An Interview with John Lodge of The Moody Blues

When we look back upon the music scene of the 1960s, it’s hard not to include The Moody Blues, who became pioneers of an entire genre of music, and a style of storytelling that would influence, and change the landscape of music for years to come.

In this interview with bassist, vocalist, and songwriter, John Lodge, among other things, we chat about his current projects, future tours, and of course, The Moodie Blues, John’s early childhood, how he got connected with music (or shall we say how music got connected with him), and the bass guitar.

There is a tremendous amount of history to cover when it comes to The Moody Blues, from the invention of Prog Rock to the mid-70s break, and subsequent rocky reunion, and a whole lot more. John was an absolute pleasure to speak to, and we cover it all in this career-spanning interview.

If you would like to learn more about John Lodge, head over to his webpage here, and if you would like to learn more about The Moody Blues, be sure to visit their webpage as well.

Anthony:
John, how have these past couple of years been for you?

John:
They’ve been strange, to say the least. I finished my US tour on March the 9th, 2020, and I came down to Naples, Florida, where my family lived to celebrate my grandson’s birthday, which was March the 14th and March the 12th, we got closed down and I didn’t see him or any of my family for three months. So, it was strange but I’ve learned a lot since then. I built a studio, wrote some songs, recorded some songs, and I wrote a song called “In These Crazy Times,” and released it about the predicament we’re all in. And what I was thinking was the same as everyone else is…I think…t’s a really strange time.

Anthony:
It sounds like you’ve been busy. You’re recording, writing, and able to have visited family.

John:
Yeah, not traveling. Not performing. I’ve been performing since I was fifteen, and to be having all the time off is unbelievable.

Anthony:
You’re gearing up for a 2022 tour in March, correct?

John:
Yes, we’re rehearsing now, choosing what songs to keep The Moody Blues music alive with. We’ll be on the road through March and the beginning of April. I am on the Flower Power Cruise out of Miami for a week through the Caribbean, so that’s going to be like a floating festival on water. We’ve got Procol Harum, Gary Booker, The Hollies, and The Zombies. It’s a real British invasion. It’s gonna be great.

Anthony:
That sounds like it’s going to be amazing. And also, I want to say congratulations on your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction a few years ago. I’m sure that was exciting an exciting time for you.

John:
It was because, to be honest, being a British musician, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is very an American institution, but it did hit me to what it really meant to be on that stage, on the evening of the presentation, looking at of all these people in the audience, and thinking about all the people watching on TV around the world, and I thought, “Hang around…without all these people, we wouldn’t be here on this stage,” and I realized the award was for them as well. I felt a little shiver down my back, to be honest, and then also, I thought about how my hero was Buddy Holly, and there was this…Johnny Lodge, me, coming from a working-class environment in England, and my hero is Buddy Holly, and I’m standing on stage thinking, “Yeah, I’m standing tall, shoulder to shoulder with Buddy Holly. I’m now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Anthony:
That’s such an amazing experience to have gone through. Going back now, take me through your musical beginnings.

John:
It hit me, Rock ‘N’ Roll hit me. To be honest, I really didn’t think much about music when I was growing up, and when Rock ‘N’ Roll came into the school, I went into the cafe, they had added a Rock-Ola jukebox, and with my lunch money, I used to drop the coin in the slot, and listen to people like Fats Domino, Joe E. Lewis, Little Richard, and it overwhelmed me. It was fantastic. I thought, “What is it that’s really making me have such an affection or an understanding?” I realized it was the boogie side of the piano, the Fats Domino, Little Richard, all these guys were playing the boogie, and I was mesmerized by it. So, when I started to play guitar, like everyone else, I learned a few chords, but I started to learn all these boogie parts on the bottom four strings on my guitar, and I realized that’s what turned me on.

Back then, there were no electric basses in England at the time. I thought the bass was a double bass, and I saw a band called The Tremeloes, this was the first band that I ever saw with an electric Fender bass, and that was it. I thought, “I have to get one of these Fender basses.” I remember going to my music store one Saturday morning, as all the young budding musicians did, you always congregate at the music store trying to learn chords from everyone else or see what’s going on. Anyway, in the window, there was a big poster, and with it was this Fender Position bass, and it said, “Direct from the USA, Fender Position sunburst bass.” To be honest, I went straight home and asked my father, I said, “Dad, come on, you gotta help me out here,” and we went up back to the music store, and we bought that Fender in 1960, and it’s tracked the bass for nearly every Moody Blues record I’ve ever recorded, my new album, and the last album. I’ve done it all with that bass. It seems to play on its own. [Laughs]. It seems to know what notes there are, and it’s amazing, when I pick that bass up, it still has the same…for lack of a better word, the same smell that it had when I bought the thing. It’s been part of my life ever since.

Anthony:
Does it still have all the same pickups and hardware?

John:
It’s exactly the same! I didn’t change a thing because I love the sound. I use flat wound strings on it. Originally, there were Fender strings, and then, I started with Rotosound strings, and then GHS strings — all flat wound, not round wound. I use round wound strings on the road, but not in the studio.

Anthony:
Do you still use that same bass on the road as well?

John:
On the road, I’ve got the replica 1963 Jazz bass, which the Fender shop put together for me because it’s got all the electronic pick-ups and everything else, which you need for the stage. Now, I use a line amplifier, so everything goes through that. The balance of all the strings on the Jazz bass seems particularly good for me.

Anthony:
You mentioned that Rock got a hold of you, but in the early 60s, how prevalent was the Blues element, and how much of an influence was the genre on you?

John:
The Blues in England, was really interesting because three factors were going on, and all from America, there was the Blues by all the great Blues artists that came out, and then there was the Rock ‘N’ Roll part, or as I say, like the Fats Domino, Little Richard, and then there was the A.M. Bubblegum Pop, which was Bobby Vinton, and people like that. So there are three aspects in England, and the Blues was the one where you went to the nightclub to hear, that’s where the Blues was. You had Sonny Boy Williamson and all these guys, they all came over to England, played all the clubs. It was a great learning curve for all us musicians to listen to them, but we could only copy them because I’d never been to America. I didn’t know what the Mississippi was. I didn’t know what the Delta was. I didn’t know what New Orleans was. So, it was a time when you could only copy, but it was a great time because we learned from all that, and reinvented it, I suppose, into British Rock.

Anthony:
The Moody Blues were true pioneers in the world of Progressive Rock, with Days Of Future Passed being one of the first-ever for the genre. Can you dig into that for us at all?

John:
Well, we were talking one day, because we were playing all the Blues songs, and Rock ‘N’ Roll songs, and we were talking a bit between ourselves, and I said, “You know, the Blues, the real Blues is about where people grew up, their environment, what they did, what affected them.” That was the Blues. You know, lyrics like, “I woke up this morning, do do do do do.” [Laughs]. So, we said, “Okay, why don’t we do the Blues for when we are bored. Let’s write about us because that’s the same Blues. It’s what it is.” We went actually to Belgium, and we lived in Belgium for a while, and we started writing and rehearsing, and eventually, that became Days Of Future Passed.

Anthony:
After the success of that record, what was it like bringing The Moody Blues over to the US market for the first time?

John:
It was the most amazing experience. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to experience that again because America in the 60s was so different from anywhere else in the world. The cars were enormous, the freeways were enormous, the buildings were enormous, and the McDonald’s were enormous too! [Laughs]. I think I’ve got a photograph, from around 1968, and it says, “McDonald’s, 6 million sold.” Can you believe that? [Laughs]. It was an incredible time musically because we went to The Fillmore East, The Fillmore West, and The Shrine in Los Angeles. So, we’re in a different place altogether. It was wonderful to see all these bands playing. I’d go around everywhere looking at bands, enjoying the music, seeing people like Canned Heat. It was a remarkable time.

Anthony:
The Moody Blues were very busy the first few years of your career by putting out an album almost every year until 1972.

John:
Yeah, it was a really exciting time, and the studio was a great place to create. In those days, you didn’t really have huge multi-tracking available Days Of Future Passed was all four-track track. In Search Of The Lost Chord was all four-track except for “Ride My See-Saw,” when we had an eight-track machine turn up, and we used that. The recording process went pretty quick in those days. You could get in the studio, and you could all sit together, work out a song, and record it. It was a great time being on the road and touring, and we couldn’t wait to be back in the studio to record a new album.

Anthony:
The Moody Blues had a break after your tour in Asia in the early 70s. The band took a break for a few years and reunited. Can you talk about that a bit?

John:
Yeah, when we started in the mid-60s, it was just five guys, a road manager, and a van. That’s what we had, but by 1974, we had got touring companies, publishing companies, record companies, we even had a fleet to shop record stores across the south of England. We had stopped talking to each other, we only talked business. I think the album Seventh Sojourn, which was our last album at that time summed it all up, we were gonna take a break from it, and re-group. So, that’s what we did, we took a break, regrouped, and four years later, we made the Octave album and “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone.”

Anthony:
Even then, you had a rocky start when you reunited back in ‘77. when it came to recording the reunion album, and all the members being busy, as well as other circumstances like The Record Plant burning down.

John:
Yeah, a lot of things went wrong. Halfway through the recording, The Record Plant burned down. We saved the tapes, but unfortunately, our producer’s marriage collapsed while we’re recording, that was another emotional scar for The Moodies because we’d worked together for so long. Then we move up into…Mike [Pinder] built a studio up in Malibu called Indigo Ranch, we went up there, and we were hit by the mudslides, and we were marooned up there on the top of The Hills of Malibu. We couldn’t get down because the roads washed away, and I said, “Ah, yep. Looks like we’re steppin’ in a slide zone down here.” [Laughs].

Anthony:
How long were you stuck up there for?

John:
Oh, we went on and on, and one of us would make it down the hill sometimes, but sometimes the guys would have to stay up there. It was a difficult time making that album, but the album came out, and I think it’s a nice one, Octave, it did really well for us. I think we went platinum, but it was a strange time because Punk and everything else was all the rage, and putting out a Moody Blues album was a bit odd. But, Octave was the precursor to the next album, Long Distance Voyager, which changed everything again, because that album went to number one in America. I think we have three or four singles off that album, and it was our first album recorded in our own studio in London as well. We built Westlake Audio Studio to do, but it was the only album ever made at that studio by The Moody Blues.

Anthony:
When To Our Children’s Children came out, your music became more complex, with more symphonic elements in it. Can you dig into the evolution of your music?

John:
Yeah, I think what had happened was the first album was out of the blue for us. It came from everything we’ve learned before. For the second album, we decided not to use anybody, no side musicians, no orchestras, instead, we would play all the intros ourselves. I think with On The Threshold Of A Dream and To Our Children’s Children, we started to become a studio band. We were exploring what you could do recording-wise, and not playing live-wise. So, we would experiment in all other places to try to make different sounds which we recorded completely differently. It was an interesting time because we pulled the elastic on our musical travels as far as we could go, I think.

Anthony:
Take me through your joining Yes, Carl Palmer, and Asia during The Royal Affair Tour. What was the experience like?

John:
That was a fantastic tour, The Royal Affair Tour. With Yes, I’ve known the band over all the years, and I had a fantastic tour. It wasn’t just the music, but the crew on the tour were fantastic, it was seamless, one act to the other. When I was in Vegas, I recorded my concert, not knowing what for, but we recorded it because of the sound system, and it was an arena (now not an outdoor venue), and so, we recorded the sound there. After that tour, I recorded my own concert, and I suddenly realized, last year through the COVID lock-down, “Ah, I’ve got an album here. I’ve got a live album, and if you can’t go to concerts, and if I can’t play at the concerts, the next best thing is really to listen to it, and to listen to the concert.” So, that’s why I put the album together, The Royal Affair And After.

Anthony:
Can you go over the production of the video for “Nights In White Satin?”

John:
What happened was I’ve been playing “Nights In White Satin” forever on bass, and the harmonies, and I wanted to do that on stage. John Davison from Yes, on The Royal Affair Tour, joined me on stage for “Ride My See-Saw.” And so, when I was coming to put my stage show together, I wanted to do “Nights” because I wanted to do a tribute to everybody in The Moody Blues — Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward — I wanted to do a tribute to everyone. I didn’t want to sing “Nights In White Satin,” I just wanted to play it, and do the harmonies. so I said to John Davison, “Come on, John, you’re singing this baby!” So, we did. We rehearsed it up, and John’s got a fantastic voice and is a great musician. I think he’s made the song his own as well. I’m really pleased because The John Lodge Band was behind it, and he builds up and builds up, and there is no flute solo, instead, it’s a cello. I wanted a cello to play the solo, not a flute, and yeah, there it is. [Laughs].

Anthony:
Who were some of your favorite artists, and albums?

John:
I’ve got an eclectic collection of music. When Rock ‘N’ Roll first started, I was never really was into singles. I wanted albums, and I bought albums when I was around twelve or thirteen. I bought albums like Bill Haley because Blackboard Jungle was the first-ever real Rock ‘N’ Roll film with “Rock Around The Clock.” Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps were iconic figures, particularly in New England, and Europe. They were featured in a movie called The Girl Can’t Help It. So, albums by the early Rock ‘N’ Roll people started it for me. As the years passed, I got into Canned Heat, Bob Dylan — to be honest — I love every album Bob Dylan has ever made, and John Lennon’s Imagine album.

Anthony:
Do you still have all those albums with you?

John:
I have all those records, and I have all my first Rock ‘N’ Roll records — Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino — all these guys. In England, everything was on 78 records, not 45s like in America. I’ve got a 1945 Wurlitzer Jukebox. All my original records are in that jukebox, and they still play incredibly to this day, because they’ve never been touched by a human hand, just the mechanics of the machine player.

Anthony:
What does the future hold for you, John?

John:
I hope everyone enjoys The Royal Affair Tour because it’s the soundtrack of my life. that album, as I say, it’s a live album, so I enjoyed playing it. I enjoyed the energy on the album, and I hope the listeners do too.

Interested in learning more about John Lodge & The Moody Blues? Check out the links below:

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
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