CELEBRATING IT’S 50TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY IN 2017, THE MOODY BLUES ALBUM DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED, LIKE THE BAND ITSELF, HAS HAD A FASCINATING RUN. AS BASSIST JOHN LODGE EXPLAINS IN THIS INTERVIEW, THE ALBUM WAS A MAJOR SHIFT FROM THE ORIGINAL RHYTHM AND BLUES ALBUM THAT THE FIRST INCARNATION OF THE BAND HAD CREATED, WITH THE POP HIT “GO NOW.”
SUDDENLY, A ROCK BAND RELEASES A CONCEPT ALBUM BASED ON, OF ALL THINGS, A SIMPLE DAY IN THE LIFE. WHEN DAYS FIRST CAME OUT, NO ONE KNEW WHAT TO MAKE OF THIS FASCINATING MIX OF VOCAL HARMONIES, ROCK, POETRY AND CLASSICAL. WHAT MADE THE ALBUM ACCESSIBLE WERE POP HITS LIKE THE DRIVING “PEAK HOUR” AND REFLECTIVE “TUESDAY AFTERNOON.” IT, LIKE THE BAND, CAUGHT ON LIKE WILDFIRE.
THEN, ALMOST 6 YEARS LATER, IT BECAME POPULAR AGAIN DUE TO THE MEGA FM OPUS “NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN” ACTUALLY RUNNING NECK AND NECK WITH THE MOODY BLUES’ CURRENT ALBUM FOR THE TOP SELLING ALBUM OF THE YEAR1
WE RECENTLY HAD A CHANCE TO CONVERSE WITH BASSIST AND COMPOSER JOHN LODGE, WHO WAS GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO GIVE INSIGHT AS TO THE BAND, THEIR ALBUMS, HIS LIFE AND HIS FAITH.
WHEN YOU JOINED THE MOODY BLUES, THEY WERE ORIGINALLY AN R&B BAND. WHO DECIDED TO CHANGE THE MUSICAL DIRECTION?
Moody Blues originally had that huge hit “Go Now.” In 1966 Justin (Hayward) and I joined the band. The band wanted to play the songs they’d already been doing. Justin and I didn’t want to do that, because we’d done “cover” songs all of our lives.
I know it sounds funny, but when you’ve been playing the same songs since you’ve been 14-15 years old, we were just like every other band in England. It was sort of a Top 40 band.
We had a meeting one day, and I said, “Listen, we’re still wearing all the same suits and we’re getting nowhere; it’s not who we are.” We were playing American music, and most of it was from the Delta and we’d never even been to America! There was no way we could be truthful in singing it, it was sort of like karaoke versions of these songs.
Other bands are doing these same songs; why don’t we get rid of all of these suits, write our own songs and just do our own music on stage.
So, we went to a little village in Belgium called Mouscron and spent about 3 months there writing a 45 minute set. We were doing 2 sets in those days of 45 minutes. The first set was basically all cover songs, but the second set was all our own music.
We found out after a very short while that the audience was responding to our music, so we got rid of the first set and we continued writing our own music. We then used our own songs from the stage show into Days of Future Passed and a week later we recorded an album that changed my life forever.
WHO’S IDEA WAS IT TO DO A CONCEPT ALBUM?
It was a strange period of time. Albums were coming out; they were usually 12 songs, six of the hits and six of the “B” sides written by the manager. With stereo, we saw this as “Hey, this is a fantastic platform for putting a whole show of songs we’ve written together.”
While we were thinking about that, the Decca Record Company approached us, and said they wanted to make what they called a “Sampler” album. It was to combine classical music with what they called a “pop” band.
Decca Records not only had the software for making records, but also the hardware. I think you call them “radio consoles” which we call “radiograms” here in England. 447 They had a radio inside a table unit.
They wanted to make this record that would actually make them sell their consoles, but also invent the technological side of their company, which they called “full frequency range music” for their records. It…was stereo as far as we were concerned.
We jumped at the opportunity, because they wanted to do Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” and for us to put lyrics to the symphony.
In those days you had 3 hour sessions. We went into the studio and said “We’d like to come in for a whole week, 24 hours a day, and we’ll record when we feel like recording, when we feel creative enough. It might be 4 o’clock in the morning.
They gave us the opportunity! So, we went into the studio and made Days of Future Passed with our own songs with the orchestration and the help of a wonderful man, arranger Peter Knight.
That was it. We then decided to travel a different road to am music. At the same time, in America fm and college radio was looking for albums to play, and we just fit into that genre.
WHAT ABOUT THE IDEA OF HAVING ALL YOUR FIRST ALBUMS WITH A THEME, SUCH AS A DAY IN THE LIFE, OR MYSTICISM AND TIMOTHY LEARY AND THE SPACE PROGRAM?
We wanted to make every album not a story, but a picture 646 of who we were at that time, and what we were doing collectively and individually. We used to go into the studio with a coffee table and the shag-pile carpet that they had in those days. We’d sit around it and talk about what we like, where we were in our lives, and we’d come up with a rough theme of what to make the album about. So, we’d come up with In Search of the Lost Chord and On the Threshold of a Dream. Those were our final titles, but we’d have working titles in the beginning that were slightly different. But, as the album moved around and we were all writing songs about the same subject the actual title would come to us.
DID YOU EVER PERFORM WITH THE ORCHESTRA?
We just used the mellotron in those days, all the while, because Ray Thomas played flute and we had the vocal harmonies. In 1991 we went to Red Rocks and recorded in Colorado with the Symphony Orchestra, and that was the very first time we had performed with an orchestra.
After that we got invited and did something like 300 concerts over the next ten years around the world. That was interesting, and actually brilliant. Something new; as long as we keep on our path all of these things happen to us.
The most important thing for any songwriter or musician is to be truthful. When our fans listen to our music, they know we’re not trying to be somebody else.
WHAT ROLE DID (PRODUCER) TONY CLARKE HAVE IN THE ALBUM?
He was a great friend. He was a staff producer at Decca Records. We went into the studio before Days of Future Passed and made a whole load of demos. The record company said “We’d like you to meet this guy” and got along with Tony straight away. We then grew up together; we all lived in Cobham, England and our children all went to the same schools.
He understood what we were doing, and we gave him and the engineer Derek Varnals carte blanche by given them the control room while we were in the studio. It became a great relationship.
YOUR SOUND WAS SO DIFFERENT. WAS THERE ANOTHER BAND ON THE SCENE THAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE THIS NEW SOUND?
I think it begins a lot earlier than that, how you become something.
I was intrigued by early rock and roll. At my school there was a café with a Rockola juke box. I was 11-12 and used to go there every lunch time, put my coin into the slot and listen to Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and Fats Domino.
I was always listening to the bottom end, because the Rockola juke boxes had these great big 12” speakers, so you could hear it so well; I was fascinated by the left hand side of the piano, or by the boogie sound by what I later learned was the electric guitar. I didn’t understand what it was, but I was intrigued by it.
After that discovered Buddy Holly. I heard “That’ll Be The Day” by Buddy Holly & the Crickets, and bought the 78 of it; I’ve still got it. It’s on my 1015 Wurlitzer Juke Box at home in pristine condition.
Buddy Holly changed everything for me. Up until then, all of these people were iconic people, but Buddy Holly came in a dinner suit and bow tie, writing songs that I understood. I was in my room every night with my guitar trying to learn the chords.
I was fascinated with his interpretations of a song, whether it was an upbeat one like “Not Fade Away” which the Rolling Stones did, or a song like “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” Those influences got to me.
I felt that if I could put a driving bass behind it with those influences on top, I’d like to do that.
ANOTHER THING THAT YOU PIONEERED, THAT NO ONE DOES ANYMORE, IS TO HAVE LEAD HARMONIES.
Yes, that was an integral part. We realized that we all had different voice sounds; we had baritone, two tenors and almost soprano.
What sound we couldn’t reproduce on stage with orchestration we realized we could do with vocals, so we could take over a lot of the things and do them with the harmonies. They were fantastic.
I grew up with The Everly Brothers and their harmonies. The great thing about The Everly Brothers’ harmonies, as opposed to other peoples’ harmonies, is that the harmony was also the lead, which is what we also did. The harmony wasn’t adding to the lead vocal; it was both lead vocals working together. It wasn’t just embellishing, it was adding another dimension.
Just like an orchestra or any musical band. You can take any part that the orchestra is playing and have it stand up on its own. You can make the harmony the lead line, like a saxophone section.
WHAT PEOPLE FORGET THESE DAYS IS THAT WHEN DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED CAME OUT, THE POPULAR SONG IN THE US WAS NOT “NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN,” BUT “TUESDAY AFTERNOON.” IT WASN’T UNTIL 4-5 YEARS LATER THAT “NIGHTS” CAUGHT ON IN THE STATES.
It was interesting for us, too. When we recorded Days of Future Passed we had two people, a guy named Hugh Mendl in London (who was the head of the Decca classical department) and a wonderful guy in New York, Walt McGuire of London Records. They understood us completely, knew exactly what we were doing, took “Tuesday Afternoon” and cut it in half (because it was far too long) and faded it out at the end. McGuire released that first as a single.
AM radio was still a major vehicle at that time in America. Am radio picked up on “Tuesday Afternoon,” but FM picked up on “Nights in White Satin” and everything else.
WAS IT A BAND OR LABEL DECISION TO RELEASE “NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN” AS A SINGLE IN 1972?
I don’t think at any time did we ever say “Release this as a single.” We’d ignore that fact and always let the record company do what it wanted. We were more interested in the album, and felt if there was someone we could trust thought that we should use a particular song for radio, then let them get on with it.
Whatever happened, we were going to promote the album. In fact, on a couple of our albums, we never even released a single, like on To Our Children’s Children’s Children.
WHEN YOU WERE TOURING IN 1972 PROMOTING SEVENTH SOJOURN, WERE YOU SURPRISED TO BE COMPETING AGAINST YOUR PAST?
It was an absolutely amazing time. To have “Singer in a Rock and Roll Band” and Seventh Sojourn both #1, and “Nights in White Satin” and Days of Future Passed also went to #1 while we were touring. I think also five albums in the charts that year.
It was wonderful to know that our music had been accepted. It was brilliant for us.
AFTER DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED, YOU DID AN ALBUM ABOUT THE PHILOSOPHY OF TIMOTHY LEARY AND LSD, WITH IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD. PEOPLE FORGET THAT LEARY WAS PROMOTING A WORLD VIEW FOR THE CULTURE.
DURING THIS TIME, A MAJOR SOCIAL UPHEVEL WAS TAKING PLACE, WITH PEOPLE DRUGGING OUT OR DELVING INTO VARIOUS RELIGIONS OR PHILOSPHIES.
YOU BECAME A CHRISTIAN AT THE TIME. WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS FOR THIS?
I’ve always been from that point, at least from the philosophy point. I met Timothy Leary, like we all did. He used to come up on stage and play the tambourine with us.
I remember having discussions with him about LSD, and I told him, “I’m really happy where I am with my life, so the other part doesn’t really interest me.”
My whole being when I was a kid of 14, all I wanted to do was to play bass as best as I could, write songs and be in a band. Everything else is subsidiary, because it would take me away from what my goal was.
And here I am, 50 years later, on the road again with Days of Future Passed. So, I think that my (biblical) point of view is right.
HOW HAS YOUR FAITH INFLUENCED YOUR CAREER AND SONGWRITING?
By being truthful. The most important thing for any songwriter or musician is to be truthful. When our fans listen to our music, they know we’re not trying to be somebody else.
I remember back in the 1960s to the band that “Whatever we write about, we’ve got to be able to stand by it for 20-30 years.” We never thought as far as 50! We wanted to do something that we could stand by and say “I believe this.”
It also goes for recording; you have to be truthful in your recording. Don’t copy someone else. Explore the instrument, explore what you want to do on whatever you play. Explore with what you’re doing vocally. That’s where the faith comes in. Being truthful.
With the advent of vinyl and all of the new boxed sets, you’re getting younger people discovering The Moody Blues on their own for the first time, and they’re not coming via their parents.
I ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU PUT YOUR IMPORTANCE AS A CHRISTIAN MUSICIAN BEST ON “I’M JUST A SINGER IN A ROCK AND ROLL BAND.” PEOPLE LOOK FOR IDOLS, AND THEY ARE ALL WITH FEET OF EXCEPT FOR GOD.
For that song, I remember coming home to my house after a tour, and there were people around it. They told me “We’ve come here because you’re going to captain the space ship that will save the world.” I said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I don’t like flying.” (laughs)
WHEN YOU GO TO CHURCH, ARE YOU A “HYMNAL” OR “MODERN WORSHIP” KIND OF GUY?
I like everything. I’ve found in life that if people really believe what they are singing, that’s what they should be doing. If it’s in a modern born-again church, and you’re listening to all of the new songs with the band playing, you can see people really enjoying it.
But you can’t take away from all of the classic hymns, where you go into a “classical” church. Everything that is important to people has an emotional effect on them, then that’s what they’ve got to sing.
HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED WORSHIP MUSIC IN A CHURCH.
No, but I’ve learned a lot of it. It’s always in the wrong key for me. (laughs)
NOT ONLY ARE YOU FAITHFUL TO GOD, BUT YOU’VE BEEN WITH YOUR WIFE FOR ALMOST 50 YEARS! THAT’S GOT TO BE A ROCK AND ROLL RECORD.
In marriage, you’ve got to be more than “best friends.” People always say “my wife is my best friend.” Naw, it’s more than that. You’ve got to have it where there’s give and take on both sides. I’ve found that it’s much better if you give more, most of the time. Then, your wife gives you more, most of the time. So, it’s not 50-50; it’s more 70-30 both ways.
WHAT’S NEXT ON YOUR AGENDA?
We’re going to be touring in support of my new album Live From Birmingham. There’s a song on it called “10,000 Light Years Ago.” It’s to tell everyone that the past has gone forever, but the future is always within reach.
WHAT DO YOU WANT WRITTEN ON YOUR TOMBSTONE?
“Isn’t Life Strange?”(laughs)
IT’S INSPIRING TO HEAR OF A MUSICIAN WHO HAS KEPT HIS INTEGRITY IN REGARDS TO HIS MUSIC, HIS MARRIAGE AND ALSO HIS FAITH. A RARE COMBINATION IN THIS DAY OF SHORT SIGHTED HEDONISTIC CACOPHONY.
LODGE IS CURRENTLY ON TOUR DELIVERING MATERIAL RANGING FROM 50 YEARS AGO TO THE PRESENT, ALL OF IT SOUNDING FRESH AND INSPIRING. WILL ANY OF TODAY’S ARTIST BE ABLE TO EVENTUALLY MAKE THAT CLAIM? MAKE A POINT TO SEE HIM IN CONCERT; IT’S GUARANTEED TO BE A PEAK HOUR.