Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues

by Dan MacIntosh

In 1965, The Moody Blues scored a UK #1 with just their second single, "Go Now." They toured with The Beatles, did the Ed Sullivan Show, and then in 1966... broke up.

A month later, three original members - Mike Pinder (mellotron), Ray Thomas (flute) and Graeme Edge (drums) - re-formed the band with John Lodge on bass and Justin Hayward (replacing original member Denny Laine) on guitar. Lodge and Hayward became the primary songwriters and vocalists in the group, and in 1967, Decca Records asked them to record an album to demonstrate the new Deramic Stereo Sound technology. The result was Days of Future Passed, which mixed old rock & roll influences with American blues, psychedelic rock, and classical music. Featuring Justin's "Nights In White Satin," it remains a treasured album in the rock canon.

What Hayward has to say about the Moody Blues' career may surprise you. Most of their hits came in the '60s and '70s, but Justin's decade of choice is the '80s, when the group joined the MTV era with the hits "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" and "Your Wildest Dreams." And their signature song - "Nights in White Satin" - Justin tells us that a certain underappreciated soul singer recorded the definitive version.

Hayward is excited about his latest solo album, Spirits of the Western Sky, which focuses on various relationships in his life. As he spoke about this latest effort, in addition to some of the biggest hits he's recorded with the famous band he fronts, Hayward was bright and cheery, and neither moody, nor blue.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): This is an interview for Songfacts.

Justin Hayward: I checked out the website. It's interesting.

Songfacts: Well, I hope this will be an interesting interview for you.

Justin: Yeah, me too.

Songfacts: Some of your songs you've been singing for quite a while; I'm sure you must do "Nights in White Satin" every night that you perform.

Justin: Yes.

Songfacts: Do the songs take on new meanings for you as you sing them? I mean, do you find new feelings and emotions when you sing those songs that are so familiar?

Justin: I never lose the emotion of songs like that. "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" is another one like that. And "Question" is another one. But not yet. I'm lucky enough not to have lost the emotion or the motivation, because it's a wonderful thing to be able to share. And the audience provides the emotion around that. Because you do it in sound check and it's fine, but when there's an audience there, it completely transforms the experience.

But with "Nights," something strange happened last year. Somebody sent me a link to a cover version of "Nights" by a woman called Bettye LaVette.

Bettye LaVette is a soul singer who grew up in Detroit, in the shadow of Motown Records. Although many of her peers were Motown artists, LaVette never got the chance to record for that important label. She was signed to Atlantic Records, where Aretha Franklin was also an artist, yet she didn't have the success Franklin achieved there. She tells her hard luck story in a wonderful autobiography titled A Woman Like Me.
Songfacts: Oh, yes.

Justin: She covered "Nights," and somebody sent it to me as an MP3, a link. I was sitting in bed with my laptop waking up to my emails, and I clicked on this link and I burst into tears. My wife came in and she said, "What the hell's the matter with you?" And I said, "You've got to listen to this." She didn't cry. But I heard the lyric for the first time. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands of covers of "Nights in White Satin," but that was the first time I heard it for real.

Songfacts: It's so interesting that you would say that, Justin, because I just finished her autobiography, and she doesn't pull any punches. She talks about doing cocaine with very famous people, and she talks about her life very frankly. But she also talks about doing an album where she covers a lot of songs by primarily British rock songwriters.

Justin: That's right. That was the album it was on. If you're in touch with her, please tell her what I said. Her interpretation is the best ever, and there have been hundreds.

Songfacts: I don't know her personally, but I know her publicist. And I will shoot off an e mail to her this afternoon and let her know.

Justin: Thank you.

Songfacts: Let's talk about some of the other songs. You mentioned "Question." Were there any events that inspired you to write a song like that where you were really questioning the whole state of the world and war and peace?

Justin: It was to do with the fact that we'd achieved great success in the United States and we were playing a lot of student venues and colleges, and the student audience was our audience. We were mixing with these people and seeing how different the problems were for them and the issues in being a member of the greatest nation on earth: the United States. How different they were from British people. I was just expressing my frustration around that, around the problems of anti-war and things that really concerned them, and for their own future that they may be conscripted, or whatever you call it... I can't remember what the word is in America.

Songfacts: Drafted?

Justin: Drafted. Yes. How that would morally be a dilemma for them and that kind of stuff. So it did really come out of that. And my own particular anger at what was happening. After a decade of peace and love, it still seemed we hadn't made a difference in 1970. I suppose that was the theme of the song. And then the slow part of the song is really a reflection of that and not feeling defeated, but almost a quiet reflection of it, and mixing with a bit of a love song, as well.

Songfacts: Now, I imagine you still do that song in concert these days. Do you think about other political situations when you're singing that?

Justin: There's no doubt that it still resonates, the lyrics reflect whichever generation you're in. Whatever time you're in, people are experiencing those emotions. And I find that people identify with it at any age.

Songfacts: Well, I want to skip ahead to some of your more recent hit songs. I was reading about "Your Wildest Dreams" and "I Know You're Out There Somewhere." Somebody had written that the Moody Blues had become almost like a synth pop band, and I realize that you're a guitarist. Was that uncomfortable for you when the band started going in that direction away from music that might have featured more of what you do best as a guitarist.

Justin: No. Because I was playing the synth most of the time. I discovered the DX7 when that came out and it changed my life. And I still use a DX7. Most of "Wildest Dreams" - 90% of it - is Tony Visconti, my DX7, and a guitar synth. The piece at the beginning of "Wildest Dreams" that sounds like a sort of Theremin, a (humming) "oooo ooo," that's a guitar synth. All of that is. So it was just another way of exploring musical avenues. Tony Visconti was very much into that and the first person who really turned the band on to programming in a serious way. And he was very, very good at it, so I enjoyed every moment of that.

And in truth, if I had to pick a decade of music, if I could only have one decade of music that I could listen to, it would be the '80s.

Songfacts: Interesting. So that was like a second birth in a way.

Justin: It was wonderful for us, those two records, to have a hit when you're 40 and to be recognized in the streets. Not that people know your name, they just say, "Oh, you're the guy in the Moody Blues video" or something, that was a wonderful thing.

Songfacts: The song "I Know you're Out There Somewhere," is that about somebody in particular?

Justin: Yes. It was about somebody in particular. And I found with "Wildest Dreams" that it was a common experience for a lot of people. I never thought this; I thought I was writing a frivolous sort of song. Certainly with "Wildest Dreams." Not with "I Know You're Out There Somewhere," because I knew by then. But I thought "Wildest Dreams" would be a throwaway thing that people wouldn't really take much notice of lyrically. But I found out that it was a common experience and desire by a lot of people. So that was very revealing.

And with "I Know You're Out There Somewhere," yes, they both were about at least one particular person. I wouldn't say it was all about one person, but at least one particular person. And my advice to anybody who wants to go back is that you can never go home. And best to leave the past as the past.

Songfacts: You have a new solo album out. When you do your solo music, do you go to a different place creatively than when you work with the Moody Blues?

Justin: Yes, I think so. Maybe not initially. Except that I recorded quite a few more songs. This is a romantic album about relationships and people that I know. Some people will probably recognize themselves in these songs. It's just acquaintances I have - as I get older, I have an awful habit of falling in love with lots of people, boys and girls around me. I don't mean physically rolling around, I just mean emotionally and forming attachments to people.

So I found that was what I enjoyed most about the collection of songs that I hadn't recorded. I have got some other ones that are more kind of social comment, but they're probably for another album. I realized that early on in the compiling of this album in the last two years. It's a very personal album, and some of the things on this album I probably could not have said in a Moody Blues song or I would have changed it so that it was a voice speaking for a group, not for an individual.

Songfacts: That's very interesting. I notice as I get older that I realize how important relationships are. It sounds like that's been reflected in how you write songs, you're writing about those people.

Justin: It is. Yes. You hit it on the head, I couldn't have said it any better. Relationships are more precious to me now than ever. And I'm more conscious of people wanting to give to me now their affection and their regard and their love, really. That's nice.

Songfacts: When you think about all the music that you've recorded with the Moody Blues, so many songs and so many albums, do you have favorite songs that you never get tired of performing?

Justin: Yes. Of course, "Nights," because it's a magic that you can throw over an audience and you can go anywhere in the world and it's rewarding. I recorded another song that was a hit in the UK called "Forever Autumn." You can go anywhere in the world and play that and people really like it. But there are a few other things that are very close to me. There's a song called "New Horizons," which was at a really tough time in my life. I'd not long lost my father. There was quite a lot of death around me, and I was having to cope with that and work out how you handle that and what you do and how you can get through it. It's very poignant to me.

And there's another song on a solo album called "Raised on Love" that not many people would know. But that's very dear to me, as well. But "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" is probably my favorite. That and a song called "Driftwood," which was also kind of bittersweet.

Songfacts: It sounds to me like when we were talking earlier about valuing relationships, it's almost as if you value your songs as if they are people, like you have relationships with them. Do you look at it that way sometimes?

Justin: That's a very interesting question. I'm thinking about that, Dan. Yes, I think I do. Yes. Actually, even before they're done, they're just unfinished characters that need to be filled out a bit and colored in. But yes, I do have a relationship with them, and each one is very different, each relationship is very different. Some I'm a little scared of, they're a bit spooky.

Songfacts: Justin, it's been such a treat to talk to you. And I hope this was not too taxing on you.

Justin: Absolutely not at all. It's a great pleasure. I did check your website, and it's very interesting. And of course lots of people contribute, lots of people are wrong, and lots of people are right. You must find that quite amusing. Because everybody's got something to say about songs that they love.

Songfacts: Well, one of the real treats for me is to be able to talk to the people that write the songs and get clarity. And you've helped me do that in a great way, and I appreciate your time so much.

Justin: Well, I'd say two things about songs. The early songs it would be Mike Pinder, the keyboard player and Mellotron player. I'll just say that. And then the '80s songs would be Tony Visconti. And then more recently I've taken that responsibility myself. So with my solo albums and this latest album, it's me who's playing the character around it.

Songfacts: Well, that's a clue. So I'm going to take that as I continue my investigation into your music. Thank you so much for being such a wonderful interview. This has been a true treat for me.

Justin: Oh, a great pleasure. My best wishes to you.

March 19, 2013. Get more at justinhayward.com.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 31

  • Robert Schanuel from Orlando, FlThe Moody's "Ride My See-Saw" came on my car stereo awhile ago. Though most of my hearing is lost, I was yet shocked at how its brilliance and dynamicsm outshone anything before or since. Though I'm no fan of drug related lyrics, which it apparently had, it was a Wall of Sound that would make Phil Specter blush! Man, was I musically spoiled in my early 1970's college days listening to masterpieces!
  • Mark Mann from Clinton, OklahomaInsightful interview. I recall seeing the group play with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra in the mid 90’s. The music was no less compelling.
    Just a humble observation about “Questions”: Anti-war songs were a nickel-a-dozen back then. I believe Justin devalues that particular piece with the implications of it being primarily a song of conflict with the Vietnam conflict at its center. I believe there is a subtle hint as to the essence of that piece when Justin states, almost as an afterthought when describing the slower segment “mixing with a bit of a love song as well”. The “bit of a love song” seemed to elevate the spirit above the ugly haze of war and politics of that era, just as it now grips and pulls the listener through all of the noise of the 60’s and 70’s by a force far more compelling than the anti-war sentiments of the day. As an eleven year-old kid, I couldn’t have possibly grasped the full implications of that wonderful song when I first heard it through the speakers of my parents’ turntable. Nonetheless, the song grabbed my heart and emotions, and as a second year medical student 25 years later, it was no less compelling. Respectfully, it would seem that the anti-war “exterior” of the song is just that. However, I cannot believe those sentiments alone were enough to provide the immortal breath such songs require to endure so many years.
    Regardless of the driving force behind the piece, thank you Mr. Hayward, for “Questions”—it has been both comfort and inspiration in my life.
  • Dleis from Nw ArkI love the Moody Blues... one of the best and my personal favorite band from the 60’s,70’s, and 80’s! You guys are still the best after all these years!
  • Rosemary Scott from Lisarow, Nsw, AustraliaI loved this interview and especially that Justin said Driftwood was one of his favourite songs. It is my very favourite song which Justin has written for the Moodies. I have all his solo albums. As the songs Justin writes have always been my favourite Moody songs, I knew his solo works would be excellent value for money. And I was right!
  • Al Ruechel from Clearwater, FloridaAmazing interview. I wish I was the one doing the interview. I was a college DJ when Moody started hitting it big. That was at the end of the 60s into 1970's. Those were incredibly difficult times for many of us trying to find our identities torn in all sorts of directions. Every one of Justin and company songs were like beacons of understanding that other people were going through the same thing. Even today while I am playing the New Horizons album in the background I can transport myself back to the emotions created by those songs. Isn't music wonderful. I loved Justin explaining the meaning behind New Horizon. For me, I had just become a new Christian, one of those Jesus freaks. For whatever reason that song was sort of reinforcement for me that I had found "my own peace of mind" someday in Jesus. I have never tired to stretch or misinterpret Justin's songs to fit my spiritual emotions but I always loved and appreciated his mind set and lyrics and sense of wonder that I get out of each song.
    I've seen Moody Blues in the early 90's and then four times in Clearwater, Ruth Eckerd Hall over the past several years. I think they hold the record for the most sold out performance at that venue over the years. I marvel how Justin's voice has never dulled. And I love his new works as well. Keep it going brother. Thank you Moody Blues for such great memories and emotions and their joy of recreating special memories for all of us.
  • Armando Cortez from San Antonio Texasthank you Justin, for helping me see myself as others see themselves. its amazing how we are all related in this his human experience no matter who you are, where you come from and what time period.
  • Debbie Olson from Olympia,wa U.s.a.I love that Justin Hayward is still touring both solo and with the Moody Blues> Because they book different venues each year we get to see them in towns that are centrally located, easy to attend, with great parking, and affordable tickets. Last year my daughter my sister and I tickets to see Justin's solo concert in Aberdeen, WA. After being a fan since high school in the 60's, it was a great Mother's Day gift. My little granddaughter knows Justin Hayward and has been listening to his music since she was 4 months old. His music and all the Moodies songs are so timeless . They will be around for many generations to come. I love the interviews of Justin. He has so many great stories to tell. I listen to Justin's songs every day with my granddaughter. When a fast song comes on we stop, look at each other, and start dancing around the room. I love Justin and the Moodies for making my time on this planet filled with great music to share with my kids.
  • Frutz Souder from MarylandFine songwriter and guitarist. His songs have added a positive vibe to the world and that's the best thing us songwriters can hope to do.
  • Kathy Loyd from Shreveport, LouisianaThe best interview from Justin Hayward ever. You were able to really bring him out in a very personal way. Thank you for this interview - listening to His Spirits of The Western Sky "Live" as I type this. Today is 9-13-14 by the way. I rarely look for articles and such of this nature but so glad I came across this one. Kudos! Keep up the good work. As a fan, I am so happy for Justin and I believe this is the best work of his entire career. He seems the happiest he has ever been in his life right now. How wonderful!
  • Brenda Bateman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, CanadaWhat a great interview! I am from a younger generation of fans of the "moody blues" but I am very intrigued with how Justin Hayward discussed the making of some of his songs. He is totally right that they can reflect what other people are going through. I especially enjoy the uniqueness of Justin Hayward's album's/cd's! Outstanding new cd "Spirit's of the western sky "! Just like fine wine ...............
    Justin's music seems to get better with time. I mean that in a good way. I truley hope that "justin Hayward" will continue to expand his music career both on his own and maybe if possible with the MoodyBlues". Thankyou for your time.
  • Penny G from Murfreesboro, TnWhat a great interview! Been a Moody's fan since I was so young! I saw them in concert back in '68 or so, and then again in 2009. None of us aged as well as we would have liked, maybe. None of us had the same amount of energy we would like to have had (Jump nearly killed us all!!) but it was still a hell of a show.
    And 'Nights' still knocks me out...
  • Margie Stearns from Portland,oregonWonderful interview. Justin Hayward and the Moodies have been my favorite group since 1967 & we have all "grown up" since then. Their music has always brought joy and peace to me. We love Justin & the Moody Blues here in Portland. They were here last October, and Justin will be presenting his newest work here on June 10th. Sold Out again! Their music has a beautiful, spiritual reflection to it, and it continues to win all hearts. Why aren't they in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? They have given so much to the world over 40 years. They deserve more than almost anyone else. What a joy they are!
  • Stymied Observer from UsaIn our family, Moody Blues aren't merely a music group, they're a three-generational institution. Have only been to 5 concerts in a lifetime, that included seeing Moody Blues twice. In fact, in 1994 flew from Buenos Aires to Miami to Dallas to San Diego to see them. Worth Every Penny and Hour of Flight: these men are brilliant! Forever Autumn is still one of my top 10 all time favs. Their Blue Jays album is still one of my all time favs albums ever. My daughter says one of her favorite childhood memories was when we danced barefoot on the grass in the rain at a Moody Blues concert. Great memory for me as well. Thank You - Too All of You Fellas - for so many years of wonderful music and so many great memories associated with it. Didn't know until reading this article that Mr. Hayward had a new album out. Am looking forward to hearing Spirits of the Western Sky.
  • Wlo from WaYes, it was an interesting interview. Mr. Hayward is human afterall...I can hear his age in his comments...and, indeed, it was very nice of him to acknowledge Mike Pinder. I was an American soldier in Vietnam when I first heard the Moody Blues, saw them in concert in Baltimore 1972 and once again in Seattle 2013. Their music might be timeless and is simply wonderful.
  • Karen from New Milford, NjThoroughly enjoyed the interview, insightful and thoughtful. Have been a Moodies fan since 1967 and in partcular a fan of Justin. The words that he writes and chords/melodies that he plays resonate with me beyond description. Words cannot describe the affect he and his music have on me. I am so grateful for him and his music. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't listen to him whether it's the Moodies or his solo CDs. Forever grateful. You lift my soul...k
  • Tony Lohrey from Sunshine Coast, AustraliaMy hat off to an outstanding group of showmen who I have followed since their first performances, I always fall back to their wonderful work on lazy weekends; there is no substitute.
  • Ron Rogers from Indian River, MiNice article. So many more questions I would have had. One of my favorite bands of all time. First time I saw them was with a 100 piece orchestra in Clarkston Mich in the early '90's. Did not know that was going to happen. To really experience the Moody Blues you MUST see them with full orchestration backing them up. OUTSTANDING!!!! How come these guys aren't in the "Music Hall of Fame"?...( I call it "music" because of the acts in there that I don't classify as rock and roll). Should have been in there 15-20 years ago.
  • Bob from Southfield, MiI just purchased Justin's new solo album and love it. It has made me go back and listen to my back catalog of Moody Blues albums. One of my favorite songs by Justin, and not mentioned in the interview, is "I Bless the Wings".
  • Jim Williams from South FloridaOne of my all time favorite song writers, one of my all time favorite bands!
  • Brian from Toronto, CanadaTerrific interview. Justin's collaboration with John Lodge on their album, 'Blue Jays'is another stellar record as well as Justins vocal on The War of The Worlds. His talent and class are exemplary.
  • Matyas from MiskolcGreat interview. I can’t even imagine how many times I’ve listened to “Nights in White Satin” over the past 40-some years, and I’ve never tired of it. It’s simply a great song that worked for my 12-year-old self, and still holds something for me much later in life. LaVette’s version is indeed awesome - I dropped ten bucks on Itunes for her album on the strength of Justin’s comments. And, like Jim from Billerica, I too would be curious to know what he thought of the Dickies’ cover (which always struck me as a glorious and affectionate send-up)
  • Gina from Largo FlJustin - Why don't you personally contact Ms. Lavette and let her know your impression of her interpretation of "Nights"? Since her version spoke to you so deeply I'm sure she would appreciate hearing your praise first hand. I have been a fan of yours since your early days and have wondered what influences in your life do you feel have contributed the most to your wonderful catalog? You were certainly an advanced musician/songwriter at such a young age - do you feel this is a divine gift? Thank you so much for providing me so much enjoyment - pleasure - entertainment throughout the years. Peace & Love, Gina
  • Tim from ColoradoJustin is the most consistent and exceptional songwriter I have ever heard. My favorite band is the core 7 period Moody Blues (67-72). I actually prefer Justin's solo efforts to the more modern Moodies. Also it was nice that he gave credit to Mike. He seems to have been nearly forgotten as time moves on.
  • Jb from PaReally great article. Thanks. Seems like he is alright where he is today.
  • Hugh from Phoenix, Az


    Betty LaVette's version. She makes it her own.

  • Sandy from Floridais there a link to hear the Betty LaVette version?
    And is Justin saying we shouldn't be looking up old boyfriends online ? (wink)
  • Jim from North Billerica, MaOh and before I forget, Tony Visconti is a high profile producer. He's worked with everyone from David Bowie, Moody Blues (of course), to T. Rex. Mike Pinder is "Mr Mellotron" and probably the only guy who could that crazy thing to work in a live setting. A mellotron is a keyboard, with tape cartridges for each note that looped. You could get tapes for just about any sound, but the most popular were the orchestral strings. It was a nice idea in theory, but it was more temperamental then a bulimic runway supermodel. It needed constant adjusting (tuning) at the tapes always kept going out of tune, tapes wore out, broke. The were a great studio device but few could get them to work reliablt at a live show. Mike Pinder was one of the few.
  • Jim from North Billerica, MaA great read and another fantastic interview. You guys know how to get alot of out some really heavy hitters. Kinda wished you asked them about the Dickies covering "Nights". Interesting fellow and had alot to say in a short article.
  • Piston Broke from Slightly North Of NowhereWhat a nice fellow. Bit cryptic though - that reference to Pinder M and Visconti T is baffling. And he held back, quite rightly possibly, on "Somewhere". Still, interesting to see someone like Justin dispense kudos so equably.
  • Cw from CaDan, another great interview. Congrats. The Betty LaVette reference is great -- what a classy guy Justin is to honor another artist that way, especially for his best-known song.
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