He’s Just a Singer (in Rock and Roll Band): Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward
Given that most bands are lucky to celebrate a 10-year anniversary, it’s remarkable that the Moody Blues are still around to mark the 45th anniversary of Days of Future Passed, a concept album that put the band on the British progressive rock band on the musical map. While the group is (still) not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Moody Blues have sold millions of albums and is about to embark on a winter tour. We talked to singer-guitarist Justin Hayward via phone from his studio/office in Southern France for a feature we’re writing for a weekly paper. We can only use some of that talk for that article and wanted to share the rest of our conversation.
It’s been 45 years since the release of Days of Future Passed. How has your perception of the album and what you were trying to accomplish changed over the years?
It came home to me, the quality of the album, about four years ago when Universal Records asked me to re-master it and at the same time do a 5.1 surround sound mix. I didn’t want to do that. Yes, of course, I wanted to re-mastered it and have some control over the 5.1, but the original was only on two four tracks. So actually, the best thing I went back to was a quad version our late producer Tony Clarke and the engineer Derek Varnals had done in the early ’70s in the same studio with the same echoes and the same everything. That was what I returned to and it was in listening to that that I realized, “How the hell did we do this?” That’s still my overriding feeling about it. At the time, I thought we were making an arty piece of work and I’d be interviewed in The Guardian or invited to some cocktail party. That was the height of my ambition. Not for a moment did I feel like it’d have any commercial success.
I know Decca Records originally commissioned the album but you had a certain amount of artistic license. Talk about what the label originally wanted from the band and how the group then took that concept and ran with it.
We had a debt to the record company and they had a call on our services. They asked us to do a rock version of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” to demonstrate their stereo systems, which weren’t really getting off the ground, except with the classical market. None of us had stereo. [Decca] introduced us to Romantic string arranger Peter Knight. He came to see us and he said it was nonsense. He didn’t want to spoil the real Dvorak by putting our “amateurish rock version in it.” He said, “Let’s do it the other way around. You do your songs and we’ll still present this to Decca.” Ours was done in two afternoons and the orchestra was done in a three-hour session. Within three days, the whole thing was presented as a fait accompli and they weren’t that pleased with it. Later, it was one of the greatest things that ever happened to them because it did sell their stereo systems and they had a lot of success with it.
Did you get a stereo?
No. I didn’t get one until 1969. In the early days, I wasn’t even allowed in the control room. The engineers had white coats and we weren’t allowed. The Beatles broke that taboo. And by 1969 that stuff had changed. I don’t know what had happened to the Decca Consumer division. The reason Phillips and Deutsch Gramophone bought Decca was because of their classical catalogue, which was the second largest next to Deutsch Gramophone. We ended up with Phillips. But Decca were very good to us. When Sir Edward Lewis, who owned Decca, died and the whole thing was split up and broken up and our contract was given to Deutsch, the studios went as well, which was a tragedy, because that then meant that anyone could record there. A band might have some merit, but it might not. At the end, they did give me a Steinway piano so that was worth it.
When film companies come and ask you about using “Nights in White Satin” for their movies, do you ever offer up another song in its place?
I don’t own the copyright even though I’m the writer. Like an idiot, I signed that stuff away. I’m sure the copyright controller offers up other songs. I don’t have any control over it. That’s the way it is.
Why do you think that song has never gone out of fashion?
I don’t know. It’s a very strange with “Nights.” I never really knew. I know we enjoy singing it and we get a kick out of it. That’s the case with all of the stuff from ‘66-’74; we enjoy it more and more the older we get. In truth, the first time I heard the song was last year when Bettye Lavette did “Nights.” My wife came in with an email. I was still in bed. I opened it and played the song. For the first time, I heard the song. Most of the cover versions have been somebody with romantic strings in the night. I can’t say I’ve ever been impressed by another version. That’s the first time I heard the song. I thought, “That’s a fucking great song.”
At what point did you realize the Moody Blues wasn’t just a musical enterprise but had become a part of popular culture?
Well, The Simpsons did that. Matt Groening got in touch with us and decided that Homer was a Moody Blues fan. I don’t believe you can plug your way onto that program, although record companies would have liked to. And there was an instance when we played Madison Square in 1973 and filled it twice in one day. They gave us an award called the Golden Ticket.
Your music in the ’80s was more pop. Do your older fans who know the ’60s and the ’80s still like that era?
Our core audience is made up of people who picked us up in the ’80s, but it depends on the country. In the U.S., I don’t’ see that many people are our own age. In the UK and Europe, I do. For me personally [the ‘80s] was the greatest time of my life. I was straight and working with a fantastic producer, Tony Visconti. When I was 40 and suddenly having hits on MTV, that was sensational. We loved every minute of it. “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” is my personal favorite to do on stage. It’s a winner.
How do you feel about the snub from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum?
It doesn’t impact at all on anyone British or European. It’s not something you think about. Of course, playing in Cleveland, it gets mentioned. It’s important to everyone. We have worked at the Rock Hall a couple of times. I have done solo things there, and I like the people there. Music is so subjective. I know we’re a good band. Whether you like it or not, that’s subjective. One person’s hit record is another person’s uncool piece of rubbish.
11/23 State Theatre Center for the Arts
11/24 Theatre at Westbury
11/25 Theatre at Westbury
11/27 The Capitol Theatre
11/28 The Capitol Theatre
11/29 NJ Performing Arts Center, Prudential Hall
11/30 Caesars Atlantic City Circus Maximus
12/1 Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center
12/3 E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
12/4 Fox Theatre
12/6 Murat Theatre
12/7 Horseshoe Southern Indiana
12/8 Horseshoe Casino
12/9 Family Arena
12/10 Orpheum Theater
12/13 Mesa Arts Center
12/14 Agua Caliente Casino
12/15 The Pearl Concert Theater
Port Chester, NY
Port Chester, NY
Atlantic City, NJ
St. Charles, MO
Rancho Mirage, CA
Las Vegas, NV