Justin Hayward, lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of the iconic British rock band Moody Blues, has been making magical music with the group for more than four decades. Longtime bandmates are John Lodge (bass, singer/songwriter) and founding member Graeme Edge (drummer). Founding member flautist and vocalist Ray Thomas died last January.
Classic Moody Blues songs include “Nights in White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “The Story in Your Eyes,” “The Voice,” “Question,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” and many more. Their music combines elements of rock, classical, and pop-rock and features incredibly tight-knit vocal harmonies. The Moody Blues have earned 14 platinum and gold discs.
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the classic Days of Future Passed album. In celebration of this milestone, the band will be performing some North American tour dates as well as releasing the concert recording of Days of Future Passed Live.
The Moody Blues were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, 2018.
Hayward is currently on a nationwide solo tour, with a stop scheduled at The Grand Oshkosh on Wednesday, August 29th. He has stated, “My acoustic solo tours give the perfect balance to the big production of the Moody Blues concerts. I’m so lucky to have both.” His album, Spirits of the Western Sky, was released in 2013 followed by a compilation record, All the Way, in 2016.
I phoned Hayward in West London recently.
Jane Spietz: Did your family have an impact on your career choice?
Justin Hayward: Yes, I think so. My parents were both teachers. I had a brother who is very close in age to me. But we were very different, and a sister who was nine years younger than me. There is an element of theater about teaching anyway. My father was a very private man, but I did see him teach a couple of times. His style was one of strong discipline but with some sort of sardonic humor which appealed to me very much. Mother played the piano and was always involved in amateur dramatics. They definitely encouraged me. I was very fortunate when I pestered them for guitar long enough when I was about 10 and they got me one. I knew how to play it because I had a desire to. There is no doubt about what I wanted to do after that.
JS: Who were your major musical influences?
JH: The first music that I knew that I really liked involved some of the hymns, ancient and modern, when I was a boy. We would sing either in church or in school assembly. I knew that I loved a lot of those things. Then I heard on the radio a singer called Johnny Ray when I was only four or five years old. There is something in that sort of cry in his voice that really appealed to me. And then Elvis, of course, came along and Bill Haley. I liked all that stuff. It was great. But, it still wasn’t focused for me until I heard Buddy Holly. When I heard Buddy Holly, it all made sense. I could be part of the group that played guitar and sang and wrote, and didn’t have any special kind of moods or anything like that, but had a unique voice. It meant everything to me. He is still the greatest influence to this day.
JS: You have stated that English singer and songwriter Marty Wilde is a hero. Talk about your relationship with him.
JH: I left school for a couple of months. The group that I was with turned professional in Swindon. They went to do what a lot of English groups did in those days. They went to Germany to play the American bases and to do the nightclubs kind of thing. But I knew that wasn’t for me. I spent the whole summer after I left school answering ads from the Melody Maker for jobs because the Melody Maker was a newspaper that was for musicians. I answered a lot of the ads. I had a reply from one. I went up to an audition in East London and Marty Wilde opened the door. It was quite astonishing. It was a real shock for me. Then I was lucky enough to get the job playing guitar with Marty and his wife, who was a wonderful singer in her own right. It was the time I was with Marty, just being able to watch him. He told me then, to survive in the business you have to develop your own style and your own identity. I started writing then. He was writing, too. He had great success with songs for his daughter, Kim Wilde, after that. Marty put me in London in the early ‘60s which was exactly the place I needed to be and wanted to be, when the Beatles arrived there and the Stones were there. London was the place to be. I’m grateful to Marty and he’s still my hero. I am still in awe of him. I saw him about two weeks ago. I love him very much.
JS: Describe how it felt to participate in the ‘60s and ‘70s music scene.
JH: London was the place to be for all the groups. I’m a southern man anyway. Even the northern bands decided that they needed to go to London as soon as they possibly could because that was where the action was. That is where the studios were and also the record companies. That was where you needed to be to get noticed and to start having some success. I was very fortunate to be there at that time. Actually, the scene in London was quite small, probably only two or three hundred people. So you kind of knew them all. You knew the girls that looked after the boys because most of the time the boys ran together. Nobody was earning money from concerts. We were just doing it for fun. So there was always a team of girls looking after all the boys in the groups. The girls were the ones who did the work. The nightlife scene was very important, too. People would come back after a gig say, at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and go to the same clubs. That’s where the whole scene started developing.
For me, and the rest of the group, we were very lucky to be invited to America in 1968. We were one of the few British groups that were prepared to go to America without headlining. We were prepared to support everybody else and just two small gigs. That was really what turned the corner for us. Being able to be in America at the beginning of FM radio and to be part of the music scene there. New York and California, Chicago and all over the U.S. We were very lucky to be part of that. It was just about timing. I never thought about it at the time but I knew the start had to be in London. That was the place to be. I am so fortunate that Marty really did bring me there.
JS: The Moody Blues never followed so-called popular trends. The band always went its own way musically. You have said that you made music for yourselves. Explain.
JH: Days of Future Passed was a Decca Record company project. There were a lot of people besides the band that were for the concept of Days of Future Passed and the idea of it. I think that when that happened, the recording company that was run by a very kind elderly gentleman, the chairman of the board of Decca, came to us and said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but people seem to like it so just get on with it.’ And they wanted to sell albums, so we were never under any pressure to sell singles. The rest of the popular music groups were under pressure to make a single and to have a hit. But for us, the American and London record companies really started concentrating on albums so we never felt under any pressure to go out and try to get a hit single. And so it meant that we could just trust our own judgment and go our own way. In the end, I would still say that’s my advice to everyone coming into the business now is to try and develop your own style and identity and go your own way. If you can, stick with it.
JS: You wrote “Nights in White Satin” when you were just 19. What led to the creation of that Moody Blues classic?
JH: It’s a strange thing, Jane, to be asked about a few minutes in your life later on. Nobody asked me about “Nights” in the first few years. It wasn’t one of those questions that interviewers ever bothered with really. Nobody tried to analyze it. But, I remember that I was at the end of one big love affair and at the beginning of another. That was very important to me as a young man. I just put those kinds of thoughts into that song and a series of random thoughts that meant a lot to me. Curiously enough, I think now that I can see that it does have some truth in it. That I do think what you want to be you’ll be in the end. Sometimes you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you kind of need, or what you are.
And I did used to write letters never meaning to send. I thought that was the cathartic way to get over some problems that I had in my life. I never thought for a moment, none of us believed, that it could happen as a commercial success. It just wasn’t the kind of thing that you have commercial success with. It was long. It was four minutes 20 seconds, slow. It didn’t fit any of the rules about having a successful record. So none of us had high hopes for it. All I can say is that it was a series of thoughts that had great meaning for me at the time and still have great meaning. As a matter of fact, I can’t do it without being emotionally involved with it every night.
JS: Justin, so out of all of the Moody Blues songs from over the years, is there one song that you particularly look forward to performing?
JH: There’s a song that we did in the ‘80s. It’s called “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.” I recorded the demos at the same time at my home with another song called “Your Wildest Dreams.” It seemed to touch a chord with people. About people wondering what happened to the first person they ever loved. It’s the one song that I really do look forward to playing because people join in and it’s got a kind of infectious cause. It’s a joy to do.
JS: One of my personal favorites, out of so many, is “Question.” The lyrics challenge all of us to consider a better way to address the issues common to multiple generations. What are your thoughts about that song?
JH: I think what you just said is exactly right, actually. I think what you just said is perfect. I think it was a time when we were relieved of the pressure of the group conscription in this country which was a draft. We were going through America seeing these young boys of our own age being drafted and expected to go to war. Even if they didn’t, even if they were conscientious objectors, they still ended up as medics or something like that. A lot of them. It was one of the subjects that I really felt strongly about at the time. The record was made up of two songs that I had. I knew that I had to come up with something for a session on a Saturday morning and it Friday night at about 2 o’clock I still didn’t have anything. But I had two very different songs. And they put them both together and they just seem to work together. It was one of those recordings that was very quick. There was no overdubbing. It was one of the biggest hits we ever had. Although “Nights” was a hit several times, it didn’t have an immediate impact when it came out. “Question” went straight to the top of the charts with one rush.
JS: What did it mean for you personally when the Moody Blues were inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame this year?
JH: I was so pleased for the American Moody Blues fans because it meant so much to them to have music that they loved validated. To not have it validated was always a kind of question mark over their own tastes and their own feelings. That was the thing that had the biggest impact on me. I was so very, very pleased. Of course, yes, it’s nice for us to be recognized like that and at the same time, I’m not sure that having a committee that decides is the best way who should be in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall Museum. But I’m very grateful to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame for creating that temple to all of the music that has sustained me ever since I was a little boy.
JS: Please talk about your recent solo efforts.
JH: I’ve got a compilation record out. It’s called All the Way (2016). It puts together a lot of things from different solo albums. My label, Eagle Rock, was bought by Universal. So then Eagle Rock had the opportunity to source all of the different recordings that I made. They chose to put some things together. Some I redid, some I didn’t. I’m so glad that this was put out. Some of these songs have not been easy to find. And then I had an album out not long ago of new songs called Spirits of the Western Sky (2014). I put my whole heart into that. I think it’s the most precious and the most meaningful thing that I’ve ever done because it’s the way I feel now. We spend a lot of time talking about the Justin from 50 years ago, but really Spirits is about the Justin that’s now.
JS: What would you like to leave as your legacy?
JH: My hope for all of us is that we can leave the world a better place, that we can make the world a better place. I know it sounds like it’s a lot, but really, we can just spread some good vibes and some love and peace around. We’ll do it.
JS: You will be performing on Wednesday, August 29 at The Grand Oshkosh, a beautifully renovated opera house in Oshkosh. What can your audience look forward to experiencing that evening?
JH: I do a lot of things from the deeper album cuts. A lot of things that never worked in the live, loud show context of the Moody Blues. Of course I do a lot of things that were from solo albums. I get the chance to do “Forever Autumn.” I do much more, kind of deeper, album cuts. I always change things around every tour. I try to do some new things and some different things. Some are obscure, but then others, everyone will know. I hope there is a balance there. I do hope there is something for everybody.
It’s been lovely to talk to you. You’ve got a nice, beautiful voice. I am very privileged to be able to play these places, to be offered these gigs. And I’m very much looking forward to coming to The Grand Oshkosh. It will be a nice night.
Photo credits: Justin Hayward publicist