John Lodge: Making A Solo Sojourn

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John Lodge (Photo by Dana Grubb)

Moody Blues bassist hits the road with side project

This year marks the half-century anniversary of On the Threshold Of a Dream, the fourth Moody Blues solo album. The last few years have seen a number of career highlights popping up for the beloved UK prog-rock band. Two years ago marked the 50th anniversary of Days of Future Passed, the game-changing concept album that featured a song cycle aided by the London Festival Orchestra whose plotline took place over the course of a day. And last year saw the group’s belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For John Lodge, the group’s bass player, it’s a welcome ride that’s found him staying busy outside the band with his own solo efforts. He’s currently on the road supporting 2015’s 10,000 Light Years Ago, a project that proved so popular that it was followed up by 2017’s Live From Birmingham: The 10,000 Light Years Tour concert album. The interesting footnote to his 2015 recording was that this sophomore bow came 38 years after his solo debut, 1977’s Natural Avenue. As to the inspiration for him to return to the studio, it was something as simple as the resurgence of an old recording format.

“I wanted to get involved and make an album because vinyl was, and still is, making a really good comeback. I [wanted to] make an album and release it on a double-gatefold sleeve and 180-gram vinyl and get that full-frequency sound back,” he explained. “So I sat down and wrote the songs and one of them was a song called ‘Simply Magic.’ I thought it sounded like a Moody Blues song. I thought I better ring [Moodys band mate] Ray Thomas up, because he lived right around the corner from me, about a mile away. I rang him up and said that I’d written this song and I’d love to have him play flute on it. So I went around to his house and while we were recording, Ray said we should get [ex-Moody Blues keyboardist] Mike [Pindar] to play Mellotron. I thought it was a great idea, so I got in touch with Mike, who I hadn’t worked with in years. But we’ve kept in touch over time, and I asked if he’d play Mellotron and he said, ‘Of course, I’d love to.’ So I sent him the files and he put the Mellotron on, and he sort of completed a circle for me.”

While the status of The Moody Blues is currently dormant as both Lodge and vocalist Justin Hayward are touring solo, fans will still get a taste of material from the former as part of his current setlist that includes “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” “Gemini Dream” and “Ride My See Saw.” The show will also serve as a nod to the late Thomas, the bass player’s childhood friend who passed away on Jan. 4 of last year, a few months before the Moody Blues were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“I’m a Moody Blue and I’ll always be a Moody Blue really. So I’ll be playing some of my Moody Blues songs and songs from my album 10,000 Light Years Ago, along with a couple of songs that the Moody Blues will never play again,” Lodge said. “Ray Thomas was my best friend in the Moodys. We grew up together since we were 15. Unfortunately, Ray passed away and so I’m going to do a song of his on stage called ‘Legend Of the Mind,’ because I want to keep his music alive. I was an integral part of making that song work for Ray, so I’m really pleased to be doing that. And I’m going to be doing a song of Mike Pinder’s as well called ‘The Sunset’ from Days of Future Passed. Hopefully, it’s going to be a set of songs that will take the audience on an emotional journey through the Moody Blues and through John Lodge.”

With 50 years-plus of show business experience under his belt, the septuagenarian rocker remains very humble and still lights up when talking about his early days growing up in Birmingham. His earliest memories revolve around swinging by a local cafe on his way to school and pumping coins into a Rock-Ola jukebox and hearing the songs of his early rock and roll heroes. But between the ages of 12 and 14, it was getting to see the likes of Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vince, Eddie Cochrane and his personal hero, Buddy Holly, play live that left an indelible impression on his mind.

The Moody Blues circa 1970 (John Lodge, far right)

“Hearing those songs on the jukebox sort of set me up for the day. It was an exciting period of time and what motivated me to become a bass player,” he explained. “I was listening to all these rock and roll records and thinking to myself, ‘What is it that’s giving me all this excitement and the energy?’ I realized it was the left-hand side of the piano—the boogie part of the piano. I wasn’t listening to the incredible guitar playing or the drums. I was listening to that left-hand part of the boogie. I had a guitar and being self-taught at the time, I was just learning all the boogie parts on the bottom four strings of my guitar, because there were no bass guitars in Birmingham at that time. So I was learning all the boogie parts, and it completely intrigued me—the drive and by listening to the bass part, you could actually sing the song. You didn’t need the chords or the top parts of the song. It was the bass part for me, and that’s really one of my first earliest musical moments.”

Last year’s induction of the Moody Blues into the Roll Hall of Fame found the ever-modest Brit feeling even more touched by the honor.

“On the day when we were at the Hall of Fame, I suddenly realized that my heroes were in there. I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m standing next to Buddy Holly in the Hall of Fame.’ And there’s this young kid from Birmingham who was 13, me, who actually saw Buddy Holly on stage at Birmingham Town Hall,” he said with a pause. “There’s me looking at Buddy Holly on stage—this incredible person who’d written all these songs and was performing them and I’m watching him. He’s my total hero and now to suddenly be able to say in a strange way that I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with Buddy Holly at the Hall of Fame. It was an amazing and fantastic experience. I think what sort of got to me was that when they announced that we were going to be nominated and the fan vote started, it got up to one million people. It was mind-blowing, belittling and humbling at the same time.”

He continued, “All those people taking the effort and time to vote. I realized that it started to build up there. And I realized the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was special, but I didn’t realize how special it was until that day. The other thing is that it’s always very special to be honored in a country which isn’t yours. I’m from England, but to be honored in America is just fantastic. I want to thank everyone who did that for us and for me.”

John Lodge will be appearing on Feb. 14 at Suffolk Theater, 118 E. Main St. Riverhead. For more information, visit www.suffolktheater.com or call 631-627-4343. 

John Lodge shares his favorite Moody Blues albums:

John Lodge’s Moody Blues Faves

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