“Once you play music, you’ll play forever,” promised legendary bassist and songwriter John Lodge. “Forever,” for Lodge, has amounted to six decades of recording and touring with the music of the Moody Blues. The band was recently inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and celebrated the 50th anniversary of their breakthrough album “Days of Future Passed.” Lodge’s own past feels closer than ever, he said. “It feels like yesterday. I still remember going into the studio and recording that album. It feels like a time warp. It’s as though you don’t go in a straight line, or through linear time. It’s as if we’ve bounced off of somewhere and gone back.”
Lodge’s latest offering, “BYond,” reflects the notion of nonlinear time. A record of deep cuts, solo work and live and remastered recordings of classic Moody Blues tracks, “BYond” spans Lodge’s long career. In a thread from the past that continues to pull, Lodge recorded the tracks on “BYond” with the same Fender Precision bass he’s used on every Moody Blues record. “I bought it in 1960. It plays absolutely beautifully. In those days everything was handmade. I remember seeing it in the window of the music store and it said ‘direct from America.’ That was it. I fell in love.”
Lodge’s first exposure to rock ’n’ roll also came direct from America. “As a kid, growing up in Birmingham I saw all of the early iconic tours, Little Richard and Buddy Holly. It was the best education ever. I used to watch these guys on stage and think, ‘I’m sure I could do that if I knew how.’”
Seeking that know-how, Lodge taught himself to play guitar and, later, bass. His subsequent rock ’n’ roll trajectory has been more wholesome than most; he completed his college degree before joining the Moody Blues full-time, eschewed the narcotic trappings of some of his contemporaries and has been happily married to his wife, Kirsten, since 1968. “I like to finish things that I start,” Lodge said with a laugh, “as long as I have the energy and the enthusiasm.” For Lodge, the music of the Moody Blues continues to invoke both. While other members of the band have retired from touring or invested in other projects, Lodge remains devoted to bringing their songs to live audiences. “I’m a Moody Blue, it’s who I am and I want to keep the music alive. I want to keep sharing it with everyone. I want to play those songs.”
Many of the songs in question were written or first performed around a particular piece of furniture. “There’s a coffee table we’ve had since 1967 and we used to sit around, just the five of us with guitars or tambourines and when you’d written a song you’d play it to the rest of the guys. You passed it over and then everyone would put their input into it. As soon as you played it, it became a Moody Blues song.” Ever reverent of the past, Lodge has held onto the fabled table.
After a lifetime of playing, one performance in particular stands out for Lodge, the record-setting double show he played with the Moody Blues at Madison Square Garden in 1972. “We did two sold-out concerts the same day. No one had ever attempted that before and no one has attempted it since. We brought that area of New York to a standstill.” Journalist Don Heckman, writing for the “New York Times” described the pair of shows as “instant Nirvana.”
In addition to playing bass and doling out sonic enlightenment, Lodge is the mind behind such Moody Blues songs as “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock n’ Roll Band),” “Ride My See-Saw,” “Gemini Dream” and “Isn’t Life Strange.” Lodge said of the latter, “’Isn’t Life Strange’ came to me when I basically heard the piano in my house playing to me. I went into the front room, sat down and 20 minutes later I came back and said to my wife, ‘I think I’ve written a new song, it may just be the wine we’re drinking, but I’ll find out in the morning.’”
Morning came and the song stuck, eventually earning Lodge a songwriting award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Writing and playing are, for Lodge, a kind of transcendental experience. “Sometimes when I’m playing onstage I look at my fingers and think, ‘How on earth do they know what to do?’ And when you’re writing a song it’s the same; it goes where it wants to go. They seem to take on their own dimension, their own journey.”
Lodge’s own journey has brought him, again and again, to the stage. “I still find it exciting and I hope the audience does, too. Hopefully I play the bass the best I ever have, that’s what I’m hoping to achieve onstage every night.”
Hear for yourself on Tuesday, Feb. 25 when Lodge brings the music of the Moody Blues to Key West Theater. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show at 8.