“I’m going to come over to your place and dance naked in the shower.” That is what Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge joked about doing as soon as the band’s Second annual Moody Blues Cruise returns to port this spring. The only remaining original member in the legendary British band, Edge’s sense of humor is still strongly intact. At seventy-two, he is still finding great pleasure in what he has been doing for over fifty years and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Coming up on the band’s 50th anniversary of their formation in May, the Moody Blues have sold over 50 million albums, played thousands of concerts, and scored numerous hits, including the powerful “Nights In White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock & Roll Band)” and “In Your Wildest Dreams,” the latter during a resurgence for the band in the new era of MTV in 1986.
Originally a blues band coming out of Birmingham, England, they scored a Top 10 Billboard single with “Go Now” in 1965 with Denny Laine on vocals. Following changes in personnel and musical vibe, the band found their calling with almost surreal harmonic textures and spoken poetic intros written by Edge. These changes became an integral part of their sound and remains with them to this day.
Along with Edge, vocalist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge, who both joined in 1966, form the core of the Moody Blues 2014. And on April 2, they depart from Miami for five days of music on the water as they headline their Moody Blues Cruise with very special guest, The Who’s Roger Daltrey, as well as the Zombies, Sound Of Contact, ELP’s Carl Palmer, Starship, Little River Band, Lighthouse, and several others.
As their theme, they have chosen Return To The Isle Of Wight, honoring the music festival they performed at in 1970 with The Who, The Doors, Free, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, ELP, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and many more illustrious stars of the time.
On the day following the Seahawks’ pummeling of the Broncos, I talked to Edge about the upcoming cruise and his life spent with the Moody Blues. When I mentioned that I was honored to speak with him, he said, “I don’t blame you in the least,” before breaking into one of his hearty laughs. But he had football on his mind first and foremost: “Have you got over that Super Bowl stuff yet?”
The Moody Blues
I was expecting a better game.
Oh God, yeah. They never recovered from that first move. Do you know what a box is? It’s a betting game and it’s called a box. It’s ten by ten which means there’s a hundred boxes and there’s different scores and with a blind draw you get the two numbers. My two numbers were three and seven and three and seven are two good numbers and I was thinking to myself, I’ve got a chance here (laughs). And the first thing that happens is they scored a two. So with two really great numbers, I was out of it after twelve seconds (laughs).
And the worst of it was, I got all my American friends here and I said, I’ll cook you a proper English Sunday dinner, you know. So I did leg of lamb with roasted potatoes, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes and parsnips, cabbage and peas and custard to finish with. We had just finished the meal, loaded into my washer, which incidentally refused to start so I’ve got to get that repaired, sat there and twelve seconds later, my entire universe is over (laughs). I thought, that’s just not fair! It took me four hours to cook the dinner, fifteen minutes to eat it and then twelve seconds to end.
Do you prefer American football now over football in England?
Oh hell no. Soccer is my first love and it always will be. But I am getting to really enjoy American football. It takes a while to train your eye, because when I first saw it, I just thought it was a bore, you know. But it takes some years and you start seeing this isn’t just jumping on each other; they’re slanting left and slanting right or trying to open this pocket or that pocket, and you can see the moves and see things. But of course, at first, you don’t pick it up because your eyes are not trained and you just don’t see what is going on so you don’t see the subtle tones of it. And that’s why you watch sport, by calling out and feeling you know better than the manager (laughs). That’s the fun of it, isn’t it.
Who is your favorite football team in England?
Well, it’s not a favorite, it’s the one you are born to. And mine of course is Birmingham City Football Club. And I’m born to it because I was born down the road. Their only claim to fame is that they have been promoted from the Second Division to the First Division more times than any other team in history. Of course, the downside of that is that means they’ve also been demoted from the First Division to the Second Division more times than any other team in history (laughs). They’re right on that cusp. They go up and down about every three or four years. They never have a really awful team but never have a really good team. Just one of the bread and butter guys, you know.
One of the things I’ve noticed about you over the years is that you always seem to be smiling when you’re onstage.
I love playing live. I just love it. I can’t get the grin off my face. Once I get in front of that audience, I start looking down and I just can’t help grinning. And I get paid (laughs).
Not all of us get to do that. You’re lucky.
I sure am and don’t I know it.
This will be your 50th year with the Moody Blues.
Yep, we had our first meeting, May 2, 1964; May 4, 1964, was our first gig.
Are you shocked by that number?
I’m not shocked. I would have been shocked thirty years ago if you told me it was going to go on that long. Of course, I’ve been seeing it coming for a long time (laughs). So shocked is not the word. Surprise, yeah. I mean, I never realized you could go on this long. You tend to forget that all your fans are growing older with you so they’re still going to come to the concerts as long as you put on a show for them. You tend to be like, oh, nobody goes to rock concerts over the age of forty when you’re twenty-five. But when them people get to forty, they do. So if I’d thought about it, I probably could have figured it out but I never thought about it, you know.
The Moody Blues
Are you surprised The Moody Blues are not in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame yet?
Are we surprised? I’m not particularly surprised because there’s a lot of stuff goes on behind the scenes, record labels and things that we just won’t get involved with. They claim you can increase your price by ten percent, which is why they expect some gratitude from you, shall I say. You can increase your price by ten percent when you can say you’re in the Hall Of Fame. But frankly, I’m glad every year they don’t pick us cause every year tons of people get so uptight, it’s such a big question, it’s like the story is we are NOT nominated every year so we get the story every year (laughs). But they always have been a little touchy about the kind of Progressive kind of rock – we’ve got so many names I don’t know how you’d know us – but they must prefer it if you sing songs with streets that have numbers instead of names (laughs). They can’t seem to look far past New York, which is what New Yorkers do. They stare down at their own belly button all the time, don’t they (laughs)
This is the second year for your Moody Blues Cruise. For fans who have never done this before, tell us what happens on your cruise.
We will do two shows with the full band and basically it’s the regular show that we do, which is two one hour spots with a twenty minute break in the middle cause we’re all old men now so we need to go to the toilet (laughs) and renew the Redbull and then we each do our individual sort of lecture-y-chatty talk about things; Justin, John, play guitar and sing songs, and last year Justin did his new album and he’ll probably be doing that this year as well with his solo album. I mean, he’ll plug it to death and I don’t blame him (laughs). And I spout a bit of poetry and talk about stuff and do things like that. And this year, it’s not certain yet, but we’re trying to see if we can do something never seen before. Of course, Ray Thomas had to leave about four or five years ago – it’s seven years ago now, come to think of it – because of ill health; sadly missed. And we won’t do songs that he sang because it’s not right without the lead vocal, you know. Then of course there’s several times where we go and do question and answers. We sit on stools and we like to keep that down to about sixty or seventy people. But we’ll do four or five of them over the cruise, where people get to ask questions directly and we answer them directly. Then the rest of the time, we hide out (laughs)
That was a time when it was very early on, it wasn’t quite fifty years ago but it was a very long time ago when we were all young and fresh (laughs), and there were so many other acts on it and we were able to get some people from those days, mostly Roger Daltrey, who I’m absolutely thrilled that he’s coming on. It’ll be good to see that old bugger again. And that’s going to be great because he will be doing some of The Who. I’ll go down to see that one. And Rod Argent, he’ll be there with the Zombies. They were great. They were on the other cruise and they were fantastic. Almost as good as the Moodies, I thought (laughs). They were very, very good and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
You’ve also got Carl Palmer.
Yeah, he was there last year. He’s an interesting chap but he stays in his room mostly. I got to meet his wife, or my girlfriend got to meet his wife, and through that I got to meet her a couple or three times. But apparently, he’s very much an iron man of commerce, always in his room, on his computer, keeping his fingers on his international company. And good for him.
Have you had a chance to check out Simon Collins and his band Sound Of Contact?
No, but I know that’ll be interesting. I know Goldilocks quite well. That’s what I call Phil Collins (laughs). He’s been more successful than me and a better drummer than me but I still got a head full of hair (laughs). So there.
What do you remember most about playing the Isle Of Wight Festival?
What I remember most really has nothing to do with the actual performing. We were backstage and there was this young man who’d obviously, probably acid, but had taken far too much of something. And he was freaking out and this policeman was there being very nice and very calming trying to help him. And he brought this dog over thinking that stroking the dog and cuddling the dog might help ground the guy. Well, of course, he took one look at the dog and I don’t know what he saw, probably a dragon or something like that, and he freaks (laughs). And the poor little fellow and the friendly little dog, well, he was a police dog so it was a big dog, you know, but he wasn’t startled or barking or anything. It was well-trained so if the cop says, “Nice doggie,” that’s what he’ll be. But that freaked him out.
And the other thing I remember, and if you’ve seen the video you’ll know this, just by pure fluke, cause the whole thing was totally unorganized, but we actually played the song “Sunset” when it was actually sunset and I remember staring at the sun dropping down the horizon while we’re singing, (singing) “As the sun goes down and the clouds all frown.” It was cool. I enjoyed that.
Did you get to see any of the other artists that played?
Oh absolutely, you don’t think I’d miss Jimi Hendrix, do you? (laughs) I sat and watched that and that was fun. He was an old friend of mine. In fact, he was recording Electric Ladyland at the studio just around the corner. He brought the first ever quarter inch reel-to-reel tape to go out of the studio to finish mixing. He brought it round to my place and knocked me off at four o’clock in the morning to play it for me, which was great.
I’m sure everyone asks you about Hendrix, but what about Noel Redding? What was he like?
He was very quiet, somewhat withdrawn.
He was such a good bass player but he gets overshadowed.
Well, I don’t know who wouldn’t. If you’re onstage with Jimi Hendrix, who was a blazing talent, I don’t know how you could avoid, even as a drummer you’d be overawed, but as another guitarist, you’d just be looking and thinking, “I’ll never be able to do that.” But he hung in there and did his best. And ole Mitch Mitchell, like all us rock & roll drummers did then, put lots of drums everywhere so no matter how much you flailed your arms around you got to hit something (laughs)
In today’s music world, where does a band like the Moody Blues get their music heard since a lot of the classic rock radio stations want to play just the old songs and not really any of the new songs?
That is the problem. It’s the globalization, almost if you want to call it, cause when we were all going around, you had a phenomenon you just don’t have any more, and that was local DJs. In the local markets, if it was a big city like Tampa or New Orleans or somewhere like that, there’d probably be two or three, maybe four, star DJs and they were the ones that were market leaders. They’d listen to music from everywhere, all over the place, and if they could be the one to play this act or that act, that made them feel really proud and happy. And you had a station that you listened to and you knew that guy would be discovering things to play for you. Now you’ve got Sirius and you can listen to the sixties or seventies, eighties or nineties. But there ain’t no channel that says “brand new acts that you’ve never heard of.” You can’t tune into that and have a listen. That aspect of it, it’s all gone national and so you don’t get things like, you could have people who were huge stars in Seattle that nobody in Boston had heard of. You’d have local break-outs and local charts.
The whole thing was, cause most of the FM stations back then, remember, were probably run out of the universities. They had the equipment and there’d be student DJs or if it wasn’t that, it’d be run out of one room, the local FM station, with a couple of long-haired hippie weirdos just playing the really strange stuff, with sitars and things like that, you know. So there was much more creativity in the radio market than there is now. Now, it’s all Sirius or even that great thing Pandora, which I personally adore. You don’t get new stuff on there. You’ve got to put in your title and that’s my own personal favorite but I’m old and set in my ways now. I don’t particularly want to hear too much new stuff. I don’t got room in my brain for any more stuff (laughs).
Does it frustrate you that anything new you put out, or something like Justin’s solo CD, doesn’t get played as much as you think it should be?
Yes, very much so. We are our own biggest problem. As you say, they always want to interview you at the classic rock radio stations and in you go and you chat and you chat but they’ll play one track from your new album and then all they’ll want to do is play “Tuesday Afternoon” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “Nights In White Satin” and charge down memory lane, because they’re making it for their nationwide market, at least national market. And I’ve been told by their guys that do the numbers, the demographic guys, you got this song and this song and this song; demographics show that that’s what people want to hear. That might be true but they also want to hear the new stuff. So yes, it does frustrate us very much so. That and the fact that there’s no real record labels as there used to be in our day. Now they’re all just production people, which means all the people making records are doing it in some half-baked studio; a lot of it, anyways, in a half-baked studio using something like GarageBand. They’re all using the same gimmick. But let me just say, though, I exempt the hip hop ladies from that. Some of those ladies sing great melodies and have great vocal control, they have that Middle East flavor the way they trip around the note instead of just hitting it. They sing really well and I enjoy those.
The Moody Blues started their own record company back then and nobody was really doing that.
Well, yeah, we thought we wanted to give other acts the availability that we never had. We owned a studio and we owned the distribution so we were signing people up and saying, “Look, here’s a studio” and all they wanted to do was get big advances and we’re going, “No, no, no. Your big advance is you can have that studio for three weeks. Go make an album.” So it kind of failed. Everybody expected to be a star. By the time we owned our own label, or started our own label, people had got used to the idea of English people getting hits in America because when that first wave that came up, the British Invasion, all those guys, they had no idea they were ever going to have record contracts in England. Never crossed our minds that we’d get hits in America. We just wanted to play and couldn’t help but play and just couldn’t think of doing anything else but playing. So all of the stuff that happened was just a pill and a thrill. I still, as you noted, I still grin on stage. I can’t believe that it happened to me. But the next generation, they expected it, you know, and they had read about how we all had made billions. And it’s not true. The press people used to make up things cause it looked good. So they all thought we could easily afford a couple million pounds so they could go out and buy a Lamborghini for themselves , which was not true. We spent it all on the studio, which was usually expensive, but they had a different attitude and they were a great disappointment to us.
When your poetry became the intros to songs, that was pretty innovative at the time as well.
Oh yeah, basically, that’s true. I wanted to add something to the albums, really wanted to help, but I tried to write song lyrics and they said, “Great, love it, great words, great sentiment, everything about it is great. But there’re too many words. You can’t sing that. It’ll sound like a laundry list.” (laughs) So I said, “Can I cut out words?” “No, no, don’t take out words. Just make it a poem.” Well, I thought, well, yeah. I was very grateful. I thought they were letting me get on the album but it turns out that that did become one of our signatures, along with many other things. One of our signatures is, of course, Justin’s voice, which is as good as he ever was.
Why do you think the Moody Blues didn’t have better success with Denny Laine?
Well, we were all young and we were singing other people’s stuff. We were singing “Smokestack Lightning” and “Pick A Bale Of Cotton” and we were doing blues. That’s why Blues is in the Moody Blues name. We were singing blues and we were little English guys and had never even seen a bale of cotton, let alone picked one. I wasn’t quite sure what a smokestack was. I had an idea it was a chimney but I wasn’t sure (laughs) and stuff like that. And suddenly it seemed that that was all phony and of course Denny wanted to go a different route. He wanted to get into, strangely enough, he wanted to get into strings and orchestra and he went off on his own to do that. And then John came back to the band and Justin joined and we started off just writing songs about things we knew and then lo and behold, we ended up doing strings (laughs). Funny how things work out, isn’t it.
Tony Clarke produced so much of your music. How important was he to the band’s overall sound?
Very important. He was in on all the discussions. We’d start a new song and he’d be there listening to it, playing to it, and it was a very fertile time. Everybody would be sitting there listening to the song, “Oh, here we should do this and here we should do that.” And I think he was the one that got the dialogue. We always spoke to each other, not in terms of music, but in visual terms. So we always spoke about, like, the sea crashing on the rocks or staring out into emptiness or the sun catching you in the eye. All of that was kind of things to give an idea of what we were looking for musically. It sounds a bit lofty now but it worked at the time.
In the early days, everybody went and played in Hamburg: The Beatles went there, you guys went there. Why did everyone feel like they had to go there?
It was the only place where you could sort of pretend to be a professional musician, cause there was no circuit or anything in England and the English people were the only ones playing popular music in Europe. Germany was still “Um-bop, Um-bop” so there was no popular music. And of course Hamburg was absolutely packed with American sailors and American servicemen and that was the clientele the clubs were going for. And it was a place where we were the only musicians they wanted and we could go and be away from home and pretend to be professional musicians. It was great fun. We all got robbed and everything but you won’t find me a successful musician that didn’t lose his first paycheck (laughs)
After all these years, what has surprised you the most about being a professional musician?
What has surprised me? That’s a tough one. I don’t really get surprised about it. I mean, I suppose really to some people rather than just enjoying the music like I do of a lot of people, I’m surprised that some people can make it such a large part of their lives. It’s very nice and I don’t mean the nutcase people that come up to you and say, “I know you’re in contact with the aliens.” Not them. (laughs) But normal people who really, really play the records, The Heartland Seven, they call them; the first seven albums. Whenever they’re in their car going to and from work, they’ll just play one-two-three-four-five-six-seven and then start again. Maybe takes a week to get through them all. And they do that time after time after time and they know so much more about them and the Moody Blues than I do (laughs). They had this thing on a website and they were going to do twenty questions on such-and-such date, tune in and see if you can answer. So I thought, oh, I’ll tune in just for sort of a laugh. I’ll answer all twenty questions correctly and then I’ll own up to who I am and say “Good luck and let the prize go to somebody else.” (laughs) But of twenty questions I could only answer two. It was stuff like, what date did Days Of Future Passed come out? Well, I’d be hard-pressed to say the year. I think it was 1968 or 1969, I’m not sure. I’ve got no chance (laughs)
And you’re the one that recorded it
I know (laughs) I failed miserably. If I’d sent my card in with that score I’d been drummed out of the club. “You’re not a real fan. You can’t be.” (laughs)
That’s right, what do you know?
Apparently nothing (laughs)
What is the most interesting piece of memorabilia that you own from your career?
I think my gold ticket from Madison Square Garden. When you’ve sold a certain number of seats, I believe it’s 100,000, you get a gold ticket and the ticket is A1A and you can present that and you can go to anything that is going on there and you will get a seat. It won’t be a proper seat if it’s a sellout but you can get in on that gold ticket. And I love having that. I don’t live anywhere near it, and I’ve never actually used it, but I think that’s pretty interesting.
There’s another one: I’ve got a big ole stone and it’s got Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and it’s got the sexless child, it could be a boy or a girl, that somebody has hand-carved that into this big stone, which is remarkable. I use it as a paperweight. I’m looking at it right now. The amount of effort and work gone into that. So I appreciate that. I’ve also got a hip flask that’s wrapped in leather which is a copy of my Paradise Ballroom solo album with that pretty lady dancer on the front – I got that as well.
And being fan made makes them even more special.
Absolutely, yeah. To say thank you, somebody sat there and worked all that out. And also, they just arrived as presents. They didn’t want anything. They didn’t knock on the door and expect to become my bosom chum for life because I’ve done this. They just arrived and I very much appreciate it.
Which musician were you the most excited or honored to meet?
I didn’t meet him
Who was it?
Elvis Presley. I mean, which boy born in my time didn’t stand in front of the mirror at about thirteen and shaking these hips and doing all that? And his voice still stands up when you hear it. But we had the same manager or agent or promoter, the same guy. He was our promoter, cause he couldn’t call himself the manager because of the Colonel, who insisted he was his manager. But it was the same guy and we went there to watch Elvis play in Las Vegas and sat at the front and he acknowledged us cause we were sitting with his and our manager. He even made an album called Moody Blue. Did you know that? But we had wanted to meet him and all that and then the next day, he said, “I’ll take you up and introduce you to him now.” And I said, “No.” Didn’t want to knock on the door cause I know what it’s like sitting there and you’re wanting to be watching the television and scratching your groin and just being all on your own before the show. You don’t want to be bothered or nice to anybody (laughs). And thinking, same manager we could meet under better circumstances, so I said no. And of course he died three months later. So I never got to meet him and that was the one I really, really wanted to have met.
I’m delighted to have numbered Jimi Hendrix as an acquaintance. He was a monster of an artist and a very nice, sweet gentle man. And I met Frank Sinatra. He wasn’t at all a gangster. I was a little disappointed actually. I thought he was going to be tough and stuff but he wasn’t (laughs). Frank Sinatra had the same manager who was doing Elvis Presley. His wife was getting an award. You know how they love giving each other awards. She was being awarded the Mother Of The Year, which I thought was odd cause they had three lovely adopted children but I thought the Mother Of The Year should have been the three adopted nannies that looked after the three adopted children, but who am I to say? (laughs) So she was being given the Mother Of The Year and all us artists did a command performance so we could sit in the audience and look at her adoringly as she got the award. But yeah, she was a very pleasant lady as well.
What’s the hardest part about being a drummer now that you’re older?
Keeping the speed up. Right now, I’m going through just like three quarters of an hour every day just practicing sixteens, getting the speed back up because you start to slow down. But I do play with another drummer on stage now to help me cover all the spots. On some of the songs that are not so specialist drumming-wise, I can ease up a bit and let him carry me through those so that ones like “Nights,” which are all feel, the ones like “Isn’t Life Strange,” which has got gaps, not in tempo at all, pushes and pulls all over the place, but we’ve played it for so long, we all move together. So I can play those, then I can give him full-out, where you see if I was up there on my own, I couldn’t do those full-out. Occasionally, I’ll get really excited going into a show and I’ll be bursting away (laughs) and by about three quarters of an hour, I’m starting to think, “I need this rest in fifteen minutes otherwise I’m going to run out of steam.” So basically, like all old people, just as I’m getting smart enough to use it correctly my youth is leaving me.
Are you planning to tour more later this year?
Oh yes, after this tour, we’re only back for about four weeks and then we do a corporate gig. And then we go out in July, about the 28th through September the 15th. We got New Jersey, Maryland, then Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. It’ll all be on the web page, www.moodybluestoday.com.