Justin Hayward Shares His Songwriting Process

Song writing is a mysterious art and I tend not to analyse it too much. For me, I have to put my mind to it, make the time to be with my instruments and enjoy them. Something will come out of that joy.

Often I start by just playing for pleasure then listen for a phrase, or a line of music to move me.  It’s often a long process and sometimes can take months for something to resolve itself into the right piece of music that works as a piece that I ‘feel’ from beginning to end.  It’s joyous hard work!

The lyrics have to come ‘from the heart’ – that’s all I know about that. I have to mean it – and it has to mean something to me.

Justin Hayward discusses his routine before a show

I need to have some time completely on my own before a show, and I know I’m not the best person to be around for the hour before I go on. I feel I need to be absolutely quiet.

It’s very rare that I meet guests before a show. Strangely, I could have the best sleep just before a gig (but I rarely do) – maybe it’s a just a form of nerves that sends me into a really relaxed state. But even the first few moments on stage are kind of difficult for me, until my mind is engaged properly. I’m sure performance psychologists would have a valid opinion about why I should change my pre stage routine and attitude, but I find need to go deep within myself in that time – my songs must be sung from the heart – if I don’t do that it doesn’t work – the magic between us (the us being the audience) needs a genuine emotion. The fans, and the whole audience, bring that every night, every bit as much as I do, and that’s good enough for me.

Guild 12 String

I’ve had my Guild 12 String since the mid 1980’s and it has been a wonderful road guitar for me. It’s never failed to deliver on stage. I chose it very carefully to finally give me the opportunity to play Question on stage the way it was recorded, instead of trying to compete with the drums with an electric guitar. Guild was one of the first guitar makers to perfect an acoustic pick up that could give volume and clarity. The guitar was immaculate for the first couple of years that I had it, then one day we had to fly to NY in the middle of a tour to do a TV show and the 12 string was in the hold of the aircraft. But in the television studio, when I opened the case, I was astounded to see that the finish on the top of the guitar had cracked into hundreds of little pieces and looked like some bizarre kind of varnish crazy paving. I can only assume that the sudden change of temperature on the aircraft was too much for the integrity of the finish on the top of the guitar. However – it sounded exactly the same to me and the brightness and sparkle of the sound was thankfully undiminished.

I love this guitar, and so do all the other guitar players I know. It gets better with age and has matured beautifully and although the finish is flawed, the guitar is fantastic.

Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues discusses eating on the road

There certainly are restaurants that we don’t stop at!

Over the years I’ve got to discover many great restaurants and I make a point of noting them and visiting when I am in town – if there is time. But I normally try to get a good breakfast, and I make sure there are healthy foods and snacks on the bus. I never get hungry before a gig, and so, after the gig, when I’m ravenous. I find it important to try and avoid those wonderful junk foods that the USA is so good at! And, you can always get great good food in the USA if you take the time to look. I like to have a refrigerator in my Hotel room so that I always have something I like with me. I have no food prejudices, or ‘no no’ rules – I’m easy to please.

The best era for guitar making was in the 50s and 60s

There’s no doubt that the best sounding, and best playing guitars that I have, were made in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I think that was the best era for guitar making – when real craftsmen were able to choose the best woods, with no restrictions, and the art of guitar making was treated with respect and carried out with real integrity.

In the mid 1960’s we moved into the cheap and mass produced era, and it wasn’t until the late 70’s and early 1980’s that the honour of guitar making was born again, with Taylor leading the way. In the last 15 years the art of the select, discriminating guitar luthier has flourished, mostly in the USA. I have two Collings guitars, made in Austin Texas, both of which I purchased ‘on the road’ at Gruhns in Nashville – one lives at home in my music room and is featured on recordings, the other lives on the road, and copes well with the tough life of a road guitar. They are both true classics.

I would also give great credit to James (Jim) Olsen as being one of the greatest guitar makers ever. The guitar that I bought from Jim in 1990 (89?) is one of the most beautiful and trustworthy guitars I have ever seen, let alone owned. It delivers every single night – it’s a true friend – right up there with my 1963 Gibson 335 and my 1955 Martin D28. I came across another one recently and it was so beautiful, in sound and looks, that I had to tear myself way from it – it was destined for another player.

That is a curious thing about guitars – sometimes I’m convinced that a certain guitar has a destiny with someone else, and in fact, in the early 1980’s I sold a whole attic full of wonderful guitars because I believed they could find a home elsewhere, with someone who would cherish (and OK – love) them. They were too good to be resting in my attic and needed to be played every day to keep them alive. I feel that the wood needs to resonate regularly to keep it beautiful, in feel and sound. Instruments can seem to be dying if they are not played. The most hard worked guitars are the most desirable. Guitars that play in a smoky club for years are often the best. Guitars love to be played.

The only guitar I regret selling was a 1964 Strat that played on the Octave, LDV, and on all my 1980’s solo albums. It was as smooth as silk, it played like a dream and sounded sublime. But, I still felt at the time that someone else could use it more – so it moved on. I’m sure whoever has it now must treasure it – as well as being comforted by the knowledge that it’s now worth at least $25.000 to $30,000, even if you could actually find another one – which is not easy!

I recently discovered McPherson guitars. Wow! what a find. I now have a McPherson 12 string – (the acoustic 12 string may be the hardest guitar for a maker to get true and clear, with exact intonation), and I have fallen head over heels for it. McPhersons are truly special and a quick look at the McPherson website will tell you why. It’s going to have to work for it’s living though as it’s on the road with me, but I have to say, I have never owned a 12 string before that’s in it’s class.

Yes, in my opinion, American made guitars, and American guitar makers, lead the world. I dreamed of owning an American guitar when I was a boy – that hasn’t changed.

!n 1985 I was invited to visit the Kalamazoo factory in Michigan that was the original home of Gibson guitars just after three great craftsmen, former Gibson employees, were starting up Heritage Guitars. I met the man who knew my 335 (Gibsons are easy to identify through their serial numbers) and had seen it being made and even had a hand in it. He told me that the very next guitar on the line, made with exactly the same men and machines, with exactly the same wood and parts, just wasn’t the same and didn’t have the same feel or vibe. That’s the way it goes – like life. It’s ultimately a mystery – which ‘mass producing’ guitar manufacturers will tell you has been solved – it hasn’t, thank goodness.

Behind the Moody Blues name

As most fans will know, me and John weren’t there when the band was named – but, still to this day I have not heard an ‘undisputed’ version of how the name was adopted. I know Mike liked ‘Mood Indigo’ and that was part of it. More pertinent to the MB thing was the fact that Mitchells and Butlers, a local brewers and pub owners, had a number of gigs that could be played, and I believe it went from the M and B Five to Moody Blues through Mikes input.

 

Justin Hayward talks about musicians he would have liked to work with

It’s a question I’m often asked – I don’t know why. To have regrets about this particular unfulfilled desire is something that, in my experience, most musicians don’t have – but I suspect it seems an obvious question that a fan would think was important.

But I think I know what the questioner means – and to try and give just one instance of my own feelings, one of my biggest pleasures is to be friends (and play guitar with) Bruce Welch, because we know and love the same songs. I also got to play on stage with all the Shadows, past and present, at the London Palladium with Mart Wilde a few years ago. That was an unforgettable moment, and a day I will treasure. I am a huge Cliff and the Shads fan.

And on one magical night in the nineteen sixties I sat around playing guitar with Donovan and George Harrison – but the question says ‘worked with’, and that was never work, just fun. I play with pals for fun, not work.

When it comes to making records I am lucky enough to have worked with players that I know and love, and that, in my opinion are the best in their field – from Peter Knight to Dave Mattacks to Lele Melotti. Anyone who knows me, accepts that I am firm about what I want, and recording is more fulfilling for me when my own ideas are fully explored. Having said that, Mike Pinder playing those Mellotron phrases between the lines on ‘Nights’ was something that would never have occurred to me, and it added greatly to the recording. But that kind of contribution is rare – and if there is to be a guitar solo I would rather play it myself!

Justin Hayward discusses his favorite venue and city to perform

The Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam. It was designed really well with intricate sound damping and absorption on the walls that allows the music to fill the building without any strange ‘slap back’ or unpleasant reverberations. It always sounds ‘sweet’ in that big room that they call the Black Box, and I get quite emotional singing and playing in such a lovely venue (the dressing rooms are pretty good too – and the crew always love it, as they have an easy load in and load out).

I did it with The War Of The Worlds and we had some great shows. Most of the other artists in the cast had never played it before but loved the whole experience. I read that no other venue has been nominated multiple times for the Pollstar Award as ‘Best International Music Venue’.

Amsterdam is such a great city anyway and right from the beginning the Dutch have been wonderful supporters of the band. We have had some fabulous times there and I personally would always jump at an opportunity to return.

Of course there are fabulous, historic and legendary venues all over the World, but I would have to say that the US is still leading other countries by a mile for sheer class, style and diversity of brilliant gigs. We are lucky to have played so many of the great ones over the years.