Moody Blues guitarist goes All The Way
By Gary Graff
December 23, 2016
The Moody Blues aren’t always thought of in terms of guitar, but it’s certainly there. Just check out tracks such as “Ride My See-Saw,” “The Story In Your Eyes,” “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)” and “The Voice” for some playing that’s genuinely ripping. The guy with the guitar, Justin Hayward, is a study in taste, a devotee of the likes of Buddy Holly and Hank Marvin who found his own style slipping twixt lead and rhythm and picking just the right spots for his solos. The Moodys haven’t released a new album since 2003 but remain an active touring concern, while in the studio Hayward has focused on solo work that includes 2013’s sweeping Spirits Of The Western Sky and the new compilation All The Way — which includes, among other tracks, the track “Blue Guitar” that he recorded with 10cc during the early 70s. Despite Hall of Fame caliber credentials (more on THAT later), Hayward is nevertheless an enthusiastic conversant when it comes to talking about guitar, and music in general…
FGPO: So in compiling All The Way does it feel like your life flashing before your eyes?
Hayward: Well, it was quite an interesting project. It didn’t start with me, but I was glad to be a part of it in the end. It was the [record company’s] idea, and I think the motive was chiefly to try and preserve some of these things that had been deleted. But we discovered quite a lot of interesting things, and the biggest one was the original mix by Eric Stewart of “Blue Guitar” that I thought was lost and gone forever. A roadie of mine found it under a number in a tape storage; actually he sent me the tape and there were three things on it, all written by me and recorded with 10cc and they just had numbers, and the first thing we played was the original stereo mix by Eric of “Blue Guitar.” So that was the most valuable and exciting thing.
FGPO: All The Way celebrates your solo work. How do you balance or separate that from your identity in the Moody Blues?
Hayward: Well, one has allowed me to do the other. I think in truth the Moodys’ recording since the 1980s have for me been solo recordings that have been included on a Moodys album, often myself or Graeme [Edge], say, where I’ve asked him to overlay the drum track on a track that I’ve programmed and he’s the only other guy playing on it. That’s just the way technology has gone; I record so many things at home and then I take them to a little studio in Nice [France] and polish them up a little bit. That’s the way things have gone for the last 20, almost 30 years now.
FGPO: You’re not always mentioned in the pantheon of guitar heroes, but you’re certainly not chopped liver in that department, either. How did you come to guitar in the first place?
Hayward: I came from a family with a very strong faith. Both of my parents were teachers. It was a very different world when I came to the Moodys, actually; I’m from quite a different background to the other four guys. So I would listen to music as a child, from four or five years old, from what’s called the English hymnal and traditional songs of the Anglican church. The melodies and the words and some of the beautiful language really intrigued me. My parents know I was musical and I pressed them for a guitar; they bought me a ukulele, which I learned how to play quite quickly from a book and I still pressed them for a guitar. So when I was 10 they got me a guitar; I could kind of already play it, and then it was just a question of finding enough kids from school who would form a little group.
FGPO: So what were those like?
Hayward: Oh, I am the group member from hell in terms of bossing people around. [laughs] So, y’know, it was always a thing of mine to be in a good group all the time I was at school. So from 10 onwards I had decent guitars, and when I was 15 I was earning enough money semi-pro to buy a [Gibson] 335 and a Vox amp. In Swindon, where I come from, there was quite a good, vibrant live music scene ’cause there wasn’t much to do. So there was a lot of work for the semi-pro bands I was in.
FGPO: Who were your main sources and influences as you developed your style?
Hayward: There’s a guy named Vic Flick who became an acquaintance of mine; I wrote the foreward to his book, actually. He played with the John Barry 7 and he also played the Bond theme as well, the original Bond theme. Vic was a great influence on me, and he was the one image we held in the British scene of a great guitar player. And Buddy Holly; I focused my whole life when I saw Buddy for the first time, or when I heard him. And Bruce [Welch] and Hank [Marvin, both of the Shadows] in Britain were real heroes; I met Bruce after I left school and we’ve been really firm friends and still see each other regularly, just socially. And then the Beatles came along and changed everything, didn’t they. Guitar playing came from a different angle with all of those Liverpool and Manchester groups.
FGPO: Your association with Eric Stewart was important, too.
Hayward: Oh yes. He was one of my first friends when I came to London. He was in a group called Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders and we became very close, and then he supported [the Moody Blues] actually when he formed a group called Hot Legs and then went on to be 10cc. As guitar friends go, he’s probably been the closest to me.
FGPO: You have some memorable solos, especially in the Moodys material. How do you approach that aspect of your playing?
Hayward: I suppose it’s always just based on an interesting melody. I don’t think anybody ever comes to a gig to watch my left hand or look at my style of guitar playing. My red 335 guitar is more famous than I am; it’s got it’s own collector’s card! [laughs.]
FGPO: Tone seems to be a real key to what you do.
Hayward: I knew I was never going to be one with a brilliant kind of technique, but the sound of it was always very important. The engineer at Decca, Derek Varnals, he and I together worked on getting the sound on those first seven [Moody Blues] albums, and you can see that sound develop from being just a Telecaster stuck through an AC30 and being the 335 and having nice compression and nice echoes around it and the way that we recorded it. And Derek and [producer] Tony Clarke sort of educated me, or we all educated each other, about how to record a guitar and it always worked better in the Moodys songs not to have a solo about technique but about melody falling into the sort of cracks between the chords.
FGPO: Speaking of the Moodys, another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating season has gone by without the group getting in. You have some fans who are pretty adamant about this. How do you feel?
Hayward: It’s not important to me. I’m a committed European. I live in Europe, and there’s not a great respect for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, really. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, really; if it’s ever mentioned, which is rarely ever, it’s more like: ‘Why should they HAVE a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame?’ So it doesn’t impact my life at all. It’s very important for Moody Blues fans here in America, especially. I think it would be really difficult for the board of the rock and Roll Hall of Fame to include us now because there’s been so much pressure from fans. I’m not saying that hasn’t helped — but maybe I AM saying that hasn’t helped. I just can’t see it, to be quite honest. I think it’s too late now.
FGPO: The Moodys haven’t done a new album since December in 2003. Is the group done as a recording entity?
Hayward: That’s a question, isn’t it? [chuckles] The fact is I think the three of us are enjoying our catalog and we’re enjoying playing things that we only worked on for two or three days in the studio and only listened to a few times before we moved on, and so we’re lucky enough to be interested in that and to enjoy playing that music.
FGPO: Does it in a way not matter anymore? You have that substantial catalog, and it’s clearly what the fans want to hear. So the pressure’s off in a way.
Hayward: I do know what you mean. That’s right. The Moody Blues is a precious memory to me, and I’m still stuck with the lineup and in awe of the lineup that we were on those first seven albums, and the fact is those will be the classic albums and I have to refer everything back to that. Is it as good as that? Is it a foot forward or a step back? We did make several albums there in the sort of late 80s — not the stuff with “Wildest Dreams” and the two albums after that, Sur la Mer and The Other Side Of Life, there were three albums that were really big. But after that you start to think you’re releasing stuff and, well, who’s actually paying attention now or cares about it? It was a bit dispiriting that the albums after that, Keys To The Kingdom and Strange Times and [December] didn’t do what we felt they should. So you just think: “Why even bother…”
FGPO: So what are you up to on your own now?
Hayward: You know, I don’t know what the future holds. I might become just an ordinary human being; this life is beginning to get to me. I am doing a completely different project in December and January for somebody else, and music will always be such a large part of my life and I’m sure the solo things will continue. But I want to do it in my own time, when I think it’s worthwhile. I want it to come naturally and to come because there’s a desire and a need to do that, not for any kind of egotistical or commercial reasons. And I’ve got a lot of places that I need to go, and I do have a life outside the band — and that’ll stay outside the band or even the music. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to share them with you. [laughs.]