“You can’t just sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write a song.’ You’ve got to be in a creative mood,” says John Lodge, legendary bassist of the Moody Blues, as he discussed his latest solo CD and DVD, Live From Birmingham, and his current tour, which comes to The Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., Oct. 15, and The City Winery in New York, Oct. 17.
Live From Birmingham follows Lodge’s second solo album, 10,000 Light Years Ago, which was released in 2015. Lodge grew up in Birmingham, England, and the album was recorded at Birmingham Town Hall, which holds fond memories for him and had a profound impact on his career.
Town Hall is “a very special, iconic venue for anybody in Birmingham,” Lodge said. “Growing up as teenagers, to get a gig there was unbelievable because they used to do a thing called ‘all-nighters’: On a Saturday night into Sunday, all of the bands from Birmingham used to try and get a booking there, because you played all night.
“They also had all of the great British and American rockers there. Buddy Holly was my absolute hero. He showed me the way to write songs and everything else; he was just brilliant. I managed to see him: I had tickets in the front row of Birmingham Town Hall. And I said to my agent that when I finished my tour, I wanted to record the concert, release it on 180 gram and vinyl as a double album sleeve and I wanted to release it as a DVD. So it completed the circle for me because there’s a young Johnny Lodge looking down at Buddy Holly, and hopefully there’s a new young musician, perhaps, looking at me and carrying the music on.”
The night this footage was shot turned out to be more than just a concert for Lodge, as not only was he deeply touched by the reception but also by the attendance of some old friends, as well: members of his first band.
“When I was learning to play guitar, I met Ray Thomas,” he started, with reverence. “Ray had a good voice but he didn’t play any instruments, but we formed a band anyway called El Riot & the Rebels, and we used to wear Mexican outfits. Can you believe that? It was a great time; we were together for four years. Mike Pinder had joined us for a short period of time as well … When I did the Birmingham Town Hall concert, the whole band turned up. The two guitarists turned up, the drummer would’ve been there but unfortunately he had passed away, but his family came along. So the whole band was there and that was really, really cool, and Ray Thomas was there even though he wasn’t well. Special moments, indeed.” (Thomas and Pinder were two of The Moody Blues’ co-founders; Thomas died in January 2018.)
With Live From Birmingham already released, Lodge continues to hit the road and has also dropped a single that is available as a free download.
“We released the ‘Get Me Out of Here’ single from the live album because I really like it; it’s got a lot of energy on the track. We released it as a free download so people can actually download it, listen to it and see if they like what John Lodge is up to these days. And we’ve had a really good strong response to it, so I’m really pleased.”
Joining him on tour is a very talented supporting cast, one of which he has worked with before and others he has come to know as the group worked months in advance to put it all together.
“(Keyboardist) Alan Hewitt, who I’ve known for years, is with me. He used to write the songs for a band called Warrant and I’ve known him since the ’80s. We’ve got Billy (Ashbaugh) the drummer, a guitarist called Duffy (King) out of Detroit and a cellist and slide guitar player who are also out of Detroit. I’ve got a very American band and we rehearsed through the summer and, of course, we did some rehearsing in Nashville before the tour started.”
Today’s recording technology often created heated discussions about the benefits of analog versus digital. Lodge feels that he has found a way to use technology yet keep things just old school-style enough to meet his needs and tastes; keeping his music warm and inviting as opposed to some of the more sterile sounds of today.
“I found a way of recording that I really like; it takes the mundane out of recording. Recording itself is brilliant, I love it, but the waiting time and the travel time and everything else just takes the energy out of it. My album … I realized that all of the people that I wanted to work with owned their own studios. So I just put it together by files; I put the basic track down, sent it to my keyboard player Alan and he worked his magic by putting the basic keyboards on it, and then I sent it to my drummer and he went into his studio when he was ready and put the drums on. So then we went backward and forward listening to the drums, checking it and changing it, and then we eventually sent it to Chris Spedding, my guitarist. and I asked him, when he wasn’t touring, if he would put the tracks on, in his studio, which he did. And then all of the files came to me, I booked a studio for 24 hours and put all of the final bass parts, vocals and acoustic guitars on, and sort of put it together through analog machines, to get what I think was the right sound for the album.”
How about the Moody Blues? Will there be any new recordings in the future with any of the remaining members? Lodge says that the band leaves that door ajar but that there is nothing in the works at the moment.
“I’m not too sure whether that will really happen, because as you know, the record industry has changed so much. You really need a mentor; you need a music man who really wants you to go make a record. We’ve always had great music men that we could play our music for. The original guy was Sir Edward Lewis, who started the Decca Record Company throughout the world. But in America, there’s a wonderful man out of New York called Walt Maguire, and for 25 years he was the person that we went to all the while: ‘Listen, we’ve got this new song. Listen to this.’ … So if you find a record man who comes and says, ‘I wish the Moody Blues would make another album,’ we’ll think about, it I’m sure.”
When one attends a Lodge concert, there is an expectation to hear some Moody Blues music. Lodge says he will feature some of the band’s deeper tracks and a few “special” offerings, too.
“I’m going to be doing some Moodys songs as well, songs that I have always wanted to play like, ‘Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)’ and “Isn’t Life Strange,” but it also gives me the opportunity to do some Moody Blues songs that we don’t do onstage; things like, ‘[Candle of Life’ and songs from (the 1975 Justin Hayward/John Lodge album) Blue Jays like ‘Saved by the Music,’ where I can get some audience participation. On this tour, I’m going to do something special because we lost Ray this year, and he and I have been friends and working together since I was 15. So I want to play a song as a tribute to Ray on this tour, because we’ll never play it as the Moody Blues. … I’m also going to play a song of Mike’s because he was an integral part of my life, as well. We were all Moody Blues together and I don’t want those songs not to be heard again live onstage, so that’s why I’ll be doing those.”
Besides touring and recording, the future holds some fun for this bass master as he will be taking to the high seas, but not on a Moody Blues Cruise this time.
“I’m joining Yes on Cruise to the Edge and heading down to Cozumel in Mexico, so anybody who has not been on a cruise, come along and join me and join Yes and all of the other prog rock bands. It’s a great time.”
For more about Lodge, or to buy tickets for either show, visit johnlodge.com.