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Mike Ragogna

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Conversations with The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward and Boston's Tom Scholz, Plus Exclusives from Molina Davina, The Blues & Greys, Reputante and Radio Raheem

Posted: 12/11/2013 12:02 am

MOLINA DAVINA'S "BODIES"

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photo credit: Karina Ordell

"'Bodies' is about the humanly balance of passion and pain," reveals Rebecca Davina Bortman. "I wrote this song in a moment. It just flowed out of me one night and into my cell phone. I started singing because I liked the echo in my kitchen, but what kept me singing was the crazy situation I was in at that moment. I was experiencing the most pleasure in my life--in love with two men at once, while witnessing the pain of a close friend fight Leukemia. I was overwhelmed by how strong and fearless we are until we realize we are fragile."


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A Conversation with Justin Hayward

Mike Ragogna: Justin! What is all this about a Moody Blues Cruise?

Justin Hayward: Well, it was an idea put to us a couple of years ago by the promoters who do that stuff. They'd done some dance music cruises and metal cruises and I think that they put it to us that a Moody Blues one could be a good idea. I'm not sure that we were sure about it in the group, but then they put it to The Moody Blues fan community and it just went down a storm with them. I think that the whole Moody fan community really like it as an opportunity to be together for themselves. It's almost a sort of plus to have us there as well. A few years ago, we would come around to Caesar's in Vegas yearly and we'd play there for a week. That was great because all the fans would come. So this is a real chance for The Moody Blues fan community to get together. That was the driving force, I think, behind it. Once we realized that, we were okay with it.

MR: One other aspect of the cruise is the giveaway of The Moody Cooper. What?

JH: I wish I knew, but I just looked at that myself. I thought, "Oh, that's nice!" If you're brave
enough to drive around in a car looking like that, then that's great! Looking at the artwork close up, it looks very nice. I know I looked at it and I thought, "Oh wow, that takes some courage."

MR: On any continent.

JH: It looks like John Lennon's Mini in the sixties or something.

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MR: Hey Justin, let's go back to the last Moody's cruise. What were some of the highlights? What was it like?

JH: I think some of the highlights were the fact that it was real question and answer stuff with the audience, which was very nice. We didn't know the questions up front and I always prefer it like that because then it just comes straight off the top of your head and it's probably a little bit more truthful. I enjoyed that. The concerts were great. On the boat we were on last time, there was a big showroom so everybody on the cruise at one of the three concerts had a chance to see the band. I enjoyed it very much. The food was good, it was a nice boat, and I think everybody was comfortable. Also we got to do solo things. Earlier on this year, I had my own album out, Spirits Of The Western Sky, and that was just coming out at that time, so I did some acoustic songs from that album and Graeme did a reception with his book of poetry. It was very nice, it was good fun. They were really nice people and, of course, we went to really nice places. We went to Jamaica and the Caymans last time, and I think it's the Turks and Caicos this time. Nice places to go, that's for sure.

MR: Are there a few other things that might separate Moody Blues Cruise II from Cruise I?

JH: Well, I think the clue may be in the title of the Cruise, which is "Return To The Isle Of White," although some people have said recently, "You're cruising around the Isle Of White? It's going to be freezing!" No, it doesn't mean that. It's to do with the Isle Of White festival, so we're looking back at that and taking influence from it.

MR: So you're on a boat with your fans, kind of sequestered for much of that time, so in addition to the musical experience, you also get to hobnob and get to know them, right?

JH: I think you do and I think a lot of that comes in those question and answer sessions and general chats. There's always an emcee guiding the whole process that keeps it from being a bit of a free-for-all, but it's very enjoyable and you find yourself talking from the heart. The people that are there are really there because they love the music and it's meant something to them in their lives, and that's something really quite special. I think we're all very much aware of that in these events.

MR: How does an iconic group like The Moody Blues continue after all these years? What's the secret behind the staying power?

JH: As you know, there are three of us still together from those days and I think you have the three that really like to tour and like to do the music live. We were on the bus a few years ago and we were talking about the catalog and how many songs we've recorded over the years that we only really played for a couple of days in the studio and then they were finished and we moved on and we never really discovered them. I think this is our time to discover our catalog. Fortunately, it's probably turned out for the best that we weren't huge celebs and it was always the music that people knew and not really the faces. It's the strength of that music and the size of the music catalog, I think, that's seen us through. It's lovely to play that stuff and try and get it as good as we can. I've sampled a lot of the old sounds we've had, the analog and the mellotron sounds. It's something that I like to share. I think that goes for all three of us now.

MR: You had a creative period where you also made music with Tony Clarke as "Blue Jays." That period was also very special to a lot of people, like it was your own take on prog if you want to call it that. When you look at that period, what are your thoughts?

JH: Well, I was very lucky at that time. I had a couple of solo albums out in that period, but also I was part of a project called The War Of The Worlds and I had a hit from it called "Forever Autumn," which really took me around the world at the time. I was very fortunate with such a great song, certainly in the rest of the world, but maybe it was not so well known in the US. But I think something had to happen then and fortunately, in 1974, we just drifted apart and nothing was said that couldn't be unsaid as sometimes happens with groups. We were all on pretty good terms, but I think we'd done our growing up within that band in the previous seven years. I was nineteen when I came to the band and an awful lot had happened in that seven years and our lives are completely changed, but I don't think any one of us had developed a life or had a chance to build a life outside of the group as men and as people. I could see that happening. I was the one at the time who thought, "This is crazy, we're just getting to where we've always wanted to be." But looking back now, I think it was the best thing that we ever did. We were apart for about three years and then at the end of that, we came back together with Tony [Clarke] and with Mike [Pinder] to make an album and both of them decided--and I think this was a very brave decision for both of them--that they didn't want to continue. So it left the guys who really did and we were very fortunate in the eighties to have a couple of really big hit singles, "Your Wildest Dreams" and "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" where we really got to experience that whole MTV generation thing and to be on TV with people coming up to me and saying, "Hey, you're that Moody Blues guy I saw in the video!" The eighties was probably my favorite time anyway, when I look back at my career. But that part in the seventies was something that had to happen. We had to find a life for ourselves and I think we did, each one of us.

MR: And in my opinion, those first seven albums that you guys created could almost be grouped together as a statement. And of course your orchestral approach was what put you on Decca, right?

JH: I think so. We got lucky. We had Decca, who had classically trained engineers, and our stuff was recorded beautifully. The engineer, Derek Varnals, and Tony Clarke had an influence on the way that our songs were presented. If you look at other things we did at the time that weren't in the Decca studios, they're much more rock 'n' roll and piano based and trying to be a little more up-front and thinking of singles. But all of the stuff that we did in Decca had a particular sound and a particular quality to it that did have that orchestral thing. They knew how to put that together. Decca was a company that was really committed to selling albums, not singles. They had a whole consumer division for stereo systems that they were trying to push. That was a big help to us in the early days because they wanted us to make beautiful stereo records that could demonstrate that stereo could be interesting for rock 'n' roll. It just happened to coincide with us going to America and the birth of FM radio. A lot of things came together. I can't say there was any kind of master plan. I wish there had been.

MR: Well, I think what also helped was that you kept getting reintroduced to the American market with your elegant single "Nights In White Satin" that kept getting into the top ten over the years.

JH: Yes it did. In the UK, it's been around five times. It came around for somebody else as well. But yes, we were very lucky. "Nights," of course, will always be the big one for us, but "Tuesday Afternoon" is the one we think of the most fondly because that was the one that really broke us in America. America was the one territory where they didn't release "Nights In White Satin" at the time it was made. It was about three or four months later, after "Tuesday Afternoon," so I think we have a special fondness for it.

MR: How about the early singles? There is a fondness among fans and beyond for the song "Go Now." That is a classic in the US as well as everywhere else.

JH: Absolutely! What a song! And the original record was great, too. When I came to the band, I ended up singing it because nobody else wanted to do it after Denny [Laine] had left. But I think Denny, who sang on that record, when he left the group, he kind of took that with him. Even when he was with Paul McCartney & Wings, he was doing "Go Now" on stage. I think it kind of belonged to him. It didn't represent what the other four guys really wanted to do.

MR: And once you moved to Decca Records, you really couldn't go back to that kind of approach.

JH: No. We couldn't go back to cover versions, that's for sure, and "Go Now" was a cover of a Bessie Banks record.

MR: Right. You mentioned the comeback records of the eighties. It seems like it was like that for a lot of bands--Yes, Asia, et cetera. But it seems like the eighties was the crowning jewel for a lot of bands' music. And you liked those record the most, right?

JH: I did, and if you look at my iTunes library, I see that most of it is from there, from the eighties and the early nineties.

MR: Do you think that possibly the sounds of groups like yours and the arrangements that were happening at the time helped form the sound of the eighties?

JH: Now, Michael, I'm not going to claim that in any kind of way. Every generation has their own sounds and their own music and people so love the music of their youth that I wouldn't take credit for their youth, but certainly, it turned me on. For me, it was meeting Tony Visconti who made great records with us and the fact that he had a little Roland MIDI controller, there was a lot of stuff that I could do with him alone, just the two of us. It kind of bypassed the whole A&R s**t and all of those other people. It was very refreshing. We owe Tony Visconti a great deal.

MR: And Tony Visconti was one of the bridges between David Bowie's material and the eighties. Many new romantic and Euro pop dance owed a lot to and was inspired by some of the works of Tony and what he was doing.

JH: It absolutely did. When I was working with him for four or five years in his studio, every day, there'd be young boys and girls coming to pay homage, just to meet him. And he would always set aside some time and a tea break to meet him. Of course, they loved all the Marc Bolan and Hazel O'Connor stuff. That's the generation, I think, that influenced the eighties style, more than us and the prog rock thing. But it was a lovely time that culminated, for us, with an association with PBS in 1990 and again in 1992 where they filmed The Moodies with an orchestra for the first time. That was great. It took us another step further.

MR: And there was your classic Red Rocks performance.

JH: That was a huge turning point for us, yeah.

MR: Earlier, we were talking about Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, but there was also Rick Wakeman's Return To The Centre Of The Earth.

JH: Ooh, Michael, you're getting in there now, yeah!

MR: [laughs] So, your voice, that sound and identity, has been iconic over a few decades.

JH: Well, I'm very lucky that people are able to say, "Oh, that's that Moody Blues guy!" I'm very fortunate with that. That's all. Without the songs, I think, I'd just be a pretty average karaoke singer. In the end, it comes down to the songs, the strength of the songs. We're very lucky to have had our own and for me to have been involved with some other great songs.

MR: I always ask everybody that I interview this question, so now it's Justin Hayward's turn. Sir, what is your advice for new artists?

JH: I would say trust your own judgment and develop your own style that is true in your heart and don't be deterred from that. Just develop that something that's unique to you that you feel you can give. Be true to yourself, trust your own judgment, that's all.

MR: Beautiful. Of course you've accumulated all these amazing awards, too. Do you feel you may have made a contribution to popular culture both with your music and the music of The Moody Blues?

JH: I don't know the answer to that. That remains to be seen, but when we used to have all those Melody Maker polls in the sixties and seventies, we were always people's fourth-favorite group. I could never claim that we have made a contribution, but we've been on the periphery of this beautiful business for so long that it's probably been the best place to be, rather than in the center.

MR: Might one be able to say that The Moody Blues may have been one of the pioneers of the new age music movement because of the spiritual topics of your albums?

JH: Maybe. I certainly know that on our first tour of America in 1968, David Crosby came to see us backstage at the Fillmore East in New York and I was very pleased to meet him from Buffalo Springfield and that kind of stuff. He didn't ask me anything about the music, but he said, "Where'd you get your clothes, man?" So I think we made a contribution there, if you look at the pictures, Michael.

MR: [laughs] I love it! What does the future hold for The Moody Blues?

JH: Well, we're offered more work now than we ever were when we were younger. That's quite stunning, very nice. I think there's still a lot and if we can just hang in there with our health and the pleasure it gives us... For me, personally, I'll still be playing up at the pub anyway, even if I'm not getting paid for it. As long as our health holds, we'll be just fine. There'll always be a gig for us.

MR: All right, I don't want to take any more of your time, but it's been a pleasure, thank you very much, Justin.

JH: Michael, thank you so much.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


THE BLUES & GREYS' LIVE "SECRETS TO SHADOWS"

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photo credit: Shane McCauley

According to vocalist Lindsey Walden...

"This show took place in our hometown of Santa Barbara after the first string of dates supporting our debut Bright Lights EP. It was amazing to return home and have everyone react so positively to our new record. The show was at one of our favorite local venues (Soho), and all proceeds went to benefit the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation. The energy in the room was amazing and I think this video properly captures that."


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A Conversation with Boston's Tom Scholz

Mike Ragogna: Hi, how are you Tom?

Tom Scholz: Fine Michael, how are you?

MR: I'm pretty good. Let's jump into Life, Love, And Hope. This album has taken a long time to put together. As you were creating it, was there a theme?

TS: I'm never too ambitious when I go into the studio. I always know that I'm just going into the studio to work on or try to develop an idea that I have for a song. When I first start on something, it's because I'm excited about a riff with some chord changes or a chorus; I probably don't have a melody for very much of it and certainly no lyrics. So I get started and then I see where it goes. I never have any preconceived notions or any boundaries. I'm not trying to make Boston music or anything else, I'm just trying to see where the music sort of takes me. Once I get to the point where I have a few cuts picked out, with this album, I did sort of start to see a theme emerging. It wasn't intentional, it just happened, but I realized maybe that's because of the stage I'm at in my life or experience or being slightly wiser than I was when I was twenty-five. I don't know. But at some point, it became obvious to me that this album is about its title, Life, Love And Hope. It's no accident that there are five songs that have "love" in the title. Out of life, love and hope, I thought that might be the most important part. So that is something that falls into place and then once that happened, I had to take great care as I finished up the album and worked on later songs that they would fit into the theme. It makes the job extra hard because not only are you then concerned with what's happening lyrically with the songs for the literal interpretation, but there's also the musical interpretation, what emotion is created by each song, where it could fit in a sequence that makes it work, and then you're concerned as a producer about all the technical aspects--the key changes of the songs, the tempo; it's a really complicated several-dimension puzzle. There are lots and lots of false starts and lots of giving up, turning around, and going again, which is part of the reason it takes so long. Not only with the album itself and the various songs, but also with every single little part on every single little song, I have just endless ideas. Picking up a guitar to play a rhythm part, I play through the chord changes and I immediately have all these ideas about the voicing on the chords and the passing notes and I try a lot of them. I don't try all of them, but I try a lot. Every instrument that I add creates more options and more thoughts about how they could fit in and how I could change the parts I've already done. So it's a very time-consuming effort. I don't know why I'm driven so much by it. A lot of people go in and hammer out some chords and say, "That's my song." I get really excited by the music and what you can do with it, so I find that I have to investigate these things.

MR: You're the producer, the writer, the arranger, the player, looking at it from all those angles. A lot of people look at the technical aspects of an album as a cold procedure, but I'll bet that Tom Scholz's heart is warmed when he's coming up with the latest musical thing.

TS: Oh it absolutely is. They reinforce each other, the strictly creative musical part of playing something different that I haven't thought of before and creating a sound that wasn't available to me before or is different somehow by technical means, one inspires the other if that makes any sense. I'll have some idea from a strictly technical standpoint and a way to make something really cool happen with the guitar sound, and I'll work on it for a while. As I'm doing it, hearing this new sort of capability for new sounds drives me to do things with it. The song "Heaven On Earth," for instance, grew out of an experiment I was doing with some Rockman amps and some modifications to it. As I was working on it and thinking, "Oh, this sounds really good when you do this kind of lick with it," before I knew it, I was playing the verse to "Heaven On Earth."

MR: [laughs] You've taken with you more than a couple of generations of fans, and when I look at songs like "Last Day Of School" or "More Than A Feeling," it seems you bring out a very passionate view of the world they've followed you though.

TS: It's more like--and I was as surprised as anybody else that this happened--it's more that people identify with the things that I felt when I heard this music. The reason that I bothered to record it and work on it as hard as I did was this feeling that I got from it, and it was often kind of hard to put into words. I realized, eventually, that a lot of other people got that same kind of tingle up their spine. It was something different that they really enjoyed and you can't necessarily put that into words. It wasn't that I was trying to tap into that in the universe of listeners out there, I was just very lucky that a lot of people had that same reaction to the same type of music that I did. And by the way, it was completely unexpected. I was used to rejection and failure. The experts in the music business even went so far as to tell me to expect failure with what I was doing back in the seventies because disco was the thing back then, not rock 'n' roll, so I was shocked that it struck such a chord with such a large number of people. Look, music doesn't have to have lyrics, it doesn't have to be a particular type of music, it has the ability to bring out really strong and hopefully good emotional reactions in people. The music that I wrote and recorded is music that I really enjoy listening to. It's just dumb luck that a lot of other people do too.

MR: It's really amazing that you were told that Boston wouldn't have a shot.

TS: Oh yeah, they had me conditioned to expect abject failure, and I did. I finished recording that album--I took a leave of absence from my job at Polaroid--and as soon as it was done, I went back to work. I heard "More Than A Feeling" for the first time when somebody came running into my office in the engineering department and said, "Your song's on the radio in the drafting department!"

MR: That's almost unimaginable. Boston is so established, I think, in the pop/rock culture that people are still ready to take that ride even all these years later.

TS: That's right. These are basically topics that are subjects in my life. People sometimes think, "I'm crazy, I must be the only person who feels like this," but that's usually not the case, there's usually a huge number of people who feel just like you do. So the things that I write about and the music--I was going to say it supports the lyrics, but it's really the other way around. It's shared by an awful lot of people. The subjects in Boston songs are life subjects.

MR: Nice. Getting back to the new album, the process of recording this album was a bit more varied than it's been in the past. How exactly did it differ from the previous Boston setups?

TS: It's not that much different, to be honest with you. What with the exception of my last release, which I'm trying to forget about, all the albums have been done the same way. Basically, I work alone, I write most of the songs and get the music down and then, of course, it's time to have somebody sing the lead vocals and thank God I had Brad [Delp] for so many years because I'm sure they wouldn't be nearly as well-represented if I had tried to sing them. I get them to the point where the singer can come in and try to interpret what I'm looking for to complete the songs, and then it goes from there. I wish Brad was still here. Of course he would have sung a lot more of the album, but I'm very thankful that I have him on the three songs that I had finished. I was very lucky that it was almost--I don't want to get mystical here--it was almost like Tommy DeCarlo got sent in 2007 because when he stepped in, he was not a professional musician, he was not a singer, he hadn't ever been in a band in his life. He'd never even been on stage. But he stepped in and it was almost like he's always been there. It's just amazing. So thank God, it really enabled me to complete the project in much the same way that I had anticipated. I've heard lots of great singers over the years and I always try to include some other performances by other musicians and singers too, so that it isn't too much of a one-sided presentation. I love the Kimberley Dahme things and I'm really happy with the job that David Victor did and, of course, I've got Curly Smith on harmonica on a part of it and Gary [Pihl] traded off leads with me on one song and sang harmonies with me. I really like to have a little bit of diversity in there, but I was very lucky that Tommy came along when he did. We didn't even go looking, he just literally fell in our lap.

MR: That's wonderful. Was there a mentoring process that went on with Tommy DeCarlo?

TS: Certainly. He had to make an amazing adjustment. He was a regular guy who worked at a hardware store and had a family and he was thrown into an alien world of professional musicians and being on stage and all of these things. But I have to say, he basically turned himself into a fully qualified amazing performer all by himself. We took him on in 2008 on our tour, he did fine, he did amazingly considering his background, and he went home from that and he came back in 2012 in control. He'd step on a stage and it was his stage. It was that way from the first day of rehearsal through the end of the tour. He went to work on it. He's a very dedicated guy that you can tell does an enormous amount of work on his own. What he doesn't know, he figures out and learns. He turned himself into a top-notch vocalist. I can't take credit for mentoring Tommy DeCarlo because honestly I think he did it himself.

MR: That leads me to the question I ask everybody. What advice do you have for new artists?

TS: Do the art for your own enjoyment. Do it for your own purposes as well as you can for yourself and the way you like it. If something happens with it, great, but don't go at it because you think it's a great way to make money or get chicks because that's not going to work.

MR: Tom, album-to-album, you feature that guitar ship with the Boston logo on its way to someplace. How do you picture the journey taking off from here?

TS: Touring 2014. [laughs] We've got an awful lot of people around the world asking why we haven't visited them in a long time, so it may be a long trip. I want Boston to be an escape for people when they put on the music, so the album covers sort of reflect what I'm hoping they will feel from sitting through a Boston album. It can take them away from their everyday life and whatever they're thinking about, to basically free your mind up a little bit.

MR: I'm kind of bothered by what you said earlier, I don't see how you couldn't have possibly taken off when you did with that first album, it was a classic at the time of its release. What do you think as far as Boston's legacy?

TS: You know, I don't really think about that. I'm just always focused on the next idea that I'm trying to work on. So I don't really ever think about that. My advice to most people is, "Don't ever think about that." You do the best you can do and your legacy will take care of itself.

MR: Do you have any devices that you're working on? Inventing Rockman should've been enough for one lifetime, but do you have any other devices up your sleeve?

TS: [laughs] I have a bunch of things that I've wanted to take the time to work on. These albums are so intensive that everything else gets pushed aside while I've got one of these in process. Like I said, I haven't had a vacation in seven years and I can't take one now. I do have some other gadgets, nothing musical at the moment, but a couple of ideas for people that have back injuries. I'm dying to get to work on them, because they've been rattling around in my brain for years and I just haven't had time to sit down and develop them.

MR: I'm so floored by that answer, I don't know where to go from that. You're an amazing human.

TS: Thank you.

MR: Tom, I'm so happy you gave me this interview. Thank you so much my friend.

TS: My pleasure. Take care.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


REPUTANTE'S "DEEP SET EYES"

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photo credit: Guy Eppel

"Jimmy Giannopoulos had the idea for us to make a video in Bushwick involving some sort of dice game," says James Levy. "We pooled our money, but Jimmy's twenty dollar bill blew away in the wind leaving us mostly with singles. Jon Hoeg filmed it in one take. It was very cold out that day, so it took about four minutes to shoot."


RADIO RAHEEM'S "CALLING THE WORLD"

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photo credit: Melissa O'Hearn

"Seattle's Radio Raheem formed in 2011 out of the ashes of several local Seattle bands," explains guitarist Bryan Cohen. "For Radio Raheem we wanted to have fun, get the people dancing and raise the roof. When gospel vocalist Josephine Howell joined the band we knew we were on to something. Her big vocals brought tons of uplifting soul to go with our song's grooves. Her vocals on 'Calling The World' elevated the song's choruses into the stratosphere. For our 'Calling The World' video our directors Sawyer Purman and Ben Anderson suggested that the band play the song in a ship made out of tin cans while battling an evil anti-music villain. As the ship flies around the world we send tin cans to earth for people to listen to 'Calling The World,' which frees them from the villain's grasp. At the end we have a dance party with the world's music saved. That's Radio Raheem for you--reaching for the stars and ending up with a big old dance party!"

 

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