Although the progressive rock band The Moody Blues has had a four-decade career, some readers may be unfamiliar with their history, so here's a brief overview. The group formed in 1964 with the lineup of flautist Ray Thomas, keyboardist Michael Pinder, guitarist/vocalist Denny Laine drummer Graeme Edge and bassist Clint Warwick. They quickly inked a contract with Decca Records and released the single, "Steal Your Heart Away," but it was their second single, "Go Now," that launched their career. The cut remains their only #1 single in the United Kingdom and hit #10 in the United States.
Justin Hayward and John Lodge replaced Laine and Warwick by 1966. In 1973, the band went on hiatus to recuperate from heavy touring and reunited in 1977. Patrick Moraz (Yes keys) replaced Pinder in 1981, but left by 1990, followed by Thomas in 2002, who had decided to retire. Original bassist Warwick, who had left the Moodies in 1966 to become a carpenter and raise his family, returned to music in 2002 and released a solo effort. He died of liver disease in 2004.
The Moodies have released 26 albums. They have been featured in a 1999 episode of "The Simpsons," called "Viva Ned Flanders" and in the soundtrack for IMAX's 2001 film, "Journey into Amazing Caves." Their most popular songs include "Nights in White Satin," "Your Wildest Dreams" (#1 Billboard's Adult Contemporary singles chart), "Tuesday Afternoon," "The Voice," "Sitting at the Wheel," "I Know You're Out There Somewhere," "Ride My See-Saw" and "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock n' Roll Band)."
Today the Moodies go on with three members- Hayward, Lodge and Edge. They released the Christmas album, "December," and more recently the DVD and CD, "The Moody Blues: Lovely to See You, Live" (Image Entertainment).
I managed to snag some time with John Lodge and asked him how he became a Moody.
"It goes back a long, long time," Lodge begins. "Ray Thomas, the original flute player, him and I have been working together since I was 14. I was at college, Ray was 16; I was 14, I left school and went to college and Ray and I performed in a band called El Riot and the Rebels. We were together for five years as a group doing concerts all around Birmingham and the Midlands area of England. Then Mike Pinder, the keyboardist for the Moody Blues, joined us. They decided they wanted to go to London to continue their careers, but I had another year to go at college, so I stayed on a college and finished what I wanted to do because I wanted to be a car designer, as well as a musician.When I finished college, I met back up with Mike and Ray again and that was in 1966.
"The nice thing about it all is that Ray's parents and my parents became friends." Lodge goes on, "Unfortunately my father is no longer with us and Ray's father is no longer with us, but our mothers see each other regularly and I think this is fantastic. Something that's happened for 40 years, the relationship between us two men have gone to our parents as well, which I think is brilliant."
Lodge was born in Birmingham, England in 1945.
"When I started playing there was no such thing, particularly in England, there was no such thing as a bass, they didn't exist at all, there was just the guitar. I really wasn't all that interested in music to be honest, obviously I must have been, but at that point nothing grabbed hold of me to say that's what I want to do," Lodge says. "I was 11 years of age and I started to see a lot of American rock and roll movies that came to England and I became fascinated by the whole rock n' roll genre, the lifestyle, and I thought that's what I'd really love to do.
"I bought a guitar which cost me I think in American money about $7." Lodge goes on, "There's no where to learn how to play. You can be taught how to play Spanish guitar, but you can not be taught how to play rock n' roll, so I just set about trying to find out myself, I watched a lot of American programs, watched a lot of artists and tried to find out how a guitar worked. I spent all of my waking time trying to play this damn guitar."
I wonder if this sparked his singing.
"Not at that time, but I suddenly realized it was OK playing the guitar, but you had to sing a little bit," Lodge responds. "People would say could you come round and play at our youth club or whatever and you'd go there and you'd have to know a few of the lyrics to sing a few songs. It was mainly all rock and roll, which I learned a lot of rock and roll songs-- vintage rock."
I ask him to tell me about how he came to play the bass.
"When I was about 15, I saw the band called The Treniers, you probably never heard of them," Lodge responds. "I don't know of many people who have, they were a big rock bands with saxes and everything. I noticed in there there was guy playing what looked like a Fender guitar, but it only had four strings and I was just into what he was doing. I suddenly realized that's what I wanted to do because I suddenly realized that I liked the driving force behind the band, I liked all the riffs and I realized that everything I had been listening to over the years, it all contained riffs. That's what I enjoyed.
"I went in search trying to find one of these instruments in Birmingham and eventually I found one, it had come from Germany and it was called a Tuxedo bass," Lodge continues. "I bought that and then within about three months the first Fender bass guitars arrived in England. I bought it, that was in 1959, 1960 and I've still got it. It's that bass guitar that's played on all the greatest hits of the Moodies-- 'Nights in White Satin,' 'Isn't Life Strange,' 'Tuesday Afternoon,' 'Question.' I still use it now, the last album we recorded, the latest album called 'December,' I used that bass on that as well because it's a beautiful sounding bass. But to be honest, it's a bit precious nowadays to take on the road in case somebody drops it. But it's a beautiful bass and I love it."
I had read that Lodge had been moved from music to woodworking class for not knowing Beethoven's birthplace (Bonn, Germany Dec. 17, 1770), but I want to hear the whole tale.
"In England, we have a school system which I really feel is fabulous, called the grammar school system and at school I was in the music group, not for rock and roll, but I used to take my guitar with me and play, I'd be playing all day at school as well," Lodge indulges me. "I don't recommend this to your readers, but this is what happened to me, I failed a music exam and I failed it because basically I didn't know where Beethoven was born. I asked the music teacher, I said, 'If you can play "A Whole Lot of Shakin'" by Jerry Lee Lewis, I will find out where Beethoven was born' I thought if he could do that, it would be easy for me too, I really wanted to find out, I wasn't being facetious, I really wanted to know how to play it because no one could play it in England and of course he couldn't. He dismissed me from the class and said, 'Lordship, you no longer do music, you've got to do woodwork.' And I am the worst carpenter in the world, absolutely hopeless. But I will say though I managed to build my own bass speakers systems because you couldn't buy those."
During school, Lodge was in the band, El Riot and the Rebels. The group wanted to move to London to pursue music, but he decided to stay to finish college. Lodge earned an engineering degree from Birmingham College of Advanced Technology.
"I went to Paris and worked in Paris when I was 17. That was funny, I'm part of their rocket program, can you believe? I'm glad I didn't do anything for them because it wouldn't have been very good I don't think," Lodge laughs. "The wonderful thing was about going to Paris and working with other people was trying to learn another language by living in France, but also, it really widened my horizons, I realized I would be quite happy to go traveling, playing my guitar and really after that, that's what I did."
Lodge has a wide range of hobbies, including tennis, wine, theater, films, classic cars and golf. He created the DVD, "Rhythm of the Swing," to help golfers improve their game and I am curious if it really works.
"It does, I even use it myself," Lodge tells me. "It's called 'Rhythm of the Swing,' I worked with a wonderful man who's a professional golfer in Los Angeles called Walter Keller, he's a beautiful man. We worked out what the perfect swing was, which was his and then I wrote some music for it and then recorded it on DVD and it's available now on my Web site. It does work because what it does is slow you down. But it works not just for golf to be honest. The most important thing I think in life is to find the really lovely level of calmness whatever you're doing and this seems to work."
I ask him about his passion for classic cars.
"I just enjoy them," Lodge replies. "I drive a Jeep, a Bentley. I just like cars, always have, I wanted to be a car designer and coming from Birmingham, which is the motor city of England, it's like being brought up in Detroit, you either love them or you don't. I just love cars. I drove my first car when I was probably about six or seven and I was always fascinated by cars, not engines, but the car itself."
Lodge recalls his first car, "In England you have to be 17. It was called an A Austin A35. It's like a Mini, it was the precursor to the Mini. It was a wonderful car, it did about 60 miles to the gallon and a top speed of about 65 miles per hour," he laughs. "It was fine, perfect for a 17 year old."
We discuss how Lodge and the rest of the Moody Blues pen their tunes.
"If you're playing your guitar a lot or playing piano or you're playing bass for your own enjoyment, you suddenly find that the doors open musically and you think 'That's fantastic, I'm going to explore that.' So you explore something and you suddenly realize that you're on the verge of an idea. That's how they develop I think." Lodge says, "You have to put your mind in a training thought pattern, the ideas you might think of at the time are going to be a song, might never materialize as a song and then you write something totally different. You could be writing a rock and roll song and then suddenly out of the blue you're writing a ballad.
"What we normally do is we write separately and make a demo of the song. We make a very easy demo because what you don't want to do is to close all the openings for the rest of the guys to put their thoughts in because the most important thing about being in a group is that everyone needs to be part of it." Lodge goes on, "When you write a song that's going to be played for the first time for the rest of the guys in the Moody Blues it then becomes a Moody Blues song. We have this wonderful thing between us all that we all back everybody up on the song and it really works."
Sometimes Hayward and Lodge get together at one of their studios and write together.
"It's sometimes something you've read and you read something and it strikes a chord with you and you think I must write that song," Lodge says of his lyrics. "It really is all about emotion, it may be something you've read, it may be something you see, that really affects you, hits you emotionally or it may be something totally different where somebody is talking to you and they're saying how wonderful you are and you're thinking no I'm not, I'm just like everyone else. Sometimes you want to write that into a song and try to put everything into perspective."
I ask Lodge if all his reading comes into play when penning his words.
"I love reading, but the trouble is Stephen Hawking doesn't translate into a good song" Lodge laughs.
Having seen so many changes in the music scene, Lodge has some opinions on what he sees.
"The one thing that I'm really pleased about is the way the musicians are actually going back and buying fantastic guitars and actually learning what the guitar is about and what it does," Lodge says. "That sort of searching and buying vintage amplifiers-- going back to high watt amps and Marshall amps and Fender amps. Really restructured and finding out what music is and finding out what happens when three, four or five guys get together and start playing together. Because for so long, I think the music today has been down to the synthesizer user to put music together."
He has accolades for Bob Dylan's latest effort and feels that listeners want crafted songs now and image is fading in importance.
"We spent our first seven, eight albums, we didn't put a picture of ourselves on the cover because it wasn't the image of the band we were promoting, we were promoting our music," Lodge affirms. "I think it's coming back now and strangely enough I think downloading music brought it all back because when people started downloading music they were only downloading things they wanted to hear at that particular moment. The record companies have lost their way completely, I think the downloading has really opened up a different route for people."
The Moody Blues have been on the road for two years.
"We've traveled around the world twice in the last two years. It's been an incredible journey the last two years because everywhere we've been people have wanted us to come and perform," says Lodge.
They have been to places like New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Great Britain and the United States and, after two tours of America, they plan to look over what they want to do next. So it's now when I ask Lodge to look back and tell me what the secret is to the Moodies staying power.
"Truth. I think we're very truthful. We go in and record when we think we should record, we don't record because someone tells us to make a new album. And when we tour, we try and take the audience through a musical journey that's just like an album was. When people leave a Moody Blues concert we hope they go home and think that something's happened to them emotionally and that's what we try and do. It seems to work," Lodge says.
Find out when the Moody Blues are coming to your town at www.moodyblues.co.uk
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