Updated August 2016
Graeme Edge vocal, drums
Denny Laine vocal, guitar, harmonica (left 1966)
Mike Pinder vocal, piano, mellotron
Ray Thomas vocal, harmonica, flute, saxophone
Clint Warwick vocal, bass guitar (left 1966)
Justin Hayward vocal, guitar, sitar (joined 1966)
John Lodge vocal, bass guitar, cello (joined 1966)
The Moody Blues were the first of the Brum Beat bands to become internationally famous and would later have a huge influence on what became known as the "progressive" music scene. Formed in May of 1964 in Birmingham and first known as The Moody Blues Five (M&B5), they took their name from the local M&B brewing company in hope of getting sponsorship. The group members came from various Birmingham bands who are worth mentioning as follows:
Lead singer and guitarist Brian Hines (Denny Laine) was born 29th October 1944 and lived in Holcombe Road, Tyseley. One of his earliest bands was 'Johnny Dean and The Dominators' who played regularly at The Mermaid pub on Stratford Road. Johnny Dean was an early alias for Brian who worked at Rackhams by day but he would soon turn professional in 1962 with the new name of 'Denny Laine' and fronting 'The Diplomats', a well known Midlands group that also included future Move and E.L.O. drummer Bev Bevan (see Denny Laine and The Diplomats).
Ray Thomas was born in Stourport on 29th December 1942. As a teenager in Erdington, he joined a skiffle band called 'Saints and Sinners' during the late 1950s in which he played the tea-chest bass. Apprenticing as an engineer, Ray formed his first professional band 'El Riot and The Rebels' as their lead singer and harmonica player. The line-up also included drummer Bob Sheward as well as guitarists Brian Betteridge and John Lodge who was born in Birmingham on July 20, 1945. Also living in Erdington on Wheelwright Road was piano player Mike Pinder, born 27th December 1941. He played part-time with El Riot and The Rebels and had previously led his own group called The Rocking Tuxedo's.
El Riot and The Rebels became known for their stage show for which they wore Mexican cowboy outfits. They managed to become regulars on the Noel Gordon hosted 'Lunchbox' television show. John Lodge switched to bass guitar when the band acquired Mike Heard as lead guitarist. El Riot and The Rebels eventually split in 1963 when they were offered some lengthy bookings in Germany but only Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder were willing to go and John Lodge wanted to complete his drafting apprenticeship. Thomas and Pinder formed a new group called The Krewcats (not to be confused with Shadows drummer Brian Bennett's band of that name) and went over to Germany from May to November of 1963.
Meanwhile back in Birmingham, Graeme Edge who was born 30th March 1944 and lived in Coventry Road, Small Heath, was playing drums in a group called Gerry Levene and The Avengers. This band also included Jim Onslow on bass guitar and guitarist Mike Hopkins who would later join The Diplomats. Gerry Levene was the stage name for Aston singer Micky Gibbs. For a short time, the Avengers lead guitarist was Roy Wood (see Mike Sheridan and The Nightriders).
Albert Eccles from Aston, was born on 25th June 1940, and had started playing guitar as a member of a band called 'The Rainbow Boys'. He changed his name to the more suitable 'Clint Warwick' after joining Danny King's Dukes as their bass guitarist (see Danny King). They were well known throughout the Midlands and also managed to secure a season at Butlins holiday camp in Scotland.
When Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder got back from Germany at the end of 1963, they found the Birmingham music scene made up of bands that imitated either 'The Shadows' or 'The Beatles'. The Spencer Davis Group was at that time standing apart from the rest with their exciting Rhythm & Blues based sound so Danny King and Clint Warwick along with Graeme Edge and Gerry Levene of The Avengers, decided that R&B was the sort of music to play. Denny Laine from the Diplomats was also interested to start a new project, so the group started rehearsing and came up with the name 'The Soul Preachers'. Gerry Levene soon left after falling-out with Denny Laine.
A chance meeting with Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder at the Moathouse Club resulted in them also joining the line-up although by that time, Danny King had lost interest in the project. Forging ahead, a plan was put in place to gain sponsorship from the Birmingham-based Mitchells & Butlers brewery so the name 'M&B Five' was adopted. Unfortunately, the beer company was not interested in sponsoring a pop group so the initials were adapted to represent "Moody" and "Blues". An early gig poster shows the group billed as The Moody Blues "5".
Denny Laine recalled; "Mike apparently came up with the name 'The Moody Blues' but I always thought I came up with the 'Moody' part because I always saw it as a blues band. I think Mike got it from a Miles Davis album Indigo Blue or something like that." In May of 1964, the Moody Blues were rehearsing and performing regularly at Birmingham's 'Carlton Ballroom' (later to become famous as 'Mothers' club) in Erdington.
Ray Thomas remembered a gig they played at The Moathouse pub in Birmingham; "In the audience was a guy called Tim Hudson. He was from London and he really liked us. He knew some people in London who were looking for a band to manage so mentioned us to them. They turned out to have a management company called Ridgepride but they were also the people behind 'Seltaeb' a company that had the rights on all The Beatles merchandising - the name was actually 'Beatles' spelt backwards."
In this way The Moody Blues were introduced to London-based manager Tony Secunda who would go on to play a major role in the careers of several Brumbeat groups. A big break came when Secunda got the band to perform a regular spot at London's famous Marquee Club. Ray Thomas said; "All the great bands had their own night at The Marquee. Manfred Mann had a regular spot but their singer Paul Jones had bad laryngitis and couldn't sing. At the last minute, we were called to fill-in for them. We went on and played our own type of rhythm and blues like 'I Go Crazy' and stuff like that and we went down a storm! Things took off from there."
The Marquee management offered The Moody blues a regular night to perform. Denny Laine said; "The Marquee was an important step for us and we played regularly but also backed visiting American musicians whilst they were in the UK." It was not long before Tony Secunda arranged a record deal with the Moody Blues signing to the prestigious Decca Records label.
Denny Laine was later quoted in a magazine feature as saying; "We had the most terrible rows when we started as we were all used to having our own way. But the chap who was training us (Secunda) made us knuckle under to the firmest discipline and eventually we all got pulling together. Now we trust and respect each other completely."
Produced by Alex Murray (Alex Wharton), The Moody Blues' first single titled 'Steal Your Heart Away' was a soulful effort and the B-side 'Lose Your Money', co-composed by Denny Laine and Mike Pinder was an energetic though typical beat-style recording. The single did not chart but the Moody Blues appeared on TV for the first time on ITV's pop music show 'Ready Steady Go!'
Looking for hit material, the Moodies second single was an inventive arrangement of an obscure song by American singer Bessie Banks. Denny said; "We knew a schoolboy named James Hamilton who had a fantastic record collection. He knew a New York disc jockey B. Mitchell Reed, and through them we got a lot of material which nobody else was doing - like 'Steal Your Heart Away' and 'Barefootin'. 'Go Now' was another one. Bessie Banks did a great version - slow like 'Love Letters' but we bopped it up, put harmonies on it, made it sort of gospel in our own limited way."
The recording featured a group vocal backing that would become a Moody Blues trade mark. The song was 'Go Now' and it became a worldwide hit for the Moody Blues in late 1964, reaching Number One in the British charts and also making top ten in the USA. This sudden success resulted in many radio and TV appearances for the group plus a hectic schedule of both national and international touring (to read record producer Alex Wharton's true story of the historic Go Now recording session click HERE).
A follow-up single proved hard to find but the Moodies first album was hurriedly recorded to cash in on the success of Go Now. The LP consisted mostly of songs the band were performing in their stage show in addition to four original tracks co-composed by Denny Laine and Mike Pinder. The list included favourites like James Brown's 'I Go Crazy', George Gershwin's classic 'It Ain't Necessarily So' (sung by Ray Thomas) and the Laine/Pinder composition 'From The Bottom Of My Heart' which was also issued as a single.
Significantly, Ray Thomas played a flute on some of the album tracks which was certainly unusual for a blues-based band. He recalled; "My grandfather played one as a young man and I just liked its sound really. I think the first time I used it was an alto flute on From The Bottom Of My Heart." However, to Ray's chagrin the flute part was lost on the final mix of this record as well as on 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You', although it can clearly be heard on their 'live' recordings made for the BBC at the time.
Pop star 'Donovan' wrote an interesting introduction for the Moody Blues LP back cover; "...Their writing has all the sensitiveness an' feeling that makes music cool to listen to. The tracks on this LP will show the sort of scene they have got going. You will probably call it contemporary blues - it could be if you want it to be. It doesn't matter, just let it pass through you."
Another original Laine/Pinder song by The Moody Blues 'Stop' was issued as a single in the U.S.A. and managed to get a chart placing there. The band joined the famous "British Invasion" and were sent over to America on a package tour together with chart-toppers 'Peter & Gordon' and fellow brummies The Fortunes. The Moodies performed at the NME Poll Winners concert at Wembley to an audience of 60,000. They also obtained the prestigious position of playing support for The Beatles on their 1965 British tour.
Despite the massive success of Go Now, subsequent singles by the Moody Blues had diminishing impact on the record charts. This was at a time when pop groups depended on regular hit singles rather than album sales for their survival. The Moody Blues' self composed fifth single 'Everyday' released in October 1965 had only got to Number 44 in the charts despite its commercial appeal. By 1966 the group were obliged to reduce their booking fees while playing more and more gigs to keep up with expenses. Beatles manager Brian Epstein had taken over management of the Moody Blues in September 1965 but this did little to improve their situation.
The Moody Blues' refusal to record a song called 'Those Were The Days' as suggested by The Beatles' own Paul McCartney may not have helped things either as far as their record company was concerned. The song was later covered by Apple recording artist Mary Hopkin who had a huge international hit with it. By the summer of 1966, the intense pressure the band found themselves under was beginning to take it's toll.
In August, bass guitarist Clint Warwick who disliked touring, left the Moody Blues at the end of an American tour. As the only married band member, he quit the music business and went back to Birmingham to work as a carpenter. Clint Warwick passed away in 2004 (see the Brum Beat Clint Warwick story). He was replaced temporarily by Rod Clark (from Carter-Lewis and The Southerners) who later joined The Rockin' Berries.
Towards the end of 1966, the Moody Blues were faced with the prospect of performing on the cabaret circuit to make ends meet. Graeme Edge recalled; "We were tagged 'one-hit-wonders'. We had nine months of glory and then went back to 50 pound a night on the road!" The group were recording tracks for their proposed second album but without a hit single, the band's future as a recording act seemed questionable.
On September 24, Denny Laine officially announced he had left the Moody Blues to embark on a solo career (see Denny Laine). Denny said; "Although I'd gone off to do my own thing, I still stayed friendly with everyone. Actually, I was still staying with Mike in his flat in Putney when they started to put their new band together."
While the music papers announced the demise of The Moody Blues, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder, and Graeme Edge decided to carry on. Replacement band members were bass guitarist John Lodge (formerly of El Riot and The Rebels) who had completed his drafting apprenticeship and was playing in a Birmingham group over in Germany called the John Bull Breed along with former Rebels guitarist Mike Heard.
Ray Thomas phoned John Lodge and said to his former bass guitarist; "How about getting the old band back together?" John's enthusiasm to join the Moodies was confirmed when he sold some of his bass gear to help finance the group's next tour. John would go on to compose some of the Moody Blues best loved songs.
Denny Laine's position in the revised line-up was filled by singer/guitarist Justin Hayward who came from Swindon. As fate would have it, Ray Thomas met up with famous Newcastle vocalist Eric Burdon at a well-known London live-music bar called 'The Bag O'Nails Club'. While having a drink with Eric, who had recently auditioned applicants for his new 'Animals' line-up, the young guitarist was one of the names he recommended to Ray.
Justin Hayward was born on October 14, 1946 and grew up in Swindon. American rock 'n' roll star Buddy Holly was a huge early influence on Justin who moved to London to seek his fortune after finishing grammar school. A talented guitarist, Justin played in a few local beat groups before managing to get a job with popular UK singer Marty Wilde as a member of 'The Wilde Three' with whom he spent a few years. It was during this time that Justin started to write his own songs and went on to record a single titled 'London Is Behind Me' issued under his own name on Pye Records in January 1966.
Mike Pinder went over to pick up Justin Hayward and drove him to meet the rest of the band. Mike's car had a record player so Justin played him his solo 45. Upon hearing the recording, Mike was impressed and recalled thinking; "He's the one for us. As far as I'm concerned you're in the band!"
Meanwhile, Decca Records continued to release 'new' Moody Blues singles from material that had been recorded with the original line up of the band including the Mike Pinder/Denny Laine composition 'Boulevard De La Madeleine' which has been regarded by some as one of their best tracks.
The re-formed Moody Blues now took on a schedule of northern 'cabaret' dates in order to raise desperately needed funds. The group initially performed many of the songs played by the previous line-up including Go Now with a lead vocal attempted by both Ray Thomas and Justin Hayward, but it just didn't sound right. Following a less than enthusiastic audience response at one of the clubs, the band all agreed that the old set and the blue suits had to go.
The first single to be recorded by the new Moody Blues line-up was Justin Hayward's 'Fly Me High', a deliberate and catchy attempt on the record charts, that was released in May of 1967. The recording session introduced the band to Tony Clarke who would go on to produce the Moody's biggest-selling albums. Despite airplay on pirate radio stations, the single failed to gain a chart position. Interestingly, the song was later covered by the West Midlands band Ambrose Slade as a track on their first album in 1969.
The pop music scene was rapidly changing with new and innovative sounds capturing the attention of young record buyers. The Moody Blues had changed their musical direction by early 1967 with Mike Pinder supplementing his piano with a Mellotron - a revolutionary and mechanically-complex instrument that used a system of pre-recorded tapes to create a distinctive orchestral/atmospheric sound and was forerunner of today's modern electronic sampling keyboards.
Mike had purchased his instrument second-hand at a bargain price from Birmingham's Dunlop Tyres employees recreation club where it had languished mostly unused. The Beatles had pioneered the use of a mellotron on their ground-breaking 'Strawberry Fields Forever' single, while Stevie Winwood's new group Traffic had used the Mellotron extensively on their hit record 'Hole In My Shoe'.
As a sign of things to come, the Moody Blues next single A-side composed by Mike Pinder titled 'Love And Beauty' was the first to feature the Mellotron on a Moody Blues recording. Although it failed to chart, this innovation along with other group-written songs having mystical lyrics, and complex arrangements set them apart from most other pop acts of that time. The Moody Blues' innovative stage presentation started to gain them a new audience and the band toured France in the summer of 1967.
Note: the Mellotron was developed and manufactured by the Bradley Brothers at Streetly Electronics in Birmingham. Mike Pinder also worked at Streetly Electronics in the early 1960s. To read more about the Mellotron, click HERE or see the feature on the Brum Beat Features page.
Decca Records became interested in the Moody Blues' new "progressive" sound and proposed an experiment where the group would record an album of classical compositions by Dvorak and supported by a full symphony orchestra. The record company intended to use the results of this as a means of demonstrating their new "Deramic" stereo recording process. The Moody Blues went a step further and with the co-operation of orchestral arranger Peter Knight and producer Hugh Mendl, recorded an entire album of their own music in just five days with the London Festival Orchestra.
John Lodge remembered; "We went to Decca and said "Can we have lock-out time?" i.e. we wanted the studio 24 hours a day so we could set up all our equipment and just record. In those days you could only record in strict morning sessions." Ray Thomas said; "We never actually worked with the orchestra. All we did was ship each track to Peter Knight who wrote and scored the orchestral bridges. It was all very hippy, you know - low lights and incense burning!"
Despite initial reluctance by the record company, the resulting collection of completed tracks entitled 'Days Of Future Passed', was released on the Decca subsidiary Deram label that was specialising in progressive music. The timing was perfect as American radio was breaking into the FM stereo format and there was a shortage of new pop albums fitting this requirement.
Days Of Future Passed - issued in November of 1967 - was a milestone in music, giving rise to the "concept album" format. It reached Number 27 in the UK and Number 3 in the USA charts thus gaining the band a foot-hold on the all-important American market. The album was to become a huge influence on many other groups for years to come.
Executive producer Hugh Mendl wrote for the album's back cover; "In Days of Future Passed, the Moody Blues have at last done what many others have dreamed of and talked about: they have extended the range of pop music, and found the point where it becomes one with the world of the classics."
From the album came the Moody Blues' classic single 'Nights In White Satin', written by Justin Hayward, and reaching Number 9 in the UK, becoming their first Top 20 hit since Go Now. Interestingly, the song got to Number One in the USA three years after it was originally released! Another innovative single 'Tuesday Afternoon' reached Number 24 in the USA and sell-out concert tours soon followed.
The Moody Blues' next album issued in 1968 titled 'In Search Of The Lost Chord' was a major success on both sides of the Atlantic and it again featured the songwriting efforts of all the group members. Unlike their previous album, this record had the band playing all the instruments themselves without orchestral backing. John Lodge recalled; "We'd used the orchestra on Days Of Future Passed and we inwardly thought the next album must be us on our own. We had Ray playing French horn, I played cello... but it didn't matter because we were experimenting - from sitar to tablas."
Ray Thomas remembered; "I was given a lunchtime to learn this piece on the oboe - I'd never seen a bloody oboe before. It was like, oh you can do it! Then everybody buggered off down to the pub and came back and said, have you got it yet?" The album included the classic song 'Legend Of A Mind' composed by Ray Thomas as a tribute to the American LSD pioneer Timothy Leary. It's probably one of the great album tracks of all time.
'In Search Of The Lost Chord' yielded new hit singles such as Justin Hayward's 'Voices In The Sky' and John Lodge's 'Ride My See Saw' which both scored high chart placings.
In 1969 the Moody Blues album 'On The Threshold Of A Dream' was issued which topped the charts in the UK and scoring high in the USA. On the making of this album Justin Hayward years later said; "We wanted to collect religious and psychedelic influences onto an album and turn them into a pathway into enlightenment, if you like. I know it sounds terribly pretentious now but as young men, that's what we were searching for." The success of these LPs inspired the band to form their own Threshold Records label and record shops.
The Moody Blues would continue their international success well into the 1970s. After a six year break to concentrate on solo projects, the group re-formed in the late 70's to make more top selling records. The final album recorded by the regular line-up in 1978 was titled 'Octave' after which Mike Pinder refused to go on tour in support of it. He was replaced by former YES member Patrick Moraz but it wasn't until a few years later that it was announced Mike had officially left the group.
The 1980s saw The Moody Blues score high in the record charts with their new album titled Long Distance Voyager. They had top selling singles such as 'The Voice' and 'Gemini Dream' while the band found a new audience on the popular MTV music channel with captivating videos like 'Your Wildest Dreams' and 'I know You're Out There Somewhere'.
The Moody Blues line-up continued to fluctuate over the next few decades with Patrick Moraz being replaced by a succession of keyboard players including Bias Boshell, Guy Allison, and Paul Bliss. The updated Moody Blues sound - sometimes compared with contemporary "synth-pop" - did not sit well with some of their fans who longed for the old progressive days of the Mellotron. However, the group continued to get hit records and their new albums supported by regular tours were big sellers.
Ray Thomas retired from the band in 2003 due to health concerns. Their current concerts include a healthy balance of "classic" album cuts and more modern "pop" hits drawn from the band's 50 year history (to see a review, click HERE). Although the Moody Blues record releases have not been so frequent since, they continue to tour and remain the most successful of all the Birmingham groups from the 1960s in terms of longetivity and international acclaim.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
Sources: 'The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock' 1982; 'The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles' 5th edition 1985; 'Brum Rocked!' and 'Brum Rocked On!' books by Laurie Hornsby 2003; Record Collector, July 1995; Threshold Records CD Re-issues booklets with interviews of Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, and Ray Thomas; 'The Moody Blues DVD 3-Disc Set' Emperor Media Holdings SL 2006; 'Back In The High Life - a biography of Steve Winwood' by Alan Clayson 1988; and 'Midland Beat' various issues.
(highest UK chart position in brackets)
Some official Moody Blues related websites are listed below:
The Official Moody Blues Web Site: http://www.moodybluestoday.com
Mike Pinder: www.mikepinder.com
Ray Thomas: www.raythomas.me
Denny Laine: www.dennylaine.com
John Lodge: www.johnlodge.com
Justin Hayward: www.justinhayward.com
To see a recent BrumBeat review of a Moody Blues live concert performance click HERE.
An excellent site by Tony Brown dedicated to the Moody Blues line-up is: www.themoodyblues.co.uk