Moody Blues bassist speaks on new album, cruise
By David Sands
September 23, 2015
John Lodge may have famously declared that he’s “just a singer in a rock and roll band,” but his legions of fans know he’s a whole lot more than that.
To start with, the band he sings with is The Moody Blues, a group of musical trailblazers that helped pave the way for prog rock with their thought-provoking lyrics and distinctive blend of classical-inspired rock and roll. They’ve been wildly popular too, selling more than 70 million albums since their inception in the 1960s.
Lodge joined the band in 1965, after getting his feet wet in the Birmingham, England, music scene. His contributions to the group, however, have always been far more than just providing vocals. He’s also an accomplished songwriter and a top-notch musician, known for his melodic bass playing, as well as occasional forays on guitar and cello.
As a composer and lyricist, he’s responsible for some of The Moody Blues’ most popular tunes, including “Ride My See-Saw,” “Eyes Of A Child,” “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone” and, of course, “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band),” which won him an ASCAP songwriting award. He’s also earned two Ivor Novello Awards for his contributions to British music.
Outside of The Moody Blues, his work has been eclectic, to say the least. He’s recorded albums with David Bowie and Timothy Leary; composed music for jazz singer Sarah Vaughn, psych rockers Bongwater and the heavy metal group Saxon; produced several rock albums for Trapeze; performed at Live Aid with his Moodies bandmate Justin Hayward; and played in all-star bands with Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley.
On top of all that, the bassist has also recorded two solo albums and a side project called Blue Jays with Hayward.
Now 70 years old, Lodge remains quite active as both a creator and performer. His latest solo effort, 10,000 Light Years Ago, just came out this May and has been garnering enthusiastic reviews. He also wrapped up a 27-date tour with the Moodies this spring and plans to perform on The Moody Blues third cruise this coming February. FBPO’s Jon Liebman recently got a hold of the prolific bassist and songwriter to find out more about his new album, upcoming cruise and other topics, including his gear of choice.
“I called the album 10,000 Light Years Ago, because 10,000 light years is a distance not a time,” he told For Bass Player’s Only. “I wanted to write about who I am today, how I got here and what makes me tick, really.”
In a track called “Those Days in Birmingham,” he reflects on his early hometown rock and roll experiences, including buying his first guitar in 1959.
“That’s where I bought my first Fender Precision bass guitar. Three months before that, I didn’t know what a Fender Precision bass was. I’d never ever seen one, and they were not available at all in England.”
Asked about his influences, Lodge admits he didn’t really know of any bass players back then. In fact, he began educating himself by listening to records and trying to pick out the bass parts.
“What intrigued me out of everything were all the riffs, and most, of course, came from piano riffs: Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and Fats Domino. They’re all left-hand-side boogie, so I was learning all those boogie parts on bass.”
Later on Lodge discovered Motown’s James Jamerson, whose performances he used to scrutinize when he visited England with Diana Ross.
“I used to watch him and try to see what he was doing. That’s how I learned my bass really,” Lodge says.
During the interview, the bass player also touched on his equipment preferences. Amazingly, Lodge still records with his very first Fender Precision bass, although it definitely stays home when he hits the road.
“What I play on stage now is a Fender Jazz bass,” he says. “It’s basically a replica from 1963, but I’ve got all the electronics on it. The Fender custom shop put it all together for me and, to be honest, it works better on stage because the consistency of the sound coming off it—because of the electronics—really helps my sound guy.”
When it comes to strings, Lodge makes sure to stick with GHS.
“I used to use Fender strings and then Rotosound, and then I found GHS strings. And I really like them,” he said. “The sound seems to be right, and they very rarely break on stage. They keep together.”
The bassist handles his amplification needs with two 300-watt valve Ampeg amp heads and another 300-watt solid state Ampeg he brings along for backup. His cabinets, a 4×10 and a 15-inch, are Ampeg as well. They sit under the group’s drummer during performances.
The Moody Blues Cruise III sets sail next year from Key West on February 26 and winds down on March 1. Lodge is looking forward to this year’s voyage, which will also feature performances by the Zombies, Christopher Cross, Rare Earth and other artists.
“It really is an electric atmosphere,” he says. “There’s something very special about walking around the deck at midnight under a dark Caribbean sky with the stars and the moon and then music playing across the water.”
“It’s almost like a festival atmosphere with like 3,000 people,” he continues. “Everyone’s there to go be immersed in music.”
The bass player describes the cruise’s crowd as a mix of die-hards, younger fans and older music lovers who grew up listening to the band, as well as a few folks who just really love cruises.
The Moody Blues—which now consists of Lodge on bass, Justin Hayward on lead vocals and guitar and Graeme Edge on drums—will be performing two full shows on the trip. They’ll be holding a Q&A session too, which will give audience members a chance to ask the band questions and will feature a couple acoustic songs. Lodge, who has his own wine label called Krisemma, will also be hosting a wine tasting event in conjunction with the ship’s sommelier. For that event he plans to bring along his own guitars and play several songs from 10,000 Light Years Ago.
As for what’s next, Lodge is serious about promoting the new solo album and is currently assembling a crew of musicians to go out on the road. Beyond that, he tells FBPO he’s really interested in playing more festivals.
“I like the atmosphere of festivals,” he says. “I like seeing all the other artists as well. We’re all part of it, and it’s great to be part of something that’s bigger!”
10,000 Light Years Ago is available here:
10,000 Light Years Ago
John Lodge recruits Moody Blues bandmates for solo release
Also of interest:
Cruise To The Edge to Honor Chris Squire