Thursday, March 31, 2016
Some of my favorite memories are set to the music of the Babys, and hearing those classic tunes of the late 1970s and early 1980s even now always takes me right back to those great times. I bought their third album "Head First" on one of my first dates with my first love, and now it serves as a soundtrack to happy reminiscences. On the other hand, their later hit single "Turn and Walk Away" could have been written just for me, as I was listening to it right in the midst of one of my (many) not-quite-so-well-thought-out romantic disasters. The band might have broken up back in 1981, but their five studio albums, a greatest hits compilation, and a few bootlegs haven't left my record/tape/CD players since then.
Imagine my surprise when, some 30-plus years later, I read that the reformed group of original members Wally Stocker and Tony Brock, plus new Babys cohorts John Bisaha, Joey Sykes, Eric Ragno, and Babettes Holly Bisaha and Elisa Chadborne, were coming to town for a June 26, 2015 concert at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY. I immediately started scheming to find a way to be involved in this reunion -- to give a little something back for the more than three decades of pleasure -- and I figured a good place to start would be writing a story to promote the show for the paper.
I sent the band a message through their website, leaving my name and phone number but not really having too high expectations at first. Surprisingly, the very next day I had a message on my machine from their new singer John Bisaha himself calling from California to leave his own cell phone number. Now, I've written many stories on famous bands since I started working for the Oneida Dispatch newspaper in 1983, but this was definitely the quickest response I'd ever gotten, and I don't know if the lead singer has ever been the one to return the message. Usually there is a whole bunch of red tape and hoops to hurdle through ... but not this time. I called him back, and we chatted about the new version of the band and shared our own personal remembrances as fans ourselves during their heyday. I got a great interview, and ended up with enough material for stories in both the Oneida Dispatch and the Mid-York Weekly papers.
Perhaps because the interview process went so well and we seemed to hit it off, I was motivated to really push my luck even further. For the last decade or more I had often worked with local Oneida radio station MIX 106.3 promoting my own band Coston, our local Sherrill Summer Concert Series, and other activities, and I figured it would be nice to give them a little payback for their hospitality. I asked John if he might consider coming to Oneida before their Turning Stone show for a live on the air interview. He said it would be no problem. That really blew me away, although I tried to keep my professional edge and not sound too surprised. Of course, I really didn't have the authority to ask anyone to come to the radio station for a live interview, but I figured the powers-that-be would never turn down the chance to have a world famous band they regularly play on the air in the studio. Especially when it wouldn't cost them anything and I was taking care of all the arrangements. John said he would check to see how many bandmates he could convince to come to the radio station, and I contacted the station's program director to tell him the good news.
I was absolutely stunned by his reaction.
Here I wanted to share my good fortune with them and bring them into the fun, likely even making some excitement for the station as well. The program director responded that he was working his other job that day and wouldn't be there, asking if the Babys might be able to come some other day? I thought I heard wrong, so I explained it was the Babys themselves -- famed for classic songs like "Every Time I Think of You," "Isn't It Time," and "Midnight Rendezvous" -- coming in for a concert on their tour from their California home base. There would not be a different day they would be available. He still said that date was impossible, so I called John back with my incredulous bad news.
But his response brought me back from that deflation ... John graciously offered to do whatever he had to do to make the interview happen. At that point, of course, another date was really out of the question as they were traveling from state to state on the tour. I wasn't about to ask them to come back to Central New York for a radio interview. Luckily, I told MIX 106.3 radio show personality Todd Emanuelli of my plight, and he pulled the strings at the station needed to make the show happen. We scheduled it for the noon interview the day of their Turning Stone show.
The show was on a Friday, and Wednesday evening I got another call from John saying the band was in dire need of a banner with their logo on it for the drum riser. This turned out to only be a minor challenge since I had the cell number of my buddy Duane DeFrees at Oneida Printshop. I called him at home, and he ended up going back to his shop to design that banner using a logo John emailed him. The expected arrival time back from the banner maker was shortly after noon on Friday -- plenty of time to get it to the show!
The big day finally arrived, and I was equal parts excited and nervous. It turned out the entire band was coming to town on their tour bus, so I told them to park in the plaza next to the radio station so they would have the space for their massive transit. As I waited for the bus, my high school pal Lisa McClenthan stopped by to see what I was up to just standing around the parking lot. I told her I was waiting for the Babys, and she quickly joined the fun and snapped numerous photos of their arrival and our first meeting.
Then, the bus was finally visible coming up the street. But we watched as it drove right past the entrance to the plaza. I couldn't imagine what that 50-foot tour bus was going to do now on the busiest street in Oneida, but suddenly the driver stopped and backed in the driveway alongside the radio station. I wouldn't have tried that maneuver in my little Ford Focus. Once my jaw was off the ground, I composed myself enough to quickly head over there to greet the band.
Introductions were made all around, and we continued into the radio station for more with their crew before settling in for the noon interview. Sadly, one of the acoustic guitars I borrowed for the band wasn't really up to their professional standards ... it hadn't really occurred to me beforehand that a world-traveling band might expect instrumentation a little higher quality than what I had. My bad. But once again John impressed me by not blaming the guitar but blaming the early morning hour for their shortened live on the air musical performance. That was some kind of class!
Check out my video of the Babys and Todd chatting here:
Babys live on MIX 106.3
They joked with Todd and played an acoustic version of "Head First." Afterwards they got on the bus and headed back to the venue for the final sound checks, and I left for the printshop to pick up the banner. It was finished on time and delivered without a hitch, and I even got to watch a bit of the sound check to see how the pros do it.
The concert that night was incredible. I shared the experience with my old college friends George and Sue Riley -- George was the lead singer in our St. Bonaventure University band back in the 1980s -- while current Coston guitarist Roy Coston and his wife Deb were there as well for a true then-and-now moment. And wasn't that really what this show was all about?
The Babys members and I still keep in touch via Facebook, and our meeting has paid dividends by introducing me to Joey's solo material which is great stuff in itself. Unfortunately, the radio station has been sold, so it doesn't look like we will ever have a repeat engagement, but this day will live on forever in my memory as a great time with some great folks. The Babys still rock, and it was my pleasure to do my part in spreading the word of their reunion!