“There was one night in Manhattan back in 1972 when (former band member) Ray Thomas and I were standing outside Madison Square Garden,” recalls Justin Hayward, “and we were trying to give away free tickets to our concert. People passing by had no idea who we were. They just thought we were two mad, stoned, long-haired guys.”
However, in reality, over the years, The Moody Blues have created one of the most impressive musical catalogues of any rock band, while selling over 60 million albums in the process.
Hayward, born October 14, 1946 in the Swindon area of Britain, has been the legendary band’s primary vocalist, in addition to being its lead guitarist. Additionally, some of his most famous compositions for the group include “Question,” “The Voice,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Tuesday Afternoon” and of course, the iconic “Nights In White Satin.”
Haywards’ big break came in 1966 when he was recruited to replace original singer-guitarist Denny Laine, who sang the group’s first hit, “Go Now” (and who later found greater fame, in the 70’s, with Paul McCartney’s Wings).
His most recent studio album “Spirits Of The Western Sky” is an amalgam of his varied musical influences, which includes his love for bluegrass and country music.
The veteran musician will be performing a rare solo acoustic show on Sunday, August 30th, at Morristown, New Jersey’s MAYO Theatre.
Elliot Stephen Cohen: When you were a teenager in England, I would imagine your earliest musical influences were very similar to those of many of your contemporaries who were huge Buddy Holly fans.
Justin Hayward: Sure…and also Bobby Darin, The Everly Brothers…I mean, at that time we didn’t have rock and roll records in England. We only had one real one which was “Move It” by Cliff Richard and The Shadows Of course, the Beatles later changed everything as far as we were concerned, and really opened the door for all of us.
ESC: John Lennon once stated that “Move It” was the first British rock and roll record that was comparable to early American ones.
JH: That’s true, and I was also a huge fan of The Shadows, whose lead guitarist was the great Hank Marvin, but I thought Cliff was great too. He was really our one big pop star, but I was also lucky enough in 1964, to join the band of Marty Wilde, who was also a huge rock star in the U.K. I started working with him as his guitar player right after I left school. That’s how I got to know all of those early British rock and roll legends like Tommy Steele, Joe Brown, Billy Fury…because they were all in the same “stable,” as we used to call it.
ESC: Was Elvis an influence at all?
JH: You know, I always saw Elvis as “The King,” no doubt about that, but I could never really identify with him when Buddy Holly was around. For me, Buddy was always number one.
ESC: Let’s talk a little Moodies’ history. Who originally came up with the band’s name?
JH: Well, it came from the original members of the band who were there before I came in. Two of the guys had been working in a brewery called Mitchell & Butler. The Moodies started life as The MB Four, and then The MB Five. So, I wasn’t in the room when the name Moody Blues originated. Mike Pinder, Ray and Graeme (Edge) all claim they thought of the name, but if I had to put my money on one person, I’d say it was Mike. I think he was influenced by the record “Mood Indigo.”
ESC: Of course, one of Elvis Presley’s last records was called “Moody Blue.”
JH: Yes, that’s right. Spooky, isn’t it?
ESC: Over the years you’ve been associated with your red Gibson 335-S electric guitar, but what kind of guitar did you start out on?
JH: When I was ten, I had a relatively cheap acoustic that I kind-of screwed a pickup to and plugged into an old radio that I used as an amplifier. There was a very healthy music scene where I lived and, although we were just kids, there was always work for semi-pro musicians. So I was able buy a good amplifier, a Vox AC 30. I’d always wanted a Gibson guitar, but just before I joined the Moodies, I ran out of money and had to sell it. I had to take a step down by buying a Telecaster which I still own. James Burton was always the hero of all guitar players. I mean, the greatest guitar solo ever played is probably (the one he did on Rick Nelson’s) “Hello, Mary Lou.”
ESC: How influential was Eric Burdon to your joining the band?
JH: Oh, very. I knew somebody in his office, and I had seen an ad in Melody Maker (then Britain’s premier publication – Ed.) that the Moodies were looking for musicians and songs. So I sent in some of mine. A month later, I found out from Mike Pinder that Eric had given him what I’d sent, so Eric really did me a huge favor. I got to know Eric afterwards, and he later did a great version of “Nights,” when he was in War.
ESC: Back in the mid-60s, if a band had a few recordings that flopped after their initial success, the record companies usually stopped releasing new records. Yet, after the Moodies’ big hit “Go Now,” they had three follow-ups, “Stop!,” “From The Bottom Of My Heart,” and “Life’s Not Life,” that all flopped. Was the band in danger of being dropped from your label before the recording of “Days Of Future Past?
JH: No, it wasn’t like that at all. It was actually Decca’s idea to go all out for the “Days Of Future Past” album. They needed a stereo demonstration record that would reach people that liked rock and roll. They had a consumer division that had been confined to classical music, but they wanted to attract more people to the stereo systems they also manufactured. We were just lucky to be the right place at the right time and that we were the group they called upon to do it. It would be nice if we could claim credit for the idea, but I’m afraid we can’t. There wasn’t a single person who thought the album would be a commercial success. So, we really owed it all to Decca’s faith in us.
ESC: Prior to the recording of “Days Of Future Past,” had you heard any of The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” album?
JH: We were actually recording our album at the same time. I had written “Nights” before the (“Days”) album came out, and we were doing a lot of the stuff onstage, but that summer (1967) was the summer of “Sergeant Pepper.” You know, it was the greatest album that any of us had ever heard.
ESC: When you think about it, 1967 was such a pivotal year for pop music. Besides “Sergeant Pepper,” there was also the arrival of such revolutionary acts as Cream, The Small Faces, Traffic, Procol Harum, and the Moodies were such an integral part of the music scene.
JH: Well, I always considered myself very lucky to be a part of that scene which was a relatively small community, from 1964 onwards. We had the perfect establishment to rebel against. I was getting stoned a lot, and being with a lot of like-minded musicians was hugely inspiring. Nobody really watched TV or anything like that. You just went to other people’s houses or flats and listened to music. It was just a general sharing and getting-together community that was really wonderful.
ESC: The Beatles always said the main reason they never toured after the release of “Sergeant Pepper” was that they felt there was no way they could replicate the music onstage, which today would be easy to do. When the Moodies toured after “Days” came out, did you tour with a large orchestra, as on the album, or were you just a self-contained unit onstage?
JH: What people heard on the album wasn’t us playing together with the orchestra. Our orchestral sound was the mellotron, which was the sound that made my songs work. Playing live, there was no way we had a budget which was really a “hand-to-mouth “existence, to bring along an orchestra. It was all the sound of Mike Pinder’s melloton.
ESC: When the punk music revolution occurred in 1977, people like John Lydon called a lot of bands from the Moody Blues era, like The Beatles. The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin “dinosaurs.” How did you feel hearing those well-publicized comments?
JH: Well, I’ve been in John Lydon’s company, and I don’t think he included The Moody Blues on his “I hate list.” At the time, the Moodies had split from each other. So, we were really kind-of off the scene, and I was having success as a solo artist. I think the big changes in music will always belong to young people, but I also don’t think you can rubbish music from the past. I actually loved all that punk stuff, really.
ESC: Do you have a favorite period for music?
JH: If I had to choose, I think I would say the 1980s. The music of people like The Pet Shop Boys… For the Moody Blues, we were able to have hits like “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.” Also, to be 40 years old and recognized on the street for the first time was really special.
ESC: The videos for those two songs really coincided with the birth of MTV.
JH: Yes, they did, and they really resonated with people at the time.
ESC: OK…I have to ask you the obligatory question that you’re probably tired of answering…In your opinion, why haven’t the Moody Blues been inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame which, to me, seems the most egregious omission.
JH: Well, you’re very kind, Elliot, for what you’ve just said. Music is very subjective. One person’s great record is another person’s load of shite. When you discuss the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame over in Europe, which is where I live, they say, “What right does Cleveland have to tell us who is important, when music goes on all over the world?” At the same time, I do feel for the Moody Blues fans. I think it does impact them, and they feel pretty much as you expressed it. I do think now it’s going to be pretty hard for them to admit us, when there are people like Howard Stern who keep banging on about it every few months. So, for them to let us in after all these years would be seen as some kind of defeat for them.
ESC: You’re currently touring as a solo artist doing your songs acoustically with just a couple of supporting players. How does your approach differ from when you’re performing those songs with The Moody Blues?
JH: The approach is different because I’m doing the songs as I originally wrote them, and the way I recorded them on my own demos. I’ve always been someone who made demos right from the beginning, just playing the songs on an acoustic guitar, and then overdubbing another guitar or keyboard or bass. When I’m doing the music acoustically onstage now, I’m able to hear every nuance of the music. I mean, I love playing with drummers, but when you introduce two drummers onstage (as the Moody Blues do, in concert – Ed.), the level of everything else has to rise.
ESC: So would you say you prefer playing your songs live on an acoustic guitar, to doing them on an electric?
JH: I’d have to say, I find the acoustic things more personally satisfying because I really love the beauty of the sound of those guitars, but I’m also very lucky that I have the perfect balance of doing my own shows, as well as the ones with the Moodies. I wouldn’t want to do one without the other.
ESC: Of all the great songs you’ve written, do you have any particular favorite cover versions?
JH: Well you know, it’s a very big catalogue of songs, but if I had to pick one favorite, it would be Bettye LaVette’s version of “Nights.” She did the very best version of it, the only one that’s probably better than ours.