John Payne is best known as the singer/bassist from Asia from 1992 through 2006. In 2007, John put together "Asia featuring John Payne" when the original members decided to initiate a reunion. Throughout his fine musical career, John has done many exciting projects. Jeff Wayne invited him to play the part of Parson Nathaniel in his massive production of "War of the Worlds" in 2007. Up until recently, John was part of the very successful Las Vegas show "Raiding the Rock Vault". Legendary Bulgarian producer Milen Vrabebski has just invited John to sing on "Intelligent Music III ", which features other talented musicians with the likes of: Simon Phillips, Tim Pierce, Nathan East, and others. In my recent conversation with John, he filled me in on all of his new projects.
R.V.B. - Hey John, This is Rob von Bernewitz from Long Island, New York - how are you today?
J.P. - Good Rob, How are you?
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good. You're out there in Las Vegas?
J.P. - Yeah, I'm out here in Vegas where it's actually got a little bit cooler. Last week up until the 4th of July was horrendous, with 115 degree temperatures.
R.V.B. - That means that you'd better hope the air conditioner is working pretty good.
J.P. - I had moved out to a hotel because I had a show out here. I co-wrote, co-created and directed a show called "Raiding the Rock Vault" for two years.' Then I got my own place out here and in one month my AC bill was $900.
R.V.B. - I could imagine. So Las Vegas is a happening place, there's lots of music going on there.
J.P. - There's a lot of rock & roll people who have moved here. I brought a big rock show into town, with members from Heart, Guns N' Roses, Quiet Riot and they all live here now. You had Frank Sinatra and all the other entertainers but now the natural progression is that all of the baby boomers are into rock & roll.
R.V.B. - How long were you part of that show?
J.P. - I was in that show for two years and I did nearly 300 shows. I did five, two hour shows a week.
R.V.B. - You've got a wide variety of projects going on. One of them is the new album coming out in the fall "Touching The Devine". Can you tell me a little bit about how that project came about?
J.P. - I had just finished my two year stint with Raiding The Rock Vault and I was working on a new Asia album. I'm also writing a new rock musical for Vegas in January 2016. I got a call from a very good friend Simon Phillips. Simon as you know has been in The Who, Toto, and he also performed on two Asia albums. One in the early 90's and one in early 2000. I've known Simon for years. He called me up and said "Look, I'm working with a couple friends of yours... Tim Pierce being one... this guy in Bulgaria is this philanthropist, musician, composer, medical guy... European citizen of the year. He does these projects and gets this incredible band together." He said "We've got Nathan East working on it. Joseph Williams from Toto." Who I had worked with The Moody Blues Cruise out of Florida. I said "It so happens that I'm not doing the Rock Show anymore here in Vegas and it's the perfect time." I went out to Bulgaria, via England. I spent a day in England and I actually got to see my mother. Then I flew off to Sophia, Bulgaria and basically went straight to the studio. I was there for around nine days. I worked on these really, really great tracks with great musicians. Milan Vrabevski is such a hard working guy. He'd be doing some of his business stuff in the early morning. We'd start at like 12 o'clock and he'd be in the studio after a full day's work with these intense arrangements and deep meaningful songs. It was quite an eye opener for me... a very educated project.
R.V.B. - When you were with Asia, did you go to Bulgaria at all or was that your first time there?
J.P. - That was my first time there. We'd actually been nearby. We were the first band to play Romania, which is next door... after Ceausescu was deposed in the early 90's. We went there and played the football stadium... Dinamo Bucuresti football stadium. I'd seen some of the cultural things and they were similar. Some of the churches were Christian meets Arabic.
R.V.B. - I sampled the video of the single "Mind Projection" from the Intelligent Music lll project, and it looked like you guys were having fun in the studio. It had that attractive woman who was a little beat up in the beginning but she came together.
J.P. - Yes she did. I didn't beat her up.
R.V.B. - Hahaha
J.P. - I don't know who beat her up.
R.V.B. - She probably fell on one of those big rocks on the beautiful landscape.
J.P. - She probably slipped. Hahaha
R.V.B. - How did you get involved in music in the first place. What sparked you to pick up an instrument?
J.P. - As a child growing up, I was always interested in facts, in science, and in music. For my choice of career, I was either going to be a musician, or a scientist. I remember when I was seven years old, my uncle... who was a Mayor of London... his name was Chris Payne, and he was a Mayor of London, as was my grandfather, and he bought me my first guitar. It was a Hohner semi-acoustic guitar and I couldn't put the thing down. I had me lessons, and started playing and playing. It kind of went from there. I was singing in the school choir.
J.P. - I feel so sorry for people today. They grow up listening to Kanye West
R.V.B.- Hahaha, I agree with you on that.
J.P. - I grew up on the verge of the final stages of the Beatles. When I was young... around 10 years old, these people were suddenly appearing, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Zeppelin, Free, it was just incredible. It was a huge leap from Be Bop jazz guitarists. The Beatles introduced it a little bit, but there wasn't much soloing going on in music until then. All of a sudden there was this blues that was brought back by The Stones and bands like that from America. We stole it and then converted it into this next wave of British Invasion. It was an incredible time and I loved Deep Purple, I loved Santana, I loved guitarists. I had a Hendrix poster hanging on my wall. I started learning more and more songs, and I formed a three piece band when I was in my teens called "Moonstone". I played guitar and sang. From that point on I just got the bug to play, and still today I pick up one of my guitars everyday and play for a while.
R.V.B. - I saw that Moonstone made some waves and you toured with Argent.
J.P. - Yeah, we supported a lot of bands. The way we worked ourselves in was kind of a devious way but it showed my determination. When I was in my teens, this local promoter in St. Albans... my nearest city... this guy called Barry Clarke... he used to pick me up from my parents house with a bucket and some glue and we used to go illegal bill posting of these concerts that he put on. He put on Spirit, Argent, all these great bands. I helped him put the posters up and he gave me the support spots for these bands.
R.V.B. - That's a great story.
J.P. - I don't think I ever told that story and I don't know how I remembered the guys name.
R.V.B. - It's a shame you didn't save some of those posters. They'd probably worth a couple of bucks now.
J.P. - There were great ones. I remember supporting The New York Dolls and it was ironic that years later the manager of The New York Dolls, Simon Napier Bell was to be my manager in Asia. It was because of that, that I then got noticed by some people. I got noticed by a producer called Allan Shacklock, who was in a rock band called "Babe Ruth". He was producing a Roger Daltrey album. He called me up and said "Would I like to do backing vocals for Raging Moon?" Then because of meeting Daltrey... I met Bill Curbishley, who was The Who's manager. He managed many bands, Robert Plant, and then became my manager. Then I slowly started climbing the ladder, rung by rung to get record deals and to eventually join Asia.
J.P. - Yes. I was working at Rod Argents house in his studio... because we became friends eventually. In the band was a guy called Phil Spalding, and he was in a band called GTR. He said "Come to the Townhouse"... which was a famous studio owned by Virgin Records, "We're mixing our first album and doing a track called 'When The Heart Rules The Mind'. Do you want to come along to the session?" So I came along to the session and there I met Geoff Downes, who was producing GTR. If you remember GTR was that super group with Steve Howe and Steve Hackett. That's where I met Geoff Downes. We became friends and he asked me to sing on some demos, that was a new project. It was going to be called Rain. A month later I got a call and they said "Would you like to join Asia?"
R.V.B. - That was quite an honor and some big shoes to fill.
J.P. - It was an honor and quite daunting at the time. That was around 1990 and then we came out with the album in 91.
R.V.B. - You came out with a lot of albums during your tenure with Asia. Is there a particular reason other than that Asia begins with an A, that most of the albums began with the letter A?
J.P. - We broke it with Silent Nation. Even now, I'm working on an Asia with J.P. album which is beginning with an A and ending with an A called 'Americana".
J.P. - It kind of became a bit of fun that we used to have. "Where do we go here for the next album". It wasn't always a word plucked from nowhere, sometimes there was a theme with that word. We've had some wonderful album covers with those as well. My friend Rodney Mathews who painted the wonderful album covers for Aqua and Arena, has come to visit me this week from the UK... just to hang out.
R.V.B. - Very nice. In your days of touring, were there any memorable shows that you may have done that really stick out and you really enjoyed in your career?
J.P. - There were some incredible ones. Two shows in particular. One was very early in my tenure in Asia, when we played the NHK Hall in Tokyo. I didn't know what to expect. It was my second show with the band. We did a warm up show in the UK and then we did this sell out tour of Japan, where we played Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. It really amazed me because they said the Japanese audience was laid back and we don't know what to expect, but we managed to sell out two nights in the NHK Hall, which holds about 5,000 people. They went crazy from start to finish and it was a wonderful experience. It was a wonderful way to start my career with Asia. There's been some great festivals that we've played, like one in Estonia which had 180,000 people. We also played the Joe Robbie stadium for the hurricane Andrew charity, and that was to 80,000 people. But there was one memorable concert, and probably the best audience we've ever had, in a small 1,500 seater in Barcelona called Gaslamp. They managed to cram about 3,000 people in there. It was in the 2,000's because Chris Slade was drumming with us, who is now in AC/DC. The audience sang every line to every song. I could hardly hear myself sing.
R.V.B. - It was just one of those magical evenings?
J.P. - Yeah, very magical.
R.V.B. - Did you become friends with any of the other artists that you were teamed up with in your travels?
J.P. - I've made a lot of friends... Geezer Butler from Sabbath. He and I are good friends. I'm good friends with Glenn Hughes from Purple. All of the guys from Kansas. We did a lot of dates with those guys. The guys from Foreigner. Some of the guys from Toto... guys from the Moody Blues. It's a very small world with the prog rock world, and a lot of these guys have incredible longevity. You're going to meet Ian Gillan somewhere, or you're going to turn up and meet Jon Anderson... Mickey Thomas or Bobby Kimball. They've all become really good friends of mine.
R.V.B. - I see that you had the honor, and I'm sure it was a very good honor, to sing at Ronnie James Dio's memorial service.
J.P. - Ronnie was a big influence to me and he influenced my voice... especially the harder rock edge of my voice. A lot of the singers from Rainbow had an influence. Joe Lynn Turner is a friend of mine. Rainbow had three great singers. Ronnie and I toured Scandinavia together and we became friends on that tour. It was an incredible honor to be asked to sing at his funeral and at the memorial service the day after. The funeral was a very personal affair. Geoff Tate, Glenn Hughes and myself all sang a song at the funeral, picked by Wendy Dio. It was very surreal at Ronnie's funeral with his casket behind me, singing to a bunch of musicians. I sang Rainbow Eyes, which is a song that he wrote about Wendy Dio. It's a great, great song. It was very emotional. I was very proud to be chosen to sing... I'm very honored.
R.V.B. - That is an honor. Now one little project that I noticed you had, sounds a little strange in a combination... you did a record with Carlene Carter. She's part of the early America country roots with The Carter Family. What kind of project was that?
J.P. - Carlene's step dad as you know is Johnny Cash, and her mother is June Carter. I was in England at the time producing... I've always been into record producing and always been into running studios... I got a call from my old studio partner Matt Walker, who's in a punk band called The Boys. He said "My friend in Norway is putting together a band. He wants four singers. He wants a rock singer, a country singer, a punk rock singer, and another country singer, and he wants to do a record in Norway." It was a record of covers. There may have been one original song on it. I went out and lived in Norway for six months. When the record came out, it was extremely successful out there in Norway. We did a lot of TV shows. It was an interesting project. I think it was around 1982 or 83. It was a long time ago.
R.V.B. - So it had a wide variety of music on it?
J.P - Yeah, we covered Strange Brew by Cream, Let's Spend The Night Together by The Stones. It was an interesting project. At the time I wasn't doing anything and I though "Why not?" I lived in another country for six months and I had a really good time.
R.V.B. - One of the other things that I've noticed that you've done in the past that was a very large production, and that was the War of the Worlds. From what I understand, it had many musicians, actors, singers, that were all put together in one production. Was that fun for you?
J.P. - And a full orchestra as well. It basically put me on the path of writing musicals here in Vegas. Jeff Wayne put out this album 75/76 and it sold 14 million copies. It had Phil Lynott on it from Thin Lizzy, Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Justin Hayward from The Moody Blues. It was narrated by the famous Richard Burton. I got a call and they said "Look, were doing this tour of 10 to 25,000 seat stadiums in the UK. Would you audition for it?" I thought "Well I've never done an audition before but it sounds so good." They want someone to do Phil Lynott's part. They need someone with a raspy voice and that can do some acting as well, and play the part of Parson Nathaniel. So I said "Ok" and I flew back to England and had an audition. They had about 40 people audition for it. I flew back to America... I didn't think anything about it. Six months later I got a call from Jeff Wayne and he said "Hi John, this is Jeff Wayne. We'd really like you to do this for us this year." So I flew out there... rehearsed, and it was an amazing experience. 110 ft. screens... Richard Burton was a hologram... a 3 ton fighting machine from War of the Worlds. It was mixed by Gary Langhan in surround sound. It was a wonderful experience.
R,V,B, - That sounds like a big production and a lot of fun. Did you enjoy the acting portion of it?
J.P. - Yeah, it was scary. I'm used to singing and holding a bass, and there I'm dressed as a Parson. I have to wait half way out of the show before I move out of the fog. I was this deranged Parson... screaming. My wife in the show was Beth, from the story. I would act with her and then I sing. It was incredible to act with Richard Burton, who had been dead for years but was on stage with a hologram.
R.V.B. - That's amazing. Did you do any other kind of theatrical work?
J.P - I did soundtrack work. There was Rider of the Storm or The American Way, which is a film with Dustin Hoffman and Michael J Pollard. I did a song on the theme track of that. I did the theme track for Freddie as F.R.O.7., which is a huge cartoon with Lay Down Your Arms... an Asia song. That's something I like to get into a little more. I can't believe as I get older, I keep giving myself more work.
R.V.B. - Well you have to stay busy. I see one of the things that you're staying busy with is that you occasionally do the fantasy camps.
J.P. - I've done those for David Fishof as well. I haven't done one for a while. I'm doing a producer camp called "CardoCamp" now with Ron Nevison. He's produced Led Zeppelin, The Stones, Bad Company, Heart and others.
R.V.B. - What does that entail?
J.P. - Bands actually enter a competition and they win three days with a production team.
R.V.B. - I see. What are your future plans? Are you going to support the "Touching The Devine" record?
J.P. - Yes. I'm really up for working with Milan again. I have a new Asia album that I'm finishing up. I have a new concept for a themed club experience here in Vegas called "Vegas Rock Apocalypse". I have a new musical called "Stairway" starting. I have a cooking show. Hahaha
R.V.B. - What's your specialty?
J.P. - My specialty is cooking and getting drunk.
R.V.B. - Hahaha. That sounds like my kind of specialty
J.P. - Yeah, it's a comedic specialty. It's something I love to do. Get a bottle of wine, start with some olive oil, garlic and onions, and see what else is in the cupboard.
R.V.B. - I see. Now you played bass with Asia, correct?
J.P. - Yes
R.V.B. - Did you start off primarily as a guitar player and work the bass in later on?
J.P. - Correct, yes. I play a bit of keyboards. I play a lot of stringed instruments. When I was asked to join Asia, they asked if I could play bass. I played bass on some albums before, but I've never played bass live and be the lead vocalist. Especially something that's progressive, where you've got one time signature on the bass and another time signature singing. That was my only bit of trepidation. After a while it was a little more natural and now I have a huge bass collection, from influences from Chris Squire with Rickenbacker's to my signature Brown's bass. I love doing bass now. It's a very under rated instrument.
R.V.B. - You approach the song in a completely different way. How many musical instruments do you own.
J.P. - With keyboards and guitars, it's over a hundred.
R.V.B. - I gather you have a large storage facility.
J.P. - I have a five bedroom home here in Vegas. Between my garage, my live room, and my recording studio/mixing room, it's full to the ceiling of bits and bobs.
R.V.B. - It must be a hard decision to wake up and say "Let's see, which one should I play today?"
J.P. - You usually go to your favorites though. Because of my last show "Raiding The Rock Vault"... which won best Vegas Musical... I played a different bass through the years. I try to go from a Jazz bass to a Rickenbacker, to a Les Paul bass, to a Gretsch. It would depend on what year we were conveying musically.
J.P. - My favorite bass that I like to play is my Brown signature. It's half fretted and half fretless
R.V.B. - Nice. Congratulations on all your hard work and your great accomplishments. It's paying off and your career is still going strong. We're looking forward to hearing some more Asia music. We're looking forward to the "Touching the Devine" album coming out. The single is very good with excellent vocals.
J.P. - It's got a really cool guitar solo.
R.V.B. - One other thing... the name Payne... Do you know if you have any relatives on eastern Long Island because there were some early settlers with that name there?
J.P. - I believe some of the founding fathers were related to me. In conjecture, I'm related to Thomas Payne. We've tried to go through some records and some of the early Payne's were from the east coast. Some changed the spelling of it as Pane, or Pain. It's very possible that I'm related to a lot of the east coast Payne's.
R.V.B. - I guess it would be a big project figuring it out and researching the name Payne.
J.P. It would. I'm interested in it, but I'm also a mathematical person. With something like this, if you make one wrong turn, your assumptions are really off. Some of the birth registers are destroyed or not accurate. A lot of people in those days were born out of wedlock. There was no contraception.
R.V.B. - True. Thank you very much for spending this time with me. It was fascinating.
J.P. - Thank you so much.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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