Justin HaywardJustin Hayward, the celebrated singer, songwriter, and guitarist of The Moody Blues, has been a pivotal figure in the world of rock music for over five decades. With his distinctive voice and impressive musicianship, Hayward has created countless classics, earning him a dedicated fan base and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The iconic voice of Nights in White Satin will be performing with his solo band on May 26 at Windsor’s Chrysler Theatre.

You have a show coming up at the Chrysler Theatre here in Windsor. I think it’s been 10 years since you’ve been in Windsor. You were here with the Moody Blues at Caesars. This band that you’re touring with right now. They’ve been your solo band for a few years now, haven’t they?

 

Yes, Karmen Gould on flute joined us a little while ago, and I met Karmen a few years before at a one-off gig that I did. She’s such a wonderful player. I’m very fond of these kids and it’s a lovely vibe we have together

You love to showcase them in your shows as well, don’t you?

Well, Mike Dawes, if you’ve never seen him, worth the price of admission and a truly remarkable guitar genius. I don’t know how he does it. I’ve stood in front of him with my guitar tech and we’ve said play that again and then a minute later my tech says, no, I still don’t get it. I don’t know how he does it. Julie Ragins was with The Moody’s as well. I’ve known Julie for a long time. She may the finest musician I know, actually, can play anything. And she plays all the parts, she has the samples of the Mellotron from the old days.

I was going to actually ask you if you still use the Mellotron? You use the sounds but with the modern advancements.

Well, Mellotron sounds, as you know, you can find on most keyboard software but I think I still have an old file. I was looking at it the other day, one that Tony Visconti and I did when we’d been in the studio with Ray, Graham and John that we sampled on a big old Mark II Mellotron. I think that the digital ones are probably better, mine are a bit clunky.

Is storytelling a big part of your show?

Ah, well, that’s a thing, isn’t it? I suppose it is, but I often finish a little sort of introduction and I thought, “Darn, you know, I bet people would probably like to know what happened in the studio”, and that kind of stuff. On the other hand, if I do question and answer stuff, then the weirdest stuff comes up. It’s not like what was happening in the studio, which I thought people would be interested in, or what did you mean and what’s that about?
I think I realized a long time ago with this music that we can be perfect in a soundcheck and do these songs just perfectly, but the audience brings something to it. Yes, I know that we’re storytelling the song, but you really have to include their own experience of when they first heard this music.

I often think, at night when we come home and we put on something and play it, I feel that we create an atmosphere and an aura around ourselves of a vibe. I think that is created in the room on tour as well. There is this kind of magic that’s created that the audience brings to it. I don’t know what that has to do with my stories, but it’s probably my experience of the songs. That’s more interesting than who did what or how many tracks were on it.
Right. Well, myself as an interviewer, I’ve always loved listening to stories, reading biographies and that sort of thing. I’ve seen a few artists like yourself, having been in the business for 50 odd years. There’s a lot of great stories to tell. Some people just want to hear the music. But older guys like me like to hear the stories from back then.

One of the fascinating stories to me is your first album with the Moody Blues, how that came about, because it actually originally was intended as a demo for Decca Records, wasn’t it? It was more for the label than for the band.

Exactly. It was more for the label and they had a consumer division where they made stereo systems and they wanted to demonstrate that stereo could be as interesting for rock and roll as it was for classical music, because their biggest catalogue was classical music, which is why they were eventually bought out by Deutsche Grammophon.
Days of Future Passed was seen as that. I think even when we were making it, Hugh Mendl, who was the executive producer, realized that it had changed into something else. When Hugh delivered it to the Decca board, even though they said, well, this is not what we were expecting. But Hugh always stuck by it. He always said he knew it was different, but he had to try and elevate it because when it was first released, it was a budget price album, and within a few weeks, they put it up to full price and realized that this was a proper album. I don’t think that any one of us thought that anybody would ever hear it so it.

The other thing about that album that fascinates me is that it didn’t make it really big until five years later and became number two on the Billboard charts. Of course, Nights in White Satin was the mega hit for you. You wrote that song rather quickly, didn’t you?

Yeah, it was quite a few months before Days of Future Passed, but I think the other guys knew that I’d always have a song ready to go and they were expecting me to come up with something. I came home one night, sat on the side of the bed and just wrote the basic couple of verses. I then took it into the rehearsal room in Barnes in West London the next day and I played it to everybody and they were a bit nonplussed.

And then Mike Pinder said he’d just got an instrument called the Mellotron. He rediscovered it and thought it would be good for my songs and his songs, so he said, “Play it again.” And Nights in White Satin went da da da da da da da on the Mellotron and that was the key. Everybody else suddenly thought, oh, that’s interesting. And then everybody wanted to find a part to play. Not that there’s much. It’s hardly anything on the record, Dan, so there’s not much to play anyway. Just a lot of echoes. Very quickly we were doing it on stage and recorded it first for the BBC, as a matter of fact.

That was a massive change in the sound of the band when you and John joined the band. They were more of a blues-based rock band before that, weren’t they?

Well, I think, yes, that’s right. A rhythm and blues band doing covers and Mike didn’t want to do covers. I think that was quite clear and I was lousy at rhythm and blues and I think even Ray was, so our purpose was to try and get our own songs into it somehow. The first couple of months when I was there, we would do a set of covers, 45 minutes, and then we would do our own songs, and you can guess which ones didn’t go down as well as the other. The first set went down better.

You’ve composed everything on acoustic guitar since the early days. You have a 12-string acoustic that you had back when you composed a lot of the really big hits and something happened with that guitar.

Well, yes, I got the guitar from Lonnie Donegan. He had a few guitars up in his loft above his bungalow and he gave it to me to fix up. So, I did fix it up and I started playing with it. I understood that he gave it to me and I didn’t have anything else. I only had a Telecaster, so I was writing on that guitar.

A couple of months later, me and Graeme were out and Lonnie’s guitar player came round while our girlfriends were at the flat and said, “Oh, you know that guitar? Can we borrow it for something?” My girlfriend gave it to him and he never came back. I bought it back not long ago as a matter of fact.

You had a lot happening last year. You were given the Order of the British Empire.

I was, yeah. In the Queen’s last birthday honours list, it was absolutely wonderful. I was thrilled and I’m pleased about that.

I guess if we’re around long enough and we accomplish things, eventually we get recognized for it. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of people have different views and opinions of that. I’m glad that you guys made it in there. I think Graeme said something during the ceremonies which was a bit of a backhanded comment towards the hall about getting in there. I can’t remember his exact words, but I’m glad that he was able to make it in as well. They wait too long for these things and people pass away or bands break up, and it just seems wrong to me.

You’re absolutely right Dan. You put it very well. Ray had died only a few weeks before, which was very sad. None of us had seen him for quite a long time. He left the band in 2003, I think it was but Mike (Pinder) was there, and he came to see me on a couple of solo gigs not long before, so I’d seen him. But yeah, for the Moody Blues fans, it was a real validation of all the music that they really love and that’s tremendously important. For us as a group, I think it was a wonderful thing. We were all very thrilled, and rightly so, and particularly as we were inducted in the same company as Nina Simone. Should we be in the same town, let alone the same breath? It was a great night and it was a big thrill. My family was there. My grandson, it was just brilliant. Brilliant.

Yeah, it’s nice to be recognized, especially by your fans as well, because I feel that’s what made that important.

You’re right. The fans made it happen. They had a little window when they were let in by that committee or panel of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and man, they took it. It was just like a steamroller. Then it’s like, OK, you want votes? There, you’ve got them. It was fantastic.

You also released a single last year, Living for Love. Are there plans for an album coming up? It’s been quite a while since you released a full album of originals.

That’s right. I released a couple of other songs as well, just doing them in my own time. I don’t want to release anything now that I’m not pleased with. I’ve worked with the same recording partner for a long time, Alberto Parodi, not far from here in Genoa, and I think we’re asked to do a lot of stuff because people come to us about The Moodys. There’s been a lot of videos and recordings of my solo things and The Moodys are always sort of remastering. There’s always something to do, but new things, I don’t tend to finish them until the time is right. I’m not sure who’s listening anymore, and I think I’m back to the days when I’m in the world of buying a 45. I don’t prefer that, but that’s what I think I do now. I hear a snippet of a song and I find out what it is and then I’m hooked on it.

Do you still really enjoy playing live? You mentioned earlier about how the audience brings something to the performance. Is that what keeps you going?

I think I find I almost have a duty to do it. As long as my voice and my hands can get around the guitar, as long as it’s there, I’ll be doing it. I’m offered a lot of stuff. It’s whether I say yes, that’s the only thing, and I’m very happy, surprised to be even asked to be in your part of Canada. I’m absolutely thrilled. It was never a particularly great area for the Moody’s to be, but I’m thrilled to be asked and I hope after one time I’ll be asked back. That’s the way I think.

Well, I know as a teenager in high school in the 70s, your music was at the forefront on FM radio and I had friends that were just obsessed every time you would come to Detroit. They would go to your shows and absolutely love it.
Your music, with the Mellotron and the flute, I think of Ian Anderson. I talked to him about how the flute and rock music made him very unique. The Moodys as well. There aren’t people out there imitating the Moody Blues. Do you think that’s a big reason why your music has been popular for as long as it has, because it kind of defies all these different genres?

Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, I think it did. The old Decca studios where we recorded, you know, you asked me before about Nights, that is really the sound of those studios and the flute and acoustic guitar. Graeme maybe wasn’t the best drummer in the world, but the sound of his drums was always so nice and they just suited that studio. That’s why it worked for us. I think there were a lot of other groups in Decca downstairs in the rock and roll studio that were absolutely great.

We did a couple of tracks down there. Fly Me High was one of the first things I ever did with the band. But when we moved upstairs to the number one studio, this vast space with the height, we just sounded right in there. With the flute, we created something that wasn’t deliberate, but that became our identity in there. We realized what works for us and I know what works for me now. Acoustic guitars, Mike, Julie and Carmen. That sound works for me.

You released a lyric video recently for Tuesday Afternoon. Whose idea was that? I just absolutely love that. The whole visual of it transports me back to that time. I just feel it in the video.

It was the people who own the rights to do that kind of stuff and not particularly me. If you said live video, it’s me and Alberto and David Minasian and we’re done properly. But that Tuesday Afternoon video, I wasn’t sure about it, but after a while, I respect yourself and other people. I respect my family and they saw it and said, “Yeah, that’s great!” I became convinced.

It’s just a whole vibe. I had that feeling that somebody just approached you and said, hey, how about this? Do you like this visual? And are you interested in it?

That’s pretty much what happened.

Well, I’m looking forward to next month when you come to town. I’m sure it’s going to be a great night. And Windsor does love you!

For more Justin Hayward, visit justinhayward.com.

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