Justin Hayward began playing rock ‘n’ roll professionally at 17, back when, he says, people told him “endlessly” that there was no career in it. But a half-century later – and with scads of gold albums behind him — the Moody Blues singer-songwriter-guitarist is still at it. He’s got his hair – longish and blond – and he’s got his gorgeous high baritone voice.
“Well, thank you,” Hayward says, graciously, laughing a bit, on the phone from Niagara Falls earlier this week. “It won’t be there forever. That’s why I’m doing 180 gigs a year. It’s more precious now to me than it ever was before and I know there will come a time when it won’t be there – hair, voice, everything. But as long as it’s there, it’s a drug and I want to keep doing it.”
If you go:
Who: The Moody Blues
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Aug. 16
Where: The Moody Blues, 21 West Main St., Hyannis
The Moody Blues began as an English beat group in the mid-’60s – sometimes all sporting uniform blue suits. The band debuted in 1965 with “The Magnificent Moodies” (U.K.) and “Go Now” (U.S.) albums. Hayward joined the following year. They began to shift their sound by 1967 when they released the orchestral-prog-rock album “Days of Future Passed.”
The album, powered by the dreamy ballad “Nights in White Satin,” gathered steam over the next five years, hitting the top of the charts and establishing the band as FM rock radio favorites.
As rock critic Sylvie Simmons put it in Creem in 1986: “(The Moody Blues) spray-painted visionary messages over vast, romantic murals and conducted orchestras of transcendentally majestic splendor with vague poetic lyrics.”
The Moodies released seven “core” albums done with the late producer Tony Clarke from 1967-1972. They had a career resurgence in the ’80s, when they teamed up with producer Tony (David Bowie, T.Rex) Visconti. And, while there have been personnel changes, the trio of Hayward, drummer-singer-songwriter Graeme Edge and bassist-singer-songwriter John Lodge remains. (Key alumni include flautist Ray Thomas and keyboardist Mike Pinder.)
The group is augmented now by flautist-guitarist-singer Norda Mullen, drummer-percussionist Gordon Marshall and keyboardists Julie Ragins and Alan Hewitt on a tour that stops Friday and Aug. 16 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis.
Here’s more of what Hayward had to say in an interview with the Times about the Moody Blues:
Q: Could you have even thought back in the ’60s that we’d be talking today about Moody Blues today?
A: Certainly not. I don’t think we thought more than a couple of weeks ahead. When I joined, it was about trying to get a gig and pay for the fuel to put in the tank to get there. I started with Marty Wilde as his guitar player. (Wilde was an English pop singer of the day and father of ’80s pop star Kim Wilde.) I was privy then to a world of rock ‘n’ roll in London ’63-’64 and it was a privileged place to be.
Q: Then, there was this big change in sound when the classical arranger Peter Knight and the New World Symphony were brought in for what became “Days of Future Passed.” My understanding was Peter was kind of foisted upon you by the record company, Decca.
A: Yes, he was. Because we owed them some money. We didn’t have an album deal or anything with them and we’d done some independent recordings at their Decca studio. They’d picked up the bill so we were in debt to them. They asked us if we’d do this demonstration record. They were trying to sell a stereo system – they had a consumer division as well – and we agreed to that. We would have agreed to anything! (They wanted us) to do a rock version of Dvorak, which sent me into a spin. What the hell is that? I was aware of the New World Symphony, but I didn’t know how on earth I was going to work the chords out because they’re incredible.
And then, Peter Knight, that was a big introduction. He came to see us at a club and we were doing our songs and it was him who said, “You know, maybe we should flip it around? You do your own songs and I’ll orchestrate the places in between. And I think it’ll give Decca what they want to demonstrate their stereo system. But of course the wonderful thing it did for us was it did two things: It gave us an outlet for the things that we’d been writing, not all necessarily pop hit singles, and secondly it was absolutely beautifully recorded, unlike many of the things they were doing down the road at Abbey Road. Where you had the drums on the left and vocals on the left and they weren’t paying any attention to stereo.
Q: So you were part of an experiment that went really well for everybody?
A: We really did get lucky. It was touch and go it was even going to be released. We recorded our stuff in a couple of days – that was easy, we knew our stuff – and then Peter did the orchestration sessions on a three-hour session on a Saturday and they put it together over the weekend. It was played at a meeting Monday – and they weren’t very pleased with it, but still they had invested the studio time and they put it out. Of course, the best thing that happened to us was we were brought to America by Bill Grahamand “Days of Future Passed” was a staple on FM radio.
Q: “Nights in White Satin” is this dreamy, romantic song that so many people know and love.
A: It’s a strange thing to be able to go anywhere in the world and sing a song and it will resonate with people. I live in the south of France near the Italian border and I was at a very posh party and I was asked (to sing it). I didn’t bring a guitar, but somebody convinced me the hostess would really love it if I sang, so I just got one from guy in the band and did “Nights.” It comes home to me occasionally, the power of songs like that, what they mean in people’s lives. It’s kind of a drug. It works wherever you go.
Q: What does it mean to you, the writer and singer?
A: That’s the odd thing. In truth, about three years ago I was sent a version of “Nights” by Bettye Lavette – what a soul singer! – and I was lying in bed as you do in the morning opening your emails and I played her version and I burst into tears. And my wife came in and said, “What on earth is the matter?’ and I said, “Listen to this, you won’t believe it.” It was a very curious thing. I wrote it when I was 19 coming up to 20 years old, and I kind of heard it for the first time when I was 65. She’d done something with exactly the same lyrics, not a word out of place, but somehow … I thought that’s what it’s about, of course. For me, it was a series of random thoughts from a young guy at the end of one love affair and the beginning of another. I always sung it like that. Now, I look at it a bit differently.
Q: What was her interpretation like? Or, maybe, what is your interpretation of her interpretation?
A: She told me. For her, it was about something that happened with her daughter and she put that into it. I didn’t get that it had anything to do with her family. It was just the way she intonated every word, how she pronounced everything, and the feeling she put into every single sentence. It seemed to all fit together, where I assumed it was a series of all random thoughts. She’s made one story out of it, which was very interesting.
Q: “Nights in White Satin” and the “Days …” album became hits here in the US five years after its actual release.
A: Yes, exactly five years later, November 1972.
Q: Pleasant but odd, huh?
A: It was a long slow thing. It stayed around for a long time and DJs kept playing it. They didn’t release it first of all as a single, because “Tuesday Afternoon” is what they put (effort) behind and that did work for us. It was a little song that got lucky for us. A beautiful pop song it was – and is. Yes, but it was very strange. In actual fact, when it started like it was going to be a massive hit in 1972, along with the “Days of Future Passed” album, (our label) London Records tried to suppress it because they had an album of ours called “Seventh Sojourn” out and they just wanted to concentrate on that and they told their guys not to plug it to the jocks. Of course it didn’t work.
Q: From those albums, and the subsequent ones that Moodies fans call the “core,” I think people took away this idealism and hope. I know that may be oversimplification, but do you think that’s accurate?
A: Yes, I do. I think we were lucky to have that kind of perspective, because we weren’t celebrities. We weren’t getting screaming fans, or anything like that. We were able to do our own thing and Decca (was) wonderful to us. Sir Edward Lewis, who owned Decca, he just gave us studio time and said “I don’t know what you’re doing, but people love it, so here’s the best engineer and best producer so just get on with it.”
Q: In a 1986 story, Sylvie Simmons asked you about misconceptions and you replied, “Probably the biggest misconception about the Moodies is that we’re all sort of cosmic gurus sitting on some mountain somewhere and just come down occasionally to do tours and make records.”
A: I did go up in the mountain and stayed there quite a few years. I did. But whether that made what I had to say anymore valid … I think there was a certain amount of guilt around because I thought we were doing early on an arty thing; I didn’t realize it had connotations in people’s lives they would take seriously. I love music so much, but I don’t particularly want to be close to people I love the music of. It’s the music I love.
Q: Pop fans sometimes do look to musicians whose lyrics they relate to and think they know something we don’t and we can learn. And they must be beautiful people. But that’s not always the case, I know. Sometimes horrible people write beautiful songs …
A: Yeah, that’s right and sometimes beautiful people write horrible songs. And sometimes it’s just a story and that’s it really.
Q: Obviously, there was trouble in the band with Mike Pinder leaving – and then Ray Thomas later — but I gather that as far as these long-term rock ‘n’ roll sagas playing out, yours has been not so much filled with acrimony.
A: Yes, I think there’s never been a time that things have been said that couldn’t be unsaid so that’s good. But at the same time, in the early ’70s it was an unhappy band and that was the trouble. After “A Question of Balance,” it became difficult. Guys wanted to go in different directions and the balance within the group was changing. I think Mike was beginning to lose his grip on the creative influence. Which I’d loved – he’d brought me into the band. But that’s how people are in their lives, and I think that got resolved in the ’80s. Even though people look at those first seven albums as core albums and say that was really the group, I have to say the happiest time for me personally was the ’80s with Tony Visconti producing.
Q: You went in a more synth-pop direction, didn’t you?
A: Absolutely. We had to do something. It wasn’t a deliberate move; it was just being influenced by the people that were around us and meeting Tony, who was at the center of that. He was a very kind man. And he certainly took us in a very different direction. I always felt like a pop writer stuck in a group that was tagged as being prog-rock or something.
Q: I emailed Tony today and told him I’d be talking to you. He wrote back: “Justin is a great guy … The band were reuniting when I started working with them and I produced a few hits with a very updated Moodies sound, ‘Your Wildest Dreams’ and ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.’ Justin and I allowed ourselves to let our imaginations roam.” … You guys have such a massive catalog of songs to choose from. Do you ever get bored with them or do they retain meaning?
A: The songs we do retain their meaning. If they don’t, we don’t continue doing them. I’m not proud of everything and I think in the later years, we broke our own rules and did some things that were filler tracks and put them into albums, to fulfill a contract or something like that and, of course, it came back to bite us.
Q: The Moody Blues have a legacy and longevity, and unlike many “groups” with just one member carrying on the name, you have three core guys. That doesn’t happen much.
A: No, that’s right and we’re the three guys who really want to do it on the road and still have got the appetite for it. If any one of us were to call it a day now, then that probably would be a day.
Q: The triangle would be unbalanced. And as you’re all writers and singers, there’s the magic of the vocal harmonies, once five, down to four, now down to three.
A: Yes, but we’re lucky to work now with people who love the music and have always loved it, who grew up with the Moody Blues.
Q: You have a solo CD and DVD, “Spirits Live: Live at the Buckhead Theatre, Atlanta,” recorded last year, coming out Aug. 19. I saw an advance copy and it seems mostly gentle and acoustic.
A: Totally, all acoustic, as it was in my music room before the songs were recorded. I didn’t want to make it like the Moodies or with a drum kit or anything like that.
Q: What about this Moody Blues show? What can we expect?
A: When we come ’round your way, at the Melody Tent, it’ll be a long set with the intro (with short intermission). That is, if they stop that bloody (rotating) stage in the right place so we can get into the dressing room in 10 minutes and back. We’ve had some fun times there, lots of fond memories. Ray fell over there once and maybe that’s one of the reasons he felt it was time to go.
Q: He fell off the stage?
A: Oh no, but when it stops, it has to wind itself up and then unwind itself and come back again and it shudders and then stops and goes the other way. And if you’re not ready for that … This would have been at least 20 years ago. Ray fell backward over one of the monitors into one of the backing singer girls but we all survived.