It’s not unusual find a classic musician forever identified with the iconic outfit he or she was once part of. For all his solo success, Paul McCartney will always be a Beatle. Mick Jagger can never escape beyond the shadow of the Rolling Stones. Likewise, Justin Hayward remains forever associated with his band, the Moody Blues.
As the singer of such indelible songs as “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Nights in White Satin,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Voices in the Sky,” “Never Comes the Day” and scores of other memorable melodies, Hayward bears a continuing connection that remains all but indestructible. On the other hand, it isn’t that he hasn’t had success on his own. His duo album with Moody Blues bassist John Lodge, 1975’s “Blue Jays,” marked his initial attempt to make music beyond the band’s borders. Two years later, his solo career began in earnest with an album titled “Songwriter,” which, in turn, was followed quickly by an early solo signature song, “Forever Autumn,” recorded for a concept album based on the radio drama, “The War of the Worlds.”
He’s released another six albums since, his most recent being “Spirits of the Western Sky” from 2013. The Moody Blues, on the other hand, haven’t released a new album since 2003, a holiday-themed effort simply called “December.”
Still, all in all, it gives him quite a repertoire to choose from when it comes to programming his performances.
“There’s so much material to choose from, it’s never what I play, but what I have to leave out that becomes the real decision,” Hayward, 73, said in a phone conversation during a stopover in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “It is a lovely show that we do, and the musicians that are with me are a joy to be with and to play with. The crew is absolutely brilliant and it’s a wonderful team. I get to do songs that I could never get to do with the Moodies, so it’s rewarding for me, and it explores emotional parts of my life that I’m not really able to look at in anything other than a solo show.”
With the Moody Blues on what appears to be an indefinite hiatus, Hayward himself remains as active as ever. His current tour began in early July, first in the U.S. and then in Europe and the U.K. He returned to the States in early October and will remain on the road until mid-November. Next April, he’ll headline the “On The Blue Cruise,” an annual outing that was initially a floating festival featuring the Moody Blues until Hayward took over as headliner a year ago.
“Like all of us, it’s something that we think we do well,” Hayward said when asked about his tendency to tour. “People love these songs, and it’s still a great pleasure for me to do these songs and for them to mean something. As long as it’s still there for me, and I’m offered a lot of gigs, I think I’ll continue doing it.”
Hayward said he’s as emotionally affected by the material as his fans are, many of whom have incorporated those classic tracks into the soundtracks of their lives.
“You can’t do the stuff that we do without finding meaning in it,” he said.
“The fact that some of these songs have such meaning in people’s lives is very rewarding. And I hope that while they’re enjoying those songs, that they’ll indulge us in other songs we enjoy playing as well.”
Asked to elaborate on the connection he still feels with the songs, Hayward said that some still remind him of their early origins, that time when they were first written and recorded.
“There’s one particular song we do called ‘The Actor,’ and it puts me right back in that sitting room in 1967,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about that. Music has that ability to take us to a place or an emotion or a relationship that we once had. It’s a remarkable thing.”
Surprisingly then, Hayward said that he’s not particularly nostalgic.
“I just sort of contemplate the ghost of myself,” he said. “I have to talk about that almost every day. I’m sort of reflecting on the younger me a lot of the time. That’s what people are interested in. However my life is very much in the present and what’s happening now. It has to be.”
Even though there’s no definite decision about a new solo album, one remains a distinct possibility.
“As soon as I’m finished on this tour, I’ll be going back to see my recording partner Alberto in Italy,” Hayward noted. “We’ve already started working on some new things, and we’ll see what happens, whether we think they’re good enough for release. You have to look forward, and that’s the way we get our own kind of reward.
“I’m in the fortunate position that I have to don’t have to worry about who’s going to release it. There’s always somebody that will want it and will take it. That’s what will occupy me for the next couple of months. It’s a lot of work and a big commitment, but it’s also very exciting.”
Hayward also heaps praise on his current touring band, which includes guitarist Mike Dawes, keyboard player Julie Ragin and flutist Karmen Gould, the latter of whom won’t be onboard for the Knoxville show due to her domestic commitments. He said that they’ve allowed him to explore some of his older offerings.
“We try quite a few songs just to see if they work,” he said. “We started doing a song called ‘The Story In Your Eyes,’ and I couldn’t quite get it to work. So Mike said, ‘Why don’t we do it like this,’ and suddenly it kind of clicked. With the Moodies, we actually became two groups — one a recording group that had a very different sound from the stage group. I feel right now that I’m back to the recording style of the early Moodies, and being able to do these songs the way they were originally written and conceived is a wonderful thing for me. I’m really enjoying it.”
Of course, the inevitable question revolves around the further possibilities of reconvening the Moody Blues. For his part, Hayward isn’t saying much. He honors the band’s legacy (“Maybe we’ll be remembered for that era of ‘Days of Future Passed’ and the fact that it was such a cohesive album”), but he’s noncommittal about the band’s future.
“The truth is, I don’t know. I’m not sure what there is to put together anymore,” he said. “Since Ray (Thomas, the band’s original flautist and singer) died, it kind of changed things. Some of the guys retired or wanted to do different things. I don’t know, and that’s a truthful answer. Otherwise I’d be making something up. We’re all of a certain age now. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is sometimes weak.”