 335’s. I’ve never really gone past that as far as other guitars. In some cases, guitar companies will offer me their guitars but I really didn’t want to endorse them because my heart was really with Gibson, you know? I knew that I could get the sound I wanted from a Les Paul so I just stuck with that.
“As far as a holy grail, well, Gibson did release limited Paul Kossoff Les Paul model I would love to get my hands on one those but, I like I said, it was a limited run and I think only collectors own those now. But right now I’ve got a nice Gary Moore Les Paul and I’m enjoying that. But, yeah, I usually stick to the Fender’s and Gibson’s. Like I said, my collection isn’t as large as it used to be for various reasons. It’s starting to build up again now and, hopefully, there’s more to come but, yeah, I would say that my favorite is the Gibson Les Paul.”
Another reader asked, “Thinking back, what would you do differently in and with the Babys back in the seventies?”
“Oh, wow! I don’t know. Obviously, we had our ups and downs through the years. I’m sure most bands do. At the time you think you’re doing the right thing, giving a hundred percent. I don’t know what I would’ve changed. Some days were better than others. What was keeping us going, I think, was just the music itself and the enjoyment of being a band and pursuing onward.
“Sometimes, you get left in the hands of the record company and management and sometimes you can get led astray. Maybe things like that may have happened to us along the way but you try to pull out of the nosedive and keep it level and do as much as you can do, personally. Sometimes, you’re not really in the position to change things around you because, being a group, it’s not like you’re an individual solo artist where you can say, ‘No, I don’t want to do that’ or, ‘I’m not doing that’. It has to be a group decision or a management decision or a record company decision. Sometimes you feel like you’re under the thumb of the record company. If you don’t stay in line with them, there’s always this fear of them saying, ‘Well, you know, if you’re not going to do it our way then you can be on your way’ kind of thing.
“So, I don’t know that I would’ve done differently. Every day was a learning experience. Of course, nowadays, the experiences from being younger carryover to where we are now. I know there are certain things that we wouldn’t do again but, at the time, I was really in no position to really change anything like that.”
After our call ended, I thought back over the hour long conversation and my perceptions of this legendary guitarist. Wally Stocker struck me as a man who still gets it: It’s all about the music and the fans who buy it and still has an experienced but enthusiasm about both.
Visit thebabysofficial.com to keep up with the latest with The Babys and when they’ll be appearing in your town.