A prolific writer, John Lodge has penned many of the Moody Blues songs since he joined the band in 1966; songs such as “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock & Roll Band),” “Gemini Dream,” “House Of Four Doors,” “Ride My See-Saw,” “Send Me No Wine” and “Isn’t Life Strange,” among many others. Recently, he added eight more songs to his oeuvre via his 10,000 Light Years Ago solo album. At 70, you just can’t keep a songwriter from creating.
Playing bass and swapping lead and harmony vocals with Justin Hayward, Lodge was an added bonus to the band when singer Denny Laine exited. “We were singing blues and we were little English guys,” drummer Graeme Edge said in a 2014 interview with Glide about the band’s origins. “And suddenly it seemed that that was all phony and of course Denny wanted to go a different route. He wanted to get into, strangely enough, he wanted to get into strings and orchestra and he went off on his own to do that. And then John came back to the band and Justin joined and we started off just writing songs about things we knew and then lo and behold, we ended up doing strings (laughs). Funny how things work out, isn’t it.” This would end up being their forte, producing hits like “Nights In White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon” and “The Story In Your Eyes.”
In February, the band will embark upon their third annual Moody Blues Cruise with special guests The Zombies, John Waite, Christopher Cross and Rare Earth; an event everyone has come to enjoy, spending time with their biggest fans. They are also planning a new tour, of which dates should be released in about two weeks, Lodge told me, hitting cities primarily in the southeast United States.
Lodge called in last week to talk with us about what really happens on the cruise, some special Moody Blues moments, how he picked music over engineering and a spritely new solo album that showcases his imaginative songwriting.
The Moody Blues has another cruise coming up early next year. What makes these so much fun for you that you keep doing them?
This is like a festival atmosphere on the ship, on the cruise. You know, everyone on the cruise is there for one reason only and that’s music, and mainly Moody Blues music (laughs). It’s just very special to think of all the people who make the journey to Miami from all over the world to come on the cruise. Everyone is there looking for excitement from the cruise and there’s an anticipation and a huge energy. So when I’m on that cruise, I just feel that energy and it’s absolutely amazing. And there’s nothing better than midnight, walking across the top deck when it’s a beautiful starlit night and the moon is shining and you can hear Moody Blues music playing across the speakers.
Doing shows in an environment like this, where you have the same fans in one place for several days, does it give you a chance to dig into your catalog and pull out some songs you don’t often play?
Well, what we try and do is, the concerts on the cruise are split up into two because the ship has probably like almost 3000 passengers and the theatre is 1500 people. So one evening there will be 1500 people and the next evening it will be a different 1500 people. That makes it a different concert. But the other thing that we do, we do a Q&A and storytellers so sometimes we pick out some songs that we haven’t done for ages and play them acoustically for everyone. It’s like an insight into the Moody Blues really, which I really enjoy, by the way. I really enjoy doing that part.
Was there a song someone asked you to play that you have hardly ever played?
It’s very difficult to say but if it’s acoustically, sometimes you get, oh I like that song and then you play it. You may not get all the lyrics right because you’ve forgotten them (laughs) but I think if you give an interpretation, even if it’s only like thirty-six bars of a song, people can relive that song. They know what that song is. And that’s always a really nice thing to do on the Question & Answer. But when it’s the actual concert for the Moody Blues, we like to keep it exactly as we planned it because we have the lighting people and the sound people and the crew, all the technicians, and they have to know what is going on. They have a regime, they’ve got their list of everything they have to do during the concert. So you really can’t change the concert as such.
Which song that you wrote for the band do you think was the most complicated or difficult to transfer to the live stage?
The most difficult one, and I think we’ve conquered it now after all these years (laughs), is “Isn’t Life Strange” because it’s a very interesting song because basically the very beginning is very quiet with just an organ and a flute and then it becomes a big choir and full orchestration, electric guitars, bass, drums and everything else. And it took us a few years really to master that song. But now I just absolutely love playing it onstage every night because in the quiet parts you can hear a pin drop. I actually wait for one part of the song where there is actually nobody playing. It’s wonderful because the audience knows something else is going to happen but they don’t know what.
Do you get a chance to do any solo performances on the cruise?
We do. I’ve got my own wine and my wine is called Krisemma and I’ve just released my own album called 10,000 Light Years Ago. So what I will do, one evening I will have a wine and John Lodge event where we’ll talk about my wine and we’ll have a wine tasting session with everyone but then I play acoustically some of the songs from my new solo album. And that’s the way to do the solo album, really.
I didn’t realize you had the solo album out until recently.
It sort of crept out really. We launched the album about six weeks ago, I believe, but it sort of crept out and the big problem today is how do you get a record out to the media and the public because of all the downloads and everything else. But we released the album on vinyl as well, 180 gram vinyl, which I was very, very excited about. I just hope people get to hear the album and hopefully get to love it.
The song that caught my attention was “Love Passed Me By” because I understand you’ve been married to the same lady forever.
I have (laughs), forever. You know, sometimes the opposite of who you are, not appeals to you but you seem to recognize. Love didn’t pass me by but I understand what it’s all about, you know, because when you’re very young, in your teen years and you have your first love affairs and everything, you have no idea what’s going on and you meet someone and you think you’ve got a date and the next time you see them they’re with someone else (laughs). I mean, that’s life, that’s part of growing up. And I think “Love Passed Me By” really was the opposite of who I am and I’m really pleased I’m not that other person (laughs).
Who plays guitar on “In My Mind”?
The basic guitars was Chris Spedding. He recorded with me in the seventies and he played in Roxy Music and he’s just a wonderful guitarist. So basically he was the person who set everything up. We did bring another guitarist in called Brian Price and he’s a guitarist from Los Angeles. So they both worked against each other and I’m really excited about how well that worked together.
In “Those Days In Birmingham,” you sing about growing up in Birmingham, England. You were studying engineering when you were young. Did you really think you were going to do that for the rest of your life?
I wanted to be a car designer and Birmingham is like second Motor City to Detroit and all the great cars, English cars, were designed and built in Birmingham, like Jaguar, like the Mini, and I really loved cars, since I was seven or eight years of age. But I found music when I was sort of twelve years of age. I found rock & roll. So the two things went along side by side, being a bass player with a Fender Precision Bass, and going to college in engineering. But to be honest, you know, music and mathematics are very similar. It’s just an approach but I always knew I wanted to play music after that. When it hit me when I was sort of thirteen, I knew. When that jukebox started playing and I could hear rock & roll for real, I knew that was what I wanted to do. And I spent the next four or five years learning how to play the bass and learning to write songs and learning to perform onstage. It was just very exciting to be part of this music revolution called rock & roll. It was just brilliant for me.
You’ve written a lot of songs in your career, did you know you had so many stories to tell?
No, I didn’t and sometimes when I look at the catalog I think, where did all those words come from? (laughs) No, it’s very strange and when I wrote the new album, I don’t know, it seems to be a force that comes from somewhere and I don’t know whether you tap into it or what but it’s quite amazing.
What do you think was the most unique thing that inspired you to write a song?
Buddy Holly. I didn’t really know how to write a song. I knew what a 12 bar was and I knew how to write a blues song but it was Buddy Holly who came along and showed you that you could change things around and you can use the same three or four chords but you can turn them around in different ways. You can make the chords look at each other somehow and give it a different interpretation. And I think Buddy Holly sort of turned me on to music. I think I’ve only ever written one song that was like a Buddy Holly song but he was the one that made me think about how you can explore music with chords on a guitar.
What do you think the Moody Blues had that no one else had at that time in the late sixties and throughout the seventies, into the eighties?
We were exploring music and we were not content to write “I love you, you love me, how happy everyone’s going to be,” that type of song. We wanted to explore other avenues, lyrically and musically. You know, people have tried to put the Moody Blues into a little drawer, to say, “Oh, that’s really safe now. We know the Moody Blues, they’re a classic rock band; oh no, they’re a classic orchestral band; no, they’re not, they’re a progressive band; no, they’re an underground band.” I think we’re all of those things. We try to encompass everything. I mean, I love rock & roll, I really do, but I really like ballads as well. So you can combine the two things and it’s still rock & roll. It’s like comparing Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Coldplay but it’s still rock & roll isn’t it. It’s all different variations and it’s a reflection of who we are, I think, as people.