John Lodge, of course, is a founder member of the legendary group The Moody Blues, as well as being a remarkable solo artist in his own right. Time and again, he and his band have defied the critics, and now he is about to release B Yond – The Very Best Of, which features remixes, new recordings and live versions of chosen career highlights. John kindly took some time out from his busy schedule to have a chat with God Is In The TV.
God Is In The TV: You’ve done a fantastic job of updating the songs on B Yond, but I wondered, why this particular set? I was most intrigued by the inclusion of ‘Legend Of A Mind‘, as that seems to be the only one on the album that you didn’t write. I know Ray (Thomas) sadly passed away last year. Was this your tribute to him?
John Lodge: Yeah. I mean, Ray Thomas and I, you know I met Ray when I was 14, and we started a band when I was 15 called El Riot and The Rebels. We’ve been on a fantastic journey together, you know, and I’ve obviously lived all through Ray’s songs. Ray’s passing was something that, I suppose, we all had to come to terms with, but I just wanted to keep Ray’s music alive, and ‘Legend Of A Mind‘ was something very special. Ray and I were living in a flat in London, and every night he’d be sort of painting pictures and talking about ‘Legend Of A Mind‘, talking about Timothy Leary…it was a particular moment in time, and I thought it would be credible for me to do a tribute to Ray because, as I said, we grew up together. Our parents became friends because of our friendship, and then Ray’s children and my children became friends! It was sort of a new family I s’pose, for me. But you know, when you write a song like how Ray used to write songs, you do stand pretty naked. You’ve got to have some good friends around you to interpret the songs, you know, and ‘Legend Of A Mind‘ was a particular song of Ray’s that I really enjoy doing on stage. It summed Ray up, for me. It was who he was.
You’ve had an incredible career. As it says on the inside sleeve you’ve sold over 70 million records, won numerous awards and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame last year, yet you seem to have remained relatively level headed. How?
JL: Well, you know, for me, it was just a love of music. When I discovered rock and roll, I really just wanted to play music, and I wanted to make sure that, physically and mentally, what I wanted to do, I became capable of. I didn’t want to have anything coming from the left or right of me distracting me from what I really enjoy doing. For me, not to go on stage, not to be recording, and not to be writing songs because I’m incapable if I’ve DONE something to myself, would be the worst possible nightmare. So I’ve tried to stay focused on who I am – John Lodge the musician – and that’s what I’ve done all my life, really.
In Search Of The Lost Chord was, and still is, an astonishing album. It’s one of those records that transcend the generations. Even my mum, whose record collection mostly consisted of the more cheesy end of 60s pop singles and easy listening, had that album and loved it. It always looked out of place between Val Doonican and Roger Whitaker to me! What do you think it was about that album which gave it such huge widespread appeal?
JL: (chuckles) Well, we came off the album Days Of Future Passed, which as you know we recorded with the London Festival Orchestra, and the success of it…a lot of people said “you know, perhaps the success was because you used an orchestra!” So we decided – I think we had a group meeting between ourselves – and said “Let’s go in the studio and just record everything ourselves, with no-one else at all. ” Whatever the instruments were that we didn’t know how to play, let’s buy a music book and find OUT how to play it. And that’s what we did – we went in the studio and we said “let’s have no boundaries. Let’s think outside the box” in a way, really, and “let’s explore EVERYTHING” you know? ‘Legend Of A Mind‘ exploring all over the place. It was important for us to expand our musical visions. We’d just done gigs with all the Indian music, you know, and so we were thinking of tablas and so on – we just wanted to use every instrument we knew, to put over the songs. When we’d written a song, we’d say “what instrumentation do we use? What pictures are we trying to paint here on this particular song?” and that’s how we approached the album.
You must have been blown away when you first heard it back…
JL: We had this wonderful thing, which we started with Days Of Future Passed, where we’d sit in the studio in front of some huge speakers, turn the lights out and play the final mix back. Just listen to the album. That way you were cocooned, really, in your own little atmosphere, so if you weren’t looking at everyone else to see what their reaction was, it would have to be YOUR reaction, and I think we found out, as The Moody Blues, that was the most important thing – to find out what your own reaction was, personally, to the songs and to the album, and not to discuss it and say “I think this” or “I think that” – it was just really important that you felt satisfied, and probably emotional that you’d created something that no-one else had ever created before.
Talking about emotion, one of the strongest, most atmospheric tracks on B Yond, for me, is ‘In My Mind‘, from your more recent 10,000 Light Years Ago album. Songs like that are almost like an out of body experience for the listener. Do you ever find yourself getting so lost in the music when you’re playing it, that you momentarily forget where you are?
JL: Actually, when I played it for the first time on stage, it was an amazing experience for me, because I suddenly – and I know it’s a really old-fashioned saying, but I really felt myself ‘in the zone’. It’s as though what I was doing, on bass, was doing it automatically, somehow! I remember thinking, after I’d played the song, “what notes did I play there?!!!”
And I think it’s important to transcend into the music really. The music’s GOT to take you over, otherwise you become like a facsimile – like a cover band – where you’re playing the notes but not really believing in them.
How do you remember the earliest days of The Moody Blues? And was it surreal watching your friends achieve fame with ‘Go Now‘ while you were at college?
HL: It was a strange time, you know, at the beginning, because we had no boundaries. It was as though we were taking on the world, and I know that sounds stupid, but we were trying to go along a road that no-one else had gone along, because, you know, there was the ‘pop’ side of music, which was what you heard on the radio all the while, particularly in England on the AM radio, and then there was this other side, this divergence of music that was more underground – it wasn’t as ‘in your face’, so you had to go and find it. I remember doing concerts in the early days at the universities, and you’d have Marc Bolan and T. Rex opening for you, and he’d be down there in the audience, listening to the music.
Do you think it’s TOO easy to find music nowadays?
JL: I think the big problem is, and it’s a bigger situation really, the fact that all the downloads – the Spotifys and the Amazons and so on – not that I’m denigrating it or anything, it’s just a different way it’s happening – they control what you’re listening to, because if you say “I want a genre” and, say you want modern music, they give you THEIR playlist. Whereas in the old days, you had to go and FIND your own playlists. You’d actually have to put your hand in your pocket and think “Do I really want to spend this money on buying this record?” and I think that’s the difference. It’s a shame really, that other current musicians and bands – because live music is definitely everywhere in Britain and around the world…people are listening to live bands, but they’ve got no chance of buying a record from them, unless that band is making their own records and selling them at the gigs. Chances of them getting on any kind of major download or streaming vehicle is impossible.
Speaking of live music, B Yond begins with a live version of one of my favourite Moody Blues songs, ‘I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band‘. It’s weird because I always think of that song as a huge hit single, but comparatively speaking, it wasn’t. And I think that’s the case with several of your songs – your highest charting songs aren’t necessarily always your best known songs and vice versa. Do you ever just KNOW when a particular song is going to be a hit?
JL: No. I mean, we were always only interested in our albums. You’re talking about ‘Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band‘, but the album that came off, Seventh Sojourn, that was a number one album, and we were only EVER interested in our albums.
I guess when you put it in that context, it WAS a huge hit!
JL: Well, it’s not just that – if you’re going to go after the singles market, you have to go at it a different way, making videos and whatever whatever whatever….all the promotion and stuff. But you know, that wasn’t what we were after. That’s why we had no photographs of the band for the first seven albums! It was the MUSIC we wanted to come over, not who we were personally, and not any particular song on the album released as a single. It was always the record company who wanted to release singles. One of the albums…I think it was To Our Children’s Children…we didn’t even RELEASE a single, because we always just wanted people to listen to the whole 40 minutes of music and hear who The Moody Blues were at that particular moment in time. For me that was really important, you know, to be able to go from ‘Land Of Make Believe‘ to ‘Singer In Rock ‘n’ Roll Band‘.
Do you think some people misinterpreted that as pretentious though? I mean, you’re often listed under the ‘prog rock’ banner, and, of course, for a while, after the advent of punk, ‘prog’ was largely regarded as a dirty word by many. I’m not sure The Moody Blues were ever really one of the primary targets of the punk movement – you were on an extended hiatus at that point after all – but did it make things difficult in general, being a member of a band that had such a profound influence on the prog rock genre?
JL: Actually, no! I think it was a really interesting time, because we went in the studio and recorded an album called Octave after four years out, in, what, 1978, and people said “Oh, you’ve missed it! Punk is around the corner for the young kids” and whatever, but suddenly, we ended up with a platinum album! It was a really strange thing! People said…what did they call us? I can’t remember now, but even then they called us ‘prehistoric rock’ or something, and this was like 1980! ‘Dinosaurs of rock’, that was it! So then we went in the studio again and recorded the album Long Distance Voyager at the HEIGHT of punk, and I think it was the best selling album we ever had! It went quadruple platinum or something. It was a strange time because suddenly, there we were back at number one again and playing all the arenas in America! But modern invention of rock and roll – or re-invention of it – has GOT to come from young people, so punk rock came along and there were young people playing rock and roll as THEY wanted to do it, and that’s what’s important – it’s got to be an original take on rock and roll. It’s all layers of cake. You look at Buddy Holly, who was MY hero, and all the greats – Little Richard, Chuck Berry – all rock and roll greats and the REASON they’re greats is they didn’t follow an agenda. And you were talking about ‘Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band‘ not being a big hit single, but you look at most of the people who are held up as icons now – Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent or whoever, and what’s interesting is that most of them – their record success wasn’t actually very big. ‘Be Bop A-Lula‘ for example – an enormous record, you’d think, but it didn’t even reach the top ten, I don’t think! (NB – I was surprised by this so I looked it up. John’s right – it peaked at 30 on first release and never ventured any higher than number 16!)
You make a very good point! Now, what made you remix, rather than re-record, the two songs from Natural Avenue on B Yond?
JL: I just loved the atmosphere on that record when I recorded it, and I loved the dedication of the musicians I used, you know, Kenney Jones, Chris Spedding…I didn’t think it would be right to re-record them, because that NEVER sounds as good. But I was watching a film last year called Private Lives, and ‘Say You Love Me‘ was in it, and it just struck me that I really wanted to remix it – there was some amazing stuff on that record, you know, Jimmy Jewel doing that incredible sax solo – so I found the original 4 tracks and had them digitised, and then, while we tried to keep the integrity of the record, we mixed them to sound like it’s from today, in 2019. I’m really pleased with it. To me it’s the sound of a summer day.
The live songs on B Yond have such a vibrant energy to them. Do you still get the same buzz from playing gigs?
JL: That’s why I still do it! I still enjoy it so much. I’ve just done 2 months in the USA and I enjoyed every minute of it. The audiences come and they just want to listen to the music, so that’s just brilliant. We were touring with Yes, Asia and Carl Palmer, so it was like prog Heaven really, and it was wonderful! Right now is the pinnacle of my career, for me. You know, I think back to when I was 21, and people were still saying to me “so what are you gonna do? You’re not going to make your money in music so you need a career” and I just think how glad I was I ignored them!
And I’m sure we’re ALL grateful for that, especially as John, quite apart from being the supremely talented musician and songwriter extraordinaire that he is, also will go down in my mind as one of the most pleasant individuals I have ever had the good fortune to have a chat with. There’s a reason he’s had this phenomenal success, I’m sure – he deserves it.
B Yond – The Very Best Of John Lodge will be released on 27th September.