Justin Hayward, the voice of The Moody Blues for the past fifty years, is quite happy about his current solo tour. Hitting intimate theatres across the US, Hayward is taking audiences on a history of his music. From “Nights In White Satin” to “Your Wildest Dreams” to a lovely new song called “The Wind Of Heaven,” Hayward – along with guitarist Mike Dawes and keyboardist Julie Ragins – is springing new life into some of his favorite compositions.
A songwriter first and foremost, Hayward ended up playing guitar for former British teen idol Marty Wilde in 1965 for about a year after spending time in some local bands. Joining the Moodies as a replacement for the departing Denny Laine, the band’s musical direction began to change with his (and returning member John Lodge’s) presence and influence from a blues-based band to a magical ride on a psychedelically-melodic carpet. “We were singing blues and we were little English guys and had never even seen a bale of cotton, let alone picked one,” said Moody drummer Graeme Edge during a 2014 interview with me for Glide about the band’s earliest years with Laine. “And suddenly it seemed that that was all phony.”
1967’s Days of Future Passed would cement their popularity with the hits “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights In White Satin.” For many years, the Moodies held true to intelligent lyrics amidst mind-expanding musical journeys into the ethereal sides of the brain. “We were exploring music and we were not content to write ‘I love you, you love me, how happy everyone’s going to be,’ that type of song,” explained Lodge in a Glide interview last year. “We wanted to explore other avenues, lyrically and musically.”
Shades of pop entered into their 1980’s music and they scored more hit records, starting with 1981’s Long Distance Voyager and 1986’s super-successful The Other Side Of Life. But surprisingly, they have yet to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. “They always have been a little touchy about the kind of Progressive kind of rock,” Edge surmised. But that overlook has yet to stop the band nor their fans, their Moody Blues Cruises the past few years laying proof to that.
For Hayward, being able to bring his compositions out in a separate forum has certainly been satiating over the years. In 1977, he released his first solo album, Songwriter, which featured the song “Stage Door” that now lends its name to Hayward’s current tour. “When we were small boys, my brother and I could not afford to go to the shows at the Empire Theatre in Swindon,” Hayward said just prior to the tour’s start on May 11th. “In fact, we were regularly chased away from the lavish entrance by the fat commissionaire who stood guard there. But we loved the stage door. We saw many artists come and go and we believed it was the place the real magic entered and left the building. Which of course, it is.”
With the tour running until the latter part of June, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch Hayward, his still lovely voice and excellent guitar melodies reigning supreme. We talked with Hayward recently about his music, tour and the Moody Blues.
Can you tell us about this Stage Door tour that you’re on?
I’ve got some new music to present and a new video and a new song from a movie that’s going into production later this year called The Wind Of Heaven. That’s one of the nicest things I’ve ever done, even though I say so myself (laughs). But I’m with Mike Dawes, a fabulous acoustic guitar player. I go out and watch him every night and wonder how on earth he does that. And Julie Ragins, a multi-instrumentalist, and she’s been with me for a while now. She’s got the voice of an angel and a great player. So we present these songs as I wrote them, with my guitars from home, and it’s a lovely show. We do things from most of the albums over the years and I do believe there is something there for everybody. And I get to do “Forever Autumn,” which is quite nice too. I never do that.
Have you done any major rearrangements to any of the songs?
Well, what I did is I chose things that we sort of never did with the Moodies or maybe deeper kind of album cuts that people have liked but we’ve never got round to doing onstage. So it’s interesting from that point of view because I’m not hampered by a big two drummer version, loud version, of something. So it’s a very interesting show. You can hear every nuance of it. So like I said, I hope there’s something for everybody cause there’s songs from all of the eras down through the years, stuff that I’ve written and the Moody story and my own story of solo things as well.
It’s like your history of being a musician
I think so. You could put it that way, yeah. Songwriters kind of have to do that because it is a kind of diary of their lives.
Tell us about your new song “Wind Of Heaven.”
A friend of mine is David Minasian and he’s a movie director, or movie producer, and he’s produced a couple of videos for me. I mean, he’s in this big time movie business as well but he just happens to be a friend. And he told me about this movie that’s going to be in production called The Wind Of Heaven and it’s about a Veteran that comes back home from Afghanistan and really loses himself, can’t pick up the life he had before he left. Eventually, he gets work on a ranch and he finds that he has kind of a communion with the wild horses and he finds himself through horses. It’s such a beautiful story. David and I got carried away with it, and my recording partner Alberto [Parodi] too. We loved the whole story and the concept and we wrote the theme for the movie.
I hadn’t thought about this but just about every show there’s a Vet in the audience. I suppose that’s kind of the audience that knows the Moody Blues and know my songs and they always tell me afterwards, share their sort of thanks, and this song sort of expresses some of that stuff. So it’s a very emotional thing. It’s one of the nicest things I’ve done. I’m really pleased with it.
When you went to do your first solo album, did you have any hesitations about doing it?
Well, I came to the Moodies as a songwriter and rather ambitiously my purpose was to get my songs done. The only other guy writing was Mike Pinder, the guy who brought me to the band originally. I suppose I also had too many songs in a way that even though we were under a lot of pressure to get albums done, by the time it came round to the seventies, I had a lot of songs that I’d been working on that I had never got the opportunity to do. So I’ve made, what, seven solo albums now since the seventies and I find it so wonderful. It’s given me a wonderful kind of world of imagination to work on it. It’s very precious and I’m very lucky to have always had a label that’s not insisted on having an A&R guy standing over me telling me what to do.
So you know, I fell into it, making solo records, as easy as anything. It was just an outlet for my songs. Originally, I wasn’t even thinking about being a singer myself but then it just worked out that way. I was lucky enough to get the gig with the Moodies and then become the singer of things that people know, like “Nights” and “Tuesday” and “Wildest Dreams” and that kind of stuff. But no, I’m very lucky I always had labels that said, “Listen, we’re up for whatever you want to do.”
When you first started writing songs, were you able to be yourself or were you trying to mimic your idols or favorite musicians?
That’s an interesting thing because I think you have to try and find your own style and trust your own judgement. You know I was a professional musician at seventeen and I got a job playing guitar for a rock & roll singer and he said to me then, and he was writing his own songs, and he said to me, “You have to develop your own style. You have to sound like you. So try and discard all that stuff that doesn’t reflect your own personality.” I’ve always borne that in mind and I’ve failed a lot because of that too. Along with trusting your own judgement, doing what you want, comes a lot of failure as well cause a lot of people don’t always agree with you. But that comes with the territory, really. If you want to always succeed then you have to make yourself into some kind of commercial product, I suppose.
I’ve heard you say that you have never had a day job so how did you get your first guitar?
(laughs) That’s right, that’s funny. Yeah, I never did but I was earning enough money when I was at school just through semi-pro gigs working in clubs and stuff like that to get a decent guitar. And my parents were willing to go guarantor for the payments on the guitar. So that’s the truth of how it happened.
You didn’t have to cut grass?
(laughs) No, no, no, I didn’t. I had very understanding parents.
When you first started learning how to play the guitar what was the most difficult thing to get the hang of?
I think you have to have a desire to play, a real desire, because it hurts. It’s going to hurt your fingers, it takes a lot of wear and tear on your hands and you have to really persevere. And that’s the thing that a lot of people are unprepared to give. They too easily say, “Oh, I don’t have any talent. I couldn’t do it.” But really it’s about desire. If you really want it, you can do it. Any musician will tell you, if you put the effort in you can really do it. So you’re going to have a little bit of pain to get to the pleasure of it.
What was the most unique thing that inspired you to write a song?
Well, songs are usually about relationships and I think sometimes also it’s about places. I was brought up in the West Country in England and it’s full of ancient sites that are marked by standing stones or strange sort of mystical places. My brother and I, when we were little, we would go to these places and we’d always figure, it’s not because the standing stones are there, it’s because the vibe is really there first. That comes first and then they put the stones there, because there was a tremendous feeling. But I think one of the luckiest for me was I had a little dog called Tuesday in the sixties and we knew that Decca wanted us to make this album about the day in the life of one guy and I went back to where I was born with my little dog Tuesday and sat in a field and I got my guitar out and wrote the song “Tuesday Afternoon.” And that has always stayed in my mind so I have to give my little dog some credit for that one (laughs).
What can you tell us about the song “Never Comes The Day,” cause it has some beautiful guitar work on it.
Mike and I, we went out together and bought, when we could afford it, when we had a few bob, we ran out and bought a couple of nice, but not expensive, Yamaha guitars. The first thing I did on mine was write “Never Comes The Day.” You know the sixties was a very ambitious time in the group but it was a difficult time for me. I was from a different background to the other guys in the group and I was losing people, there was a lot of grief around my life. It was a tough time for me, a time when I should have been enjoying the success we were beginning to have with the group. I think there was a lot of frustration that went into that song as well. I was looking for something, searching and kind of seeking for love as well as some kind of happiness and some kind of enlightenment, I suppose. That’s what the song is about.
Which song in the Moody catalog do you think should have gotten more attention than it did?
Well, there’s a song that was the first song on our label called “Watching & Waiting” and when we recorded it, me and Graeme and Mike, we thought, this is finally the answer to those people who’d been saying to us for the last three years, “Can’t you just write another ‘Nights In White Satin.’” And we thought that that was going to be the one that was going to be a big hit all over the world and of course we were spectacularly wrong. It came out as the first single on our label and it sold about ten copies. But funny enough, since then it’s become kind of a favorite and I now do it in my solo show. We never managed to do it onstage with the group but I do it in my solo show and people really love it.
Why didn’t you do it with the band?
It didn’t seem to work. You know, we recorded in a very unique way in the recording studio and it was always difficult for us with amplifiers and drums and big PA systems to do some of this stuff onstage. Some of it worked, some of it just didn’t. “Watching & Waiting” was one of those things that never worked in a live setting. But in my acoustic setting, in the way that I do my solo show, it works perfectly so I’m very pleased with that.
Long Distance Voyager was your first album without Mike and your first with Patrick Moraz. How did you feel about that situation?
I missed Mike very much. He was the one who brought me to the group and the relationship between Mike and a couple of the other guys had changed and I think it became irreparable. Things were said that couldn’t be unsaid. And it was very sad for me but I think he wanted to do other things in his life. And Patrick came along, a very different character, very outgoing and very demonstrative, but a great musician. I think he contributed greatly to the things we had in the eighties. Sometimes it was only myself and him and Tony Visconti on some of the recordings so he contributed a lot and I think if I could only have one era of music that I could listen to I think it would be the eighties. That time in the eighties was the most fun I ever had, it really was.
What sticks out in your mind the most about it?
We had a label that jumped on “Wildest Dreams” as a single and they gave us carte blanche to do what we wanted with the video. The video got on MTV and I had never ever been recognized before. But I could walk down the street while that video was a hit and while that song was being a hit and people would say, “Oh, you’re the guy in the Moody Blues who sings that Moody Blues song!” (laughs). That was the most fun I’d ever had. That and the song that came after, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.” It was a great time, a great time in my career, and it was a great time for the Moodies cause a lot of people thought, “Well, they had their thing in the sixties and seventies.” But we were able to prove them wrong.
What was your first “I can’t believe I’m her” moment?
You know, success is something that kind of creeps up on you. You don’t really realize that it’s happening. But I think for me it was in about 1972 and we did Madison Square Garden. We played it twice in the same day. Ray Thomas and myself, we went out between the shows, nobody knew who we were, they just didn’t. They knew the music but not the personalities. And we looked up and we saw this giant sign outside of Madison Square Garden with our name on it and we both looked at each other and we said, “Suppose this means we’ve kind of made it.” (laughs) And I remember distinctly we bought some tickets from a scalper and gave them away and people thought, “Who are these guys giving away tickets?” They must have thought we were like Hare Krishna guys or something like that. I often thought they must have realized when they saw us onstage like an hour later, “Hey, aren’t those the guys that gave us the tickets?” (laughs). That sticks out in my mind.
What do you remember most about playing the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970?
It was a difficult day. Anybody who said it was peace, love and good vibes is clearly lying. The fences came down, the security disappeared. It was kind of dangerous. There were a lot of bad drugs going around. But fortunately, we had just had a song called “Question” and it got to number one in the UK charts and the audience was ready for us. There were a lot of people, artists, that took it all in the wrong kind of spirit and got a little bit aggressive but I think the whole crowd, 400,000 or something people, were kind of relieved when we came on because they thought, “Ah, it’s the Moodies and they’re going to play ‘Question’.” And suddenly everybody felt safer and more secure. It was a good night for us. It wasn’t so much for the rest of the artists. But I think that was the end of an era as well. That was the end of that great festival era.
Did you get to see anybody else play?
Oh sure. It was Jimi Hendrix’s last appearance and I saw Jimi play and Joni Mitchell and Richie Havens, who we had worked with before and he was wonderful. There were a lot of great artists on. But it was difficult for a lot of those people. And somebody jumped up onstage when Joni was on and banged the mic into her mouth. It was a difficult time but for us it was lovely.
After all these years with the Moody Blues, have you noticed that the fans’ song favorites have changed as everybody has grown older or are they still holding tight, or tighter, to the ones they’ve always loved?
That’s a very good question and very well put. I think they do hold tighter. I think things like “Tuesday Afternoon,” things like “Ride My See Saw,” things like “Nights,” “Wildest Dreams,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” – they are still fan favorites because they resonate with people. It means something in people’s lives and I’m very pleased about that. But I think we’re creating new ones and I think “Wind Of Heaven,” and I’ve only done it like five times so far, but every time it’s been emotional for people. So I think I’m going to add that one to the list.
How long is the tour?
I go through until the 26th of June up on Washington state. So we’re going around in a big U shape all the way around the United States and looking forward to every moment of it.
Justin Hayward U.S Tour Dates
06/01/16 TULSA, OK, UNITED STATES BRADY THEATER
06/02/16 OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, UNITED STATES HUDSON PERFORMANCE HALL
06/03/16 DALLAS, TX, UNITED STATES MAJESTIC THEATRE
06/04/16 AUSTIN, TX, UNITED STATES PARAMOUNT THEATRE
06/07/16 TUCSON, AZ, UNITED STATES FOX TUCSON THEATRE
06/09/16 SOLANA BEACH, CA, UNITED STATES BELLY UP TAVERN
06/10/16 SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA, UNITED STATES THE COACH HOUSE
06/11/16 PASADENA, CA, UNITED STATES THE ROSE
06/12/16 AGOURA HILLS, CA, UNITED STATES THE CANYON CLUB
06/14/16 SACRAMENTO, CA, UNITED STATES CREST THEATRE
06/16/16 OAKLAND, CA, UNITED STATES YOSHI’S (2 shows)
06/17/16 NAPA, CA, UNITED STATES UPTOWN THEATER
06/19/16 GRANTS PASS, OR, UNITED STATES THE ROGUE THEATRE
06/20/16 PORTLAND, OR, UNITED STATES ALADDIN THEATER
06/22/16 BEND, OR, UNITED STATES TOWER THEATER
06/23/16 ABERDEEN, WA, UNITED STATES D & R THEATRE
06/24/16 MT. VERNON, WA, UNITED STATES LINCOLN THEATRE