conducted by Robert Silverstein for mwe3.com
Walking On Air:
John Lodge Interview
RS: Hi John! It’s Robert Silverstein with mwe3.com. It’s a real honor to speak with you.
JL: Oh, thank you very much!
RS: I can’t wait to see you guys play at the Tropicana on Saturday night. How the tour going?
JL: It’s going fantastic! Were having a great tour. You know we haven’t toured at this time of the year...I can’t remember when we last toured at this time year to be honest. But were having great time and the shows are fabulous. We’ve been up into some really cold areas. Over Michigan, alot of snow, very cold with ice factors and everything else. But the audiences have been coming out and it’s been fabulous.
RS: I really enjoy the new album Strange Times. What’s the inspiration behind the title track “Strange Times” which you co-wrote with Justin.
JL: Well, “Strange Times” was written in my studio in England. At my home. I’ve got a demo studio there. And Justin had an idea of a verse, and we wanted to write a song that was really, really what we considered the Moody Blues millennium song. And it was a song to reflect really what we thought about as we come to the end of the last millennium and start the new millennium. We just wanted to really reflect all the thoughts and all the philosophies that were sort of being put together and the things that people were thinking about and may happen as the new millennium began and the old millennium finished.
RS: Another great song you wrote with Justin is “The One”. Any recollections about that track?
JL: Well “The One” is about trying to be a star or trying to be successful at any cost instead of looking into yourself to find out who you are and really what you’re capable of and getting the fulfillment from that.
RS: The Moodys 1988 album, Sur La Mer was such a well balanced album.
JL: Thank you.
RS: One of my favorite songs on Sur La Mer is your collaboration with Justin “The River Of Endless Love”.
RS: Could you reflect back on that driving rocker?
JL: Well to be honest...going back into my head and going back onto the record...I just remember we had such a great time making that song. I just remember there was something very special about that song. And we actually made the demo of that in Justin’s studio in his home. I remember that. But I can’t really remember without playing it to be honest.
RS: How do you usually compose songs with Justin?
JL: Well how we write is, with most songwriters of course someone writes the lyric and someone writes the melody, but Justin and I don’t work like that. We actually bounce off each other on ideas of the song really. It sort of goes backwards and forwards between the lyric and the melody. Eventually we decide what the lyric idea is going to be about, so we know what the song is about. And then we try and put the melody, write the melody in sympathy or harmony with that lyric. And so we put the two things together. It’s wonderful working like this because there’s alot of lateral thinking in the writing process. Because you might be going along one particular way yourself with the song and then Justin might say, ‘what about if we did this instead’ and you go ‘oh, that’s a good idea’. Or Justin might be going along a particular thought pattern and I might say, ‘why don’t we do this instead?, y’know’. And so we’ve always got lateral thinking going on when we write together. It’s actually a very exciting way of writing because you do start off with a blank pad and we both normally have two acoustic guitars, that’s normally how we write together. We just sort of warm up and play a few songs together and just have a good time and then get down to the real business.
RS: As far as guitars and bass guitars go, which ones are you using on the current tour?
JL: My main bass on the tour is a 1962 reproduction Fender jazz bass. The reason I’ve got a reproduction one is because of the electronics. The electronics are superb. And I use GHS strings on it. My guitars normally come by the Fender custom shop and I think they set them up for me and they do a great job. This one has been set up absolutely superb. And it seems to play on it’s own. It’s actually quite a reflection of my very first Fender bass I bought in 1960, I bought a Precision bass, which recorded all the first seven albums really. I used to use flat wound Fender strings on it. It still comes out occasionally. On the new album I actually use my original Precision bass on the song “Sooner Or Later”.
RS: Perhaps my favorite Moodys album is still the To Our Children’s Children’s Children album. The album was released a few months after the first lunar landing in 1969. Could you share any memories from those sessions?
JL: Well I remember what we wanted to do. We used to have a little table, I don’t know whether Justin’s mentioned this, in our studio, this little square table where we used to sit every morning and just talk about recording sessions. On this table...we used to eat on it, drink coffee on it, drink tea, everything on this little table. And it became almost a sort of a Moody Blues shrine. In actual fact, this table...it’s a dirty old, scruffy table...it’s still locked away in our archives in our office in Cobham. But we used to sit round this table and talk about things. We’d talk about the recording or if we were starting a new album we’d talk about what we wanted to record about. I remember the To Our Children’s Children’s Children album was what would it be like if we were the people on the rocket ship going out into space...going to the moon, going to Mars. What would we think? What would be our thoughts? And that was what the album was about.
RS: Many of the early albums from Childrens on clearly printed all instruments performed by The Moody Blues. The sound was so incredible, I guess some skeptics couldn’t believe that it was just five guys making all that sound!
JL: Well, I mean what most people asked us was, ‘how are you going to do it on stage?’. This was mainly the things that people asked us at that time. I think we put the names on there because when we recorded Days Of Future Passed y’know we’d used the orchestra and we just wanted to prove to ourselves that it wasn’t the orchestra that made the album a success. And I think that’s why we decided then to make sure we’d played everything ourselves. We seriously did. We went out and bought books how to play different things. We couldn’t play all the instruments. I mean we couldn’t just pick up an instrument and play something, but if we knew all the notes that we wanted to play we could work out from the books how to do it. So if the man had to blow it, it would be Ray’s job, because he plays flute. So that’s how we approached everything. We just bought a book and found out how it works. It was a great time because, to be honest, it was a great learning curve for us, because we sort of realized how other instruments worked and that helped us, particularly with our vocal harmony. We then really realized that our vocals were an integral part of what an orchestra would be playing, although there were four of us then, of course with Mike. We had every note, every octave really covered so we could do anything vocally. I think that’s how, when we got on stage, we managed to recreate alot of our sound, because we’d take the integral parts of one of the songs we recorded, the parts that people would remember, or recognize...maybe a string line or it may be a flute line. But then, when you put all the vocal harmonies on you sort of brought a richness to the song on stage.
RS: The album was a perfect balance as far as the songwriting went that it was hard to tell who was singing and who was composing.
JL: Thank you.
RS: Your composition on the Childrens album “Eyes Of A Child” was divided into two parts, much like Justin’s “I Never Thought I’d Live To Be...” Any recollections about those tracks?
JL: I really thought if you were out there what would you expect, what would you see if you were on the spaceship going out. And I suddenly realized if you went up there with all preconceived ideas and preprogrammed ideas in your mind you’d probably miss everything. And I realized then, that’s how a child works. When a baby is growing up, everything is wonderment. He’ll find a piece of paper and spend hours with it. Or he’ll find some cloth. Or a flower. Or a tree. Whatever it is. And he’ll spend ages looking and learning. And I thought that’s really how we’d have to see. You’d have to see everything through the eyes of a child. And then the first part I thought was a very particular and personal part of the song. I thought it’d be great idea to do it in a choral version where everyone’s singing like the finale in a stage play and I thought that’s how it should be done.
RS: I was really thrilled when I saw the Moodys at Madison Square Garden back in ‘73 that the group came out and started off playing the whole first side of Children’s Children. Any memories of that?
JL: Ahhh. Madison Square Garden has always had such great vibes for us to be honest. I’ve always enjoyed playing Madison Square Garden. We have played there numerous times. Right this second I can’t remember that particular gig to be honest.
RS: The subsequent Live + 5 album was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall just about the same time as the Children’s album came out in the U.S. Any memories about that show?
JL: To be honest...no (laughter). Only for the fact that that particular period of time was like a whirlwind. We had our own record label which we were putting together. We were touring everywhere. We were recording everywhere. But I do remember we were the first rock band I think that they ever allowed to play at the Albert Hall. I remember that. So to be honest that may have been the 1969 concert. Maybe.
RS: The Moodys 1970 album A Question Of Balance appeared to have a more live in the studio feel than Childrens, but the next album after A Question Of Balance, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour seemed like a return to the heavy multi-layered studio sound, right?
JL: I think that’s true, yes. What happened was...as the recordings were going along, and it’s very difficult to imagine this today...we recorded Days Of Future Passed on a four track machine. The whole album was done on a four track machine. In Search Of The Lost Chord, except for the vocals on “Ride My See Saw”, all that was done on a four track machine as well. We had an eight track machine come in at the very end of the sessions and we did all the vocals on an eight track machine. So then, I think on Children’s Children we had the eight track machine and probably Question. And then we went to sixteen tracks. So I think the availability of the recording technique was sort of opening up to us and we were able to explore alot more of how to work in the studio with different recording mediums.
RS: Your song “One More Time To Live” which echoes the lead-off track “Procession” is one of the highlights of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Were those two tracks inter-related?
JL: I think they are really because when we’d almost finished the album we tried to think how are we going to link all of this together to make it so it is one album. And I think “Procession” and “One More Time To Live” sort of came together as an integral part of each other. Interesting song that “One More Time To Live”.
RS: Moodys producer Tony Clarke worked with the band up through the Octave album. What did he contribute to the Moody’s sound and why did you stop working with him?
JL: I think with Tony...what happened was when we all first got together for Days Of Future Passed the record company suggested Tony to produce the album. And we met up with Tony and we got on very well indeed. There was a really nice empathy between us all. And also in the recording set-up we had an engineer called Derek Varnals. And the wonderful thing about those particular days was it was definitely a record company and a group...an artist. And the record company engineers used to literally wear white coats, white overalls. Lab coats I think you call them. So they’d be wearing white lab coats. But what they did was, they taught us an amazing discipline and I think working with Tony, we managed to have this discipline and also we managed to explore all the ideas. Tony was very good at coming up with ideas when we’d discuss...round our table again...how could we do this? Because he was a producer and because we had the engineers he managed to say, ‘we could follow this particular route by recording in this way’. So we really did work very well together. And I think unfortunately at the end of when we worked together, y’know I think we’d all grown differently and probably Tony had grown away from us or whatever. Alot of things changed during the Octave album. Mike decided he didn’t want to tour as well. It was a bit of a watershed in the Moody Blues career. Alot of things changed then.
RS: What was it like working with another Tony, Tony Visconti who produced the Moody’s albums Sur La Mer and The Other Side Of Life? How would you compare the two Tonys?
JL: Well, Tony Clarke would be more ethereal and Tony Visconti...he would sort of dot the i’s and cross the t’ s if you know what I mean. He would make sure the mechanics of it, the notation of the production would be exactly right. And so it was a different type of working. Whereas when we were working with Tony Clarke, we would paint a picture first, we’d paint a landscape and then we’d put in all the items that belonged in that picture within our song. Can you follow what I mean? And I think with Tony Visconti we didn’t actually paint the picture. We started with the parts that we wanted to be in the song and got those right.
RS: The latest round of Moodys reissues featured printed interviews. Are you disturbed that the lyrics, which were so important to the album’s have now been omitted?
JL: Yeah, I don’t like anything where they’ve changed what we have done. I think that is a wrong move by the record company and I think in a way, it’s being disloyal to us, if I can say that. Because when we put an album together we would spend a lot of time to make sure that when someone bought a Moody Blues record we’d believe what they had was exactly what we wanted them to have. Y’know with the lyrics or whatever we’ve done. Whether it’s a gatefold when it was the old albums. We were very, very particular in what we wanted The Moody Blues to be represented as. And unfortunately now the record company comes along and does things without the love and care that we put into it. It is upsetting sometimes.
RS: But I did think that the interviews with the latest round of ‘classic seven’ albums were pretty interesting.
JL: Yeah but I think the interviews could have been as an extra thing. The problem with interviews is...I think the albums your talking about...the interviews weren’t interviews from 1967/68 were they? They were interviews that were done much later. The interview on Days Of Future Passed would have been nicer if it had been from 1967 when we recorded the album.
RS: I was really impressed with the gold CDs of Moody Blues album put out by Mobile Fidelity. Have you heard those?
JL: Yes I have. Yes.
RS: It was sad to see that label go bust.
JL: Well I don’t really know what happened at the end because unfortunately our record contract keeps changing. Different record companies and different people seem to be in charge at different times. It’s very difficult to keep a grasp on it, on the situation.
RS: You’ve recorded one solo album Natural Avenue. Are there plans for any future solo albums?
JL: Well I am yes, I’ve been working at writing a new solo album but to be honest, my energies really are directed towards The Moody Blues. I am a Moody Blue and I feel a Moody Blue. My creative part of me is almost satisfied in the works I’ve been doing in The Moody Blues. You see, I’m not just a recording person. I enjoy playing live as well.
RS: I saw that Natural Avenue has been reissued again as a limited edition.
JL: It’s really a private reissue. I had the opportunity to have my album back from the record company. Alot of people were telling me “John, we can’t get Natural Avenue”. They said you should reissue it. And I thought about it for a long time. And then I decided to reissue it and put two more tracks on there. A song called “Street Cafe” and then a song called “Threw It All Away”. The song “Threw It All Away” I’d actually written for Elvis Presley. If you listen to it you’ll hear the Presley-esque vocals. Because Elvis, if you remember recorded a song called “Moody Blue”. And just sort of when he died I wrote “Threw It All Away”.
RS: Do you think there’ll ever be expanded editions of the ‘classic seven’ Moody Blues albums?
JL: I don’t know to be honest. Most of everything we recorded we released. We thought if it was worth recording it was worth releasing. I mean that was our attitude. If we really believed in the song, we didn’t want to put anything away and leave it hidden. We have obviously got all our master tapes, going back to the mid-60s. But it would take a monumental task to go in and listen to everything y’know to find out what we do have because there’s lots of things that we have. We have BBC sessions.
RS: From each album?
JL: Yeah, we’ve got lots of things. There’s BBC, we’ve got live albums which we’ve recorded, The Isle Of Wight Festival, I know we’ve got another album we recorded at The Albert Hall, The Threshold Album, where we featured the artists that we’d signed up to our own label. It was an interesting period.
RS: So the future looks good for Moody Blues collectors.
JL: (laughing) Need someone to go through all the archives and spend many happy hours going through it all!
RS: Well, maybe if you like the article, I’m available. You can put me on the list or something (laughing).
RS: You’ve no doubt inspired so many bass players with your work over the years. As far as guitarists and bass players go, who’s inspired you?
JL: Well I think as a guitarist, inspiration and the just magic of the man it's Eric Clapton. I’ve always liked Eric’s work from day one. What I like about it is the melody he has within his playing and I think that’s what attracts me to him. In my bass playing I try and always keep melodic. There’s lots of ways of playing bass. One is to keep to the roots of the song, roots of the chord sequence, or you can sort of ‘slap bass’ where you can play a thousand notes a second, or the melodic way where it enhances what the guitar is doing. And that’s what I like to do. When I listen to different songs now, not just particularly Moody’s songs, I can’t think of anybody in particular, but to listen to some new things on the radio now, I do start to hear melodic bass coming back into alot of the songs. So I think that’s probably why Eric Clapton is the person I enjoy.
RS: And bass players?
JL: Well the problem with bass playing is that when I started playing bass there was no other bass players. I started when I was 15, there was no other bass players in England. I came from Birmingham. When I was 15 you couldn’t even buy electric bass. It didn’t exist. So there was no mentors, there was no one I could look up to and say, ‘I like their bass playing’. It just didn’t exist. The only bass on record really was stand up bass, and that’s not me at all. That’s the wrong bass for me altogether. So I never really ever had someone that I sort of thought about as being a fantastic bass player. Wasn’t Chris Hillman from the Byrds?
RS: He was the original bassist for the Byrds.
JL: Yeah, I liked him
RS: What about Paul McCartney?
JL: Paul’s a great bass player but we all grew up at the same time so it was very difficult y’know. Paul’s always been a great bass player because he’s got a driving force. So definitely Paul.
RS: So many of the great electric bass players came from England. Yourself, McCartney, John Entwistle and Chris Squire to name a few.
JL: Absolutely. Well Entwistle’s a great bass player, a great bass player. A huge driving force behind The Who.
RS: I want to tell you at this point that I still feel that founding member, Mike Pinder, although he left the band over 20 years ago, is possibly the most important progressive rock keyboardist of all time. His keyboard and mellotron work on the famous ‘classic 7’ albums gave the Moodys an incomparably innovative and spectacular sound.
JL: Listen, talk about Mike if you want to. There’s not a problem because I will say the same. Mike was definitely the most influential keyboard person. Sometimes if you really are competent and a really good player you tend to play every note possible. What Mike did was he put layers of keyboards. And what he did was he always painted a picture with his keyboard playing. In other words, he made plateaus for us to work on. And I think that’s what he brought to the world and he was excellent. He’d always find the right note to play within a chord. It was a real important part and it’s still hard to really examine and say exactly what he did. But what he did was, he’d play the right notes in a chord so you’d always get these beautiful chords coming off his keyboards. And he worked so hard with the Mellotron and also another instrument called the Chamberlin. He made those his own things, y’know? A lot of people have played them since and at the same time, Mellotron and Chamberlin, but Mike managed the make it his own thing. He was definitely the person in charge of that.
RS: Any plans for the first Moody Blues recordings in 2000 and beyond?
JL: At the moment were finishing this American tour and then were doing a British tour and then were doing hopefully another long form video which will incorporate the new songs as well. And then were sort of planning an American tour and I suppose we’ll also be talking about recording a new album. So, it’s ongoing! The Moody Blues is a very exciting thing to be part of to be honest. We are having a great time and we love the new album ourselves which is really important.
RS: Thanks a million John!
JL: Thank you very much Robert. Hope to see you tomorrow then.
Special thanks to Lori Lousararian @ Rogers & Cowan in L.A., Dean DiGiorgio, Ying Duan, Sujata Murthy and Todd Nakamine @ Universal and Mike Keys.