The Eye of the Acoustic Storm
Each week, a different artist is spotlighted in “The Eye of The Acoustic Storm.” Hourly segments of “The Eye” feature the artist’s music along with bio information and sound bites.
The first progressive-rock band to achieve super-stardom, The Moody Blues paved the way for groups like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
The Acoustic Storm Interview
Jeff Parets spoke with Moody Blues’ bassist John Lodge January 30, 2007. Lodge was in Barbados, preparing for the Winter ’07 leg of the latest Moody Blues tour.
ACOUSTIC STORM: We’ve got John Lodge of the Moody Blues on the phone from Barbados. John, it’s great to have you on The Acoustic Storm.
Hey Jeff, thanks very much, it’s my pleasure. And The Acoustic Storm…you just reminded me when you said that, The Acoustic Storm, that when I was 14, my stage name was Johnny C. Storm (laughs). A bit of irrelevance, I’m sure people looking in the archives will find that somewhere.
ACOUSTIC STORM: What have the Moody Blues been up to lately?
LODGE: Well, actually over the last year, we’ve been in a touring mode, and we’re still in a touring mode. Last year, we did a tour of the U.S., but we also toured across Europe, doing concerts in France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Finland and we did a huge tour of the U.K. and we didn’t finish until the week before Christmas. And we’re back on the road February 8th, but normally in the downtime when we’re not touring that’s when we concentrate on trying to write new material and new songs and always look forward to recording something new.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Do you have some new material you’re working on?
LODGE: Actually, I’ve written one song, but it’s a song for a charity in the United Kingdom and also a song I’ve written for a charity in the Caribbean. But that’s a project outside the Moody Blues that I’ll record in March and April of this year. I’m looking forward to that, because when you do something on your own it always enhances what you do for the Moody Blues. But I think a Moody Blues album is not far away, to be honest, it seems to be funneling towards that. We’ve been touring for the last two years, really non-stop around the world. We released a DVD called “Lovely to See You” which we recorded at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. And it’s in Surround Sound, very high definition DVD. So we’ve been performing and promoting behind that, playing Moody Blues music to everyone.
ACOUSTIC STORM: It’s interesting how the band has transformed over the years from being a group that concentrated to a great extent on the recording process and perfecting the sound in the studio to becoming a band that really enjoys touring.
LODGE: Yeah, I suppose really as a musician you start off (well, we did) we started off as just performers really, because we were in… before having a record contract we’d been performing gigs everywhere and then you start recording and then you start really getting on with the recording technique and locked into it. We get locked into the recording technique and then suddenly you figure there’s a whole new world out there that were buying your records and would like to hear them on the road.
So it’s really important, I think, to go out there and perform the songs. And then you start to find other things happen in life by being on the road. It’s not just the performances, it’s the places you travel to and you try to enjoy the kaleidoscope of different cities and countries and countrysides and everything about it.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Just hearing you talk about it makes me want to hit the road.
LODGE: Well, I mean we’ll be in Vegas, California and Arizona and doing the tour throughout the summer so, yeah it keeps you on the straight and narrow.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Let’s talk a bit about the band’s evolution throughout the years. I’m sure you’ve been asked about the early history of the band a lot but it’s a wonderful history. You joined The Moody Blues, after its R&B phase. How did the Moodys go from being an R&B band to a progressive rock band? It was such a 180.
LODGE: Well, I think coming from England, when you’re playing sort of rhythm and blues in an English band it’s very difficult to really be, from my perspective, to be really authentic if you never actually listened to the home of where rhythm and blues was. I don’t think I ever got down to the Delta area of America until 1969, so I don’t how you could ever feel and live being a blues player, you can only be a facsimile. I think what happened was that we were really copying American artists and when Justin and I joined the band in 1966, we really didn’t want to copy anyone. We just wanted to write and record our own music and we threw away all the dogma of wearing the same clothes, copying other people’s music and we sat down and wrote an album. We took everything that we’d learned and… all the icons. All the blues icons, all the rock and roll icons, the country-western icons, everything… We tried to take everything we learned over the years and feed it into ourselves and to become who we became.
We went to a little village in Belgium called Newcroft, and we recorded… well we wrote a stage show there, which became “Days of Future Passed.” As soon as we were truthful to ourselves, and said yes, I hadn’t been to America then so I couldn’t write about America without being there. It’s like… I don’t know how you could ever envision the very first time you stand on the Grand Canyon and look down there is the only chance you could ever experience what the Grand Canyon is. And when you go down to the Delta Blues and stand on the crossroads you can understand why the Blues is there.
ACOUSTIC STORM: You just mentioned some of the different sources of music you listened to and learned from growing up. Who were some of your favorite artists that were touchstones for you?
LODGE: In my formative years, when I was 11 or 12, I was very fortunate to see artists like Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis. They were all hugely American icons…John Lee Hooker, BB King. It was very difficult for me and I think for a lot of English musicians to really relate to them. But along came somebody called Buddy Holly and I saw Buddy Holly perform. I think he was my real “PA” he was the person that I really understood how I could perform my music and how I could write my music. He was the person who showed for me the way to do it. So he was my #1 influence. I always remember learning to play nearly every song that he had recorded. I used to take my guitar to school and play it non-stop. I think I probably drove everyone mad. It was great to find out all the chord sequences for songs like “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll be the Day.” Brilliant innovation.
ACOUSTIC STORM: We can only imagine what he would have come up with had he not died at such an early age.
LODGE: Yeah, when he started putting strings together with everything so had this Buddy Holly rhythm. But it was all run by strings. “Raining in My Heart,” what a fantastic ballad, just strings, just incredibly wha he was doing. And the age, for someone just at the age of 20 to do those things was just brilliant.
ACOUSTIC STORM: As a fan of 50’s rock and roll, it must have been quite a departure, if you will, when the group recorded “Days of Future Passed,” which started out as a classical project. Did you have any classical background and how did that album come about?
LODGE: I was very fortunate because I was born in Birmingham, England and Birmingham has got one of the greatest orchestras in the world. The city of Birmingham has the iurmingham Symphony Orchestra, and with incredible conductors and probably the most famous is Simon Rattle, who is one of the great conductors in the world today.
I wasn’t really interested in classical music at all but we used to have a quiet period at school once a week where they’d play one of three albums and of course it got into my psyche.
ACOUSTIC STORM: There were successive Moody Blues releases that had conceptual structures in terms of the songs connecting with each other. Did you consciously pursue that as songwriters?
LODGE: We did actually because we wanted no boundaries within our music. Up until then most songs came along in 2:59 seconds and started at one tempo and finished in the same tempo. Basically, a verse and then a chorus and then a bridge and the chorus. We wanted to break that mold and if it took six minutes to actually say what we wanted to in a song and four or five different tempos then we would do that. “Legend Of A Mind-Timothy Leary” is a great example of that. Whatever it took to convey the song. “Tuesday Afternoon,” you know, two different tempos. All is important to try and push the boundaries of what we thought of as songwriting. Each song went into the next song, and we’d be very careful about what key each song was in and what tempo and what mode each song sort of portrayed. It was very important to have things that linked but were different. You couldn’t have two things the same because they never linked if they were the same.
ACOUSTIC STORM: You’re talking in terms of sequencing the album. Was that some thing that occurred after you came up with all the songs?
LODGE: After. We sequenced the album after. We’d know the type of songs we’d be doing on the album and we’d have a rough idea of how the sequence would go, but when we finished the album, we’d spend ages working the sequence to make sure that everything was in harmony, and that every song went to the next one exactly right so that it didn’t interrupt your train of thought. We wanted the album to be a complete piece of work, you know? A complete musical album… a statement really of where the Moody Blues were, at that particular time.
ACOUSTIC STORM: And you’d have these poems recited possibly at the opening and sometimes closing of the album.
LODGE: Yeah, because, you know, Graham’s poetry sort of linked the songs and made manifest the idea of what the album was about. So it was important. For the songs we’d be doing on the album, we’d have a rough idea of how the sequence would go, but when we finished the album, we’d spend ages working the sequence to make sure that everything was in harmony with each other, every song went to the next one exactly right so that it didn’t interrupt your train of thought. We wanted the album to be a complete piece of work, you know? A complete musical album… a statement really of where the Moody Blues were, at that particular time.
ACOUSTIC STORM: And you’d often have poems recited possibly at the opening and sometimes closing of an album.
LODGE: Yeah, because, you know, Graham’s poetry sort of linked the songs and made manifest the idea of what the album was about. So it was important.
ACOUSTIC STORM: How has the band’s early mystical reputation affected the group’s development? Have there been some positives and also maybe some things that in hindsight you felt may have held back the band?
LODGE: Well, I think it hasn’t held the band back from the audience point of view because they’ve always had a special relationship with the band. But I think a lot of people in the music industry have never been able to understand the Moody Blues because every time they think we come up with something they can positively put away in a particular drawer, we do something different and then they say, “Oh, what have they done there? …something different.” So, we’ve always been not everyone’s favorite band in the music business because they’ve never been able to isolate us. But that’s something important–we needing to have our own music that the listener can relate to. The mystic point of view is the same thing as well, because a lot of people in the music industry didn’t actually want to go that route after all. But the listeners did. Also, the 60’s and 70’s was a different time period than today. People’s minds were in different places.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Did you explore metaphysical themes as a personal journey?
LODGE: I think the perspective on life we had really came from meeting so many different people around the world. Because we came up from England we were very isolated really. We thought probably what we were thinking was different to what everyone else was thinking in the world, but the more we traveled around the world to different countries and met young people like-minded, we suddenly realized there was a wave of change in the world, you know young people changing things. We’d sit down and talk with people and they’d be talking about different religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, whatever. If you took your time and read everything and saw what people were thinking, that to me was the most mind-expanding.
Of course, at the same time, we met people like Timothy Leary who became a really good friend. Tim Leary used to come on stage and play tambourine with us at many concerts throughout the world and throughout our careers. That was always a point of discussion to sit there and talk with him about things (laughs).
ACOUSTIC STORM: That Moody Blues’ song “Legend of a Mind” lives on and I guess it was ironic when he passed away.
LODGE: Yeah, we actually did “Legend of a Mind” and changed the lyrics just for him. We were in the studio recording during the final days of Tim and we talked to him lots.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Along the way, you recorded the Blue Jays project with Justin. Why wasn’t that a group album?
LODGE: We’d finished “Seventh Sojourn” and we were starting to lose our independence, I think. We wanted to find out who we were as ourselves again and re-charge our individual batteries. We loved that album and people asked why didn’t we do another Blue Jays album and I suppose the answer is the Blue Jays always lives within the Moody Blues.
ACOUSTIC STORM: How does the songwriting collaboration work for you and Justin?
LODGE: The song is written first and then we sit down and play to one another and that’s when the collaboration takes part. Up until then, someone has to have the idea because without it, there’s nothing. You’ll set a rhythm pattern and sing the song and Graham might say “why don’t we have the rhythm do this” and Justin will say “well we could do this with the guitars,” and Mike at the time would say “we could do this with the keyboards,” so that’s how it’s worked since Day One.
ACOUSTIC STORM: How would you contrast your songwriting styles?
LODGE: Well, basically I’m a bass player so I would probably come from the rhythm or groove of the song. Since Justin is a guitarist, he will approach it from the melody side of the song. That’s probably the easiest way to describe it.
ACOUSTIC STORM: What about the acoustic element of the Moody Blues?
LODGE: Well, the acoustic element is really a major part of the Moody Blues, because even on all the rock songs we would normally start with Justin playing acoustic guitar, myself playing bass and Graham would probably play tambourine, at least in the initial stage and that would set the mode of the song. When we would go in the recording studio, we would definitely put in acoustic guitar and bass down first. That’s how we even record today. On stage, we’re really a two-guitar band with Justin and myself. A lot of the songs, even on stage the rock and roll songs like “Question,” it’s acoustic guitar, bass and percussion. When you’re listening to the acoustic part of the cello, it has all its individual harmonics, and from there you can work out where all the harmonies not only on the instrumentation but use the voices of the harmonics as well. That’s the way we work.
ACOUSTIC STORM: We would love to play more acoustic or stripped-down versions of Moody Blues songs on The Acoustic Storm. Have you considered doing more of that?
LODGE: It’s one of things we’ve thought about over the years just doing a Moody Blues acoustic album, and we may do that perhaps in the not-too-distant future.
The text of this interview may not be reprinted or used in any other form without the express written permission of The Acoustic Storm Radio Network, LLC.