Justin Hayward’s ‘Stage Door’ – Conversation with the Moody Blues Legend
Written by: Ken Sharp
The title of the first solo album by Moody Blues guitarist/lead vocalist Justin Hayward is Songwriter.
Judging by Hayward’s remarkably inventive output penning such enduring hits as Nights In White Satin, Tuesday Afternoon, Question, The Voice and others, that moniker is apt for this legendary artist — whose magnificent body of songs, jettisoning image and changing fads and trends, has kept him a vital part of popular music for over 50 years.
Hayward’s new solo jaunt, dubbed Stage Door 2016, is named after a key song culled from that debut. “‘Stage Door’ has a particular resonance for me as when we were small boys, my brother and I could not afford to go to the shows at the Empire Theatre in Swindon,” explains Hayward.
“In fact, we were regularly chased away from the lavish entrance by the fat commissionaire who stood guard there. But we loved the stage door — we saw many artists come and go — and we believed it was the place the real magic entered and left the building. Which of course, it is. It is often the one part of the building I actually see nowadays and it has fond memories of joy for me to be lucky enough to be returning, and sometimes foreboding.”
Fans attending Hayward’s Stage Door tour will find the artist delving deep into his catalog with The Moody Blues as well as performing old and new solo gems.
The tour is named after Stage Door, a song culled from your 1977 solo album, Songwriter. When did you realize you had come into your own as a songwriter?
Justin Hayward: I think when I was with Marty Wilde, he said to me then, “The way forward for me is gonna be songwriting.” He wrote a lot of his own songs but under a different name because he was signed to a lousy deal as I was, as a matter of fact. But I think that was the way he was able to express himself and develop his own style.
So that resonated with me. So I thought of myself coming to The Moodys as a songwriter and I don’t believe that Mike Pinder called me because I was a great singer. (laughs) But when I was there I realized the best thing I could do, and this was like Mike at the time, because we were the only two people that were writing, I had to sing these songs ‘cause there was nobody else in the group that was gonna do it better than Mike or myself.
So it was in that first couple of months with the group. I tried doing things on my own before the group in the gap between Marty Wilde and the Moodys and I was still thinking of myself as a songwriter.
Your new tour showcases your work as a songwriter. Are there lesser-known songs you’re able to embrace and perform that would not fit within the confines of a Moody Blues show?
Justin Hayward: Some things work better in this situation than another songs. It has to do with the balance on the recordings. The balance on the recordings was always a start with an acoustic guitar and the song and then building around that. But of course onstage with The Moodys and two drummers it’s a very different balance.
Some things just don’t lend themselves to even thinking about rehearsing with the Moodys, but in my own stage show I can present it as it was written like my original demo — so that’s why some things work much better in this format.
Is there a particular song in the set that you look forward to playing the most each night?
Justin Hayward: I like the way Julie (Ragins) plays Watching and Waiting because she constructed a keyboard combination of sounds that were so close to the things that I played on the record and so I look forward to that. We never did that one live with the Moodys.
In the end, it goes back to being able to communicate a song or idea with just a vocal and one instrument.
Justin Hayward: Yes, that’s right. And well, the original recording of Watching and Waiting, there isn’t that much on it anyway. But yeah, if it stands up on its won it will work.
Was there a pivotal moment where your writing shifted to incorporate more of a Technicolor sound/vibe in terms of merging rock with classical/symphonic elements, both in terms of execution and concept?
Justin Hayward: People invite me to all sorts of prog rock things and Classic Rock things but I’ve always just personally been a guy who liked pop songs. But it means something if it comes from my heart so it has to resonate with me. But the difference of course was the instrument called a mellotron that somehow made my songs work.
How did the use of mellotron figure into the band’s sound and creative explorations?
Justin Hayward: I think we put a lot of thought into it by duplicating the sounds on it, quadrupling the layers on the instrument itself. There was nobody else using it onstage because it was such an unwieldy thing so we took out all of the innards that were unnecessary. Mike Pinder shoved it through four Marshall cabinets and it started to work.
That’s the thing that made my songs work and I started thinking about arrangements in a different way then. I’d always thought how the drums and the bass should be. I always knew what the bass line or the drums should be and it was quicker than way. But with Mike and the mellotron, that was always a different session that would come after the rhythm section.
What do you recall about The Moody Blues’ first visit to the States?
Justin Hayward: It was a much harder place and life for people than I thought it would be. I thought it would be a much easier life for most people but most of the audience that we saw were leading a sort of a tough, working class life and of course there was the Vietnam War and the threat of the draft hanging over every person of our age when we were playing colleges and things like that.
But we were very lucky that Bill Graham offered us those two gigs at the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West. And then we had an agent that picked us up a lot of psychedelic club gigs and then we got the tour with Canned Heat. They showed us America…on a school bus (laughs) but we still saw it. We went south to north, from the bottom up to Canada.
In terms of cracking the States, knowing it was infinitely larger place than Britain, did it seem daunting?
Justin Hayward: We didn’t think how we were gonna break America, I don’t think we ever gave a thought to that. I think the thing that broke the Moodys was FM radio because the first two albums were perfect for FM. They didn’t have that stereo like EMI were doing with the drums on the right channel and the vocal on the left channel so we had a proper stereo picture on our records. For the first time FM radio had a beautiful stereo spread of rock music.
You began studying Transcendental Meditation in the late ‘60s. How did that impact on you as a person and how it make its way into your art?
Justin Hayward: It definitely affected In Search Of The Lost Chord. There were only four of us who did it, me, Mike, Graeme (Edge) and Ray (Thomas); I’m not sure if Graeme completed the course. I’m not sure that he did but the three of us certainly did. So it was a huge part of our lives and you never forget that stuff. The initiation and the practice is still wit me; I don’t use as much as I should but I’ll never forget it and it will always be part of my emotional being. When I need serenity I still go there.
The ’60s was such a rich fertile period in music, from production to songwriting to instrumentation. Do we glorify those years or were that really that special?
Justin Hayward: There was one huge explosion and that was the Beatles and it’s hard to overestimate how important they were. It’s difficult to explain but they just completely changed the world musically. So they opened the door.
After that it allowed the rest of us through and suddenly made record companies respect what rock groups wanted to do. But if I could only have one decade it would still be the ‘80s. I loved the way that young kids were discovering things then. I loved working with our producer Tony Visconti who was in touch with a lot of much younger groups. And of course we did have great commercial success which I was aware of and awake for but I would still choose the ‘80s decade as my favorite. The beginning of great technology in music I thought was a great revelation.
Speaking of that decade, in the early ’80s the Moody Blues had a major commercial revival in the States with album like Long Distance Voyager and The Other Side Of Life and songs like Gemini Dream, The Voice and Your Wildest Dream. What do you attribute that resurgence on the charts?
Justin Hayward: A great record company, Mercury/Polygram; that was our label after London Records. They knew how to do it; they knew how to promote that stuff. We were given leave and permission to script our own videos and we did that and had success. Then two records later they took that away from us and decided they knew better and it collapsed.
But for that brief two years when we were doing it all ourselves it worked. So we had a great record company who knew how to promote things and trusted us and we had Tony Visconti. He was not only a great producer but a great musician too, great bass player.
Your long-time manager, the late Tom Hulett, was a management partner with Jerry Weintraub who worked with Elvis. Any encounters with Elvis?
Justin Hayward: No, we didn’t. I think John (Lodge) made the mistake once saying we were bigger than Elvis for a while (laughs) but that didn’t go down too well. I kept well out of that one. We heard all the stories because it was a constant in Tom’s life and Jerry’s life as well. But we knew both of them before so it was interesting to see both of those men take on the biggest artist the world has ever known.
Vinyl has made a big comeback. Are you pleased by that development?
Justin Hayward: I think it was a lovely medium for its time and I’m glad it’s having a resurgence and that it’s having a place in music reproduction. I personally wouldn’t want to go back to vinyl.
Where do you stand on the CDs, MP3 vs. vinyl frontier?
Justin Hayward: I’m glad we’re in the digital domain. There were a lot of things that were very difficult about vinyl and I noticed in their rush to get back to vinyl they’ve neglected a lot of those things that people really worked hard for like good quality mastering. I think it has its place but I personally wouldn’t want to return to it as a main format.
In terms of recording today with the advent of Pro Tools, is that medium much preferable to you versus analog recording?
Justin Hayward: The digital format makes it so easy for editing and it’s so much quicker. It makes things much quicker choosing particular vocal lines and compilations of vocals. It’s a wonderful thing.
Do you wish you had Pro Tools back in the day given the problematic nature of cutting certain songs in the analog format?
Justin Hayward: I would only say that the recording on tape was moving so fast in the ‘60s. From the early ‘60s to the end of the ‘60s we went from 2-track to 4-track and 8-track, 16 track and 24-track and beyond so that was a very exciting world as well. I wouldn’t want to change anything but it always seemed to me that technology was moving in a direction very fast. It seemed like there was a race to go into the digital domain and many things were transferred badly. But hopefully that won’t happen anymore. But Pro Tools is great. You have to take advantage of all that stuff.
The Moody Blues have been passed over year after year by the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Does it matter to you? Why do you think the band has been passed over?
Justin Hayward: In the British musical community there’s almost a rejection of it with some saying, “How could they have it there? There were so many great Rock & Roll Hall of Fame people in the world and this is very narrow.” It doesn’t impact me in my life at all.
I think it’s just got to the stage where the people who decide now, it’s very hard for them because they’ve been under such pressure about The Moodys for so long that it’s gonna look like they caved if we get put in. And that’s not good for them. But I do have a lot for sympathy for the Moodys fans who it’s very important for but I can’t say that it matters to me.
I’ve worked there and I’ve done things with them; they’re lovely people, not the people who are on this particular board. I don’t know any of them. That’s not meant in a negative way either, I just don’t know any of them. But the organization has some very nice people. But I was frankly disappointed the tiny amount of space they gave to Buddy Holly.
Justin Hayward tour dates: