Up until the moment he learned the Moody Blues were entering the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, frontman Justin Hayward spent almost no time thinking about the institution. “On Friday, I couldn’t have cared less,” he says. “On Saturday, when I found out we were in, I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ But I’m still a committed European. I sometimes wish I was an American and could get really excited about it.” But he’s still excited enough to plan a trip to Cleveland in April for the ceremony, which could include a reunion with his former bandmates Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder. We spoke with Hayward about the honor, his thoughts on his fellow inductees and their hysterical guest spot on The Simpsons in 1999.
Congratulations! How do you feel?
I want to start off by saying this is the first time that Rolling Stone is calling me in 51 years. [Laughs] That was the first thing I thought. I’m sitting here with my engineer and I said, “Rolling Stone is going to call me?”
Better late than never. How did you find out the big news?
I found out from our agent at CAA.
What does it mean to you on a personal level?
Hey listen, I’m extremely grateful to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for two things: For creating the supreme temple to something that has brought me endless joy since I was a little boy. The second thing is that after all these years they are including us. That’s about it. That’s how I feel about it.
Why do you think it took so long?
I don’t know. I’m the last person to really be able to answer that. I’m not there. I don’t know what goes into it. You’d know better than I would. Is it down to people’s taste? Why does it take some groups so long?
I think it’s just the taste of a bunch of people sitting in a room together. They tend to gravitate towards critical favorites and away from metal and anything associated with prog rock.
Well, they have a duty to be inclusive and not exclusive. But we are there in the frame now. I don’t quite know how to explain it.
I think it’s partially since you’ve always been more of a fan’s band than a critic’s band.
That’s fair. Me personally and the group as well, in its early days, we were lucky to be able to go our own way and not chase a hit. Along the way, we made some not-great records because we didn’t have an A&R guy standing over us. I think that’s a great thing. We were able to be self-indulgent and trust our own judgement.
You never lost your fan base.
Particularly in the 1980s, they kind of embraced what the critics maybe didn’t embrace, which was “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.” I met Tony Visconti at the BBC and we started looking at songs in a different way and the success we had in the 1980s brought us a whole new fan base that’s still with us now.
Did you often hear from fans about their frustration regarding the Hall of Fame?
You’re kidding. It was HUGE. I’m English and I live in Europe. I’m in Genoa at a studio and am kind of immune to it. Nobody really knows about the Hall of Fame here, but there’s almost a sense of, “How dare they have their own Hall of Fame? It should be the world’s Hall of Fame.” It’s like the World Series with baseball or something…I probably just said the wrong thing, but you get the gist of what I mean. The thanks really goes to the Moody Blues fans for giving us such a wonderful life of music.
It must be a thrill to be in the same club as Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Elvis Presley…
Yeah. I thought about that just a few minutes ago. It’s a privilege to be celebrated, on the same street even, as my own heroes: Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. Now at last, my heroine, Nine Simone. She’s the woman that kind of taught me how to sing, really. That’s a privilege to me, to be celebrated in the same town as Buddy and the Everly Brothers and Nina Simone.
Let’s talk about some of the other inductees. Along with Nina Simone, there’s also Dire Straits. Are you a fan?
Of course. Is Mark [Knopfler] in there already solo?
No. This is his first time getting in.
They are such a part of musical history that was really defined by that [first] record of theirs. It reached everywhere, even Africa, Europe and Asia. That was a curious thing.
How about Bon Jovi?
I don’t actually know much about Bon Jovi, but I know they are huge. I can’t really tell you about them.
Inductees tend to play three songs. Any idea what three songs you’ll want to do that night?
I would hope we do “Nights [In White Satin].” Well, I’ve got one on the list.
Can you think of a song that would work for the all-star jam you could play with the other inductees?
Would do people usually play? “Johnny B. Goode” or another Chuck Berry tune?
Yeah. It’s often a cover like that.
I think we’d have to play homage to our heroes, either Buddy [Holly] or Chuck Berry.
Do you think former Moody Blues member Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder are going to come?
I don’t know about that. When you leave a group it’s because you don’t want to be in it. I miss them both, particularly Mike Pinder because he was the guy that brought me into the group.
Are you open to the idea of performing with them at the ceremony?
The fans would love that.
Yeah. I think the spirit is always willing.
Do you keep in touch with them?
No. I saw Mike a couple of years ago. He came to a gig in California and we had a hug. That was great. But no, I don’t keep in touch with them, no. It doesn’t tend to be like that. It’s like seeing a school friend. “How are you? What have you been doing for the past 30 years?”
I’m sure it’ll be emotional to shake their hands and stand with them at the podium.
That will be absolutely wonderful. Of course it would. I’m aware that we’re probably getting this award for the first 20 years, not for the last 30. You know what I mean?
Sure. I think some people will wonder why Denny Laine wasn’t inducted. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I don’t really. There’s [original singer] Denny Laine and Clint [Warwick], the original bassist who was kind of forgotten. More importantly, I would have thought that Denny would have been inducted with Wings.
They just brought in Paul [McCartney] solo.
Denny did write his share of “Mull of Kintyre.”
Do you view that first Moody Blues record as almost the work of a different band?
Yes. The one thing I remember, again, is Mike Pinder. The first incarnation was together for such a short time and was defined by that one record, “Go Now.” It was a wonderful recording, and so was the original by Bessie Banks that was superb with the same arrangements. I came to the group really as a songwriter and I was lousy with that stuff. The other guys didn’t want to know about singing “Go Now,” so they were like “you better do it” when I came in. So I had to sing it for a couple of months and I was absolutely lousy at rhythm and blues, so it was my purpose to get my own songs done. It was Mike Pinder’s purpose as well. Things had to change. The blue suits and the R&B set was getting us nowhere. “Go Now,” for me, was one of those classic records of the mid-1960s.
Have you sang it since your earliest months in the band?
No. I don’t particularly want to sing it ever again!
The timing of the induction is pretty good since you’re in the middle of your Days of Future Passed tour.
Yeah, that’s been absolutely wonderful. I wonder if it influenced anybody? I don’t know. It’s been a wonderful thing to celebrate, that’s for sure.
The ceremony will be in Cleveland. Do you have fond memories of playing there?
Sure. Of course. I played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame quite a few times. One was for the Amazon Conservation Association. I understand that that organization is separate from the group that nominates acts. But Cleveland, we first came there was an opening act for Canned Heat in 1968.
I think your fans are going to be so happy this is finally happening. They’ve been petitioning forever.
I’m so, so pleased for them. This induction is validating the music they really, really love. I’m so pleased for all of them, for us, for me, for my wife, everything. It’s just great.
Just a couple of random questions. Your appearance on The Simpsons is one of my favorite guest spots they ever had. What are your memories of recording that?
Matt Groening got in touch with us and I had a short communication with him. I was interested in the reason behind it. As you said, we’ve never been that critically acclaimed. He said, “Homer has always a more interesting character than Bart and we decided he’s a Moody Blues fan.” We were playing up in Canada somewhere and they fixed a recording session for us to with Matt and the people at a studio in L.A. by ISDN line. They gave us the words to say, not the whole story, just “say this.” I was thrilled with my little bit. One of the guys said, “I’m not sure I like my words.” It wasn’t me. And so Matt said to this guy, “You can do it, or you can not do it.” They were then like, “Oh, okay, right.”
My daughter was at UCLA for a year doing American studies. She did no work since she was years ahead of all the American students. But she saw it first on the TV and said, “I just saw you on The Simpsons.” I said, “What do I look like?” She said, “Yellow.” It’s all primary colors. When I saw it, I knew what she meant.
The X-Men movie of a few years ago was called Days of Future Past, which is obviously very similar to your album Days of Future Passed. Did they ask permission or anything?
No. That was a curious thing.
How did you feel about that?
Is it too much of a coincidence that they could think of that and not know that there was a group somewhere out there that made an album called that? What do you think?
I think they must have known.
I think that question was posed to somebody in the production of the movie and I think it was denied, but it’s like a phrase that goes into the language somehow. I sometimes pick up a newspaper and there’s a lingerie section in the woman’s section and you flip through it and its called Nights In White Satin. There’s no credit for it. It’s just a phrase. Maybe that’s what this was. It’s nice, anyway. It brought a lot of questions from our fans, but we had nothing to do with it.
Thanks for doing this. Again, congrats. It’s long overdue.
My pleasure. Rolling Stone called me!