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Moody Blues have stayed true to their own songs for 50 years

How do you follow an album so innovative it helped define the album itself, as something beyond a random collection of songs?

Hmm. How about covering “Over the Rainbow”?

There’s no doubt Justin Hayward’s voice would do justice to Harold Arlen’s “Oz” classic. But if the Moody Blues hadn’t laughed off an A&R man 49 years ago, they might not be still around to play five shows at The Venetian, Friday through Oct. 15.

John Lodge says he will “always remember” that suggestion, which came in the wake of “Days of Future Passed.”

Released months after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967, the lush, connected song cycle helped define the terms “concept album,” “progressive rock” and — key to the Moodies’ future — marrying a rock band and an orchestra.

And yet, the Decca A&R man, “whom we’d had nothing to do with at all, suddenly jumped on the bandwagon as though it was his idea,” Lodge recalls. “He came to us and said, ‘I’ll tell you what you need to do now. You need to record ‘Over the Rainbow’… and that’s the last we spoke to him.”

Their manager called Decca’s president, Sir Edward Lewis, and asked him, “Please leave my boys alone,” Lodge recalls. “We know what we want to do, and for good or bad, it’s going to be Moody Blues music nonstop.”

And that’s what it has been. From top-10 singles (“The Voice,” “Your Wildest Dreams”) to forgotten cuts from near-forgotten albums (“Sur la Mer,” “Keys of the Kingdom”), one thing remained consistent.

“The secret of the Moodies is we’ve always only ever recorded our own songs. Then the music becomes very, very personal,” Lodge explains. “You take it far more on board, honestly, to make sure when you perform those songs of the night that they’re exactly how you want them to be. Because they’re yours, they’re no one else’s.

“Its our songs, it’s our music, and every night we want to do it exactly right.”

Singer-bassist Lodge, 71, drummer Graeme Edge, 75 and lead singer Hayward, who turns 70 on Oct. 14, carry on as three of five original members of the British band that will mark the 50th anniversary of “Days” next year.

The Moodies are a longtime presence in Las Vegas; they started playing Caesars Palace back in 1992. Along with a venture “into the red hills” and some golf, Lodge says he and his bandmates will use their stay at The Venetian to plot out next year.

Lodge says he would “really would like to do a new version (of “Days”) and actually go on the road and perform it with an orchestra.” Perhaps a set of classics in the first half, and then the album straight through after an intermission.

The album, stepping through this band’s “day in the life,” connected its lushly arranged songs with symphonic passages, building to what remains the Moodies’ signature song, “Nights in White Satin.”

Lodge penned more of the band’s rocking cuts (“Ride My See-Saw,” “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band”). But he explains why a band with “Blues” in its name wasn’t overtly influenced by the blues — at least in the obsessive manner of the Rolling Stones or Yardbirds.

“From the blues point of view, we’d never been to America,” he says. “I don’t know you can equate playing the blues if you’d … never been to Memphis, never been to the Delta.

“To be in England playing the blues it just means you’d be, what’s the word? A facsimile really. It wasn’t from an inner you.”

But classical music was more in his DNA.


 

“When I was growing up, 8 years of age at my school, we used to have what was called a quiet period in the afternoon. The teacher used to make us sit down in the hall and he’d play a record of classical music. Now I never thought that was going into me; I just thought it was to maybe make me go to sleep, so the teacher could have a couple of hours to himself without children running around all over the place.

“But obviously the harmonies and the harmonics obviously got into my psyche somehow,” he says.

“When rock and roll came and took me by surprise and took over me, and I started listening to all the riffs, the rock and roll riffs, I suddenly realized some of the rock and roll riffs were so far away from classical music that you could actually join them both together, like a circle really. One was so far left and one was so far right, they met again.”

The Venetian shows come after Hayward and Lodge toured separately to promote solo albums: “Spirits of the Western Sky” for Hayward and “10,000 Light Years Ago” for Lodge. As for a new Moodies album?

If Lodge doesn’t miss that pesky A&R guy from 1968, he at least misses having a record company pay attention.

“I think if a record company were to come chasing us, that would be the difference. You’d know then there was a music man behind there who really wants to do it,” he says.

“You have to have people who have faith and believe in you to make a new record, because when you write a song and record it, you are giving a part of you. If I’m going to write a song and record it, I hope people listen to it, or have the opportunity to listen to it.”

But one thing he’s learned with the Moody Blues? “Things seem to happen at the right time. You just have to wait.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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