The Moody Blues’
Nineteen-sixty-seven was a transitional year for the former beat group and its drummer, who recalls a time when musical history was routinely made without warning.
by Ilya Stemkovsky
In 1967, the Moody Blues were at a crossroads, having toured several years as an R&B act and experienced little traction beyond their lone hit, 1964’s “Go Now.” After some lineup changes, the band’s luck would shift when the members gathered to record the landmark Days of Future Passed, often regarded as one of the very first progressive rock albums.
Containing some of the Moodys’ most beloved songs, including “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” Days is a full-on concept album, following a man’s journey from morning through night. The recording features an orchestra mixing sweetly with the group’s brand of psychedelic ballads and ’60s pop, but also brings to the frontline the tape-based Mellotron keyboard, which became an indispensable part of the Moody Blues’ music and a key component in many future progressive rock albums from other bands.
Drummer Graeme Edge plays just what’s needed, from the frantic pounding on “Lunch Break: Peak Hour” to the simple but controlled timekeeping on the yearning “Nights in White Satin,” perhaps the band’s best-known song. But contrary to what’s perceived, the Moody Blues never tracked with a live orchestra during the sessions. “We were playing gigs [at night], so we would record from midday to five o’clock,” Edge tells MD. “Not even on ‘Nights in White Satin’ did we record with the orchestra. It was always with the Mellotron. And you didn’t want to do any busy fills, because you had to let the orchestra speak. So the fills were powerful but with plenty of space.”
Now, fifty years later, the Moody Blues are going out on the road to perform Days of Future Passed in its entirety, including several dates where they’ll be joined by an orchestra. “We toured with a live orchestra before, for ten years, so there’s no secret with that,” Edge says. “And you have these tiny mics that you place on each instrument in the orchestra. Not like the old days, where you hung a mic above the whole thing and hoped for the best.” And though Edge is still up to the task, some auxiliary sidemen are always welcome. “I can still do it. But I do have a young man up there with me. There are two drummers and I do take some rests.”
Looking back at 1967, Edge reflects on the London scene and his place in it. “We saw lots of groups around that time, like the Graham Bond Organisation with Ginger Baker,” he says. “We were suitably impressed. But when the Moody Blues would play, thank God for the teenyboppers, because all they did was scream. Our failings were covered by the screaming, so we were all right.”
When asked about the gear he used back in the day, which in general was still evolving to accommodate the increasingly heavier playing of classic rock’s early drummers, Edge suggests he managed just fine. “Ludwig was first-class drums,” he says, “although the fittings did rattle. But that wasn’t a problem on stage, just for recordings. We were always tightening and taping. And I always used the Premier bass drum pedal. The Ludwig pedal was made for guys who were swivelling their foot back and forth. But rock drummers stamp on it. And only the Premier pedal could suffer that.”
Edge is also sometimes credited with helping to invent and using the first electronic drums on record, for “Procession,” on 1971’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Was that something the drummer was imagining back in 1967? “Oh yeah, I imagined more than that,” Edge says. “I was always conscious of the drum’s ring being out of tune. So I wanted a drumkit that you could tune to the key of a song. That’s why people started to tape cigarette packets to drums and all that—to eliminate that ring so it wouldn’t mess with the guitars. And that [first electronic] kit was a dismal failure—but a heroic failure.”
What wasn’t a failure, though, was Edge’s accomplished drumming. Mid-’60s London was quite the place for legendary musicians to gather, and opportunity knocked one evening in a local bar. Edge recalls a special occasion where he found himself on stage with royalty of a different kind. “There was a club called the Scotch of St. James,” Graeme says. “We all used to go down and jam. I had one memorable night there where, when the house band was done, we just went up and took charge of their instruments. It was me on drums, Jack Bruce on bass, Eric Clapton on guitar, and a black kid from Seattle who played his guitar upside down. He was just introduced to us by Chas Chandler of the Animals. And I sat there and drummed behind two guys who fell in love musically. Jimi Hendrix and Clapton were swapping 12s and 24s [bars] backwards and forwards. Just fantastic blues. And there wasn’t a single cell phone in the audience. [laughs] It was one of those occasions where you play a lot better than you normally could because you’re inspired so much. Me and Jack were just laying it down solid. I assume so at least, because no one moved us off.”
Beyond his drumming, Edge has written a significant amount of poetry over the years, including some of the spoken-word sections and lyrics on Days of Future Passed. Around this time, he wrote a line that would be used on the Moodys’ next record, In Search of the Lost Chord: “Between the eyes and ears there lie the sounds of color and the light of a sigh.” Edge explains, “You can listen to your favorite piece of music fifty times and still get something from it. But the best movie you’ve ever seen, you get ten, eleven [views], and it’s done. Because music is hot and the visual is sort of cold. Music is tempo, form, and pitch. Through the eyes, you’ve got color, perspective, and form. So you get through the eyes the same way you get through the ears, with really creative vibrations.”
At the time of its release, he had no clue that the tracks he’d laid down for the Zombies’ second album, Odessey and Oracle, would one day be considered a nearly unparalleled slab of psychedelic pop, and a prime example of song-sensitive classic-rock drumming.
by Adam Budofsky
The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle LP, recorded in 1967 at EMI’s Abbey Road studios soon after the Beatles put down Sgt. Pepper there, was roundly ignored upon its release. Yet so much belated love has come its way in recent years that the four surviving members of the original group are now touring the world, playing the album to rapturous audiences.
This past March, Modern Drummer was fortunate to witness a rehearsal for the East Coast run of the Zombies’ fiftieth-anniversary Odessey tour, which finds the original rhythm section of Hugh Grundy and Chris White rejoining singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent in a contemporary, extended version of the band. (Founding guitarist Paul Atkinson passed away in 2004.) Watching the nine-piece lineup play through the album was a truly moving experience. Grundy brought to life the parts he wrote fifty years ago, with all the panache he played with back in the day—but with even more sophistication, as he’s spent a good amount of time in the intervening years upping his game.
“After the Zombies broke up in ’67,” Grundy explains, “I did many different things, including working A&R for CBS Records. But then I felt I needed to play again. It was always in my blood. So I went to see a drum teacher, who played open-handed [left hand on the hi-hat, right on the ride]. And that’s why I play that way today. Recently I thought you should be able to do it with your feet as well. I think it’s very good for the subconscious mind to have that knowledge that you can play a paradiddle with your feet.” At the rehearsal, Grundy’s limb freedom came to the fore on the Odessey track “This Will Be Our Year,” where he threw in some particularly tasty upbeat hi-hat splashes.
After the group was done playing, Grundy, who recently released the single “I’d Do It All Again” with the Geckos, a band he plays with at home in Menorca, Spain, expressed his sincere gratitude to be in the position he’s in today—and for the accolades shown by the rock community. Many of these artists are quoted in a brand-new coffee-table book, The Odessey: The Zombies in Words and Images. “Having musicians like Paul Weller and Dave Grohl, and indeed even Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, contribute their thoughts…it’s just a huge honor,” Grundy says.
During the recording of the original album, the Abbey Road staff…well…let’s just say they weren’t quite as respectful. “These guys in brown coats would come right into the studio while we were recording,” Grundy recalls. “Indeed, on one of the tracks, I think it was ‘Changes,’ they came in and started shifting the piano! We were getting close to one o’clock—lunchtime—and that’s when you had to stop. We were doing vocals, and the red light was on, but it didn’t make any difference to them. They say that if you listen closely enough to it today, you can hear them come in and move things around. [laughs] That’s just what it was like then at Abbey Road. But we were privileged to have worked there, and to work with Geoff Emerick, the Beatles’ engineer. And now the album’s come to be regarded as a bit of a masterpiece. And to be on it—for me, that’s just awesome.”