"It's the Soundtrack of My Life"
Singer, bassist and songwriter John Lodge has been a member of the Moody Blues since 1966, when the band — guitarist Justin Hayward, keyboardist Mike Pinder, drummer Graeme Edge and multi-instrumentalist Ray Thomas — took a new direction: to write and perform their own music.
Days of Future Passed, recorded with classical musicians and released in 1967, marked the new, lush sound of the Moodies. The band has sold 70 million records, including hits penned by Lodge like “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” “Gemini Dream,” “Ride My See-Saw” and “Isn’t Life Strange.” The band’s final studio effort was Christmas 2003, released that year. Thomas retired from the band in 2002 and died in 2018.
"Gemini Dream" by John Lodge
Lodge has continued to perform what he calls “the soundtrack of my life,” the music of the Moody Blues, with his 10,000 Light Years Band. Lodge and the band begin a tour in March 2022.
Lodge released a new live album, The Royal Affair and After on Dec. 3 on CD and digital download, followed by a limited edition blue vinyl on Jan. 28, 2022. The LP features performances from a 2019 Las Vegas show during the Royal Affair Tour with Yes as well as others recorded during Lodge’s subsequent US tour.
The album comes months after Lodge released a new single, “The Sun Will Shine,” which features Jon Davison of Yes on backing vocals. We spoke with Lodge shortly after Graeme Edge passed away on Nov. 11. 2021.
Tell me about Graeme’s importance to the band.
John Lodge: You know, a band isn’t just about the musicianship, it’s about the camaraderie and the things you have together. I first saw Graeme playing drums when I was 16; Graeme’s older than me. He was in a band called Gerry Levene & the Avengers. And he was a great drummer. I used to see him play on Saturday afternoon at this club. I thought he was a fantastic drummer.
Never did I realize that five years later we’d be in the same band together. And spend over 50 years together creating Moody Blues music. So that was incredibly special.
My family and I and Jon Davison of Yes went to visit Graeme last week. We had a few laughs and a few memories and it was great to see him, not as he was but life is like that, I suppose. He was still his jovial self and he still had a laugh and he still had the twinkle in his eyes.
And that was Graeme, he was a fun guy. He lived life and he loved it. A guy who is almost 80 years old goes out and buys a Morgan 3-Wheeler with a Harley-Davidson engine, that’s not bad to drive around Florida in.
Your new live album includes tributes to your bandmates, including Graeme’s “Late Lament” in his own voice. Mike Pinder did the original recording.
When I started to perform live, Graeme became a great supporter. He actually came to my first concert I did as a solo artist. When we did Days of Future Passed in Toronto, Graeme didn’t record the poem. And I always thought Graeme should have recorded the poem. I said to Graeme, “I want to do your poem on stage. I don’t want to say it. Would you go in the studio and record it and I’ll film you as well? And I’m going to play it on stage every night.”
And he said, “Yeah, I’d love to, it would be an honor.” I’m so pleased now that Graeme did it. It’s his voice saying his words.
“Legend of a Mind” was for Ray. The band stopped playing the song after Ray retired. Why was that?
I think at the time it was because it was such a Ray song. And it was who Ray was, really: this guy who could sing “Timothy Leary is dead” and then do a fantastic flute solo. It was the embodiment of Ray.
I remember Ray and I were sharing a flat in London. His bedroom was one down from the main room to mine and I remember him coming out one day. He said, “Listen to this, Rocker, I’ve written this song.”
And he sang the first verse of “Legend of a Mind.” It was the embodiment of Ray. That’s one I do now on stage because it’s such a wonderful song and it sums up an era. I’m pleased to be doing it for Ray.
You’re joined by Jon Davison of Yes on “Nights in White Satin,” your tribute to Justin. How did that collaboration develop?
We did Cruise to the Edge with Yes a few years ago. I knew some of the guys in Yes from years ago but I never met Jon. He’s become my daughter’s boyfriend and the relationship started to grow. When I did the Royal Affair tour, I ask Jon if he longed to come on stage and sing “Ride My See-Saw” with me for the encore. I thought it’d be a great thing to do.
And he did. And Yes came to me and said, “Jon’s going to do that, will you go on stage and sing “Imagine” for us for our encore?” So I did that with Yes. It’s a great relationship. He’s such a wonderful singer and The Quest, Yes’s new album, is great.
I really want to do “Nights in White Satin” because I played the bass parts in 1967. It’s part of the soundtrack of my life, the bass parts. And the harmonies, which I did on the song. I suggested it to Jon and he loved the idea. His performance is tremendous. He sings it in his own way and has made it his own vocal. So I’m really pleased with that.
“The Sunset” is your tribute to Mike. How did his technological skills influence the band’s music?
I first met Mike before the Moodies. Ray Thomas and I had a band called El Riot & the Rebels. Mike joined us for a while, playing piano. When we got together writing the songs for the Moodies in 1966 Mike tried the piano. He was looking for a particular sound for the band because we had all the harmonies and the flute and the piano didn’t make it. It wasn’t right.
We tried electric piano, didn’t work. We tried a Vox Continental, a Farfisa organ, a Hammond B-3, didn’t work. And then Mike remembered this instrument called the Mellotron. When he was living in Birmingham, the company lived not far from where Mike lived. And he remembered they were trying to develop this instrument. So we found one. We bought it. Mike took it apart. In those days, the left-hand keyboard had all the rhythm sections and the right-hand keyboard had the instrumental. So Mike took all the rhythm sections off and replaced it with instrumental tape.
It’s all eight-second tapes that used to spiral around. You had to really work out how to play this thing because after eight seconds, that note would stop and you’d have to wait for it to recycle. Mike got really into that and then later on he found another instrument which was similar to a Mellotron called a Chamberlin and he worked on that for months.
Mike built his own studio in his house. We had a lot of fun there. Actually recorded “Isn’t Life Strange” there. He’s very important, Mike. He always, and still does have great ideas musically, what to do in arrangements.
Ray introduced you to the Moody Blues because they wanted to move from cover songs to originals. Tell me about those first meetings when you tried to figure out what to do.
Ray rang me up and he said, “Hey Rocker, have you finished college yet?” And I said, “Yeah, I just finished.” And he said, “Well, get down to London now, we need you.” So that was the first opening gambit.
Mike played me a couple of songs he’d written. One called “I Really Haven’t Got the Time.” He said we want to write our own music. And that was it. The rest was really a friendship thing.
We didn’t talk much after that about music. We knew what we wanted to do, write our own music. It was a way of finding out how to do it. We had an offer to go to Belgium to do a gig and we decided let’s not just do that, let’s go and live in Belgium for awhile, a little village called Mouscron, and just rehearse. And that’s what we did. We got there and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed.
Have the Moody Blues had a Spinal Tap moment when something went completely wrong at a concert?
We had the album Long Distance Voyager, it was a huge shift for the band. We were touring big arenas. We hired this company to put the set together. Things were hanging down like the planets and we had a satellite built exactly like the Voyager satellite, a huge thing. It was all on wires and trolleys and everything else. And the huge planets were hanging down from the ceiling.
The first gig was fantastic because the Voyager was traveling through the arena, through these planets. But as the tour went on, these planets became pear-shaped and were hanging down like pears. They were deflating. And the satellite was not looked after by the road crew in the best possible way. Things like antennas and the solar panels were getting ripped off. I remember doing one concert at the end and it looked like a piece of hardware just flying around these pears. And we said, “Oh no, let’s stop that.” That was our Spinal Tap moment.
"Ride My See-Saw" by John Lodge
“Ride My See-Saw” was the finale at Moody Blues shows and the first release off your album. You’ve said it has a meaning fans might not have gotten.
The relevance for me is stop negativity in your life. If you’ve got a glass of water, if it’s half-full, say it’s half-full, not half-empty. The positive thing will get you through life. The negative thing will always hinder you.
“Ride My See-Saw” is really saying one end of the see-saw you ride right up in the air and the next minute you’re down on the ground. Where are you in that? If you think you could be up there high all of the while, it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work being high all of the while, it doesn’t work being low all of the while either. So you’ve got to get the balance and for me the balance is everything must be always half-full the least.
The new album has a big orchestral sound but it’s just your band.
When I talked about how to do the live concerts with Alan Hewitt, my keyboard man and musical director, I said because I’ve got a fantastic drummer, Billy Ashbaugh, I really want the bass and the drums to be a real engineering part of this band. I really want to get the furnace going. The engine room.
On top of it I want to increase the orchestration of the Moody Blues music. That’s why I brought in the cello with Jason Charboneau, because it adds an enormous sound. I know it’s only one cello but if it’s playing all the right notes and it’s miked properly, the sound is phenomenal. And with Duffy King on guitar, I’m trying to create what I call my 1812 Approach, the 1812 Overture. But there’s only five of us. If you work out all the notes and leave spaces, it always sounds much bigger than covering everything.
You have a short tour coming up in March. What can fans expect?
It really is keeping the Moody Blues music alive. I’ve looked in the deep cuts of the Moody Blues music and I’m going to include some of those songs on the tour. I’m rehearsing now and I’m really excited about the songs I’ve been doing. People have loved the Moody Blues forever. They want to still feel part of it. It’s the soundtrack of my life and I’m gonna keep that going as long as I can.
Any plans to record or tour with Justin in the future?
No, not really. When you’re planning your own tours and planning recording, there’s not much opportunity for that door to open. I never ever go into hypotheticals. I take things as they come along. If you’re trying to be positive with your life, things seem to happen.
I know I’ve found a way of recording which I really like. And that is not going into a studio but using my own studio. All my guys have got their own studios and my sound engineer’s got a wonderful studio and he lives close by. So I can create at home and all the other guys can create as well. And let’s get all the files together then and it’s really like going back to the old days where you sat around playing music together in the studios.
Recently, you never played together. It’s always, “OK, let’s put the guitar on now, let’s put the bass on this” and you didn’t get that experience of the creativity between two or three people.
Let’s do a lightning round. If you were not in the Moody Blues, what group would you have been a good fit in?
I would really enjoy, as I have done, playing bass for Chuck Berry Bo Diddley, all these guys. That would turn me on.
Favorite bass player.
It would have to be James Jamerson because when you hear his bass playing you can sing the song. That to me was always important.
Someone’s song you’d like to cover?
Every Buddy Holly song he ever wrote.
The Royal Affair and After Track Listing
- Steppin’ in a Slide Zone
2. Saved by the Music
3. Legend of a Mind
5. Late Lament (with Graeme Edge)
6. Nights in White Satin (with Jon Davison)
7. Gemini Dream
8. Isn’t Life Strange
9. I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)
10. Ride My See-Saw (with Jon Davison)
This story appeared in Rock Cellar Jan. 10, 2022.
Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever.