Alan Hewitt has played keyboards with the Moody Blues since 2010 as well as fronting his own band Alan Hewitt & One Nation. In this interview we talk about growing up in a small US town where all the upcoming local bands seemed to be obsessed with English prog, about eventually getting the call from the Moody Blues and about catching Covid while performing an online gig to a virtual audience. We also discuss his latest single and forthcoming album.
DJ: It’s so nice to speak to you, Alan, and thanks so much for your time doing this. First, I’d just like to find out a little bit about how you got into music professionally in the first place?
AH: Ok, Darren, great to be here… Well, I started out like a lot of kids do, you know, twelve years old and I started on drums and we put a band together. I grew musically as time went on. Those were fun years. My brother actually played bongos in my band and we would play gigs together.
DJ: A percussion duo, you and your brother then!
AH: Yeah! Actually my brother was a real kind of nurturing guy along the way. You know you need someone to kind of help support you along the way. My parents were great, too. So then, had a band – fourteen-fifteen years old – which was a really cool band. It was three of us, kind of like an Emerson Lake & Palmer thing. And we did Tchaikovsky, and we would turn them into rock tunes. And we opened up for a lot of known acts and so that was kind of my start to getting into the little bit bigger realm of things. From that point on I went to Berklee College of Music and that’s where things started blossoming as I started getting some foundation under me. And it moved from there…
DJ: So the prog classically-influenced thing came at quite an early age then?
AH: It was interesting because the town I grew up in (Petoskey, Michigan) was really small. It would be like Cobham, something like that over there. And we had several bands and pretty much all of the bands were into progressive rock. I mean like Gentle Giant, Blodwyn Pig, Genesis, Yes, and of course, Emerson, Lake & Palmer – all of them! Yeah, it’s kind of strange actually. I wanted to go as far out as I could possibly go. Some of the guys I was with that was far enough. I wanted to go even further so that’s why I kind of moved on.
DJ: And eventually at some point the call came to begin touring with the Moody Blues. How did that gig come about?
AH: Well there was quite a gap in there because I had film and TV and then I did some other things. And then along the lines I was in a management group which had Earth, Wind & Fire, Warrant, Moody Blues and the Beach Boys and some others. So that was how it originally all came together. I had met Justin (Hayward) about twenty years prior to me being in the band and we got along great. I had a sail-boat, we’d go out sailing – just kind of hanging. Did a little music but not much. And then, like you said, later on I got a call asking me if I’d be interested in going out. They didn’t tell me it was the Moody Blues though. I said, “It depends who it is but I’m interested.” And after I had a little meeting with Robert Norman who was our agent, he approved it to the next level and then I had an audition – along with some other guys, too. And then I got the gig and that’s kind of how it came down.
DJ: Wonderful. Although you weren’t a nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame presumably you were there as part of the live performance?
AH: Yeah, we got to play!
DJ: That must be something!
AH: It was cool. It was really cool. It was a long night for the guys because we were last on – and, of course, they have to sit out there at the table with everybody. But it was really cool. I spent a lot of time in the green room with Ann Wilson and some of the other people that were in there – and it was a gas.
DJ: Because she inducted the band didn’t she?
AH: She did. And it’s interesting because I had met her. I had a band in Chicago back in the mid-80s and they worked at a studio called Pierced Arrow. Remember that song ‘Another Paradise’ with the guy from Loverboy? They were recording that… and I happened to be working a lot at that studio, too, and the guy who co-produced and mixed all of our records was doing that record. And I met her then, so we talked about that and she goes, “Wow, that’s a long time ago.”
DJ: Must have been a fantastic occasion for the band?
AH: Oh yeah. Have you had any of the other guys on? Have you had Justin or John here with you?
DJ: No, I did see Justin – he performed a solo gig down here in 2019 at De La Warr Pavilion. I’m down on the south coast.
AH: Nice. I did his first solo tour with him and it was really nice. Him and John – he’s totally acoustic and plays all his work. And John’s is more of a rock show so it’s an interesting contrast.
DJ: When live performances get going again in the UK, I’d definitely like to see more of them.
AH: That would be nice.
DJ: You’ve obviously continued with a parallel solo career while being in the Moody Blues – and your film and TV work, too. Do you still continue with the film and TV compositions?
AH: I do yeah – I like to stay as creative as possible, so the Alan Hewitt & One Nation project is kind of an extension of the music that I really enjoy – whatever comes out basically because I need that conduit. It’s always coming in and so I have to bring it out. So we’re working on that album and that will be done shortly. We’re moving along pretty good. We’re on about half way through – and some of the new songs are pretty cool, too. And, yeah, the film and TV thing is a continual thing. I do – probably twenty-five shows I have music in on any given day…
DJ: So any shows that British viewers would be familiar with?
AH: I do have some British shows but you’re putting me in the hot chair – what are some of them? I have some stuff on the BBC… I know I have some documentaries. One’s about the redwoods – the trees over here. I think there’s a farm animal show and there was one about turtles, too! There’s three of those – those are documentaries. Of course, I did Bridget Jones – Edge of Reason. I know that’s not real British, but they play British – and there’s one Brit in it right!
DJ: We know that – we’ll go with that! What initially prompted you to put Alan Hewitt & One Nation together then? Tell us a little bit about that.
AH: Well it started, I just had a bunch of different revelations and it’s something I always wanted to do, and I was at a point – we took a break with the Moodies. I think it was at least five months. So it was a time where I could go ahead and start moving along with things. And it started with Jamie Glazier from Chick Corea and Jean-Luc Ponty. And J.V. Collier and Sonny Emory from Earth, Wind & Fire. And then Duffy King who’s my friend from northern Michigan, who was in one of those bands I told you about – and has won tons of awards in Detroit for his music and guitar playing. He was a Gibson clinic guy, too. So that was the foundation of that first band. And then I took a break from it because I got busy with touring with the Moodies and John (Lodge). And then we started it up again because now Duffy King’s still in it and then Billy Ashbaugh from the Moodies – the drummer from the Moodies who joined a few years ago to play along with Graham (Edge). And then David C. Johnson from the Neville Brothers. So then three of us live in Florida. So that made it a lot easier to do things. And then Duffy flies in when we need to do events or anything. We did a virtual ProgStock concert, but we had to go to a studio to do it, over in Fort Myers, and we all got Covid there.
DJ: Oh dear me.
AH: See what we do for the fans!
DJ: So you’re doing an online concert – looking after your audience and everything – but you still get Covid.
AH: Yeah. That was back in October and everybody’s good now. There was a few complications with a few of us but we’re all good on that now. So it kind of evolved into what it is and this way we’re going to be able to tour a lot easier. A smaller group and we have a new agent who is Jim Lenz from TKO. And the guys just all love what we’re doing. It’s just a really good, nice hang because we all get along great so it’s nice.
DJ: When is the album due? Is there a date?
AH: We’re looking for Summer, but it could be Fall. It just depends. A lot of it depends on this situation. It was starting to look good over here and now we’re getting a little bit of an upsurge again but – I’m hopeful.
DJ: I’ve heard the latest single ‘We’re One Nation’ which I love, and I love the sentiment behind that. Do you want to say a little about that and how you were inspired to write that?
AH: Of course, just like you and everybody else we’ve been paying attention to things and I just got to the point where instead of yelling at the TV I wrote it down. And that’s kind of where that came from. It’s not an angry thing but the concept is that if we all just kind of work together we’d be much better off – instead of splintering off into these little groups. So that’s the bottom line.
DJ: And the timing was perfect I think.
AH: Yeah. It definitely was. We had a single before that called ‘One Step Closer’. That’s a little bit more… it’s one step closer to the edge is basically what it was. ‘We’re One Nation’ is a little bit more positive
DJ: I absolutely love it.
AH: That’s good. I’m glad you like it.
DJ: Is there anything else you want to tell us? Any final thoughts you want to leave us with?
AH: Oh well, just we hope everybody can go out and see shows pretty soon and we’re looking forward to doing it, also. And thanks Darren for doing the podcast. Appreciate it.
DJ: It’s really good to chat. Thanks so much and good luck with everything. I hope you can get out performing soon.
AH: I do, too, and if we come near you we’ll see you?
DJ: Definitely. I’ll be there!
Live review: Justin Hayward at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019