Drummer Tony Brock has seen some wild times across the many decades that he’s been making music. His 12-year stint behind the kit playing drums for Rod Stewart in the ‘80s and early ‘90s left him with plenty of stories.
“There’s nothing to top some of those shows,” he says during a recent phone conversation from his California home. Brock brings his other band, the Babys, to the Music Box Supper Club on Oct. 1.
One particular show found him in front of an audience of over half a million in Rio, Brock was easing into his drum solo and quickly realized that it was no ordinary night.
“I started my drum solo and you know, they’re all brought up on hitting things and they’ve got a lot of rhythm in them,” he says. “All I could hear was this noise coming back from the audience and so I stopped, and it’s the audience just going crazy and playing all by themselves. So I got off the drum kit and walked out in front and let them do a little bit by themselves and then came back and finished the drum solo off. In fact, when I woke up the next morning, on the news, there was my drum solo. They love percussionists down there.”
Brock’s first encounter with Stewart came in the mid-’70s when the legendary vocalist called and asked if he wanted to join his band. The thing is, Brock had formed his own group, the Babys, and they had just signed a record deal. Heading to Toronto to begin work on the band’s debut album, the drummer knew that the time sadly wasn’t right and he declined Stewart’s invitation.
The Babys — featuring an initial lineup of vocalist/bassist John Waite, guitarist Wally Stocker, keyboardist Michael Corby and Brock — ultimately released five albums on Chrysalis Records between 1977 and 1980. Bassist Ricky Phillips and keyboardist Jonathan Cain (replacing Corby) joined in 1978 prior to the release of the group’s third album the following year.
Despite getting extensive airplay at rock radio with songs like “Midnight Rendezvous” and “Head First,” and scoring a trio of Top 40 hits with “Isn’t It Time,” “Every Time I Think of You” and “Back On My Feet Again,” the group wasn’t considered to be successful at the time. But listening to its songs and albums now, it’s not hard to look at some of the bands that were having success in the '80s — including Journey, which eventually poached Cain from the Babys to play keyboards — and wonder if the Babys were simply just a bit ahead of their time.
“I think so, yeah. You know, Wally and I have always said we just needed one more album and it would just push us over the edge,” Brock says now. “Because it didn’t matter where we went in America, we still packed the places. Everybody loved our live show.”
They received heavy radio support from WMMS here locally — to the point that the station aired three Babys live concerts in 1977, 1979 and 1980 at the Cleveland Agora. The broadcasts, particularly the 1980 show, reveal that the group had an intense presence and spirit that would seem to make them an easy match for any bill, no matter the headliner.
“We never had a band we couldn’t stand to. In fact, one show, we had to go on after AC/DC and can you imagine how tough that was? I mean, AC/DC live are just deadly,” he says. “You know, it was the Bon Scott version of the band. I remember while AC/DC were on the stage, an M-90 came up on stage and just blew up and the drummer, Phil Rudd, fell off his drum kit, because his ears were hurting so much. I was behind Phil and my ears were ringing. I mean, they haven’t stopped ringing ever since. But we had to go on after them, and I’ll tell you the truth, I was scared shitless. But we pulled it off, and the crowd loved us.”
More than two decades after the band split up in 1980, Brock and Stocker have assembled a new lineup. With Cain in Journey, Phillips in Styx and Waite preferring to stay with his solo career, the pair auditioned new members.
“It was kind of exciting, but nervous at the same time. John Waite is a great singer and [those are] some big shoes to fill. But [singer] John Bisaha has done that and more. As soon as the [news] went out around the streets, I didn’t even have to advertise. Word of mouth that the Babys are going to be put back together, and I’m looking for a new singer. They were around the block from my studio all the way around the block, ready to come in.”
Impressed by Bisaha, Brock was still skeptical and put the prospective vocalist through the wringer.
“He started getting a bit tired. I got John back about five times, just to make sure he was the right guy. He was going, ‘Dude, don’t you know by now?’ I said, ‘No, this is such a tough job to fill, and we have to have the right guy.’ I filmed him and had him sing on some of the original tracks and it was just magic. I said, ‘You’re the man.’”
With guitarist Joey Sykes completing the revised lineup, which is augmented by two background vocalists (the Babettes) and a keyboardist, the band has been building a solid following over the past five years since they reformed. They’ve been to Akron twice for a pair of sold out shows and will look to add to that total with the Music Box Supper Club gig.
Brock offers the assurance that fans will not be disappointed with what they hear.
“We sound like the original Babys, like our Broken Heart
record,” he says. “We’re more like that. It’s tough. ‘Head First’ sounds like it did when we had a great night with the original Babys.”
In a 2013 interview, Waite gave his thumbs up to the newly revitalized Babys.
“I feel like all of the pressure’s off me. Honestly, I do. I wish them the best,” he said at that time. “Nobody’s ever going to say to me now, ‘When are you putting the Babys back together?’ I wouldn’t do it anyway, because I don’t want to go back [to a band] because I like playing solo. But I’m glad that Wally and Tony are playing together again, because they play really well together — they were meant to play together. If it makes people happy — and those songs meant a lot to people — and they can take it to the next step, God bless ‘em, you know?”
“John just wanted to stay on his own. I respect that,” Brock says. “I’ve asked him too many times. He just wants to be on his own. We’re great friends still. We still email each other and see what’s going on.”
For the Babys, they’ve got plenty going on. After releasing a new studio album, I’ll Have Some of That
, in 2014 with the appropriately titled lead single, “Not Ready To Say Goodbye,” the band is pushing forward with another forthcoming new release. This time, they’re taking a look back at their past catalog with a new anthology, titled Timeless
, which fans can pre-order now on PledgeMusic
“We’ve grown over the last five years; we’ve become a unit that I think the Babys should have been years ago,” Brock explains. “I think we’re better now and we have magic together now. So it’s like, ‘Well, why don’t we go in and do the hits and give them a couple of new ones the way we sound now?’ I’m listening to some of the masters [from the new recordings], and I’m really proud of them. I think we’ve done them justice.”
And there’s a fun added twist — fans can be a part of the recording process. They can come do handclaps on “Midnight Rendezvous” or be part of the chorus singing background vocals on “Back on My Feet Again.” If it’s the personalized experience you’re looking for, you can get a custom version of “Head First” with your name in the chorus.
“It makes people part of it. That’s kind of what we’re all about this time,” he says. “The original version of the Babys, we were fantastic, and we had a lovely incredible magic together, but it was tough. Everybody had their input and everybody has their input on the new version of the band, but I can’t put enough good words in there to tell you how great it is and how proud we are of each other. There’s no fighting going on, it’s just, let’s get on with it and we enjoy every [moment] now and you know, at my age, I need to. [Laughs] I don’t want to get up there and do the same stuff that we used to do and it not mean anything.”
The Babys, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct 1, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $28 ADV, $32 DOS, musicboxcle.com.