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Deep dives with John Lodge of The Moody Blues

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Deep dives with John Lodge of The Moody Blues (Photo courtesy of Emily Lodge)

John Lodge, bassist, vocalist, and composer for The Moody Blues, has provided the legendary English band with many of its most enduring songs, including ‘Ride My See-Saw,’ ‘House of Four Doors,’ ‘Eyes of a Child,’ ‘Isn’t Life Strange,’ ‘I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band),’ ‘Steppin’ in a Slide Zone,’ and ‘Talking out of Turn.’

Lodge, who last appeared in Maine with The Moody Blues in September 2011, at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium, is set to perform with his solo band at Aura in Portland, on Wednesday, November 1, as part of his ‘10,000 Light Years’ tour. 

“10 Light Years Ago” is the title of Lodge’s second solo album, released in 2015, 38 years after the release of his first solo collection, “Natural Avenue.” During the following interview, Lodge discusses the genesis for the album (which includes an appearance from former Moodies Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder), while also taking a deep dive through Moody Blues history.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of The Moody Blues’ landmark album ‘Days of Future Passed.’ Lodge discusses that record’s impact, marvels at the recording technique employed to commit it to tape, and discusses some of his band’s most important subsequent work.

The Moody Blues are alive and well, 53 years after forming in Lodge’s hometown of Birmingham, England. Lodge joined the band in 1966, along with singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Justin Hayward.

On October 5, 2017, The Moody Blues were announced as nominees for induction into the next class of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Dire Straits, Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, Radiohead, Judas Priest, Rage Against The Machine, Eurythmics, Nina Simone, The Zombies, Depeche Mode, J. Geils Band, LL Cool J, MC5, The Meters, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, and Link Wray.

In addition to Lodge and Hayward, The Moody Blues includes founding member and drummer, Graeme Edge.

The Moody Blues’ longtime flautist, singer, and composer, Ray Thomas, retired from the band in 2002. Founding member and keyboardist, Mike Pinder, departed in 1978.

Lodge checked in with The Maine Edge last week from his home in the village of Cobham, Surrey, located about 17 miles southwest of London. “I still live here, in what was the home for The Moody Blues for over 30 years,” Lodge says.

Dow:  When you are here in Maine on November 1st, you’ll be performing at Aura, in Portland. Do you have any Maine-related memories of past shows here with The Moody Blues?

Lodge: I do, actually. I remember playing at a minor league baseball stadium (Old Orchard Beach, July 11, 1987) with The Beach Boys. I think we toured with them for about three years and had great fun playing with them. I like baseball and thought it was great that we were playing at a place where baseball is played. The other thing I remember about playing in Maine is that we are always invited to enjoy lobster.

Dow: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the classic Moody Blues album, “Days of Future Passed.” You marked the occasion with a tour earlier this year,  which will continue in January.

It’s a very brave album when you think about it. This was the first time that I can think of where a rock band incorporated an orchestra (London Festival Orchestra) for an entire record. No other band had dared to do that before. Do you recall any nervousness about how the record might be received?

Lodge: You know, it’s funny when you’re young and creative. We had been playing all of the songs onstage and we knew them well. We didn’t consider commercial success at all. At least I didn’t. We didn’t have any expectations. We just wanted to make the best record possible to play for our friends. We made the album in a week. At the end of the week, we invited the record company, girlfriends, and friends, to come and listen to it. To me, that was the pinnacle. To have people come and listen to your music. We never gave a thought to how successful it was going to be.

One of the songs on that album is my song ‘Time To Get Away.’ I hadn’t sung that song since we recorded it in 1967. For the American tour, I had to relearn that song. I’m also doing it on my solo tour, so you’ll hear that one in Portland.

Dow: Who are the other musicians in your ’10,000 Light Years Ago’ band?

Lodge: We have a guitarist named Duffy (King) who is from Wisconsin. Alan Hewett from Florida is our keyboard player and musical director. Norda Mullen is from Los Angeles, and she plays flute. Gordon Marshall, from Wimbledon, is on drums. And myself, of course.

Dow:  Your latest album, ’10,000 Light Years Ago’ features some very strong songs.  It had been 38 years since you had released your solo album “Natural Avenue.” What made you decide to go back to the studio to record a new album? 

Lodge:  Vinyl records were making a big comeback, and I suddenly thought it would be a nice to make a new record on 180 gram vinyl, so you’d have the great sound and the gatefold sleeve.

I thought it would be great to revisit, from a vinyl perspective, the albums of the ‘60s and the ‘70s, so that younger people could say ‘Hey, this is fabulous. This is something we missed out on.’ The whole vinyl trip, you know?

With vinyl, we should share the experience with other people, instead of listening with Sound Buds (headphones), and being insular and passive in the way you approach music.  So the vinyl was released, and it’s also on CD, and Amazon, and everywhere else.

Dow:  How and where did you record “10,000 Light Years Ago?”

Lodge: I recorded it very differently from how I ordinarily record. When you go into the studio with musicians, everyone has their own lifestyle going on. Sometimes people get creative at the same time you want to be creative, and it doesn’t always work. You can sit there for days waiting for someone to come up with an inspirational idea. I thought it would be much better to get people I know, who have their own little studios, and they can do their parts when they’re feeling really creative.

I wrote the songs and recorded the demos, and sent them to Alan Hewitt, my keyboardist and musical director. He put the files together, then my drummer put his parts on, and I asked Chris Spedding (Roxy Music) to play guitar on it. Then I booked the Sound Factory studio in Florida, and went in there and put the bass parts on, the acoustic guitars, and all the vocals.

’10,000 Light Years Ago’ came to life, and it was a great way to make an album.

Dow:  You mentioned the great sound of vinyl. Would you consider yourself an audiophile? 

Lodge: I love audio. I listen to music all the while. For me, there’s nothing better than playing music to people and trying to turn them on to different artists. It goes back to when I was really young and bought my first record, which was on 78 RPM, not a 45. It was by Buddy Holly & The Crickets. I have a Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox from 1945. I put all of my 78’s on there, and they play absolutely beautifully.

Dow:  This ties in perfectly with your new song ‘Those Days in Birmingham,’ which  made me smile when I first heard it. It’s a wonderful snapshot of a specific place in time, when you were coming of age there. But there’s a line that I don’t quite understand and I hope you can clarify - “Mothers, Tyburn, The Elbow Room.” What does that refer to?

Lodge: Mothers was a very small club (open from 1968-1971) in Birmingham, and  was located above a tailor’s shop called Burton’s. All of the bands wanted to play there because it was an iconic little venue. It was brilliant and it became a real mecca in Birmingham. It was like The Cavern, in Liverpool, in a way.

The Tyburn was another Birmingham club. Ray Thomas and I had a group called El Riot & The Rebels. The Midland Jazz Club was there. I was probably 15 years of age. My father went down to the jazz club and spoke to the manager. He said ‘My son would like to come with his band and play for nothing in the interval.’

We played there to about 80 people and they invited us back. The next week there were about 100 people there so the manager gave us our own evening. The Tyburn House became another iconic mecca where everyone wanted to play.

The Elbow Room was a very small club in Birmingham that only opened at night. We’d go on at about midnight. The name comes from the fact that it was very small – elbow room, you know? On ‘Those Days in Birmingham,’ I wanted to include the names of the clubs that really meant a lot to Birmingham musicians.

Dow: On November 17, a deluxe reissue of ‘Days of Future Passed’ is due to arrive in stores on two CDs and 1 DVD. I was wondering if you had heard the upcoming reissue yet?

(The first CD in the set will feature the original 1967 mix of the album, making its first appearance on CD. All previous CD issues for this title contain a 1978 remix of the album, as a result of damage to the original master. According to a press release, current technology has allowed for the original master to be repaired.

The DVD will feature a 5.1 surround-sound mix of the album, derived from the ‘70s quadraphonic mix, as well as previously unreleased film footage of the band performing on January 24, 1968, eight weeks after the release of the album.)

Lodge:  I have not heard it yet, but I remember the quadraphonic mix. We did that for a Japanese company. We built Westlake Audio Studios (in West Hampstead, London) and made it the first quadraphonic studio in England. A Japanese company wanted to put out quad versions of the albums, so we went into the studio to remix it for quad. What’s really interesting for all of you audio people out there, is that ‘Days of Future Passed’ was recorded using only a 4-track tape machine.

Dow: Was it a situation like ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was for The Beatles, where two 4-track machines were synced together?

Lodge:  We did something different. We’d record two tracks and then play those, while recording on top of that, then send it to another machine. It would actually mix as it was going across. Then we’d come back to the 4-track, add more instrumentation, along with reverb and EQ. Once you did that, you could never go back and redo something. It was there on the tape. And we had two tracks to put the orchestra on. When we put the quad version together, we had to add a lot of different echoes to recreate a true quad sound, otherwise you’d hear The Moody Blues only in two speakers and the orchestra in the other two speakers.

I remember it sounded great, and if the engineers have done their jobs, the new reissue should sound great as well. 

We also have something else coming out soon. When we played Toronto recently (July 6, at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) we recorded an all new version of ‘Days of Future Passed’ with the 67-piece Toronto Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Elliot Davis). That’s coming out at Christmas on DVD.  

Dow:  I’m looking forward to seeing that. Since we were on the subject of The Moody Blues’ quad mixes, I was wondering if you had any insight into why ‘In Search of the Lost Chord’ (1968) was never mixed for quad. I’ve read various things about it and it seems that the multi-track tapes are lost.

Lodge: I think you’re the first person to tell me that. I’m going to check that out. I thought we had mixed everything in quad. I’m going to check that out because I have a whole section of The Moody Blues stuff and I’m going to take a look. Perhaps we have lost the original tapes.

When we recorded everything, we were with the Decca record company. They kept moving their tape library to different storage rooms all over London. When Decca got bought out by Polydor Records, I think they went into these store rooms, and obliterated a lot of what they thought was un-useful tape. A lot of things disappeared, but we were lucky. We managed to keep most of it. But I’m definitely going to check that out for you.

Dow:  Thank you John. It’s such an amazing album. I love every moment of ‘In Search of the Lost Chord.’  

Lodge: Some people used to come up to us and say that “Days of Future Passed” was successful because of the orchestra. We decided that on the next one, we would play every instrument ourselves. And if we didn’t know to play the instrument, we would buy a book and learn how to play it. That’s literally what we did. I bought a cello and learned to play it on ‘Ride My See-Saw.’

Ray (Thomas) bought a book on oboes. He figured if he could play flute, he could play oboes and trumpets and things. We learned to play sitars and tablas (Indian percussion instrument) just to make that album. I think that’s why we called it ‘In Search of the Lost Chord,’ because we were in search of ourselves, really.

Dow:  Another favorite album of mine is The Moody Blues’ 1981 album, “Long Distance Voyager.” I remember being in New York City that summer. WPLJ was all over it. “22,000 Days” was in heavy rotation, along with “Veteran Cosmic Rocker,” “Gemini Dream” and your song “Talking Out Of Turn.” It’s a very special record and I hope it receives some deluxe-reissue love at some point.

Lodge: I hope so too. It’s one of my favorite albums. There are a couple of reasons why. Previous to that, we had been in the studio and recorded an album called “Octave” (1978). That was a difficult album to record because so many things went wrong surrounding us – not just in the band.

We had just built this new studio in London and that’s where I wanted to record. Instead, we recorded in Los Angeles, at the Record Plant. While we were recording the album, the Record Plant burned down.

For “Long Distance Voyager,” we recorded in England. It was the only Moody Blues album ever recorded in our own studio. I really enjoyed making that album and I think that comes out in the album. There’s a real friendship – a strange word I suppose – in that album. All of the songs are so different.

Our studio was in a building owned by Decca, which the chairman gave us. After we signed to Polydor, they sold the building under our feet and we had to dismantle the studio. It’s a shame, really, because it was such a beautiful studio. Bu there you go. I suppose that’s life.

Dow: Of all of the albums that you have been involved with over the last five decades, is there one that is closest to your heart?

Lodge: “Seventh Sojurn.” (The Moody Blues’ 1972 album, featuring Lodge’s songs ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ and ‘I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band).’)  “Long Distance Voyager” is really up there with it because it was a special time.

I remember Mike (Pinder) and I sitting around just before we finished “Seventh Sojurn”, and talking about what we should call the album. We were saying that the seventh album is like the last day of the week, or the first day of the week.

‘The Canterbury Tales’ is a wonderful book where, on the very last day, before they got to Canterbury, they’d all sit down and tell each other stories. I said that’s what this album is about – we’re telling each other stories of what we’d been doing for the last seven years. ‘Sojurn’ means take a break, and that’s what we did.

For me, it summed up a period of time, because we actually did stop after that. We didn’t know that we were going to do that.

Dow: The break between “Sojurn” and “Octave” was unplanned?

Lodge:  Yes, totally unplanned. When we first got together in 1966, there were just five of us, and a road manager. “Seventh Sojurn” was a number one album in America, and “Days of Future Passed” was back in the chart at the same time. (An edited version of ‘Nights in Wight Satin’ from “Days of Future Passed” was issued as a single in 1972. The song climbed to number two on the Billboard top 40 chart, five years after it had been recorded).

By 1972, we now had a whole load of people working for us. We had our own touring company and our own publishing companies. We had invested in a whole load of record shops. It was a big business but we had really stopped talking to each other.

All of our experiences were shared experiences because we had been on the road all the while. I think we just sort of said ‘No, we’ll keep the office and we’ll close everything else down. When the time is right, we’ll get back together and make another album.’ And that’s what we did.

Dow:  I’ve posed this question to both Mike Pinder and Graeme Edge. Since The Moody Blues is one of the only big bands that came out of the 1960s, where all of the members of the group from its most successful era still alive and well, would you consider being part of a one-off show featuring all of you, filmed of course for eventual release? Mike did not rule it out and Graeme said that he welcomed the idea.

Lodge: I don’t know, really. It’s down to Mike and Ray. If they want to put the energy into it, you know.

When I recorded “10,000 Light Years Ago,” I wrote a song called ‘Simply Magic.’ When I was making the demo, I suddenly realized that it would be fantastic to have Ray play flute on it. Ray is a great mate. We’d worked together since I was 14. He lives about a mile away from me here in England. I went around to see him and asked him to play on it. While we were in the studio together, Ray said, ‘Why don’t you ring Mike and get him to play Mellotron? So I sent the files to Mike and added Mellotron. So there were three of us from The Moody Blues on my solo album.

(Note: A precursor of sorts to the synthesizer, the Mellotron was originally developed and built in Birmingham, England, and employs a series of pre-recorded tapes to generate a variety of sounds when a key is pressed. Mike Pinder used a Mellotron throughout his time with The Moody Blues, lending the band itssignature, ethereal, orchestral sound.

The Mellotron was designed for studio and home use, not for touring bands. Due to its size, weight, and unpredictability, especially in inclement weather, Pinder described traveling with the unwieldy instrument as “beastly.”)

Lodge:  As for a full reunion, anything is possible. It’s just a question of getting it together. Whether Ray or Mike feel like physically wanting to do it. For me, yeah, anytime they want to come and play. They were on my solo album and it was brilliant.

Dow: And relations are good with you, Justin (Hayward) and Graeme (Edge)?

Lodge:  Yes, of course. We just did 30 concerts in America, and we start in January with another Moody Blues tour. And we have the Moody Blues cruise going. Yes, things are good with us.

(The Moodies Cruise is a live classic rock cruise, scheduled for January 2 to January 7, 2018. In addition to performances from The Moody Blues, the cruise will feature performances from The Zombies, The Alan Parsons Live Project, and several other acts. The itinerary for Celebrity Eclipse will encompass visits to Georgetown, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel, Mexico.)

Tickets for John Lodge’s November 1 performance at Aura in Portland are available at www.AuraMaine.com

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