By Lee Zimmerman
It’s obvious even when conversing with Justin Hayward by phone that he is exactly the man one might have imagined. Unceasingly polite, unquestionably urbane and quintessentially English, he exudes a charm that transcends any length of phone line.
Just as he feels compelled to faithfully reprise “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon” each and every time The Moody Blues perform a concert, Hayward graciously fields all queries about the Moodys’ mind-set, no matter how mundane and predictable they might become. Perhaps he understands that Mellotrons, black lights and the whiff of incense can create a woozy mind-set.
Regardless, Hayward probably also realizes that there is a need for such indulgence. For the Boomers who came of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s, The Moody Blues provided an essential soundtrack to that age of wonderment, parlaying songs with more than a hint of psychedelic suggestion and lyrics that relayed truths sequestered only for those with an enlightened attitude or a penchant for consuming certain chemical additives.
Consequently, the band willingly took its place as one of the most influential outfits of that era, and indeed, their roll call of essential albums — “Days of Future Passed,” “In Search of the Lost Chord,” “On the Threshold of a Dream” and “A Question of Balance” — and their classic tracks — the aforementioned pair along with “Ride My See-saw,” “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” and the like — became FM radio staples that endure to this day.
With the end of the ’60s and the start of the ’70s also foretelling an end to that era of innocence, the Moodys lost their luster and eventually went their separate ways. Hayward teamed up with bassist John Lodge in the appropriately dubbed Blue Jays before venturing into various solo projects, including the multi-artist concept collaboration War of the Worlds with producer Jeff Wayne.
Happily, the ’80s brought the band a renaissance of sorts and garnered the group renewed popularity and a renewed presence on the charts via “The Other Side of This Life,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “Your Wildest Dreams.” While their albums failed to match the grandiose heights of their earlier efforts, a steady presence on TV, an ongoing stream of live albums and reissues, and a tsunami-like wave of nostalgia, served as a springboard to bring them back before the masses.
The band — which still boasts Hayward, Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge — continues to tour regularly while reaping the adulation and enthusiasm of their still-fervent fans.
It was on the eve of The Moody Blues’ most recent jaunt that Goldmine caught up with Hayward at his home in England.
Given the complex sounds you created on your earlier studio albums, is it a challenge to recreate those elements in concert?
Justin Hayward: First of all, we still use the sample sounds from our original Mellotron tracks, and when we were working with (producer) Tony Visconti in the ’80s, he got quite hung up about sampling all our original Mellotrons before they got turned to dust, and he did a great job of that. We still use those samples, but I think the rest of it is down to the songs and trying to be faithful to the records. The important thing is that the song comes through and that it has some sort of space to breathe.
With such a vast catalogue to choose from, how do you narrow down your set list?
JH: Well, that’s a dilemma, because it’s not what we play — we often think it’s what we leave out. But some things just work better onstage.
Recently, what we’ve been doing is bringing old songs back that maybe we’ve never done on stage before, songs that never occurred to us to do and to see how they work. And some of the old stuff works really well. And, of course, there are a number of songs that you just can’t leave out anyway, because people would be disappointed if we didn’t do them. So the second half of our show is determined by that, really. It’s kind of a greatest hits. So that allows us to mess around with the first half of the show.
What are some of those unexpected songs you include in the set?
JH: We do songs from the “December” album that we put out about [a few] years ago, and then the second song in, we do a song called “Day We Meet Again,” which we haven’t done for a long time and which is from the “Octave” album. We also do “Peak Hour,” which is from the “Days of Future Passed” album, so that’s nice, too. And of course there’s “Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” those kind of things, and there’s some staples in the show. “The Other Side Of Life” — that goes over well, too So I hope there’s something in there for everybody. There’s something from most of the albums, and I hope that anybody who’s seen us through the years will recognize a particular era.
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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