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John Lodge of the Moody Blues talks new album and tour

July 2, 2019
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John Lodge, John Lodge, (photo courtesy of the artist)

John Lodge has no interest in slowing down. The legendary bassist, composer and vocalist for the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2018 inductees the Moody Blues is back out with his 10,000 Light Years Band this summer as part of the 28-date “The Royal Affair Tour” with headliners Yes.

Rounding out the bill are bands Asia and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, with special guest vocalist Arthur Brown.

“It’s a long show – about four hours,” Lodge said during an interview from the hotel of his Toronto tour stop. “Sometimes the show starts as early as six p.m. (laughs).”

Lodge’s set is steeped heavily with hits he wrote for The Moody Blues, including “Isn’t Life Strange,” “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band,” and “Ride My See Saw.”

Lodge says he’s known the guys from Yes for many years and is happy to be touring North America with them on what he calls “a seamless show.”

“One of the best things about the tour is that there are no breaks between bands,” Lodge said. “That helps keep the audience locked in and engaged for the whole show. This is a Yes tour, so I’m largely playing to their audience and I love the fact that some of the audience might not be familiar with Moody Blues music. They may have heard the name but aren’t necessarily Moody Blues fans.”

“The Royal Affair Tour” arrived at east coast venues last week in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York, and will continue through July with dates in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Texas and California still to come.

Before hitting the road, Lodge entered the studio with his touring band and trusty 1960 Fender Precision Bass in hand (used on nearly all of the classic Moodies cuts) to ready a special album due for release via BMG on August 23.

Lodge’s new album “B Yond” will feature three new recordings, two remixes of deep cuts, and seven tracks hand selected by John to represent the best of his solo career in addition to his work with the Moody Blues.

“I chose the title ‘B Yond’ because these new recordings and remixes go beyond the original versions,” Lodge told me.

Fans attending The Royal Affair Tour have the option of pre-ordering the album to immediately receive a new recording of the song “Street Café” followed by the rest of the new album in August.

During my interview with Lodge for this story (found in full at www.TheMaineEdge.com ), he addresses the current status of The Moody Blues. As a regular reader of online music forums, I’ve encountered a number of threads from Moody Blues fans wondering about the band’s future. There are no Moody Blues concert dates on the calendar for 2019 and that hasn’t happened since the band took a break in the mid-1970s.

We also covered a subject of grave concern to Lodge - the recent New York Times expose on the Universal music vault fire of 2008.

Universal Music Group’s official word about the fire at their massive tape vault storage facility was that nothing of consequence was lost. That seemed to satisfy most press inquiries in 2008, but the 7,500 word Times story published on June 11 tells a thoroughly researched alternate tale that has already sparked a massive class action lawsuit from a virtual Who’s Who of recording artists.

A follow-up story appeared in the Times one day after my interview with Lodge confirming that the Moody Blues were among the hundreds of artists with master tapes stored in that vault.

The Maine Edge: I know you enjoy meeting with fans after your shows. Are you still doing that on the Royal Affair Tour?

John Lodge: Oh yes. I met a very nice lady the night before last in Baltimore. She saw The Moody Blues in 1968 on a bill with Cream. It’s so nice to meet people at the shows with these great stories they’ve probably been sharing their whole lives. Sometimes you think fans are sort of on the horizon but they’re not. We’re all part of the same thing. That’s why when I sing ‘I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band’ today, I say we’re all just singers in a rock and roll band.

The Maine Edge: Some fans become a little overwhelmed and emotional when they see you. The last time I saw you, a lady standing next to me cried for about 15 minutes after you walked out onto the stage. The Moody Blues’ music has been with those fans, providing the soundtrack to the ups and downs of their lives. What does that feel like when you meet them and hear their story?

Lodge: It’s very humbling. It’s just like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. First, they tell you that you’re nominated and suddenly you have a million votes from fans. You start to think about all of the people who put in the effort to vote for you. I’m a musician that writes songs and hopes people enjoy them. In the process, we’ve become part of people’s lives and they’ve become part of ours. I look forward to meeting with fans and I enjoy their company.

The Maine Edge: Were you ever nervous to meet one of your musical heroes because of what their music means to you?

Lodge: Oh yeah, a lot of people like that. I was nervous when I met Jerry Lee Lewis and some of the other artists that really got me interested in rock and roll – like Fats Domino, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. I met (rockabilly pioneer) Gene Vincent (“Be Bop a Lula”). I know he’s not a huge icon in the U.S. but in the U.K and in Europe, there were very few people bigger than Gene Vincent at the time. When I met him, I was like – wow, there he is – an American rock and roll guy in a leather jacket and everything else.

In England, we didn’t have iconic musicians like the American rock and rollers. We had to find our own way of doing it. For me, Buddy Holly showed me the way through. I didn’t meet him but I did get to see Buddy Holly live in concert at Birmingham Town Hall (March 10, 1958) when I was 13. One of the best things about being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that I now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Buddy Holly.

The Maine Edge: What memories do you have of that Buddy Holly concert?

Lodge: For me, the most amazing thing about Buddy Holly was the way he stood onstage with a guitar and two other guys and just played and sang music. He didn’t need anything else. The song will carry you through. I’ve always believed that. The song will get you on the stage, and if people love the song, they will love you.

The Maine Edge: One of the venues you’ll play on The Royal Affair Tour is Bethel Woods Center for the Arts – the site of the original Woodstock festival. Weren’t the Moody Blues originally scheduled to play at Woodstock in 1969?

Lodge: That’s right. If you look at the early posters, our name is on there. We had a huge following in France at the time and they had their own music festival at exactly the same time as Woodstock. I think there were about 500,000 people at both festivals. We were glad that events like Woodstock were happening. In England, we had these fantastic gatherings of young people like the Isle of Wight festivals and the Bath festivals. To know it was happening in America as well was just brilliant.

The Maine Edge: What can you tell me about your upcoming album “B Yond?” Which songs did you choose to re-record and which ones were remixed?

Lodge: One of the new recordings is “(Evening) Time to Get Away” which had been buried on the B-side of “Days of Future Passed” (the first Moody Blues album to feature John Lodge and Justin Hayward). On the early album sleeves, it wasn’t mentioned as a title. I started to do it onstage during my solo shows and I realized it had a life of its own. I went back into the studio and re-recorded it as a 2019 song.

I started thinking about other deep cuts and I thought of “Street Café” which had never been released in the USA. It seems to have the right mode for today, so we did a new version of that song.

I knew I wanted to pay tribute to my friend Ray Thomas (a founding member of the Moody Blues, the flautist, composer and singer passed away in January 2018 following a battle with prostate cancer). Ray and I had worked together since I was 14. I decided to re-record his song “Legend of a Mind” as a tribute to keep Ray’s music alive. We hadn’t played that song onstage with the Moody Blues since Ray left about 15 years ago. I remember Ray singing that song to me just after he’d written it and I thought was time to revisit it as a tribute.

I also thought of including a couple of songs from “Natural Avenue” (Lodge’s 1977 solo album). One is a song called “Say You Love Me” which was part of the movie “Private Lives” from last year. I thought it would be nice to find the original 24-track tapes so I went into the archive and pulled all of them. We had to first bake the tapes before we could digitize them and remix them.

(Note: Due to a shift in tape composition in the 1970s, many tapes from that era suffer from a condition known as sticky shed syndrome. Over time, oxide particles flake from the tape, ultimately rendering it useless. If caught in time, a carefully controlled baking process can allow many of these tapes to safely play back one time to allow for the contents to be transferred to a more stable medium.)

I also remixed “Summer Breeze, Summer Song.” It’s summertime and it’s a summer song. I thought it would be great to release it again but with a mix nobody has heard before. It has a wonderful sax solo from a guy called Jimmy Jewell, who played on all of the Joan Armatrading songs. My friend Chris Spedding is also on there playing the electric guitar parts. These new 2019 mixes are so up front, they sound like today. I’m very excited about them.

I asked Roger Dean (Yes, Asia) to do the artwork. I thought “B Yond” is the right title for this record because the songs are beyond what they were. I wanted everything to be right for this record – to present what I do in the best possible way, and if people like it, that makes me happy (laughs).

The other day, I had somebody that just heard the record tell me they had never bought a Moody Blues record or attended a concert, but they really enjoyed this album. That to me is the most important thing. When people get the album, I want them to say “John has done this right” so I worked very hard to make that happen.

The Maine Edge: John, what is happening in the Moody Blues’ world? Some Moodies fans are concerned because there are no live band dates on the schedule for this year as you and Justin each do your own thing. Will you, Justin and Graeme (Edge – the band’s drummer and poet) get back together at some point?

Lodge: Well, I am a Moody Blue and always will be a Moody Blue. If someone could put a tour together for me, I will be there. It’s getting the other guys to say yes to the tour (that is the tricky part). I’m doing this now because we’re not doing Moody Blues things and because I’ve become re-energized from going back to the studio. I think that’s one thing that has been missing from the Moodies for the last 10 years or so – not going into the studio to record new music.

You have to have people in the music business who are as excited as you. I’ve found that with BMG. They’re really excited and have been very supportive of what I’m doing. I suppose if we had a record company that was excited to do that with the Moody Blues, you would have a different picture of the band.

As I say, I am a Moody Blue and if there’s a Moody Blues tour, I will be there. You’ve just got to convince Justin and Graeme to do it.

The Maine Edge: For the record, the Moody Blues have not broken up – is that correct?

Lodge: Well, no. We still use the same office and speak to the same people – so that’s where we are.

The Maine Edge: Several weeks ago, the New York Times stunned the music and entertainment world with a 7,500 word expose on the Universal Music vault fire from 2008. At the time, the company’s official response was that nothing of consequence was destroyed and that the most important tapes had been transferred to a different facility prior to the fire. The carefully researched article indicates otherwise – stating that more than 100,000 master recordings and “an estimated 500,000 song titles” from the 1940s to the 2000s perished in the fire. Have you looked into this to find out if the Moody Blues had tapes in that vault?

Lodge: We keep our own master tapes in the U.K., but not withstanding that, I just received an email this morning running through exactly what you just asked me. I’m about to make my own phone calls to find out exactly what is going on. I’m also going to have my people check all of our master tapes in the U.K.

We only ever had one record contract with the Moody Blues and that was with the Decca Records company. Over the years, our contract was sold to other people and it eventually ended up with Universal. I don’t think they ever wanted the Moody Blues to begin with. I think they took us because of our back catalog. I know Universal had three major albums but whether or not that means they also had the master tapes, I don’t know, but I will certainly find out.

The Maine Edge: John, I hope for the best. I wish you the best of luck on the rest of your tour and thank you for taking the time for this interview. It’s always a great pleasure to speak with you.

Lodge: Thank you, Mike. I really enjoyed it. American radio has been incredibly supportive of John Lodge and the Moody Blues over the years and I just wanted to thank you for keeping the faith.

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