I’ve always loved the Moody Blues. In the seventies we had a stereo system set up in the dining room that was used by several family members – by our dad for his Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, and Roger Miller 8 tracks and by all of us kids for our rock and roll addictions, in those days on 8 track and vinyl. A lot of the vinyl had been left by the older sibs, Jack and Monica, now out of the house, and included some of my favorite selections – Chicago Transit Authority, pretty much all of the Doors studio records, Beatles, Stones, and scores of others. Joel’s memory may say different, but I remember one of these albums being Days of Future Passed, the Moody Blues “first” album (there was actually at least one other that preceded Days, with a song called Go Now, that would go on to become a number one hit in England.
I don’t know how Joel caught the Moody bug. Maybe it was from hearing Days in our record stack, but I suspect it had something to do with the band’s soaring space age music, lyrical themes, and album art. It just appealed to him, and I loved it, too. He faithfully built on Days by acquiring each record as it was released, and by 1971 we had all seven original “classic Moody Blues” records: Days of Future Passed, In Search of the Lost Chord, On the Threshold of a Dream, To Our Children’s Children’s Children, A Question of Balance, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, and Seventh Sojourn. We got to know each band member, too, as though they were close friends: Justin Hayward, lead guitar, John Lodge, bass, Ray Thomas, flute and harmonica, Graeme Edge, drums, and Mike Pinder, keyboards. Each was his own man: Hayward was simply awesome (my only gripe was that, as fantastic as he was on lead guitar, didn’t jam out often enough, which admittedly wasn’t really the Moodies “sound”); Lodge was capable of writing downright genius material as well as something that made one wonder why they’d let him in the band, although he didn’t really get sickly sweet and sentimental until after Seventh Sojourn; Thomas in some ways contributing the most creative, interesting material, Edge kicking ass on drums and contributing the several epic poems sprinkled throughout the albumtry; and Pinder, no doubt the spiritual father of the group, seriously hovering above the others on his own astral plane.
I of course had my favorite Moody tunes, among them Tuesday Afternoon, Gypsy, Eternity Road, It’s Up to You, And the Tide Rushes In, How Is It (We Are Here), When You’re a Free Man. Many of these happened to be Justin Hayward compositions, so when I was driving through downtown State College yesterday to pick up my repaired amp from Rainbow Music, I did a double take when I saw the marquis at the State Theatre: “Justin Hayward 8 PM”. On one hand, I was grateful to have seen the sign and soon after acquired a ticket. On the other, a little disconcerted at how close I had come to missing it – if I hadn’t driven by I surely would have. This reminded me of 1990 when I missed Savoy Brown play at the Brick House. Somehow, I never seem to miss the announcements for the likes of Billy Joel (never seem to attend the shows, either…).
I purposely sat deep in the balcony so I wasn’t blown away by the sound. I hate loud music, it makes my ears hurt, like when Big Head Todd played at the State Theatre a few years ago. The three piece band – Justin, another guitarist, and a keyboard player – emerged on the stage. I was alarmed to note the absence of a drum set. And a bunch of acoustic-electric guitars. Hmm, acoustic show? That would be a bummer. How’s Justin going to rock out on an acoustic guitar? To be fair, there was one electric guitar visible, but I was still concerned about the lack of drums.
I need not have worried. It turned out indeed to be a quasi acoustic show, but excellent nonetheless. The lead guitarist was awesome, especially on Nights In White Satin, on which he applied kind of a flamenco style (see link). It was beautiful, an awesome remake of the original. Yeah sure, I would have preferred Justin to have been playing his signature leads, holding a Strat or whatever the hell he played in the Moodies, but I’m adaptable. The keyboard player played the hell out of the shaker egg, tambourine, backup vocals, and keyboards, making it sound like a mellotron in all the right places. Mike Pinder would have been proud.
Justin was amazing in all respects. Still tall and thin, same hair as usual, same incredible vocals. Didn’t seem to have lost much as far as range. Started out with Tuesday Afternoon and ran through a combination of classic tunes and newer songs. I’m not very familiar with his or the Moodies music in general after Octave, Long Distance Voyager, and The Present. He did a lot of songs from more recent albums, including a few from Spirits of the Western Sky, perhaps his latest. I loved almost all of them. At one point I was tempted to yell out Question. He must have caught the vibe, for he proceeded to play it soon after I thought it. As far as the classic tunes, he also played Watching and Waiting (closest I came to crying), Never Comes the Day, and Lovely To See You.
Justin was also a storyteller. His stories really added spice to the music. He talked about growing up in Swindon in western England with his late brother. It sounds like they were close, like Joel and me, in fact. I never would have guessed it, but his hero was Buddy Holly. He talked about opening shows in the sixties for Canned Heat and Cream. He spoke of how he met the other band members. I think he said he was in a record store in Swindon, already a professional musician playing with some band or other, when a call came through to the store from…Mike Pinder. He had heard Justin’s songs and wanted to get together. Justin credited Mike with giving his songs the direction they needed. He next met Ray, then Graeme, then John, or something like that.
Acoustic show or electric, searing lead on Higher and Higher or maybe not, I’d go see Justin Hayward again and would recommend him to anyone. I’ve missed a lot of amazing musicians along the way, but I didn’t miss this one.