Keeping The Music Alive

The Moody Blues, Doobie Brothers And Joan Armatrading Help Send Off This Year's Jazz Fest
By Lynn Moore, For The Gazette

"MONTREAL - British singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading knows that today marks her first appearance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. But don't press for details about other stops on a tour that began in March in Germany, spans Britain and the U.S., and concludes in August in Salmon Arm, B.C.

"I often don't remember a place until I get there and then it sort of comes running back," said the songstress over a very bad telephone connection from a tour stop on one of Britain's Channel Islands.

For weeks, Armatrading's people have been trying to line up this interview with the artist who, despite hits such as Show Some Emotion and Love and Affection, is better known and appreciated in Europe than in North America.

Travel time, time differences and a demanding concert schedule have translated into a narrow window of opportunity. So, after twice trying to get a clear phone line, Armatrading was reduced to shouting into the receiver to make herself heard above the static.

The artist, whose synthesis of rock, blues, soul and reggae has earned her three Grammy nominations, seemed to be in good voice.

"Whether it's a hall or a festival or a tent in the middle of a field, you aren't really there until you are in front of the audience," she explained. "That is really why you are (on tour), to play to the people and experience the interaction with the audience.

"That is what you remember. That is why you do all of this."

Armatrading, whose show will include selections from her 20th album, This Charming Life, is one of a few veterans working their way to Montreal this week.

Also playing tonight at the larger Salle Wilfrid Pelletier in Place des Arts is a rock doubleheader featuring the Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers. And, to end the 31st edition of the jazz fest tomorrow night with some star power, The Moody Blues.

This storied band has sold more than 70 million albums worldwide and charted 14 platinum and gold discs since its debut hit in 1965, a Mersey-beat rendition of Go Now. Later successes established new musical genres such as classical-pomp and progressive rock.

As a founding member of The Moody Blues, and the songwriter behind many of its biggest hits (Nights in White Satin and Tuesday Afternoon included), Justin Hayward could afford to sit out the rest of the game. His fellow originals Michael Pinder and Ray Thomas bowed out rather than tour.

But after spending more time on the road than he has with his wife of 40 years, Hayward can still laugh authentically when asked about the lot of the 63-year-old singer in a rock 'n' roll band.

"In truth, I'm doing what I always wanted to do," he said from Indiana. The Moody Blues appearing in Montreal is the happiest incarnation of the band yet, according to Hayward.

"The three of us that are left out of the (original) five, are the guys who really want to do it and the other people we have with us on stage are totally into the music, were brought up with the music, and love it," he said.

The Moody Blues were among the first groups to use the Mellotron, an electronic keyboard instrument that uses tapes of recorded sounds, especially of orchestral instruments.

That 1970s-era invention allowed the group to recreate on tour the sounds of many of their numbers that fused elaborate orchestration with pop and rock.

About six months ago, the band replaced the Mellotron with something more portable, "a little box called a Memotron that a German guy made with us in mind," Hayward said.

"We wanted to go back to be true to what was on the (original) record and explore that more.

"We are using a lot of our original sounds from the '80s, from our Mellotron sounds that we sampled ourselves so the (current sounds) are probably truer to the records than they ever have been, since Mike Pinder was with us anyway."

The Montreal concert will conclude with some of the group's greatest hits.

"We play them faithfully, more faithfully than we ever have done before," Hayward said.

Also living at peace with the past are the Doobie Brothers. The band's current frontman Tom Johnston is a founding member who has seen the group's fortunes ebb and rise in a couple of reincarnations.

In the 1970s, Johnston quit touring because of health issues and was replaced by singer Mike Macdonald, the force behind Minute by Minute and What a Fool Believes.

The Doobies dissolved in 1982, then reunited around Johnston in 1987 for "a short tour" that developed a life of its own.

Johnston recently called from a tour bus bound for Dallas, about 13 hours away.

"To fly on tour, you have to have more money than God," said Johnston, who describes himself as "a homebody, someone who likes being at home" with the wife and the fully equipped sound studio.

Friend and former Doobies drummer, the late Keith Knudson, best summed up touring, Johnston said.

"Keith always said, 'you get paid for the 22 hours it takes for you to get to the show and then you play for nothing."

In addition to Doobie hits like Listen to the Music, Black Water and China Grove, the group will play several songs that are part of an upcoming release World Gone Crazy.

All three artists, Armatrading, Hayward and Johnston, said they know their Montreal fans want to hear the hits that made them famous.That's cool. It helps pay the bills or buy new toys. But it also gets them together with a congregation of fans.

"I know it might sound trite but the music is a wonderful thing to share," Hayward said. "And it takes an audience (reaction) to create that magic in a room. It is the most miraculous of the arts. Something out of nothing is created in a hall and then it is not there anymore. Then you all go your way."'

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