Gary James' Interview With Mike Pinder of
The Moody Blues
For 14 years Mike Pinder was one fifth of the British rock group The Moody Blues. The singer, songwriter, keyboardist founded the group, along with fellow musician Ray Thomas in May of 1964. That same year their song "Go Now" was a worldwide hit.
The Moody Blues have won their fair share of industry awards over the years, selling 50 million plus albums in the process. Their music has captured the hearts of tens of millions of fans around the world.
Mike Pinder has formed his own record label, One Stop Recorders and released two CD's recently.
We spoke with Mike Pinder about The Moody Blues and his solo efforts.
Q - Have I been hearing rumors of a Moody Blues reunion or is that just wishful thinking on someone's part?
A - Yes. The only tangible information I could give you about that was that about a year ago, when they were planning on doing the Orchestral Tour, I did offer to the guys in the band to do a one night sort of walk on stage. You know, do a poem, and a couple of tunes with them for the fans pleasure, so to speak. But, nothing transpired. But, it was never with the intention of ever reforming the band or whatever.
Q - Why couldn't you have enjoyed a solo career while you were still part of The Moody Blues? What was the barrier?
A - The most visible part of that iceberg if you like, would be the music. You can see the music that they've made since I left has taken a different street, a street corner sort of thing. It's sorted of turned off in a slightly different direction, a more pop oriented kind of music and lyric. Certainly there's a lack of interest on my part to do that and I think obviously a lack of interest on their part, to do anything in the same vein where my interests lie.
Q - Was it difficult for you to walk away from the group after so many years?
A - No, not at all. I started the band. I'm the original founding member. I started it back in '64, when I left my job and went down to Ray Thomas' place of employment and met him for lunch hour and said, Ray, quit the job, let's form another band." And, that's how that started. It was as easy to leave as it was to start the band. It was just a decision in my life, you know?
Q - Before The Moody Blues, were you in another group?
A - Yeah. Ray and I had formed a group for a few months and we were playing in Hamburg, Germany at the Top Ten Club, right on the heels of the Beatles.
Q - Were you playing something like eight hours a night?
A - That's right, yeah. Every other hour, yeah.
Q - Six days a week?
A - Yeah.
Q - How long were you doing that?
A - We did it for a couple of months I think, at least, yeah.
Q - That's where you really toughened up physically and emotionally isn't it?
A - Yeah, I think so, just generally speaking. That was only a part of the warming up period if you like.
Q - Who else was in Hamburg at the same time you were? I'm talking about British bands.
A - No one I can remember the names of. (laughs) No one famous at that time. We were right on the heels of the Beatles being there as I said. That was it.
Q - What was the name of the group you were in at the time?
A - It was the Krew Kats, if I remember right. It was a play on that American group the Crew Cuts.
Q - Were The Beatles the reason why The Moody Blues formed?
A - Oh, not really, no. I'd been playing instruments since I was 3 years old. They were certainly the catalyst for the new wave of music that came out. All of us were in various different kinds of local groups at one time or another. So, it was really just a matter of time. At the time The Beatles came out with 'Love me Do', I was in Germany in the British Army. I had a group in fact while I was in the Army and we used to entertain the men in the camp. When I heard 'Love Me Do' it was like O.K. that's what I've been waiting for. I've been waiting for that signal because the music scene in England up until then was pretty poor. It was a pretty bad scene. That's why I went into the Army, because my brothers, my uncles, my dad and all my family at one time had been in the military. It was sort of the rites of passage, you know? Back then.
Q - How long did you serve in the Army?
A - I did a year and 42 days.
Q - Who came up with the name The Moody Blues?
A - I did.
Q - Where'd that come from?
A - When I was very young I heard a piece of music by Duke Ellington called 'Mood Indigo'. I really liked the music, but I liked the name of it even better, and it just stuck with me. Something like that I'll just always remember. Another piece of music that I heard when I was about five was by Jimmy Durante, and it was called 'Tin The Guy Who Found The Lost Chord'. That stuck with me too. That became an album for us in 1968 called 'In Search of The Lost Chord'. So you have that early childhood memory that stuck with me and the whole idea of the myth of the Lost Chord.
Q - How did 'Mood Indigo' lead to The Moody Blues?
A - Because one day Ray Thomas and I were sitting in a little office of the ballroom where we were working. We were trying to conjure up an idea of how to get some money to fund the band and also to try and get on a circuit. In Birmingham, one of the big breweries there, that owned all of clubs was called Mitchells and Butlers. They went by the name of M and B. They owned most of the big dance halls. We thought maybe if we named this new band that Ray and I just put together using those initials, we might talk them into coming up with some money to fund us, and also to get on their circuit. Well, that never happened (laughs). But, I did come up with a name. What I did was, at that time I was very interested in the fact that music changed our moods. I had made the realization then. It had magical qualities to do things like that. We needed an M. So that was really easy to come up with the Moody, but actually I came up with the Blues part first, because at that time we were playing blues. We were playing rhythm and blues and blues music. In particular, people like Sonny Boy Williamson were touring England, a lot of American blues singers were touring, and we became a backup band for those guys. So, we were backing up people like Sonny Boy Williamson, and Memphis Slim, guys like that. So we're playing a lot of blues. It was very easy to come up with blues for that, and the moody with an M because of my interest in the mood affecting changes of music. That's how the name Moody Blues kind of happened, tied in with the M and B beer.
Q - Is there still an M and B beer?
A - Oh, Yes.
Q - Would that be exported to the States by any chance?
A - I don't think they have an export. It's mainly London beers that get exported.
Q - What was it like to tour in the 60's? I take it you toured the world, right?
A - Right.
Q - Did you get the screaming girls?
A - Well yeah. In the beginning when we had the big hit 'Go Now' in 1964, it was right on the heels anyway of what The Beatles were doing. It was only a year later, after all, and we had a number one hit. We ended up doing some shows with The Beatles and The Stones and people like that. We were part of sort of the big mania of the time. I remember New Musical Express had a headline one week right across the top. 'Moody Mania', and photographs of the car almost being tipped over by fans and all of that stuff that went on.
Q - How did you travel?
A - In cars and equipment vans and things like that. Our first couple tours of the States, our first tour of the States in fact, we worked nine weeks, and only had one day off. That was driving around from town to town, state to state, in the States with a U-Haul and a car.
Q - You were playing what kind of places?
A - Mainly colleges and clubs.
Q - Do you remember playing Syracuse?
A - Yeah. We definitely played Syracuse. We certainly played there more than once. I remember driving through Cleveland and Detroit and those kind of places in midwinter through snow storms and things like that, in the mid to late 60's time period.
Q - You probably met all the big stars of the day?
A - Oh yeah. In fact I was gonna get together with Jimi Hendrix, what would've been 5 days after he died. We'd met again down in a club called The Bag O' Nails where everybody used to meet in London, down in Soho. We'd arranged to get together and just hang out for the day and the evening and talk about UFO's and things like that. We shared interests. But, he was not available. To put those things in a nutshell, we did the last Cream tour for instance, the very last tour England by Cream. We were the other act on that tour. We were also the other act on The Beatles last tour of England at the end of 1965. We did, I think it was about 14 dates around England with just The Beatles and us. It was great.
Q - Did you meet Brian Epstein?
A - Yeah, he was our manager for awhile.
Q - What was he like?
A - He was very nice, quiet man. Obviously I'm sure he got frustrated with the explosion of his business becoming so big. I mean handling something like that, that's a pretty incredible kind of thing to try and nurture isn't it?
Q - It certainly is.
A - We joined Brian Epstein's stable around 1965.
Q - You moved from England to California to live "a normal life". Why couldn't you live a normal life in England?
A - I left the group to lead a normal life, (laughs) I realized that if I put so much energy into writing a song, why not put that same amount of energy into raising a family and holding a marriage together, which is exactly the reason why I decided to give it up. Plus the time was right. I felt that we'd done our best work. We'd had four years apart because we'd done the world tour which ended in 1974, April of 1974. We were then apart 'til 1978. The band was totally inactive, on a sabbatical. New people came into our lives. People got married. People got divorced. All those kinds of things. When we got back together in 1978 it wasn't the same thing.
Q - You say that what you were writing about in the 60's and 70's is starting to happen. "People just naturally turning to a better way of thinking and living." How did you arrive at that?
A - It might not be the majority we're talking about, but certainly there's a minority of people on the planet who are trying to implement the kind of ideas that we had back in the 60's. There were some wonderful ideas and what I call really the soul of the 60's. I've been going around this past year talking about "let's resurrect the soul of the 60's." That was the good part of it. It was the love and the peace and doing things for the right reason, cleaning up the environment. The environmental movement started back then. All of those kinds of things. All of the Equal Rights. That's the soul of the 60's. I see people trying to implement those things in their own lives.
Q - Is recording easier or harder than it was in the 1960's?
A - It's really very much the same. The only thing that's really changed is the quality of the recordings and the sheer amount of add on equipment that you can put to that. But, it's still a tape recorder and some microphones, and instruments.
Q - You recorded the music for Off The Shelf in the 1980's. Is that correct?
A - Yes
Q - Yet it didn't see a release date until 1994?
A - Right.
Q - Why so long?
A - Because I was inactive professionally at that time, but I was still writing and doing a little recording. I would write some material because most of my material has been drawn from real life experiences. I've written very little fictional music or lyrics. So consequently, I still put my ideas down and occasionally go into the recording studio and fulfilled some of these recordings. I always had a demo studio at home as I do now. So when I do get an idea and I've got the time, I'll go and work on it.
Q - What's next for Mike Pinder?
A - Two more albums in the vein of this album that's current which is the 'Planet With One Mind'. The Stories From Around The World For The Child Within Us All, that's the subtitle. It's a trilogy. One will be called 'People With One Heart'. The third one will be called 'An Earth With One Spirit'. The second one should be available around the end of spring. (1996) Sometime in the summer for the third one. Then that will be a triple box set kind of thing. I actually have a recording schedule that's going to take me over the next 12 months or so, with these and some other projects I have. One will be an instrumental album of inner landscapes with poetry, and a book that I'm writing, which is based on songs that I've written over the years. I'll be doing another follow-up album too 'Among the Stars' which is another rock style album.