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Published: Sunday, 6/6/2004

Moody Blues bring a special sound to their music

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Moody Blues, led by Graeme Edge, left, John Lodge, and Justin Hayward, will play Tuesday night at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater. The Moody Blues, led by Graeme Edge, left, John Lodge, and Justin Hayward, will play Tuesday night at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater.
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For the first two years of their musical existence, the Moody Blues were a very talented but very typical British blues band.

The group, which will be in concert Tuesday night at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater, was formed in Birmingham, England, in 1964 by guitarist Denny Laine.

Originally called the MB Five - their initials were taken from brewers Mitchell and Butler, which sponsored their early shows - the first incarnation featured Laine, Mike Pinder on keyboards, Roy Thomas on flute and harmonica, Graeme Edge on drums, and Clint Warwick on bass.

Soon renamed the Moody Blues, the group started out playing an electrified version of the American blues and R&B, similar in style to such compatriots as the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds.

The Moodies made a quick name for themselves, sharing stages with the Stones and the Kinks, among others, touring Scotland in 1965 with the Beatles on the Fab Four's final UK concert tour, and scoring a No. 1 hit in the United Kingdom with their remake of Bessie Bank's "Go Now."

But it wasn't until Laine and Warwick left in 1966 (with Laine eventually joining Paul McCartney in Wings) that the Moody Blues took a turn that gave them a distinctive musical style.

Edge, Pinder and Thomas recruited guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge, both of whom were highly regarded among British musicians, and the revamped Moodies moved to Belgium to write and record while dodging Britain's hefty tax rates.

The group departed from the standard British blues fare while exploring an adventurous and ambitious musical style that combined cinematic storytelling with a blend of classical and rock music. The Moodies also were among the first rock bands to take advantage of a new electronic keyboard called the Mellotron, which could re-create the sounds of orchestral instruments.

The new lineup's recording debut, "Days of Future Passed," was a concept album that focused on "a day in the life of one guy," as Hayward put it, set against a psychedelic rock-classical backdrop that took listeners on a cosmic journey.

Released on Nov. 11, 1967, the album was a stunning success, spending two years on the Billboard chart and producing the now-classic hits "Nights in White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon."

The Moodies followed with a series of intelligently written, melodic concept albums that included "In Search of the Lost Chord" (1968), "On the Threshold of a Dream" (1969), "To Our Children's Children's Children" (1969), "A Question of Balance" (1970), and "Seventh Sojourn" (1972).

Their distinctive style and musical vision earned the Moody Blues a place in the rock stratosphere, tallying 18 Platinum Records that sold more than a million copies each and selling more than 55 million albums in a career that has spanned 40 years and counting.

Their long list of hits includes such memorable songs as "Ride My See-Saw," "I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)," "Isn't Life Strange," "Lovely To See You," "The Story in Your Eyes," "For My Lady," and "Question."

The tough part of going on tour, Hayward said in a recent interview, is whittling down the songs to a number that the band can squeeze into a concert.

"It's not what we play, it's what we leave out that is the difficult part, because there's so much material we want to do," Hayward said from Louisville, Ky., where the Moodies were rehearsing for their U.S. and European tour.

"Some songs work great as recordings but don't work well as live songs. But it's very difficult choosing, and we've got a lot of hits we have to leave out," he said.

Hayward said he was amazed that "Days of Future Passed" came out as good as it did because the recording techniques of the era were so limited.

The original idea for the album came from the band's record label, Decca, which wanted the Moody Blues to record a rock version of Dvorak's "New World Symphony." The goal was for the label to introduce the sonic depth of stereo recording to rock and roll fans.

The band agreed, but when the Moodies entered the studio they decided to skip Dvorak and instead came up with a plan to add classical accompaniment to their own rock-and-roll compositions.

The five musicians recorded their guitars, keyboards, drums, and vocals, and, at a later date, the producers brought classical musicians into the studio to tape their parts.

Today, modern digital studio techniques make it a breeze to combine separately recorded tracks. But in 1967 it was, quite literally, cutting-edge technology.

In order to mix the classical segments into the rock and roll songs, studio engineers physically cut apart the Moody Blues' audio tapes and spliced in blank sections for the symphony.

Keeping precise count of the timing, the producers directed the classical musicians to perform while the blank sections were rolling, resulting in a live-in-the-studio editing job.

"It was one run-through and it was mixed as it went along," Hayward said. "It was very, very primitive."

Despite the difficulties, the process worked.

And the ambitious undertaking turned out to be the breakthrough that separated the Moodies from the pack.

Twenty five years later, on Sept. 9, 1992, the band commemorated "Days of Future Passed" with a live performance at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Unlike the original studio recording, this time the Moodies played their songs live on stage accompanied by the 84-member Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

"It was incredible," Hayward recalled. "It was something I didn't think could be done."

The concert was recorded by PBS for separate audio and video broadcasts and a remastered two-disc set was recently reissued by Universal Records.

"This is how it all really began for us," Hayward said in the album's liner notes, "with our music, an orchestra, and a lot of enthusiasm."

The Moody Blues took a five-year hiatus after "Seventh Sojourn" but reunited for the 1977 album "Octave."

The band has continued to record and tour throughout the decades, although Thomas last year decided to leave the band. The current tour, including Tuesday's show in Toledo, will feature an eight-person lineup led by Hayward, Lodge, and Edge.

In 2000, the Moody Blues played at London's Royal Albert Hall for a second PBS broadcast and a resulting DVD concert disc titled "Hall of Fame: Recorded Live at the Royal Albert Hall."

Was the title of the disc a commentary of some sort on the fact that the Moody Blues have yet to be voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

"None whatsoever," Hayward said. "I can't say I lose sleep whether we should be in it or not. It's so subjective. Music is a very subjective thing. It means different things to different people. But I do think they should have closed the door after the Eagles got in."

More troubling to him than the Moodies' lack of induction is the relatively short shrift the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland has devoted to Buddy Holly, one of his musical heroes.

"I was surprised that Buddy Holly gets only a small window. He was the biggest star to me and to most British rockers," Hayward said.

The Moody Blues will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater. Tickets, $29.50 and $42.40, are available at the Toledo Sports Arena, all Ticketmaster outlets, and at the zoo on Tuesday.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.


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