Fame and Fortune: Moody Blues' guitarist was born at a time of austerity but by college he had made Nights in White Satin and was able to indulge in rock-star extravagence
John Lodge, 69, found fame when he joined The Moody Blues in 1966 as bass guitarist and vocalist. Today, he lives in Surrey with his wife, Kirsten.
How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?
I was born in Birmingham at the end of the war so it was a pretty austere time.
Rationing was going until 1950 so it didn’t matter if you didn’t have any pocket money because there was nothing much to buy. There was a sweet shop where you could buy offshoots of sweets that were irregular, served in little cones of paper.
At 11 I went to Central Grammar School and, if you lived more than three miles away, Birmingham Council gave you a token to use on the bus. I sold them to schoolmates because I used to go on my bicycle.
Stability is really important for me because if I have a strong foundation I can be creative without having a money problem.
What was your first job?
A Saturday evening paper round. I’d go with someone whose round it was, collecting money for newspapers delivered during the week.
I was always drawing cars and when I left school at 16 I wanted to be a car designer, but it wasn’t possible at Longbridge and I became an apprentice with Parkinson Cowan, a company in Stechford making gas stoves and storage heaters.
When I was 15, I’d met Ray Thomas and we’d formed a band, so all the years during college and my apprenticeship I was performing at night doing gigs all around Birmingham and the Midlands until I was 20.
After joining the Moody Blues, did you expect the success you had a year later with Nights in White Satin?
No. When the Moody Blues started I was still at college. They went down to London and I still had a year to go. They’d really broken up. They had Go Now, which was a huge hit, and Ray asked: “Do you want to get the old band back together?”
I said: “Have bass, will travel.” We went to a village in Belgium and wrote songs which became our stage show and album Days of Future Passed.
The financial success was a shock, like waves starting way out and eventually hitting the beach.
We were at the Midem Festival in France but I didn’t think we were going to be televised live, being a secondary act. But things went wrong that night and the producer ran in saying: “Who can play live?” and we said: “We can”.
We played three songs, one of which was Nights in White Satin. The following week it went to No 1 in France.
When you were making big money with the band, did you invest it?
In 1966, I bought a house in Surrey for £15,000 and found another which was out of the reach of the money I’d got. So I made an offer which was accepted and I had to find the money.
These were the days you could talk to a bank manager. He thought the band would do well and supported me. Everyone kept saying keep the mortgage but I paid it off in five years because for me it was far more important to have something solid that I owned.
Has being rich and famous made you vulnerable to being taken advantage of?
You always look for the person who offers you something that seems too good to be true. It happened twice.
You’d meet an agent or promoter who’d send a list of dates and say if you don’t answer within seven days we accept that you’ll perform them. Being musicians those pieces of paper usually got lost. They’re nuisance suits and you’d usually settle before it got to court.
Others try to sell you another summer home or a more expensive car. I’ve avoided most of that. Ego plays a big part. They say: “I love your music; I’ve been a fan for years. Would you like to invest in this great idea?”
I fell for that one in a small way in America, building little studios to record songs to backing tracks. This was pre-karaoke and I thought it was a great idea. You learn. I did invest in it and it didn’t work.
There was once a theme park ride called 'Nights in White Satin: The Trip’ in America. Were you paid for the use of your song title?
Yes, we got a fee. It was like a ghost train. We were a bit wary of the idea because we weren’t too sure the Moody Blues belonged in a theme park. But because the Eagles and Led Zeppelin were involved, too, it felt fine.
Did your school music teacher’s decision to ban you from his class for not knowing Beethoven’s birthday have any bearing on your later success?
That’s brilliant. Where’d you find that? I remember being dumbfounded. I had to do woodwork instead and I tell you, you wouldn't want to buy anything I’d made in woodwork. My table would have had four different legs.
I’d said to the music teacher: “If you can play Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by Jerry Lee Lewis, I’ll find out when Beethoven was born.” And he’d said: “Lodge, you’re dismissed.” Because he said that, it made me even more determined.
Years later we were doing a concert in Sydney and the music teacher was conducting a concert somewhere else in Sydney. A guy from my class, who’d kept in touch with him for some reason, told me he’d invited him to our concert. I thought it was very funny.
Has the Rhythm of the Swing CD that you helped make to soothe golfers into playing better been profitable?
I don’t think it’s been profitable but it’s still available. It was a nice thing to do.
If you’re playing golf and you have other things on your mind and you haven’t time to go on the driving range or putting green, you could play it in the car to meditate you into place.
Did Tiger Woods use it?
No, but OJ Simpson did.
Is your wine-producing a business venture?
It was something to do for fun, producing a boutique wine I can be proud of.
We blend wines under the name Krisemma, from my children’s names, Kristian and Emily (who runs it), and people can buy online.
I love travelling to certain wine regions of the world, like Burgundy and the beautiful area of Napa Valley and Sonoma in California, where I’ve produced wine with the winery Behrens & Hitchcock. The financial part wasn’t really an end game. For me it’s just another part of life, and the feedback has been really good.
Has selling 70 million albums meant lifelong financial security?
Well, looking back on it, yes.
What financial advice would you give to musicians starting out?
Practise! Honestly, if you see the end game as making money, forget about it because it’ll all go wrong for you. It may not be supposed to happen for you. You may be doing the wrong thing.
I started playing a six-string guitar and learning the chord structures of Buddy Holly songs and the rhythm section of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
I was fascinated by the left-hand side of the piano that American rock ’n’ roll artists managed to do.
I tried to work out these boogie parts on the bottom four strings of the guitar.
When bass guitars finally arrived in Birmingham it was my Eureka moment and I thought that’s what I wanted to do.
What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever bought?
My first car was an Austin Nippy owned by my uncle. It had blow-up seats and when I was seven or eight he let me drive it, and I was fascinated by cars from that age.
I bought a burgundy Aston Martin DB5 in the Sixties and a Bentley S2 in 1969 for £1,000. You could buy a house for that.
I took my family to America in 1978 to record the album Octave and bought a two‑door Lincoln Continental that we drove on Route 66 from Los Angeles to New York to return on the QE2.
In those days if you were travelling first class you could bring excess baggage. At the port they asked if I had any and I said the car. It came back free as excess baggage.
Does money make you happy?
I think if you go chasing things with money it’s going to make you unhappy. It’s better to take things in your stride. When we’re on tour we charter planes to get from one continent or city to another. It’s two months and you’re flying every day – the cost is enormous. But you’re on tour and you have to do it.
Being successful also gives you the opportunity to say I’d rather stay at this or that boutique hotel. To me it’s quality of life. When we go to Paris I like to be on the Left Bank because I like to be in Saint-Germain, not on the Champs-Élysées in five-star luxury.
- John Lodge’s new solo album, 10,000 Light Years Ago, is out now. He tours in Britain in June with The Moody Blues