We remember the longest-surviving member of the Moody Blues with his own words
Like many musicians who provide the power behind the front line, Graeme Edge was a fan-friendly presence in the Moody Blues.
For one thing, he was the only member of the band who was there from the beginning, when they were an R&B outfit prior to their better-known role as progressive pioneers. Consequently, he was on every album, from the very first, 1965’s The Magnificent Moodies, to their final farewell, December, released in 2003.
Edge, who died Thursday at the age of 80 after being diagnosed with cancer this past July, was indeed an integral personality and presence within the band. It was little wonder then that when the band were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he had this to say:
“I’m not gonna make a long speech. I’m 77 years old, I ain’t got time. The first thing I want to do… I want to thank Justin and John for putting up with me for 50 years and counting. I want to thank me for putting up with Justin and John for 50 years and counting. I want to thank everyone in the world that’s ever helped me. You know who you are. Thank you. And all the people in the world that haven’t helped me… screw you.”
After suffering a stroke, Edge announced his retirement from the road in 2019. On hearing of Edge’s passing, singer/guitarist Justin Hayward revealed that the announcement was cause for the band’s split.
“It’s a very sad day,” he posted on Facebook. “Graeme’s sound and personality is present in everything we did together and thankfully that will live on. When Graeme told me he was retiring, I knew that without him it couldn’t be the Moody Blues anymore. And that’s what happened. It’s true to say that he kept the group together throughout all the years, because he loved it.”
Bassist/vocalist John Lodge echoed those sentiments, saying, “Sadly Graeme left us today. To me he was the White Eagle of the North with his beautiful poetry, his friendship, his love of life and his ‘unique’ style of drumming that was the engine room of the Moody Blues…”
Edge himself took note of the passing of time several years at a concert in Miami Florida on the eve of his 70th birthday when he said from the stage, “I’m a ‘60s guy, no longer in my sixties.” He also admitted to some substantial weight gain. “My chest lost its battle with gravity,” he joked.
Nevertheless, Edge could claim a mighty role in the band’s early trajectory, at a time when the Moodies’ music supplied many a soundtrack for people’s lives, from students inhabiting incense-laden dorm rooms to those who found them a guide to some higher purpose. Few bands evoked such obvious emotion from their faithful, and it wasn’t uncommon that during Edge’s poetry readings onboard the Moody Blues’ cruises that one could observe grown men choking back tears and expressing appreciation for the poetic interludes that Edge shared on such seminal albums as Days of Future Passed (“Morning Glory” and “Late Lament”), In Search of the Lost Chord (“Departure,” “The Word”) and On The Threshold of a Dream (“The Dream”). During one of the cruise’s storytelling sessions, one man weeped unashamedly when telling the drummer that his poetry had served as a mantra of sorts for his life as a whole. Edge himself seemed profoundly moved by the experience.
“Like a lot of people who have created new work, I don’t think I quite knew what I was doing,” Edge admitted to this writer during an interview for Goldmine a few years ago. “There were all sorts of things that we weren’t supposed to be able to do and we just did. I suppose it was just the courage that comes with lunacy. We recorded this mad piece of work. We’d say, ‘Let’s do 25 bars there and we’ll figure out the rest later. Now, I’m a little older, a little wiser, and I realize how much I don’t know. (laughs) But ignorance was bliss back then, and so we just got on with it and hoped we could get ourselves out of the shit.”
As far as his poems were concerned, he revealed that his original intent was to turn them into songs. “I was trying to write a song lyric, and when I finished, I gave it to the boys and suggested they put some music to it,” he recalled. “They said it was fabulous, but it was much too wordy to sing. (chuckles) I thought what a shame, what can we do? So (producer) Tony Clarke said, it’s a poem, and I should just read it. But at the time, my voice was too squeaky. I was smoking too many cigarettes and drinking too much whiskey. So we asked (keyboardist) Mike Pinder to deliver it because he had the right kind of voice. That became sort of a tradition and we became known for it. So one of my jobs became to sort of thread the needle with the theme of the album by writing a poem.”
Still, he admitted that he himself felt the tug of nostalgia when reflecting on those early efforts. “When I talk about certain things, I get a lump in my throat as well,” he admitted. “People are very kind to me. They talk about how they got married using one of our tunes as their special song, or how they had some special moment with our music as the background. I’m always very happy to hear that.”
Edge also owned the fact that he held senior status in the band. “We had a big hit with ‘Go Now,’ and we had an album, The Magnificent Moodies, that came out at the same time. It was a collection of basic pop songs. (chuckles) That period of the band’s history was only about 18 months. So I still refer to Justin and John, the new boys, as original members. John was sort of an original member. He was in the first meetings. But he dropped out to finish college. He had one year of college left, so we had to find someone as a stopgap. Our original bassist Clint Warwick had done ‘Go Now,’ so we didn’t think it was fair to sack him for Johnny, but then things changed and we eventually got Johnny and Justin. We were doing work at a men’s clubs up north and we were dying. We were trying to do comedy and we’re not a comedy act.”
Fortunately, the band made the wise decision to pursue a different direction.
“One day we were coming back from some place up north and we just said,
‘No more of this. We’re going to write our own stuff, record our own stuff,’ because there was just no way we were going to continue doing what we were doing,” he continued. “So we went back to original material we had complied. ‘Nights in White Satin’ was written. ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ was written. ‘Dawn Is a Feeling’ was written. ‘Twilight Time’ was written. The first time we recorded those songs, we recorded them for a radio show that we put out live. At first we thought they were just nice songs, but when we went upstairs to listen, we went, ‘Oh wow, what’s this?’ Lo and behold, the record company had a new sound system they were testing, which was really just a new stereo sound system. They called it ‘Super Sound,’ and they were trying different things as samples. They were doing marching bands, they were doing orchestras, and combinations like jazz and orchestra. So we were the rock and orchestra. They wanted us to do Dvorjak’s New World Symphony, and we said ‘Yeah, we’ll do it!’ So they booked 10 days worth of studio time for us and we recorded something like a symphony, but with rock songs. And they went for it! So we presented them with the Days of Future Passed album. It was actually rejected by the people at Decca, but there was an American there named Ron McGuire who was over from London Records, which was the Decca subsidiary in America. He said, ‘I can sell this,’ and God bless him, he did. We didn’t think of it as experimental music. We did believe we were in a position to break all sorts of rules in terms of changes from majors to minors and all that sort of thing, different tempos in the same song, different kinds of melodies. We all sort of thought of it as a new guise, but we didn’t think of it as a new trend or anything like that. It was just our music.”
Edge himself took on a new role, that of the band’s resident poet. “When I was 11, in the English class, we had to do a reading of ‘Gray’s Elegy,’ and I learned all of it,” he explained. “So I started it up and got really carried away. It was boy’s school and you don’t tear up. I learned that; it took me three or four months to live that down. Later, when I started making music, I would always focus on the bass, the drums or the lyrics, which explains the fact whey I can’t sing in tune. (laughs).
During the Moodies hiatus from 1974 – 1978, Edge started his own outfit, a heavy rock combo featuring featuring Paul and Adrian Gurvitz, and appropriately dubbed The Graeme Edge Band. The group released two albums before the Moodies reconvened for the album Octave. Years later, Edge moved to America, first settling in Seattle before opting for the West Coast of Florida where he became a fixture at local clubs that aired English soccer games in a weekly rotation.
“I’ve always been under the impression that people are generically inclined to live next to water under a palm tree,” he noted. He eventually became an American citizen.
Prior to his retirement, Edge still enjoyed touring with the band “I love it,” he insisted during our interview. “I could do without the travel, but I do like starting work at four o’clock in the afternoon. I love being on stage playing the music. I don’t love doing the rehearsals and all that because I get terrible, terrible anxiety dreams.”
Asked to explain, he shared his phobia, one that evolved out of a strange scenario. “I dream that I’m onstage and the drumsticks have turned into bananas,” he confessed. “Sometimes I dream that the curtain goes up and I’m not in the band. I’m in the audience. The music starts and I’m yelling ‘Wait for me!’ I had a friend who was a psychologist and he sort of said, if something is important to you, then you will have those dreams, but if the day comes when you don’t give a damn about it, then you ought to quit.”
With Edge’s passing, there are no longer any members of the Moody Blues that can claim any original ownership. He will be missed.
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