- - Thursday, April 13, 2017

Let’s get one thing straight: No, John Wicks is not the inspiration for the fictional character Keanu Reeves plays in the recent action flick sequel. (Besides, that is Wick, singular.) Rather, Mr. Wicks is a singer/songwriter extraordinaire best known as the leader of The Records, a Beatles-influenced “power pop” band that may just have invented the genre.

Despite The Records’ 1979 hit single “Starry Eyes” long being regarded as a near-perfect song, the band left the music scene in the early-‘80s. However, Mr. Wicks has carried on, splitting his time between touring with his own version of The Records and playing in his band, Broken Sky, a duo he formed with Debbi Peterson of The Bangles.

Mr. Wicks discussed the ups and downs of his life, including the hit that was “Starry Eyes,” and surviving his recent battles with cancer.

Question: Your music has a very ‘60s quality, but you came up in the ‘70s and early-‘80s. Do you ever feel like a man out of time?

Answer: Yes and no. I was born in ‘53, so I was 10 or 11 when The Beatles first came out. I was into music before that because my mother used to play classical stuff [but] I was not really thinking about music as a career. I was too young.

But The Beatles thing and that songwriting really knocked it out of the ballpark for me. I thought, “Oh, you can write your own songs?” Then I started feverishly starting to do that. Then I had a hit and never really looked back.

I’m glad in a way I was born when I was. It would have been nice to be part of the British Invasion, I suppose, but at the same time, it was great growing up with that as the thing that influenced me and so many people.

Q: You’ve had medical issues in recent years. Do you believe music has the power to heal?

A: Definitely. For me, I thought music was something I would never do again because the cancer crippled me. Literally. My fingers are still a bit weird. But I guess I was so sick at that point I couldn’t even think about playing music again.

Then I was asked to do a benefit and thought, “I’ll try to do that.” Then I picked the guitar up and couldn’t [play]. I tried a few weeks later.

Doing that show was an incentive to at least try. It went on from there.

Q: How is your health these days?

A: I guess they call it remission at this point. I was bombarded with chemo every other week for a whole year. They started spacing it out to every three weeks now. That kind of gives me a break to build myself up again.

Apparently I tolerate it well. I would hate to be somebody who doesn’t. It really sort of knocks you for a loop. I would see people coming in the office for treatments and think, “They don’t look like they’re gonna last long.” But then the nurse told me I was getting the strongest chemo doses of anyone there.

Q: What were the early years of your career like?

A: Great. In the late-‘70s and ‘80s everybody kind of knew each other. We all toured and came up together. We knew Elvis Costello and The Police. It was kind of nice because it was like another mini-British Invasion. You felt connected, like you were part of a force that was bigger than each individual band.

It was like a mini-movement and people started to take notice because it was a bunch of bands together.

Q: Where did “Starry Eyes” come from?

A: Sometimes things just come together. I was listening to the radio and heard “Do Anything You Wanna Do” by Eddie and the Hot Rods. I said to Will Birch, who wrote the lyrics, “We’ve got to write a song like this!” It was really cool. I did the music.

At the time that song was written, we had this whole thing with our manager. He was a nice guy; he would always put things off. We felt like if we don’t move on faster, things would fall apart. It was my instigation to look for somebody else, which we did.

Will wrote this song and put it in front of me in this rehearsal room. It didn’t have a title; it just had a place where “starry eyes” went. Because the then-ex-manager’s name was Frank Silver, I called it “Silver Song.” I just used the same kind of jangly chords I’d used as a kid, and five minutes later it was done.

I said to Will, “This is a classic! This is gonna be big!”

Q: Of all the songs you’ve written, why do you think that “Starry Eyes” became the hit?

A: I think probably because it reminded them of The Byrds and that jangly sort of thing. So many things fell into place that made it a lucky thing. We went out on the Stiff [Records] Tour and played [the New York City club] The Bottom Line backing Rachel Sweet. We took the single with us. And the guy in the club played it.

Next thing we knew the DJ at WNEW was playing it three times a day. It spread across America.

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: I’m doing different things with a lot of people. Everybody sort of seems to do that now. Sting goes and gets Peter Gabriel to come out on the road. I think this time in music is interesting for the public. Artists touring with other artists makes it more interesting. I kind of like that. It broadens the horizons and makes it more interesting for everyone.


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