The Moody Blues were a staple of the Swinging London scene of the late ’60s. Were you the type to socialize with your fellow musicians back then? If so, was there anyone you were particularly friendly with, say Jimi Hendrix or Pete Townshend, for example?
JH: My experience with Jimi was that he was very quiet. He was a gentleman. He was never a kind of “holding court” kind of rock star. He was a quiet, introverted kind of guy, and that was my entire experience with him, really. I could never imagine him with a lot of people around and being the center of the conversation. He’d be on the edge of the conversation.
Pete I know through songs, and I’ve always kind of more or less stayed in touch with him. But I see these people at songwriters’ dinners and receptions sometimes, and it’s like nothing has happened. You know, you don’t have to introduce yourself again. It’s “Hey, Justin, what’s up?” So it was like a kind of club, because the business wasn’t that big in the ’60s. There weren’t that many groups on the British scene, and I think there was clearly a defined river of music that you could see quite clearly going by, and I think now it’s a sort of swamp everywhere (chuckles) and it’s hard to really pin it down. It was easier then, and when we came to America, radio helped us tremendously. So by the time we finished our first tour for Bill Graham, who brought us over the first time, we were already in with a lot of musicians of the time — Poco and Crosby, Stills and Nash and those kind of groups.
Before you joined the band, the original Moody Blues were basically an R&B act. You changed their direction, did you not?
JH: Absolutely. We weren’t very good at playing the blues. (laughs). I think that I was recruited by the group mainly as a songwriter, because my songs had been sent to the group, and that’s why [original keyboard player] Mike Pinder even called me. As soon as we lost the enthusiasm for not doing our own songs and started doing our own material, that was the turning point, I think. Because then we were speaking for ourselves, from our own heart, and that made the difference.
Why did the original group disband?
JH: The original band was so short-lived, and Denny (Laine) and Clint (Warwick), the original bass player, weren’t involved for that long. I don’t know why Denny left, because I wasn’t there, but I have seen Denny many times since, and he didn’t think it was his place in that group. I think, really, for the three that were left, like (flautist) Ray (Thomas) and Graeme, it all came together when me and John joined. John and I didn’t know each other, but we joined at the same time, and we were the right five people, so it worked.
Your albums were always conceptual. Did they originate with a concept or with the songs themselves?
JH: Both ways. Both kind of things. Sometimes it would just start with a couple of songs, and then other times, it would start with an idea. So who knows?
Are you disappointed that the Moody Blues have never been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
JH: I think it’s important for the American fans. Of course, it means nothing in Europe at all.
I don’t know. I think there are probably other people who are more deserving, and I can’t see us ever being in there, really. I’m not sure that the people that elect that stuff, that we’re their cup of tea. It would be nice if it happened, but I won’t be losing any sleep over it. I’ve worked there (at the Hall of Fame) a few times and done receptions there. I did a thing with the World Wildlife Fund there, and I was a little disappointed, particularly when I saw the lack of space they gave to Buddy Holly. He was the biggest artist ever in the U.K. and when I went there, I expected to see a big wall of him and there was less than a meter. So I don’t put that much of an influence by it. But as I said, it would be nice for the American fans.
Are you aware of how much your music impacted a certain generation of young people, the kids that would listen to your music in their dorm rooms and absorb every nuance?
JH: I know that from looking at those sort of Moody Blues fan communities, there’s a lot of people, young people who relate to the stuff we did when we were young, and maybe that’s some common experience that they were having.
I’m very aware that people always love the music of their youth, and we’re very fortunate in that it resonates with so many people. And people of today often say to me, “Oh, the music of today, it will never last,” but I always say, “No, that’s not true.” What kids in those dorms now are listening to and loving and falling in love to, it will stay with them for the rest of their lives. So we’re very lucky that’s what happened with us. We’ve become part of people’s lives. Maybe not everyone’s favorite band, but we’re there in the background.
Do you ever get nostalgic for those earlier times and the way things were?
JH: I do get nostalgic for the way we would tour in the ’60s and early ’70s, particularly when you have five or six different groups on the bill. Then you get to know everybody, and you get to know other musicians. It was kind of a nice club, and we were particularly fortunate, looking back on it now. I never realized it at the time, but to be in London, to be a part of that scene — of which The Beatles were the leaders through the ’60s — that was a wonderful thing to share. I miss those kind of days, but I don’t particularly want to go back. I don’t want to go back to living in a bedsitting room or wondering if my car is going to get down the motorway. I’d rather be on the bus on a nice USA tour.
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