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Justin Hayward mulls Mellotrons, Monkees and the modern Moody Blues

The frontman mulls his solo career, the Moody Blues' 'Passed' LP and present tours, and how life in a band is nothing like what you saw on 'The Monkees' TV show.

By Mike Greenblatt

It was 17 years between Justin Hayward’s last solo effort, 1996’s “The View From The Hill,” and 2013' “Spirits of The Western Sky” (Eagle Rock Entertainment), his sixth solo album. The romantic, dreamy album is filled with catchy melodic inventions, a left-field dance-floor surprise, some sprightly bluegrass with fiddle and pedal-steel and a gorgeous track — “On The Road To Love”— with Kenny Loggins.

Orchestrated by Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley, the album’s feel is akin to some of Hayward’s more majestic moments as singer, songwriter and lead guitarist with the Moody Blues. Still in demand as a touring act in The Moody Blues with bassist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge, Hayward called in from the road to ponder all things music and Moody.

Justin Hayward Spirits of The Western Sky

Goldmine: I love the country stuff. That was a surprise.
Justin Hayward:
Yeah! I first went to Nashville 16 years ago, when I was asked by a songwriter society to be part of a showcase with Stevie Winwood and Michael McDonald. So I did it, and when I realized how welcome they made me feel, it really took me by surprise. Over the years, I’ve made lots of friends there. It just seemed like a natural move, really, it did, and I loved every moment of it.

GM: Here you are, a British rock star coming into town and making better country music than the garbage on country radio these days.
JH: Oh, no, Mike, Mike, please …

GM: That’s not you sayin’ that, it’s me.
JH: The interesting thing with bluegrass — and those are bluegrass tracks — is that that particular genre has very strict rules: no electric guitars, no electric bass and no drums. So when you do a session, you can do three songs in a day. It’s not like having to mess around with Pro Tools working out how you’re going to put bits together. Those guys just show up, I play them the song, give them the chords, and then we do it. And they say, “Did you like it?” And I either do, or we do it again together. And that’s something I haven’t done for a long time.

GM: I also dug “Out There Somewhere” and its 8:19 dance mix. It really is out there, man! Plus, it’s not that much of a stretch for you to do these dance track remixes, because you did that already in 1980 with “Night Flight.”
JH: Yes, exactly. [“Night Flight” Producer] Jeff Wayne was kind of hot on that. Even for the stuff I did on his “The War Of The Worlds” album, he’d always do dance versions. “Out There Somewhere” just lent itself to that naturally. I wish I could say it was my idea, but it was the two Swedish boys who came up with the idea. I have to give them credit, because they were quite strict about what they wanted from me. They only wanted my old DX7 and voice doing certain parts, and they took care of the beats. It was a real pleasure.

Moody Blues publicity photo

The Moody Blues have been together for a long time. As the band's success grew, so did discord among the members, said Justin Hayward. "Inside a group of guys, as you can imagine, there's very strong sort of alpha-male stuff going on with very intense personality clashes that have to be dealt with. I wish it was always like 'The Monkees' but it never is. These days, The Moody Blues tour as a trio consisting of Graeme Edge, John Lodge and Hayward. Publicity photo.

GM: How has it been these days to go out with The Moody Blues?
We’re offered more work now than we ever were when we were younger. I think the three of us who are still in the band really treasure it. It’s a real privilege to go out on the road, because we all really still want to do it. I remember a couple of years ago, we were on the bus, getting a bit disillusioned about the records we made. I mean, we have put out new albums over the last 10 years or so, but they’ve always been used to just piggy-back on the next “greatest hits” collection or something like that. And the disillusion set in about that, so we decided the most exciting thing we could do was to re-discover the huge catalog we had of Moody Blues stuff: songs we only ever played for a day or two, three or four tops, in the studio, then forgot about and moved on, having never played them on a stage. So that’s what we’re doing at the moment: re-discovering ourselves and our own early work, bringing that to the stage and really enjoying it.

GM: Like what?
JH: There’s a song called “You And Me” off “Seventh Sojourn” that Graeme wrote the lyrics and I did the guitar riff for. We’d never ever done it! That’s absolutely great to play. We did “Say It With Love” [“Keys Of The Kingdom”] for one tour, and it wasn’t quite right. We’ve just started to look at it again. There’s a song of John’s called “Nervous” and one of mine called “Meanwhile” that we’d never done before from “Long Distance Voyager,” plus there’s “The Day We Meet Again” [“Octave”]. It’s been totally refreshing to enjoy these songs for the first time instead of under the pressure of having to get it done in the studio within one or two days.

GM: I used to love “Timothy Leary’s Dead” and “Ride My See-Saw.”
JH: Well, he really is dead now. Timothy Leary was a great friend to the band.

GM: Was he really? The LSD guru? Did he dose you up?
JH: [laughs] We met him on our first tour when our friends in Jefferson Airplane asked us if we wanted to play what was once called a “love-in” at Elysian Park in Los Angeles. They had a huge truck with a generator in it, where you could roll down the side of the truck and it made for a nice stage. So we did it, and Timothy Leary was there. Mike [Pinder] and Ray [Thomas] and I went up to stay at his ranch for the weekend. We were, indeed, offered some LSD, but I don’t think any of us took it that particular time. I had already done it by then, anyway, and it certainly wasn’t pressed on me. Those few nights were lovely. We talked on into the night and played music. He wound up becoming a good friend of the band after that, and we would always see him when we were in the U.S.

GM: Did he like “Timothy Leary’s Dead”?
He always said it made him more famous. It was a tongue-in-cheek song. He had great love of our music. We were doing a session with [producer] Dennis Lambert in New York when we spoke to him for the last time.

GM: You replaced Denny Laine in The Moody Blues after having been a solo artist produced by British skiffle king Lonnie Donegan.
JH: Yes, that’s right. I had done a couple of records for Pye after starting as a guitar player for a guy named Marty Wilde after I left school. He was a rock ’n’ roll singer in the U.K. who was very famous in the late ’50s/early ’60s. I actually signed to Donegan Publishing, which was the biggest mistake I ever made, because I lost my first eight years of copyrights and I never got them back. I can’t say they were great records. I was writing a lot, though, and had sent a load of songs to Eric Burdon.

GM: In trying to join The Animals, you had no way of knowing that the lead guitar slot had already been filled by Hilton Valentine.
JH: Yes, Eric had already found what he wanted. He told me he liked my songs, but they weren’t right for him. The next thing I know, all my demos and my letter-of-introduction had been passed to Mike Pinder, and I got a call from Pinder and the Moodies completely out of the blue [in 1966]. It was one of those wonderful slices of life that changed my life completely. I got very lucky there. I met Mike, and we hit it off, and a few days later I met the rest of the band. Denny had left a few days before. Clint Warwick was still the bass player. I didn’t meet John [Lodge] for the first few weeks.

Justin Hayward Moody Blues

Justin Hayward has no problem keeping busy, either as a solo act or with The Moody blues. "We're offered more work now than we ever were when we were younger. I think the three of us who are still in the band really treasure it. Jim Vallee/

GM: You ushered in a whole new movement in Moody Blues history. They had been an R&B band with one hit, a cover of an American soul song, “Go Now,” which Laine sang the hell out of.
JH: They weren’t an R&B band very long, maybe a year. When Denny left, he took that R&B strain with him, and I think when I joined the band, we all realized within a few weeks that the rhythm and blues aspect just wasn’t coming from our hearts. As a group, we had to do something else. I was writing a different kind of music. So was Mike. Then Mike found this instrument called the Mellotron, and suddenly my songs worked, and we were sincere. We were completely phony trying to sing about the problems of the people in America’s deep south. We were a bunch of middle-class English guys. It was ridiculous.

GM: All of the British bands at that time aped American R&B from The Animals, Kinks and Stones to The Beatles and Dave Clark Five.
JH: I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for us. We were no good at it. There were other English boys who could play that stuff better.

GM: So between the introduction of the Mellotron and your new kind of compositions, it all amounted to a perfect storm that resulted in one of the greatest albums of the 1960s, “Days of Future Passed.” Wasn’t this pushed along because your label wanted to experiment with a classical/rock synthesis, and they picked your band to do it?
JH: They did, thankfully, pick us, yeah. What they wanted was a demonstration stereo record, so they could sell stereo units in their consumer division. We owed the label some money, and they suggested we do a rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” interspersed with the orchestra of Peter Knight, who they also had under contract doing it the standard way. They would master the recordings in “beautiful stereophonic sound,” as they called it. Knight came to see us in an Oxford Street club in London and said he liked our sound better. “It’s not going to be right if you do Dvorak,” he said. “The best way is to do your own songs, and I’ll orchestrate them.” And that’s what we did. The fortunate part was the fact that it was so beautifully recorded. Stereo wasn’t all that great back then. Even The Beatles’ material that was recorded in stereo was really bad, with drums on the left and vocals on the right or whatever. Those early Beatles songs always sounded much better in mono, the way they were meant to sound. But “Days Of Future Passed,” with FM radio starting in America, was just perfect. At last! A proper stereo portrait! Such beautifully recorded stuff from a pop group!

The Moody Blues Days of Future Passed album

GM: Your solo career stems back all the way to 1977. Your “Songwriter” album is leaner and meaner than anything Moodies-wise — stripped down and blunt, baby! I guess you really wanted to step away from the orchestrated grandiosity of the band, no?
JH: Well, there’s still some grandiosity on that record, but, yes, that’s true. I had wanted to work with keyboardist Ken Freeman and drummer Dave Holland [Judas Priest/Trapeze]. Their styles are both very straight ahead, not over-produced. And it came out like that. “Songwriter” was a real personal expression for me. For the first time in my life, Decca gave me the opportunity to make the album that I really wanted to make. It was during a time when The Moody Blues were really going through difficult personality problems. It all got a bit impossible in the Moodies. I was very glad and very grateful to Decca for giving me the opportunity.

GM: Why do bands always end up hating each other? I just finished reading David Browne’s brilliant “Fire And Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story Of 1970,” and everybody hated everybody. Are you saying The Moody Blues went through a similar experience?
JH: Yeah, we did. It was very difficult. I mean, first we were living together in a house with no responsibilities, not even paying the rent, trying to avoid the milkman and staying in the back of the transit van. Then we were performing in huge stadiums, girlfriends becoming wives, and having a whole support system giving us input into one ear that wasn’t always conducive to what was right for the band. We had to go discover ourselves as men. You can’t just live in the back of the van forever with no responsibilities. We went from being five boys and grew to being five men, six with [producer] Tony Clarke, because he was very much a part of the group. Our lives had completely changed, and I think by the early ’70s, we realized we had to do something about it. Also, inside a group of guys, as you can imagine, there’s very strong sort of alpha-male stuff going on with very intense personality clashes that have to be dealt with. I wish it was always like “The Monkees,” but it never is.

GM: You do a song with Kenny Loggins on the album. I know you two are friends.
JH: We were acquaintances. You couldn’t say we were friends or buddies. He was in the same hotel in Albuquerque, N.M., as we were, and he had a night off while we were working. Then we had a night off when he was working. So I met him and we decided to spend an afternoon writing something. Fortunately, Kenny is a beautiful person who led me through this unusual experience of co-writing. I rarely co-write. I’m never that happy with it. But he made it so easy, and it was so much fun. And then I made a demo of it, sent it to him, he added to that demo, and we did it kind of by mail. Well, our engineers did it by sending files to each other. And it ended up that he was the one who made the greatest contribution to the recording. His harmony vocals and his backing vocals are just superb. He has a great vocal style and guitar-playing style. That particular track would be such a different-sounding track without Kenny’s input. It’s really more than 50 percent him. It just happens to be me singing.

GM: Any closing comments?
JH: It’s really from my heart. It’s the first record I can truly say that this is really, really what I want to do. And I’m aware that it may not be everybody’s cup of tea. It was written about people who I know. As I get older, I fall in love with more people. I don’t mean I’m having sex with a lot of people. It’s just that as I get on in years, I meet both boys and girls, men and women, that make me realize the value of being close to people, discovering people and not locking myself away. Also, for this record, I recorded a few things with Alberto, my co-producer, that contained some social commentary… but I didn’t include them. When I looked at all of the material, I just felt that the romantic stuff was more true-to-character. I felt I didn’t have the right to start knocking the world again. Maybe in the next record.

GM: What were some of the social issues you commented upon?
JH: It’s just directed toward the generation who thought war was over. Well, it’s not. I wound up choosing this album’s final tracks to be ones of the heart — my heart — without presenting an opinion of the world that other people might or might not share. I felt that was more in line with The Moody Blues, anyway. If I truly wanted to do a completely personal record, it had to be the record it is now, “Spirits Of The Western Sky.” Ever since I was a little boy with my brother, we’d look out of our bedroom window, which looked toward the western sky with the sun going down. We’d dream of it at night. We knew that our heroes were in that western sky. We would constantly listen to Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, the Everlys and Nat King Cole. That was the world of our imagination. That’s why the title is what it is. I still, to this day, can only live in a place if it has a view of the western sky. I only can feel comfortable if I can see the sun going down.

GM: And the cover of the CD beautifully illustrates that. It really is a gorgeous piece of work.
Thank you very much, Mike. I’m very pleased, and I’m very grateful to you and the magazine for all it has done for us over the years. Goldmine has really been wonderful to us. This has been my pleasure. Cheers. GM