Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Late Great Ray Thomas

Ray Thomas, former flautist and vocalist for The Moody Blues, died on January 4 2018 at the age of 76. The cause was prostate cancer.

Ray Thomas was born in Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire. His father was a Welsh toolmaker who interested his son in music when he taught to play the harmonica. As a youngster Ray Thomas sang in the Birmingham Youth Choir. He followed his father as a toolmaker, but also found time to perform in rock 'n' roll groups. With bassist John Lodge he formed El Riot and the Rebels. El Riot and the Rebels once opened for a young, up-and-coming Liverpool band called The Beatles at the Riverside Dancing Club in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. With keyboardist Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas was in a band called The Krew Cats.

It was in 1964, after The Krew Cats played in Germany, that Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder recruited guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine and drummer Graeme Edge. For their bassist they initially approached John Lodge, but he was at university at the time and as a result was not interested. They then brought Clint Warwick into the group as their bass player. They named this new group The Moody Blues.

The Moody Blues were signed to Decca Records. While their first single, "Steal Your Heart Away", did not chart, their second single, "Go Now", became a major hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Their first album, The Magnificent Moodies, was released in 1965. Unfortunately, The Moody Blues were unable to repeat the success of "Go Now". A cover of The Drifters' "I Don't Want To Go on Without You" only reached no. 33 on the British singles chart. The Mike Pinder/Denny Laine composition "From the Bottom of My Heart (I Love You)" only reached no. 22 on the chart. Further singles released in Britain did no better.

Eventually Clint Warwick decided to retire from the music business. He was briefly replaced by Rod Clark. Denny Laine left The Moody Blues not long after Clint Warwick's departure. Rod Clark did not remain with the band long, and was replaced by John Lodge, who had played with Ray Thomas in El Riot and the Rebels. Denny Laine was replaced by Justin Hayward, who had played with Marty Wilde as part of The Wilde Three. It was not long after Messrs. Lodge and Laine joined The Moody Blues that the band made a conscious decision to move away from rhythm and blues and beat inspired music to a different style entirely. Quite simply, their new style would combine rock music with a symphonic sound.

It was in 1967 that The Moody Blues' second album, Days of Future Passed, was released. The album marked a major shift for The Moody Blues, recorded in large part with the London Festival Orchestra. The album reached no. 27 on the British album chart, while its single first single, "Nights in White Satin", peaked at no. 9 on the singles chart. Ray Thomas contributed the songs "The Morning: Another Morning" and "Twilight Time" to the album. He also played the famous flute solo on "Nights in White Satin".

The Moody Blues released six albums between 1968 and 1972, all of which proved very successful in the United Kingdom and internationally. Ray Thomas made significant contributions to these albums, including the songs "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume" and "Legend of a Mind" on In Search of the Lost Chord, "Lovely to See You" and "Lazy Day" on On the Threshold of a Dream, "Floating" and "Eternity Road" on To Our Children's Children's Children, "And the Tide Rushes In" on A Question of Balance, "Our Guessing Game" and "Nice to Be Here" on Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and "For My Lady" on Seventh Sojourn.

In 1974 The Moody Blues went on an extended break following a tour of Asia. In the interim Ray Thomas released two solo albums. From Mighty Oaks in 1975 and Hopes, Wishes and Dreams in 1976. Both albums sold relatively well.

The Moody Blues reformed and recorded the album Octave, released in 1978. Ray Thomas contributed the songs "Under Moonshine" and "I'm Your Man" to the album. Octave did well on the charts and was followed in 1981 by the even more successful album Long Distance Voyager. Ray Thomas contributed the songs "Painted Smile" and "Veteran Cosmic Rocker" to the album. To The Moody Blues' following album, The Present, Ray Thomas contributed the songs "I Am" and "Sorry".

It was following The Present that Ray Thomas took a less active role in the band. While he continued to perform with them and sing vocals, Mr. Thomas wrote none of the songs on the albums The Other Side of Life (1986) and Sur la Mer (1988). The album Keys of the Kingdom (1991) saw Ray Thomas once more write songs for the band, writing the song "Celtic Sonant" and co-writing the song "Never Blame the Rainbows for the Rain". Ray Thomas also wrote the song "My Little Lovely" for the album Strange Times (1999). Strange Times would be the last album on which Ray Thomas worked with The Moody Blues. In 2002 Ray Thomas retired from The Moody Blues due to health-related problems.

Ray Thomas was certainly a talented musician. Although best known for playing the flute and harmonica, he was the master of several instruments, including the oboe, piccolo, and saxophone. He was also a very talented songwriter, having written some of the best songs The Moody Blues ever recorded, including "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume", "Legend of a Mind", "Lazy Day", and "Veteran Cosmic Rocker". He was also an incredible presence on stage, to the point that that The Moody Blues' shows would never quite be the same without him. If The Moody Blues were among the most successful bands to emerge from Britain in the Sixties, it was largely due to Ray Thomas.

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