Moody Blues: 2 Fenders, 4 decades and 70 million albums

Rock legends The Moody Blues bring their pantheon of hits like ‘Nights In White Satin’ to Cape Town. Founding bassist and songwriter John Lodge explains – and recommends that parents should buy their children guitars.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 03/10

The Moody Blues bring their pantheon of hits like 'Nights In White Satin' to Cape Town

Four decades on, the original Moody Blues line-up are still friends, still make music together and still enjoy playing their brand of authentic rock to fans all over the world. They’ve sold 70 million albums, but they still fondly tell the tale of when a young band in the mid-1960s took the then risky move of playing their own material, instead of American blues covers. The move birthed a mingling of emergent pop-rock with classical influences – partly due to founder member Ray Thomas’s flute, and partly due to record deal manoeuvring which saw the Moodies commissioned to create a rock version of Antonin Dvorczak’s “New World Symphony”. 1967’s seminal “Days Of Future Passed” – and its now iconic song “Nights In White Satin” – saw the birth of the Moody Blues sound that would propel them to a track record that includes fourteen of their albums going gold or platinum.
Original bassist John Lodge answers the Argus’ interview call in relaxed mien from his home in Barbados. He’s cheery and asks about the weather in Cape Town, noting that it is “just perfect” in the Windward Islands. “We put together the line-up of songs for a show as though it was a brand new album,” he says of the dilemma of playing to audiences that may well own in excess of a dozen of their albums, and have been listening to the band for over 47 years. “You want different tempos and different emotions from the songs to take the audience on a great musical journey through the evening. When they leave, you want them to take parts of the concert with them and, hopefully, make it an evening that lasts with them for a long time. That’s a great thing about the Moodies, with our history of songs. I think we’ve recorded about eighteen LPs, so you can choose – not in order of preference or age or time – as though we were making a full new show now.”
Talk of long playing records demands a question about Lodge’s feelings about the vinyl format. “I do miss them,” he confesses. “I’m a music lover, not just a Moody Blues lover and I love buying music. But I’ve never really bought singles; it’s not a market that I enjoy. Every market has got its own validity, but I like having a full album, and putting it on the record player for its entirety, knowing that the artist was trying to perform something from start to finish. I suppose you could liken it to a great movie where you’re only going to be shown three minutes. It might be the three minutes you don’t like, or the only three minutes that are fantastic. What about the other one hour and forty-seven minutes? An entire album takes you on a journey like a show, and I love listening to that, so I miss LPs. Otherwise, I guess, I’d love the new formats – one song here and one song there…”
Talk has it that Lodge still plays every show with the first bass he ever bought, a Fender Precision. It’s a question that has to be asked. There’s a chortle from the West Indies before he answers. “My father helped me buy it in 1959, and that’s a lesson to everyone out there who wants to become a musician: get your parents on your side. It was the first Fender Precision bass in Birmingham, England and I recorded every song we did until 1982 on that bass. It’s an absolutely beautiful instrument but, to be honest, I’m scared to take it on the road in case it gets damaged or lost. It’s perfect for a small environment, but when you’re on a big stage and you’re going through a PA system to thousands of people, you need some electronics. The Fender custom shop were building a replica of the 1962 Fender Jazz bass, but with the electronics built into it so it could be used on stage more easily and they built me one. We tweaked it and tweaked it – I did things like change the guard to a tortoise-shell lookalike – and I’ve been using that for the last twenty years on stage.”
Aside from scores of hit songs and the band’s ground-breaking work with the London Festival Orchestra, it’s also the The Moody Blues’ longevity that forms the basis of legend – especially given the lack of tantrums and histrionics, or lawsuits and personal collapses. Lodge is even hailed as contributing to the island “sometimes publicly and sometimes more quietly” in his adopted home of Barbados. “If you go back to 1966, to 1964 when we started, there really wasn’t a music industry – it was all about playing live music. The recording of that only came afterwards for rock ‘n roll,” says Lodge. “It was all about the standards, the Sinatras and the teeny-bop bubblegum when we started. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s what it was. We played together for years before they even had record contracts. I think that’s coming back now again; bands making a recording that’s just for promotion, or something to talk about in TV or print. The reality now is that it’s gone back to live performance; that’s a situation we see around the world, and I think you’ll see more and more artists touring. That’s what we’ve always done, and always wanted to do. It’s who I am and how I think. The first gig I ever did I got about 5 pounds. It was never about the money and it never has been. I take my guitar everywhere and I play it every day, anywhere I am. It was always about the music, and we’re just lucky that the audiences like what we do.”
The Moody Blues play the Grand Arena on Wednesday, 30 May, supported by 10cc and Procul Harum (Grand West, Goodwood, 7pm) before moving to Johannesburg’s The Dome on 1 June. Tickets range from R375 – R785.First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 03/10