The Babys return to Ohio, the state where it ended

Many rock music fans remember where they were when they heard John Lennon was murdered.

Wally Stocker of The Babys was in Youngstown.

The British band — best known for such songs as “Isn’t It Time,” “Everytime I Think of You” and “Back on My Feet Again” — was headlining a show at the Youngstown Agora on Dec. 8, 1980, the same night Mark David Chapman murdered the Beatle outside the Dakota apartment building in New York City.

“We closed the show with ‘Head First’ and had gone off stage, hoping we’d get to come back on and do an encore,” Stocker said during a telephone interview. “We were at the side of the stage huddled with our road manager, who said the bus driver just came in. He was watching the news and said John Lennon had been shot.”

Not knowing yet how serious his injuries were, the band decided to do The Beatles’ “Drive My Car” as an impromptu encore.

“We had been knocking that song around at soundcheck from time to time,” he said. “We looked at each other, maybe this is a good time to do that song. We went back on and (lead singer) John (Waite) announced to the audience that we’d just heard that John Lennon had been shot. There was stunned silence … I remember all the time I was playing that song I was thinking about John Lennon and hoping he was OK. After the show, more details had come in and he didn’t survive.

“It was a sad end to what was really sort of an exciting evening.”

That Youngstown show turned out to be one of the final performances by the band with its classic lineup of Stocker, guitar; Waite, lead vocals; Tony Brock, drums; Jonathan Cain, keyboards; and Ricky Phillips, bass.

The following night in Cincinnati, an over-zealous fan grabbed Waite on stage and injured his knee.

“He was lying on the floor and I asked, ‘Are you OK?’ ‘No, I can’t get up.’ At that point, we had to get the roadies’ attention and the stage manger. He was in agony. We finished off the song we were doing and basically said goodnight. We couldn’t go any further. Back stage, John was on the table, paramedics had been called and he was just screaming in pain.”

The following night, they played a show in Akron with Waite on crutches, but afterward, the singer said it just didn’t work.

“The tour came to a blistering halt,” Stocker said. “We had to cancel all future dates. We were hoping at the time it was just a postponement and we could come back and fulfill those dates.”

That never happened.

Cain left the band to become the keyboard player for Journey. The Babys spent several weeks in the spring of 1980 opening for Journey, which turned into an extended audition for Cain.

“I think Journey had their eye on Jonathan at the start, and there he was performing for them every night,” Stocker said.

At the same time, Waite announced he wanted to pursue a solo career. The other band members tried to persuade him to do both, but Waite declined.

“He said he was really just not interested in the politics of being in a band anymore and wanted to branch out and pursue a solo album,” Stocker said.

That was the end of The Babys for more than three decades.

Stocker and Brock stayed in touch. Brock spent several years playing drums for Rod Stewart and has toured and / or recorded with Elton John, Jeff Beck and Roy Orbison. Stocker also did a stint in Stewart’s band and played with Air Supply and Humble Pie. Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley worked for WNCX-FM in Cleveland at the time, so northeast Ohio was a frequent concert stop for that incarnation of the band, and the current version of The Babys will play the Music Box Supper Club on Sunday.

Stocker said he and Brock contacted Waite several years ago to see if he was interested in reforming The Babys. He wasn’t (Waite is performing tonight at The Kent Stage).

“Tony called me and said. ‘How would you feel if we put the band back together without John Waite, if we put the band together with another singer?’ Yeah, I’m into it if we could find the right singer.”

After auditioning many potential vocalists, John Bisaha was chosen.

“We weren’t just looking for a good singer, but on a personal level, someone who fit in as one of the boys,” Stocker said. “We needed someone who had the personality and charisma to fit in with how we wanted to run the band. John had all those qualities we were looking for, plus he could play bass.”

The current lineup also features Joey Sykes on guitar, Francesco Saglietti on keyboards and Holly Bisaha and Elisa Chadbourne as backup singers.

In addition to touring, The Babys plan to release “Timeless: Anthology II,” which will include some new songs as well as re-recorded versions of the band’s original hits. The band is raising money for the project through a Pledge Music campaign, and some of the perks for supporters include joining the band in the studio to add handclaps to “Midnight Rendezvous” or backing vocals to a version of “Back on My Feet Again.” For $100 fans can get a special recording of “Head First” with their name sung by Bisaha in the chorus.

“We wanted to make it fan friendly and to get them involved as simply as having their names mentioned in the credits to actually being on the record.”

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