The Moody Blues’ John Lodge talks the past, present and “Days of Future Passed”
June 27, 2017
Growing up in postwar England, John Lodge never foresaw becoming a singer, songwriter and bass player in one of the most successful rock bands of all time.
Fueled by a love for American rock and roll from the likes of Gene Vincent and Little Richard, the teenage Lodge formed a band and began playing at bars and nightclubs in the Birmingham area. At age 20, he was invited to join The Moody Blues, a group that was falling apart in the wake of a 1965 hit single, “Go Now.” Along with Justin Hayward, who joined the band around the same time, Lodge was instrumental in taking the Moody Blues in a different direction.
Their first significant collaboration was the 1967 progressive rock album “Days of Future Passed.” The album yielded two hit singles, “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” and pushed the band to international stardom. To date, The Moody Blues have sold more than 70 million albums.
Earlier this summer, The Moody Blues began a tour that features a complete performance of “Days of Future Passed” – and includes a stop at Summerfest on Wednesday. We chatted with Lodge in advance of the show.
OnMilwaukee: You’ve done seven shows since the tour began. Are the live performances of “Days of Future Passed” everything you hoped they would be?
John Lodge: Absolutely! We’re having a great time playing that album on stage. The songs haven’t changed, you know, but the advances in audio and visual technology available to us in 2017 are really spectacular.
The first half of the show is a set of songs that people love, the ones that mark moments in their lives. The second set is “Days of Future Passed” played in its entirety with the orchestra, the visuals and the spoken word parts voiced by the actor Jeremy Irons. Then, for the encores, we do a few more of the favorite classic songs.
How do you prepare to perform a show like this?
For the songs we play on a regular basis, getting ready to go on tour starts with us practicing our parts of the vocals and instrumentation individually. Then we come together for about two weeks and play everything as a band until we’re satisfied.
What was different this time is that we had to relearn the songs from “Days of Future Passed” by listening to the album and assembling the music for the stage. For me, that was a real joy. It was like being transported in a time machine back to 1967. All in all, it took about six months to put this show together.
To conclude getting ready, we did an additional two days of live rehearsal to get comfortable with the lighting cues and the onstage transitions between songs.
This tour is over at the end of July. Do you have any plans to do some solo shows with material from your “10,000 Light Years Ago” album?
Actually, yes, I’d like very much to do that. The last solo show I did was in my hometown of Birmingham, England. We filmed that concert and made a live recording, so when this tour ends, I’m going to be assembling all that for release. Then it’s likely I’ll get back on the road for some dates in here in America.
What was it like growing up in a heavy industrial town like Birmingham?
It was rather unique in that we were all alike. Mine was a working class family, just like everyone else, and we lived in what was called a council house. By that, I mean that the town council owned all the houses and a family would rent from them. At that time, people were just trying to get their lives back together in the years following World War II. All the kids were born about the same time, so we had lots of friends that were the same age.
You were considering a career designing cars. How did you move into music?
I was a kid when I heard American rock and roll on the radio, and I went crazy for it! What I loved most was how piano players like Little Richard, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis used their left hand to play the bass line, and their right hand to play the chords, and their voice to sing the melody. That left hand provided the bass boogie so one musician could essentially play a song by himself. Fats Domino, Pinetop Perkins, those guys were fantastic.
I wanted to learn that bass line, so I bought a steel string guitar from a neighbor lady for $5. Her son got it in Germany during the war but never used it. I was ecstatic when she sold it to me because I already knew that the Spanish guitars with nylon strings just wouldn’t do. I never let that thing out of my sight! By listening to the radio, I taught myself to play the bottom four strings. Then, as soon as I could afford one, I got an electric guitar. I think it was a Rosetti.
That was probably easier than using an upright bass.
Exactly. Electric bass guitars hadn’t made their way to England yet, and this was during a time when rock and roll was considered to be trash. Everyone knew how much I loved that music, though. I used to carry my guitar to school every day. I was dismissed from music class in school because I asked the instructor to show me how to play those bass lines. I wasn’t being defiant; I wanted someone to show me chord structures and how to play the 12-bar blues. But he wanted me to know when Beethoven was born! That’s what was important to him.
There’s never been anything in the papers about John Lodge wrecking cars or having a substance abuse problem. You’ve been married to the same person since 1968. How do you avoid getting caught up in the rock and roll lifestyle?
It’s because I love the music, not the lifestyle that making it can offer. I don’t buy things or do things just because I can. I do the things I want to do. I find great joy in just making music, whether it’s on stage or in the studio. That’s where my energy and motivation comes from. If somebody asks me to play a show with them, I will. It’s a lot of fun to just be the bass player and get onstage with Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis. Everything else, all the people trying to get into the inner circle, to me, it’s just a distraction that I’ve no use for.
The Moody Blues perform on Wednesday, June 28 at 10 p.m. at the BMO Harris Pavilion.