PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
May 25, 2004

Band of Brothers

by Jim Newsom

Forty years after the group came together in Birmingham, England, drummer Graeme Edge is the only remaining original member of the Moody Blues. Did he ever imagine it would last so long?

"No, not for a moment,” he told me last week. “When we first started, you were too old for rock’n’roll at thirty. We didn't realize that everybody grew up with you.”

He was talking with me from a hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Moodies were kicking off an American tour that includes a stop at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Virginia Beach next Wednesday, June 2nd. He had just flown in from England the day before and was “a little jet-lagged, but other than that, just fine.”

Edge was with the band back when it was a rhythm & blues/rock ‘n’roll outfit that produced one big hit, “Go Now,” a record that reached #1 in the U.K. and #2 in the States in April, 1965. That song, sung by Denny Laine atop Mike Pinder’s ringing piano chords, bore no resemblance to the symphonic psychedelia for which the band would ultimately make its lasting mark.

"The band I was in before this was called the R&B Preachers,” Edge remembers. “In the early Moody Blues with Denny Laine, we were singing about pickin' cotton and smokestack lightnin' and stuff like that until we suddenly realized, 'We don't know what the hell we're talking about.'"

Laine departed along with original bassist Clint Warwick in 1966, and the band appeared destined for remembrance as a one-hit wonder. But their replacements, guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge, and a strange new keyboard instrument Pinder acquired called a mellotron, would create a distinctive sound for the band at a time when pop music was open to distinctive and original sounds.

Graeme Edge explains the otherworldly textures the band produced, in which angelic vocal harmonies appeared to be suspended atmospherically and blazing guitar licks, classical flute riffs and a rock solid rhythm section melded together beneath pseudo-philosophical lyrical themes:

"I think it was three different forces coming together. One was Tony Clarke, the producer. The other was the mellotron, which Mike Pinder was playing. And the other was Justin Hayward joining the band, because he didn't come the rock’n’roll route, he came the English folk route. So his feel for chord structure was just that little bit different.”

There was also a bit of serendipity involved. The new version of the Moody Blues was picked by Deram Records, an imprint of British Decca, to provide the music for one of those stereophonic demonstration records that were all the rage in the early days of two-channel stereo.

"That's right,” Edge confirms. “Deramic Super Sound, DSS. They were doing these sorts of opposites to show that the range of the system could cover everything. They wanted us to do rock’n’roll and an orchestra, and they wanted us to do parts of Dvorak's New World Symphony. But at the time we were working on a stage show which was going to be sort of a 24-hour experience. We had ‘Nights;’ we had ‘Tuesday Afternoon;’ we had ‘Peak Hour;’ we had 'Dawn is a Feeling.'

"They gave us 10 days in the studio to do this Dvorak thing, and we said, 'What do you think about us doing this?' And, God bless him, he said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And off we went and made Days of Future Passed."

Released in the afterglow of 1967’s Summer of Love, Days slowly built an international base for the band, primarily on the strength of two Justin Hayward songs, “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.” 1968’s In Search of the Lost Chord and its potent hit single, “Ride My See Saw,” took the band to #1 in England and into the Top 25 in America, and five more albums over the next four years solidified their following around the world. The last album in the string, Seventh Sojourn, powered by the anthemic “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band,” stayed at the top of the Billboard chart for five weeks in December ’72 and January ’73. But the band was wearing itself out.

"We were on such a ride, because we weren't expecting any of the things that were happening to us. We were on such a high, seeing your records go up the charts, going to America where the streets were paved with gold. All of this stuff that goes with being considered so important that you're sitting there in New York with fifty newsmen doing an interview, and all you've done is made a record.

“We went into the studios to do another one, 'cause they were scrudgin' us out like sausages, and we made about four songs. And they were awful. We realized we'd become prisoners of our own success. We'd done nothing but make albums, go on the road, make albums, go on the road. And we had no experiences to write about.”

So the bandmembers went their separate ways for a while, recording solo projects but staying in touch. They came back together in 1978.

“Making your solos shows you how much work actually goes into making an album that other people were covering and you weren't perhaps paying enough attention to. So when we got back together, we had a lot more respect for each other.”

Successful albums and hit singles continued through the ‘80s, with the band’s last major hit, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” coming in 1988. A one-shot performance with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra was captured on video in 1992, with the resulting PBS special, A Night at Red Rocks, launching the band to renewed popularity with the baby boomers and their children.

"That caught us by surprise,” Edge says. “We only thought we were going to do the Red Rocks thing. And you know everybody wanted us to play with orchestras. But the problem with that is, with a rock band, you've obviously got to stay very tight to the arrangement with the guys back there reading. That started getting too restrictive. It's nice to be back to a unit again, because if Justin is having a good time, he'll turn around and twitch his eyebrows, I know what that means.”

Original flutist Ray Thomas won’t be along on this year’s tour. Gout and diabetes have forced him to retire from life on the road. He’s been replaced by Norda Mullen, about whom Edge says, “She is marvelous, her flute playing is absolutely superb.” Current keyboardist Paul Bliss has played with the band for 19 years, second drummer Gordon Marshall for 17.

And Graeme Edge, John Lodge and Justin Hayward are still together, proud of their musical legacy and having a great time.

"We're like brothers,” Edge concludes, “real brothers. We don't see each other off the road, and we may bicker and bitch amongst ourselves. But you step in between, you'll get your fingers burnt.”

copyright © 2004 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.