The Moody Blues were one of those bands that tended to obscure its members. Non-one was ever really sure who was the main creative force and it's only now that Justin Hayward and John Lodge have stepped out and produced Bluejays that any measure of their individual talent can be made.
As we said in our April issue, parts of the album are very good, other parts are not so good. We liked Justin's contribution and we were therefore grateful for the chance to see him at his Thameside home and talk about his playing.
How many guitars do you have?
I've got about 16, I've been collecting them over the years and I really like getting new instruments to add to the collection. Not all of them are pure guitars, there's a lute and a sitar in there. I keep some here at home and my roadie looks after some for me and I keep some at our studio ready for recording.
Have you kept any guitars for the wrong reasons, like superstition?
Yeah, (laughs) I've got one or two like that, you know, they've been really badly abused. I do get superstitious about instruments. It's a recurring nightmare that I have, that I get to a dressing room — I have a lot of dressing room dreams, I never get on stage, it's always the dressing room — I open my case and it's not my guitar, it's the wrong guitar.
It's actually happened to me once, when my guitar didn't actually turn up and had to use another 335. It was OK, it wasn't that bad, I just got on with the job. It rattled me all the way through though, and it threw me for that show, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would have been. I know that some nights the guitar actually plays me, I swear it, it really does. It goes on automatic and away we go.
You mean it's like car driving, you find yourself driving on autopilot?
Yes, except that you can get yourself into a state whereby you can just switch on automatically and blow along with it.
It's almost like a bliss-like state where you can't do anything wrong. Usually at the end of it something does happen and you goof and it brings you back to reality.
Sounds like you're stoned out of your brain?
(Laughs) You can't even do that. I could never really get on with the scotch, a couple maybe before you go on but I could never get smashed, because tuning up is the one important thing to me.
I've always worked with acoustic instruments like flute and everything so I've always had to be in concert pitch, so tuning was dead important. It's not quite so important in a three guitar group because you can tune within yourselves.
Have you got any little habits about tuning?
Well, it can be deceptive, doing it in the dressing room unless you're doing it through an amp. It's pretty good then and the only trouble is that it gets on everybody's nerves, the drummer's going berserk and everyone's shouting 'shut up'. Trying to acoustically tune an electric guitar can be deceptive, you can get on stage and the guitar's totally in tune, but very slightly flat to concert. We always tune when we go on stage. We have a little routine about it, I'd get it from the flute and give it to the bass and Mike would be getting his at the same time.
Is your ear very accurate?
Yeah, I've always regarded myself as being very lucky in that department, I've always been the one in the band who's had to tune up everybody else, or work out the harmonies. It comes naturally to me, that's all I can say.
How do you tune your guitar?
I start off on the D string. Psychologically, I always feel that it's like the middle of the guitar and take it from there. And I usually start off with trying to put it not so much into exact pitch on the actual guitar, on open strings, because that can be deceptive. I've always found with my 335 particularly because of the gauge strings I use that I have to tune the G string slightly flat to make every chord right.
I always have to be aware that the G has got to be slightly flat to make the chords right. It's just a thing about 335s, I think a lot of people will have noticed that too. The way I do it is from a D and then I go to a D chord and then go back through the chords. If a D major and an E major will work then you have a pretty good chance of the whole thing being in.
How do you adapt to other string instruments?
A while ago, somebody gave me a banjo, we found it in their attic, and they just said 'Do you want it?' It was quite nice, actually, and I took it to this big banjo place in Charing Cross Road, and they did it up. I got it back, and I got a book as well, and I got all the different tunings sorted out, and I found open tunings on that pretty good, like a country banjo, and I actually used it on a couple of numbers that we did, on albums and things. I got it all together, and then one day this person came around and said 'Oh, there's that banjo. Doesn't it look great?' and he took it back!
It's just happened again, somebody else has given me one in a terrible state — it's got no frets. They gave it to my mum, so I said to her 'Is he giving it to me or what?' and she said 'Oh yes, dear'.
But the one I have is fretless — intentionally — it's absolutely smooth.
Has it got a softer sound?
I don't know, at the moment it's only got a couple of strings. The skin's alright, the neck's pretty straight, I'll just get the strings for it and see what happens. I haven't tried it, but it's a bit sort of slidey, you just have to watch the dots on the side.
What's the weakest, your right or left hand?
My left, I guess.
So you're happy with the speed of your right?
Well, because I've always had to play rhythm as well as lead, in all the bands that I've been through, even before the Moodys, I was the only guitar player. I never really worked with a rhythm guitar player, so I always ended up having to fill that gap as well. That's why I developed a lot of right hand tricks to see me through. Different ways of picking and stuff like that.
In the meantime, it meant that I was trying to cover a lot of chords with the left hand. If you stop playing with them, when it comes to the time to do your solo, the middle drops out, because you stop doing rhythm.
Did you actually manage to develop a picking style with your right hand, using a plectrum and fingers as well to get a fuller sound.
I used a pick to make it sound like fingers, really picking and digging into all of the strings across the chord.
How do you manage to jam and play with two rhythm guitarists who do a hard set chord format under your lead breaks?
Well, if it's my song, I always like them to be doing exactly what I want them to. Mike and I always work that way because Mike has always played a lot of acoustic guitar and I always play acoustic guitar on his numbers. He used to stick exactly to the chords. I found it was really good, because we could double up on acoustics. With one person playing the exact straight chords, with the right shapes and inflections it left me free to also play the chord, but like a different inversion or to also put another couple of little slides in there as you go from chord to chord.
If you had to choose a number to play with someone that you'd never played with before, what would you pick?
I guess something by Buddy Holly. I started with him, learned all the solos, and he always has been my idol. I guess I would choose 'That'll be The Day' or something — just to get the guitar in first.
How good are you on keyboards?
Well, I was taught piano when I was six, for about a year. I remember, when I was a very small child, I used to like singing. I don't know why, I remember the first things I sang were hymns, the first things I used to get involved with that I really sang out and became aware of the sound of my voice. The piano lessons only served to put me right off the instrument. I was only six and I had to learn music, the mathematical side of it, before I could actually play, which was the wrong way round.
It was the mathematics of the music that really put me off. It put me right off the instrument for a long time and then I switched to guitar, and I never got into recording with it until I was always able to play all the chords I wanted to.
How did you get back to it after being very much a guitarist?
Well, I did it almost in a guitar type of fashion, where my right hand would be doing the rhythm and my left hand would be doing the bass, which meant that I was stuck on the root notes.
It's really interesting, how did you get back working on it after being away for so long? Did it come very quickly?
Well it only comes I think by working with rhythms. It's no good me saying to myself, 'Now, I've got two different things with this hand', you've just got to get your hands into a rhythm. Once I've got into a rhythm of doing things, once you can do that, you're away. That's how I got around the problem.
How do you describe your ability on piano now?
I'd love to be able to really play piano. I've got a Steinway that Decca gave me, for services rendered. It's beautiful — it was from their number three studio — they used it as a second piano. I asked them what was happening with it and they said 'We've got to get a new one soon' and they just gave it to me.
When you find a piano that suits you, that has the right touch and the right weight on the keys, that's half the battle. I had a Yamaha Grand, which was great for rock and roll, but I wasn't too good at that. I think being a guitar player you develop a lighter touch on piano, and it gets a bit painful to kind of hammer it. Eventually I got rid of the Yamaha and bought a small Bechstein, which is very soft, completely the other way. I was pretty happy with that, but then I had a chance for the Steinway. It's had so many great people playing it that I think you can really tell. It's all worn in exactly the right places!
Actually I've got a player piano as well, one you put the rolls in, and some of the rolls are actually made by some great composers.