NOT MANY DRUMMERS ALSO DOUBLE AS POETS, BUT THAT IS ACTUALLY THE TALENT THAT GRAEME EDGE GAVE TO THE MOODY BLUES TO MAKE THEIR FIRST TRUE ALBUM DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED SO REVOLUTIONARY. UP TO THAT TIME, MOST POP AND ROCK BANDS FOCUSED ON COVERS OF BLUES AND R&B ARTISTS. EDGE, ALONG WITH MIKE PINDER, JOHN LODGE, JUSTIN HAYWARD AND RAY THOMAS THREW DOWN THE MUSICAL GAUNTLET IN 1967 WITH AN ALBUM THAT NOT ONLY HAD CATCHY POP TUNES, BUT IT WAS MELDED WITH HEADY CLASSICAL ORCHESTRATIONS, EXOTIC SONORITIES AND VOCAL HARMONIES, ALL BOOKENDED BY CEREBRAL POETRY PENNED BY THE SEAMLESS TIMEKEEPER.
WITH EDGE, HAYWARD AND LODGE STILL MANNING THE BAND’S HELM, THE CURRENT MOODY BLUES STILL SOUND BOTH FRESH AND MODERN.
WE HAD A CHANCE TO CALL UP MR. EDGE, WHO, AS YOU WOULD HOPE AND EXPECT, WAS WITTY, OBSERVANT AND RESPECTFUL OF HIS MUSICAL PLACE IN LIFE.
AS A DRUMMER, YOU MUST APPRECIATE THAT I CALLED YOU RIGHT ON TIME!
Well, you might be a lead guitarist, as you were a little behind! (laughs)
YOU ACTUALLY STARTED DRUMMING BACK IN THE 60’S R&B DAYS OF ENGLAND. WHAT WAS THE SCENE LIKE?
What happened in England in the late 50s was that we got the lily white rock of Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly. It seemed then that people like Bobby Vee after a couple of hits either wanted to get into movies or put on a black tie and get together with the Rat Pack.
So, we thought we were rebels. In America you were getting either black or white radio stations, but here we were getting the whole gamut together. We had about 15-20 years of R&B, country and western, rockabilly and pop all coalesced together, which became rock and roll. We got it all exposed to us in the space of about 3 years, because we got the best of it all from the radio.
There were a lot of black blues singers. We backed Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Sonny Boy Williamson, so we got exposed to it in that way. So, we got force fed into what became rock and roll, repackaged it, and re-sold it to America! (laughs)
WHAT WAS IT LIKE PLAYING WITH SISTER ROSETTA THARPE?
She was amazing. We did a rehearsal with her. She sat on her stool; she was ok, but not particularly impressive.
Then, on the night when she comes out with us in concert…Holy Mackerel! That woman was doing the splits, dancing and spinning, and she was singing twice as well. She was putting her heart into it. I was just flabbergasted.
And Sonny Boy Williamson was just fantastic. We played at a club with him called the Crawdaddy. It was a small club with about 600 people in it; it was so badly put together that the dressing room and stage were cut off from the exit door by the entire audience.
So, we’d remain on stage after having done everything we knew, and he looks around, and just falls asleep! We were just looking around and playing “boom, boom, boom” until everyone realized he’d fallen asleep. Everyone there just suddenly got as quiet as lambs because they didn’t want to wake him up, so everyone just got up and left him there. I’ve never seen a reaction like that with an audience before or since.600
WHO GOT YOU INTERESTED IN DRUMMING?
The first time I got interested in drumming was with the Boy’s Brigade. I had a marching snare drum when I was 8 or 9 What got me interested in jazz was Basil Kirchin, who had what was called “The Biggest Little Band in the World.” It was around the Gene Krupa era, with lots of tom toms. I thought that sounded absolutely superb.
Both of my parents were musicians, and when I showed interest in drums they fought it. My mum wanted me to do keyboards, because that’s what she played, and dad was a singer, but knew that my talents didn’t lay there. They weren’t dumb; they knew what having a drummer in the house meant. (laughs)
Dad finally signed off on the drum set for me. After two lessons they were teaching me the fox trot, and I said “forget this.” After that all of my lessons consisted of listening to records and trying to make the same kinds of sounds. Bill Haley, Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly.
They started to build a circuit in England where people started to play live. I started seeing English bands. The one that REALLY set me off was a band called Leo and the Gladiators. They used to play in gladiator suits, but they rocked like mad, and it was the first time I’d seen a threesome. It was also the first time I saw someone sing and play either bass and guitar at the same time.
I was then in a couple of bands, the Silhouettes and the Blue Rhythms. “Blue” seems to stay with me!
The thing is that listeners will hear something and say “Oh, that’s great.” But I know what I was trying to play, and I didn’t make it. So I never satisfy myself
YOU WERE A FOUNDING MEMBER OF THE MOODY BLUES WHEN THEY WERE STILL AN R&B BAND. WHAT CAUSED THE CHANGE IN STYLE SO SUDDENLY TO PUT OUT DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, AN ALBUM WITH AN ORCHESTRA?
(Founding member) Denny Laine, who later played with Paul McCartney and Wings, was an incredibly great blues shouter and guitarist. 1135 When he left, we replaced him with Justin (Hayward) who hadn’t come up through the Birmingham rock area that we had. He was from Swindon, and came up more “folky.” He was much more interested in chord structures in his writing than we were. We thought we were being ambitious if we used four chords instead of three. (laughs)
The chord structure that Hayward brought to us. Then Mike Pinder (who was in Moody Blues #1) who was playing piano, got hold of a mellotron. He’d always had this idea in his head.
The mellotron was originally devised as a sound effect retrieval system for the BBC. His keyboard was filled with people walking on gravel, horses galloping, doors slamming and stuff like that. He did the original recordings for them, adding 8 seconds to the tape of an octave, and things like that.
Pinder recorded all of the stuff that made it into the instrument that it became. With Justin’s chord structures, and this sudden new breath of symphonic, the door just blew open for us.
It blew our minds. We used to do stuff in the studio where we’d go along doing the song and say “do 24 bars” and then play 24 bars and later go back and put some experiment into it. Pinder would get some sweeping strings with a tuner on it and he’d go “WEEYOOOW” and put that into the song.
We were just playing around and doing stuff. People have asked how we had the nerve to do it, and I say that we were just too stupid to know that it was impossible! (laughs)
IT SEEMS THAT BANDS AND ARTISTS DON’T EXPERIMENT IN THE POP REALM AS MUCH AS THEY DID BACK IN THE 60’S and 70’S
I tend to think the same way. I try not to say that because a lot of people said that we were playing rubbish when we first came out. The generation before tends to think that the next generation’s stuff is rubbish, but I don’t personally see anything innovative going on right now.
It might be because of the death of record labels. The electronics now is fantastic. Everybody is using computers and you can do a lot of great stuff. That’s so you can take something to people and say, “Here’s what we’ve made. Do something with it and make it good.”
But they’re not doing that anymore. Everyone’s doing it in their living room with all of the same sounds, going to an independent label that’s just down the street. It sounds crappy.
And rap. I did love it in the early days, because I love poetry 1600. There was some really superb urban poetry in the early days that I thought was excellent. But then it came down to who could get the most swear words in within the time.
It has developed a little, there’s really not a lot of room for development in rap. You can’t have individually superb voices. Guys with clear voices Justin’s voice could sing rock, guys with raspy voices could sing rock, guys with breathy voices could sing rock, guys with NO voices could sing rock. (laughs)
Basically, if you’re just talking, there’s nowhere for it to go or grow into.
DID YOU LIKE THE TERM “PROGRESSIVE ROCK” or “FUSION”?
We never paid any attention to it, because we were called all sorts. We were “Progressive” then “Classical” and now we’re called “Gray Rock”! (laughs)
FOR A LONG TIME, NO “PROGRESSIVE” ROCK BAND WAS IN THE HALL OF FAME. IS THERE A SNOBBERY OF SORTS AMONG THE VOTERS?
It’s so political. I can’t prove this; it’s just a rumor in the business, but you can get in for $250,000. As soon as you give them a portion of your house, you’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think that the Hall of Fame is pretty irrelevant now.
YOU WERE ALSO THE FIRST BAND TO DO NOT ONE, BUT A SERIES OF CONCEPT ALBUMS WITH VERY INTROSPECTIVE LYRICS. WHO’S IDEA WAS THAT?
It was a conscious decision for the first one, Days of Future Past. It seemed like “That was a pretty good idea” although the album wasn’t a big hit at first. But, it went up far enough into the charts that the record company wanted us to do a second one.
For In Search of the Lost Chord, we didn’t use any other musicians. The basic theme was what we were then doing in music, searching for the lost chord. Then there was the Space Race which was grabbing everybody’s attention, so we did On the Threshold of a Dream.
Of our first eight, the last two weren’t really thematic. But the fact is that when you’re living together, working together and doing all of the things with the same experiences the songs are still loosely combined.
Sometimes I would look at all of the songs we’d put together and then think of a nice poem to put them together with a nice thread.
WITH ALL OF THE ACCOLADES AND ALBUM SALES, WHEN DID YOU FEEL THAT YOU ARRIVED AS A DRUMMER?
Never. You never stop learning.
The thing is that listeners will hear something and say “Oh, that’s great.” But I know what I was trying to play, and I didn’t make it. So I never satisfy myself.
WHAT STARTED THE TRADITION OF PUTTING YOUR POEMS ON THE ALBUMS.
That was in Days of Future Past. We were doing gigs while we were recording. At the time we had our famous Volkswagon van and a 4 seater car. We had one roadie, so the only way that we could all get to a gig was to put two in the van and four in the car. The van had to get there early and get help bringing in the stuff, so we used to think of getting there in terms of our van.
At the time we were recording all of this stuff, and we already had about half the songs written. Our producer Tony Clarke said “Can somebody do something about mornings?” because everything we’d got, being musicians was about later. We never got up in the mornings; we wouldn’t get up until around mid-day! (laughs) We had plenty about evenings and afternoons and night, but no mornings.
So, I sat down and tried to write something about the morning. Pinder wrote the best one with “Dawn is a Feeling,” but he still managed to write it as a musician because you could tell by the way that he wrote it that dawn was arriving and he was not waiting up for it and seeing it! (laughs)
I sat there to write the “Morning” lyrics, hoping that somebody could put music to it and make it a morning song for the album. When I got into the studio, I read it to them and they said, “It’s lovely, but there are way too many words for a song. You can’t sing it with music; it’s a poem, not a song.
Tony Clarke said “Let’s just do it like that, as a poem!” I had just smoke too many cigarettes, so my throat was too throaty and gravelly, so Mike Pinder read it with more gravitas.
We recorded it, put stuff around it and played over it. It became a tradition for us. It was a happy accident, indeed!
WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED NOW?
The fact that we don’t work that often anymore; we work about 20 weeks a year. When I’m not working I’m walking around wondering what to do with myself; that’s what keeps me motivated. I LOVE WORKING. I love being on stage and playing before people. The travel I could live without; I always say “Beam me up, Scotty” when it comes to travel.
For those 2 hours on stage I feel just a joy.
WHAT WOULD TODAY’S GRAEME EDGE TELL DAYS OF FUTURE PAST GRAEME EDGE?
That’s a tough one, because I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t know if I’d want to change anything in case I didn’t end up here, and I’m glad to be here.
Instead of advice to myself, I’ll say to the youngsters “READ YOUR CONTRACTS!”
NOT RELYING ON THE DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED, GRAEME EDGE KEEPS THE MUSIC FRESH AND SWINGING, ATTRACTING A NEW GENERATION OF FANS. WHAT MORE CAN BE SAID OF A WELL-TIMED LIFE AND CAREER?