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 , 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 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 backwards and forwards. Just fantastic blues. And there wasn’t a single cell phone in the audience. 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 , 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.”