As the lead singer and songwriter for the Moody Blues, Justin Hayward has spent the past 50 years confounding expectations. First, Hayward shot the band to fame with the incredibly haunting yet beautiful hit “Nights in White Satin,” singing of romantic regret between youthful affairs at the age of 21.
The epic orchestral sound of that single, as well as its 1967 album “Days of Future Passed,” made it a favorite of NASA astronauts, who listened to it on numerous space missions aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. Yet even that sound was not what it seemed to be. It was created not by a multitude of musicians, but an early form of synthesizer known as a Mellotron, which layered tracks of sounds into a lush end result.
After dominating the charts through the mid-1970s, the Moody Blues were dealt a setback (along with most quality rock music) by the disco era. After a decade off the charts, and now in their 40s, they succeeded at making a massive comeback in 1986 by crafting an inventive video for their song “Your Wildest Dreams” that became a huge MTV hit.
Hayward has maintained a thriving career ever since, blending eight solo albums with a total of 13 Moody Blues albums while traversing the globe at age 71. Bringing his impressive, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legacy to the stage of The Rose nightclub in Pasadena Saturday night, Hayward recently took time to look back on his career from England.
“I get more interest in ‘Dreams of Future Passed’ than ever now,” says Hayward. “It’s surprising the amount of young songwriters that speak to me about that album. I think it’s maybe because it didn’t have any kind of commercial pretension or wasn’t made to try to sell anything. We were just very lucky.
”That whole period for me was just such a creative time for music — everything from The Beatles and The Beach Boys trying to outdo each other, through to The Kinks,” he continues. “I think we all considered ourselves lucky to happen to be in London when that was really all going on. Then we were lucky enough to be brought to America by Bill Graham in ’68, introducing us to a whole new audience. The Beatles were the leaders, opening the door for the rest of us.”
One other surprising fact Hayward revealed was that “Days of Future Passed” was not originally intended to be a run-of-the-mill album release. Rather, it was created to be a demo album for the Decca record label’s special products division to show how impressive stereo would sound with rock and roll, in the hopes of selling more stereos for their consumer division.
“It was the great days when record companies gave you lousy royalties but had lots of studio time and big studios,” recalls Hayward. “They said, ‘Just get on with it, do what you want to do, there’s the studio and engineer.’ That’s how it worked for us.”
Hayward has spent most of the past 20 years living and working in Italy, with a studio in Genoa. He prefers the arrangement over working in England, explaining that studio time in London and other British hotbeds has become too expensive, noting that numerous veteran musicians have also moved to his region near the Mediterranean Sea.
He tours with a small band, backed mainly by guitarist Mike Dawes and vocalist Julie Ragins, as he tries to spotlight the magical essence of his songs.
“We’re just a small crew and it’s mostly acoustic, with just a little bit of electric, but no drums,” says Hayward. “I like to hear every nuance. I’m doing these songs as they were written, like the original demos I made, and hopefully some of the stories behind them are interesting. The Moodies’ shows are big productions, with two drummers, lots of amplifiers, very loud. There are lots of those songs that just don’t work in that context. But I get to do things in my solo show complemented by that way of doing it.”
In the end, Hayward is a content man, having managed to maintain a 47-year marriage despite traveling the world and finally being validated by the Rock Hall of Fame in 2016, more than two decades after the band first became eligible.
“Being a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes the world seem like a different place, but it’s great to be part of and I’m very pleased,” says Hayward. “It’s kind of a temple to all the stuff I’ve ever loved.
“I’m going to sing while I can,” Hayward continues. “I don’t know what the future holds. I haven’t really got any plans except to make new music, and that’s what I’m going to do next year. I’m working on the road now, I’ll keep my little crew together, and that suits me just fine.”
Justin Hayward performs at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Rose, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are $28 to $48. Call (888) 645-5006 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.