Ever since the strains of “Nights in White Satin” defined the progressive sound of late-night radio a half-century ago, the pop world has known the name Justin Hayward. More generally, they knew he helped establish The Moody Blues. But it was Hayward’s voice, guitar and pen that summoned many of the group’s other established works, including “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Lovely to See You,” “The Story in Your Eyes” and more.
But here’s a fact even some of the Moodys’ most ardent fans don’t know. For 40 of Hayward’s 50 years with the group, he has maintained a solo career, focusing on tunes that are lighter in tone and more personal in narrative.
“In the early days, I did hold some songs back that I didn’t think were kind of appropriate or a decent fit for the Moodys,” said Hayward, who makes his first Lexington appearance since 1994 on Tuesday at the Opera House. “It’s OK being personal, but sometimes it’s good to be … well, not deliberately obscure, but working in a place where you try and make a song more about a general emotion instead of specific one. There are a couple of things on this tour that I probably held back from recording with the Moodys because they were a bit too me-me-me and not us-us-us.”
I’m very lucky to still have the Moodys. I love every moment of it. But this tour, without that volume, is like being in my music room, like being with friends.
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That’s not to say Hayward tucks the familiar Moody Blues tunes in a closet when he tours on his own. In fact, the repertoire this winter is being split between his vintage hits and solo career songs, many of which have been compiled on a new Hayward anthology recording called “All the Way.”
“It was a bit daunting, to be quite honest,” Hayward said of his solo career’s launch with the 1977 album “Songwriter.” “The people I met during that time were very precious to me. The musicians I worked with are still my friends today. It was kind of scary, but there was so much good will that I found. I didn’t find the world saying, ‘When are the Moodys going to get back together?’ I found a world that was welcoming to me and people that said, ‘I’ve just always liked your songs.’ It was as simple as that.”
The mix of Moody Blues and solo material at Tuesday’s show will play out not in a band setting, but in a trio configuration that will team Hayward with British guitarist Mike Dawes (who will also open the concert) and keyboardist/vocalist Julie Ragins.
“With this band, you can hear every nuance of the sound. I get a chance to bring my acoustic guitars, the ones that were used the records. It’s a little bit more like the original recordings, in some ways — particularly the early recordings where (producer) Tony Clarke and (engineer) Derek Varnals would put the acoustic guitar much further forward and the drums further back in the mix. The acoustic guitar and the mellotron often led the Moodys’ early recordings. It’s a little bit more like that.
... These songs, a lot of them mean something in peoples’ lives just as songs of other artists do in mine.
“I mean, I’m very lucky to still have the Moodys. I love every moment of it. But this tour, without that volume, is like being in my music room, like being with friends. That’s how these songs were written, including the parts that I put on all my original demos. It’s how they originally sounded. It’s how the songs were born.”
So what drives Hayward in 2017? He turned 70 in October and maintains a hearty touring schedule of solo dates and Moody Blues shows. What keeps his performance attitude so full of vigor?
“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?” he said. “There are some things I don’t have to deal with that others might. I don’t have to deal with celebrity. I don’t have to deal with paparazzi or that kind of stuff. I’m spared that. I can be just the guy walking down the street. But these songs, a lot of them mean something in peoples’ lives, just as songs of other artists do in mine. And, really, what else would I do?
“My daughter tells me, ‘Look, you have a lovely house. You love reading books, why don’t we go there and just read books for the rest of our lives?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a nice idea. And? What about this other thing I have to do?”