For most modern music fans, the mere mention of Swinging London—the youth-driven cultural zeitgeist that took place across the Pond a half-century ago—usually inspires Austin Powers-like flashback visions of miniskirts and Nehru jackets, psychedelic-colored Rolls Royces, and hobnobbing pop stars. But surely that’s just a hagiographic dream, right? It couldn’t possibly have been as groovy as all that.
“Actually, it was exactly like that,” says John Lodge, who—as bassist and co-vocalist for the Moody Blues since 1966—had a VIP seat for the far-out, switched-on epoch that briefly made London the capital of cool. “It was pretty great. Music and fashion came together. There was Carnaby Street and King’s Road. The place was alive, and clubs were everywhere. You’d walk into the Speakeasy, and there’d be George Harrison and Paul McCartney at a table. Stevie Winwood would be there. The Stones would come around. The Moodies went there, too, of course.
Courtesy Rogers & Cowan
“Everyone wanted to play their new songs and albums,” Lodge continues. “I remember going to Chas Chandler’s apartment one night, and he played us the first Jimi Hendrix album. And I remember Mick Jagger having the first stereo system in his car; we couldn’t believe it. Each week it seemed as if there was something new going on, or one of the bands was the first to accomplish some new feat. It was a magical time.”
At age 72, Lodge has experienced a couple of firsts of his own lately. This past summer, as part of their 50th anniversary tour, the Moody Blues performed their classic 1967 album Days of Future Passed in its entirety onstage—somewhat surprisingly, they had never done so before. “I actually had to go back and listen to the album,” Lodge says. “Even a song like ‘(Evening) Time to Get Away,’ which I wrote, I had never played it since we recorded it. So the whole thing felt new to me.”
Lodge also completed his first-ever solo tour behind his second solo album, 10,000 Light Years Ago, which he’s now topped off with a DVD/CD titled John Lodge: Live From Birmingham—The 10,000 Light Years Ago Tour, recorded and filmed in his hometown. “I put out my first solo album, Natural Avenue, back in the ’70s, but I was never able to tour with it because I was always so busy with the Moodies. There’s a big difference between doing a Moody Blues show and my own concert. With the Moodies, Justin [Hayward] and I switch off on the singing, but for this, I had to do all the singing myself. I’ve got the bass parts down—I can do that all night. But it’s different when you’re the focal point for two hours. You have to pace the set a certain way.” He pauses, then adds with a laugh, “Now that I’ve done it, I quite like it. Perhaps you’ll see me do more of this in the future.”
Gordon Marshall, who toured with the Moody Blues for some time, was your drummer for your solo tour. What kind of relationship do you have as a rhythm section?
It’s really important for the drummer and the bass player to work together. They’re the pulse of the band, the driving force. Even if you’re doing a ballad like “Nights in White Satin,” you’ve got to put the energy behind it; it still has to have that backbeat. When I auditioned Gordon for the Moody Blues, as soon as he started playing, I knew he was the right person for me. He understands exactly what a drummer has to do to play with a bass player and a band. That’s why I wanted him on my album, as well.
I have my speaker situated right underneath the drum riser. I do that so Gordon can feel the bass pulse at all times. We’re really locked in.
You started on the guitar and then switched to bass.
That’s right. Music came to me very late. I was probably 11 years old when I saw The Girl Can’t Help It, and that changed everything for me. I had thought of being a footballer, but seeing that movie fixed all that. When I saw Little Richard and Gene Vincent, I thought, That’s it … I want to play guitar.
I started on this very cheap thing—it went for two pounds and ten shillings—but as I’d listen to jukeboxes, I noticed that all the songs had these rhythm parts that drove the music. It wasn’t the guitar; it was the piano playing by Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. And there was always something driving the songs along with the piano, and I knew it wasn’t a double bass. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then a group called the Treniers came to England—they’d been in The Girl Can’t Help It—and I went to see them in Birmingham. I watched them and I could see this guy playing what looked like a white Stratocaster. I looked closer and saw it had four strings. Then I realized what it was, and I thought, Where can I get one of those? I went to my music shop, and they had a bass called a Hofner President. It was a blonde semi-acoustic, and I thought, That’s it! So I bought that, and I learned all these riffs from Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino.
And then James Jamerson became a big influence on you.
Courtesy Rogers & Cowan
Definitely. I got into Motown and the Philly sound. I heard James Jamerson really driving those records, and I thought, The bass is the whole song; you don’t need anyone else. I started to learn all of Jamerson’s bass parts, and it was a revelation. You didn’t have to play the root notes. You can play non-root notes on the chords and change the whole picture of the song.
Unlike Jamerson, you decided to play with a pick.
I did, yes. I always liked the sound of a cello, and I wanted to combine that sound with the type of playing Jamerson did. For me, using a pick was the only way to do that. I needed that click for doing arpeggios on the bass. Songs like “Tuesday Afternoon” and “I’m Just a Singer” are a cross between a cello and Jamerson. Maybe other guys can get that with their fingers; I needed to use a pick.
What was it like when you saw all of these incredible bassists coming up, like John Entwistle and Noel Redding?
That, too, was remarkable. It’s a little strange, though, because for a while there were no bass players in England, at least nobody you’d hear about. We knew the people from America—Jamie Jamerson and Carol Kaye. I suppose we were all learning.
What about Paul McCartney?
He was learning at the same time as the rest of us. When I was in El Riot & the Rebels with Ray Thomas, [later] the flute player for the Moodies, we used to do a gig every week at this one venue, and one night the promoter said, “We’ve got a band that just recorded their first record, ‘Love Me Do.’ It was the Beatles. So that’s when I first saw them. Yeah, Paul started doing great things on the bass. I think he was learning, as we all were, from Carol Kaye and Pet Sounds and all the stuff from America. We all picked up on that stuff at the same time.
What was your first really good bass?
One day my music shop in Birmingham had a sign in the window: direct from the usa, and there it was—a Fender Precision. I rushed home to my father and said, “Dad, you’ve got to come and help me,” and he came back up to the music store and helped me get the bass. I still have it, and I’ve used it on nearly every single Moody Blues recording.
That’s the 1960 Precision, right?
Yes, 1960 Precision Bass, three-color. They added red to the sunburst, and it’s got a tortoiseshell pickguard.
In addition to your P-Bass, you also use a replica of a 1962 Jazz.
I record with the Precision a lot of the time, but onstage I like the Jazz Bass. It’s a Custom Shop model with a tortoiseshell pickguard and a brass nut. The pickups are active, and I love that in a live setting. I don’t want to be incredibly loud onstage, so I go from a Darkglass Vintage Ultra bass preamp into the PA. I usually use a Whirlwind A/B selector to send the signal to both amps from there. That setup works well with active pickups.
You never thought of putting active pickups in the P-Bass?
Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that. I don’t want to mess with my Precision; leave well enough alone. The Precision is beautiful for recording, and I’ll use the Jazz Bass for live. That works.
What’s the story with the crazy doubleneck you have? It’s half P-Bass/half Telecaster guitar.
That thing’s great, isn’t it? There are songs like “Isn’t Life Strange?” and “One More Time to Live” in which I play acoustic guitar and then, halfway through, I change to bass. So I said, “How can I do this? Can’t it be easier?” Rickenbacker had a doubleneck guitar and bass, so I bought one of those and played it onstage. Then Fender came to me and said, “Why are you playing that?” I said, “Because Fender doesn’t make one.” So they did! It’s really something else, and yes, it is as heavy as you might think. The thing weighs a ton.
You and drummer Graeme Edge joined the Moodies at the same time. Did you form an instant bond as a rhythm section?
Oh, yeah. Graeme was in another band called Gerry Levene & the Avengers. When Ray Thomas and I were in El Riot & the Rebels, we used to go see Graham play. I loved what he did with his snare and cymbals. He was like Keith Moon a bit—he’d play across the tempo, adding a new dimension to the sound. He didn’t always play the off-beat, which sort of let the other instruments breathe. I liked that, and we locked in right away. It seemed like no matter what I threw at him, he could play it, and vice versa.
One of your first songs for the band, “Ride My See-Saw,” has a very busy bass part. Did you ever think of simplifying it to make it easier to sing?
Not really. I don’t think you write stuff you can’t pull off. Actually, I wrote “Ride My See-Saw” on a Harmony acoustic guitar, and then I worked out the bass part later as I sang over it. It’s exactly the same with “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band).” I wrote that on the Harmony and then worked out the bass part with the chord sequence. See, I learned to sing while playing the bass, so I kind of think of them as one thing.
Even though “I’m Just a Singer” is a blazing rocker, the bass part is funky. Was there a little Jamerson coming through there?
Oh, I think so. His style was a big part of what I was doing, but it also goes back to the early rock & roll that I liked. The left hand of those piano players drove the music. The song was the bass part; you can sing the bass. Take away the bass lines and the tunes are quite empty.
In 1972, “I’m Just a Singer” battled the rerelease of “Nights in White Satin” on the charts. Was that frustrating, or was it all just fabulous?
It was all fabulous. I wasn’t miffed at all. The Moodies used to sit around this table and play songs we’d just written; everybody had their own input into the songs, and by the end the day, it seemed as if the songs belonged to the band. When “Nights” was up there with “Singer,” I never thought about that; I only thought, “It’s amazing. We’ve got two Moody Blues singles in the Top Five. We’ve got two Moody Blues albums in the Top Five. This is fantastic!” Can you get better than that?
The Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition [2017, UMe]; John Lodge, 10,000 Light Years Ago [2015, Esoteric Antenna]
Basses 1960 Fender Precision Bass, Fender Custom Shop 1962 replica Jazz Bass
Amps Two Ampeg SVT4PRO 300-watt heads, Ampeg PN410PRO Nero cabinet, Ampeg PN115HLF cabinet
Effects, etc. Darkglass Electronics Vintale Ultra preamp, Korg tuner, Shure ULX wireless
Strings GHS Progressives (PRB .050, .075, .085, PRR .106)