An interview with The Moody Blues legendary keyboardist Michael Pinder
Michael Pinder was affectionately labeled “Micky the Moonboy” as a youth for his preoccupation of the moon, stars, music and electronics. But who could have predicted that a silly nickname perhaps more suited for a sci-fi cartoon superhero would actually forecast his destiny. Pinder’s fascination with the cosmos and a life-changing realization that we are not alone in the universe became the basis for composing intricate and surreal musical masterpieces.
Michael played Hymns on the piano in Church every Sunday at his Colonel’s request; in return Pinder received an early discharge from the British Army. Pinder asked for the early-out after hearing The Beatles “She Loves You” on the radio. Ten days later, Pinder was back in Birmingham, England. He quickly found a job working with Streetly Electronics where he learned the mechanics of the Mellotron. Michael Pinder would become an illustrious keyboardist and trendsetter for the instrument.
In 1964 … Michael Pinder (piano, organ and vocals) and Ray Thomas (tambourine, flute and vocals) formed The Moody Blues along with members …Denny Laine (guitars, harmonica and lead vocals), Clint Warwick (bass guitar and vocals) and Graeme Edge (drums and vocals). The R&B/Rock/Pop Birmingham band scored a Top 10 hit in the U.S. with “Go Now” (1965) from their debut album The Magnificent Moodies.
The Moody Blues became part of ‘The British Invasion’ and supported The Beatles on their final UK tour in December of 1965. They followed the tour with their first trip to the U.S. appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1966 … after the departure of Denny Laine and Clint Warwick … The Moody Blues reformed with old friend John Lodge (bass guitar and vocals) and Justin Hayward (lead vocals and guitars) who was recommended to Pinder by Eric Burdon of The Animals. The band had an awakening after a disgruntled audience member visited their dressing room complaining about their music. The group immediately changed their musical direction and style, hence … the commencement of one of the most amazing transformations in rock history.
Meanwhile …Michael Pinder suggested to his friend John Lennon that The Beatles use the Mellotron on Magical Mystery Tour …and they did. Pinder’s Mellotron influence is undeniably detected on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Pinder and bandmate Ray Thomas were also invited to play harmonica on the tracks… “I Am the Walrus” and “The Fool on the Hill.”
“In 1967 …The Moody Blues first attempt at a dissimilar musical direction had consummated with an awe-inspiring masterpiece entitled… Days of Future Passed. It would be the first Decca/Deram Records release in stereo. Michael Pinder’s Mellotron ingrained a brave new transcendental manner and Progressive Rock was born. The proficient players of The Moody Blues were also accompanied by The London Festival Orchestra while creating the band’s first concept album. Days of Future Passed spawned two of the band’s biggest commercial hits with its new lineup … “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon.” Pinder wrote the tracks… “Dawn is a Feeling” and “The Sunset.” Pinder’s dramatic reading of “Late Lament” added a mind-blowing conclusion to a superlative album. Producer Tony Clarke’s influence also had a huge impact on the group.
The Moody Blues subsequent release … In Search of the Lost Cord (1968) was recorded without an orchestra … although Pinder’s ingenious performance on the Mellotron often sounded like a symphony. Pinder composed “The Best Way to Travel” and “Om” on the album. “Ride My See-saw” became a commercial hit for the band.
In 1969 … The Moody Blues released On the Threshold of a Dream. The group’s signature sound became exclusive to the rest of the rock world. Pinder had considerable songwriting duties on the album with … “So Deep Within You,” “Have You Heard (Part 1),” “The Voyage,” and “Have You Heard (Part 2).”
Inspired by the 1969 moon landing …To Our Children’s Children’s Children was their first album released on the band’s newly formed Threshold Records. The band followed the critically-acclaimed release with … Question of Balance (1970). Pinder penned … “How Is It (We are Here)” and his proverbial classic … “Melancholy Man.”
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was released in 1971. For the first time, the entire band lyrically collaborated on “Procession” the opening track. Michael Pinder also penned the final track on the album entitled … “My Song.” The release spawned yet another Top 40 hit with … “The Story in Your Eyes.”
Also in 1971 … Pinder played tambourine on John Lennon’s Imagine album on the track … “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama.”
Seventh Sojourn released in 1972 brought an end to the classic Moody Blues era. Michael Pinder penned … “Lost in a Lost World,” and “When You’re a Free Man.” The album also spawned… “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band) and became one of the bands highest charting hits reaching #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the U.S. Pinder also substituted the Mellotron with its precursor the Chamberlin.
In 1976 …Pinder released his solo album entitled … The Promise.
After a lengthy hiatus, The Moody Blues released Octave (1978). Michael Pinder departed the band during the sessions but contributed… “One Step Into the Light.” Pinder was replaced by YES Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz. Without Pinder’s Mellotron and Chamberlin influence, The Moody Blues intricate progressive period was over.
The Moody Blues continue to tour and record as a band with Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge (the only original band member left in the group).
In 1994 …Pinder released his solo effort … Among the Stars (a private mail order release).
MOST RECENTLY … Esoteric Recordings has released Michael Pinder’s 3-Disc CD & DVD set of ‘The Promise (1976) & Among the Stars’ (1994) plus new bonus material featuring Michael’s sons (The Pinder Brothers) and Ray Thomas (The Moody Blues) on flute.
I had the rare pleasure of chatting with Michael Pinder recently. We chatted about his remarkable days with The Moody Blues, his relationship and influence on The Beatles, and UFO’S!
Here’s my interview with legendary Moody Blues singer, songwriter, keyboardist, Mellotron pioneer, and technological beneficence to the music world …MICHAEL PINDER.
Ray Shasho: Hi Michael so glad that you could be on the call today. How’s California weather treating you?
Michael Pinder: “Actually it’s not a bad day, there’s hardly any clouds with a little bit of sunshine and it’s about 68 degrees.”
Ray Shasho: I think we’re both lucky because the rest of the country is really suffering … Michael, Esoteric Recordings has released your 3-Disc CD & DVD set of ‘The Promise (1976) & Among the Stars’ (1994) plus new bonus material featuring your sons (The Pinder Brothers) and Ray Thomas (The Moody Blues) on flute.
Michael Pinder: “Yes, Mike and Matt, two of my three sons are on the album. They recorded four albums as The Pinder Brothers and have their own business teaching music. Matt does a lot of gigs playing bass, like with Kevin Russell’s Cream of Clapton. Dan is the third son in Los Angeles; he’s a film editor in the movie business. I have a talented family. My dad played piano and banjo and my mom sang a little bit. Because my dad was a piano player, I was exposed to a lot of early music from the 20’s, 30’s 40’s, 50’s. But after the Elvis period and the first time I heard The Beatles first tune …that was it, the signal for me. I was in Germany at the time in the military. I happened to be in good with the Colonel at the camp because he was very religious and every Sunday morning he would send for me.”
“One morning he said, “Pinder, I understand you play piano?” I was playing for the guys in the Mess. He said, “How about playing a couple of Hymns for me on Sunday? I said, yes sir, no problem sir. I also found out that there was a guy who played bass and a guy who played drums. The Colonel gave us the equipment to play and he said all I want you to do is to play a few hymns on Sunday mornings. So there I am in Germany and I’m listening to the radio on Saturday morning and I heard The Beatles “She Loves You” for the first time …and that was like, oh yea! I thought, I’ve got to get out of here, but I was already signed up for quite a few years. So I went to see the Colonel and I told him what was happening. He said no problem and within about ten days I was back in England.”
Ray Shasho: That’s an amazing story… why did the Colonel give you an early discharge from the military?
Michael Pinder: “The Colonel was the camp. I played for him every Sunday morning because he was very religious. He said thank you for all the music you’ve played for us and we’ll take care of you. Prior to that, I had a band called The Rocking Tuxedo’s which was my first band. Ray Thomas also had a band and we sort of got to know each other. By the time we got to about the third Beatles hit (All laughing), Ray and I decided to put a band together and we called it The Moody Blues. The reason we called it The Moody Blues was because my mom ran a big seven bar British Pub and the name of the beer company was called Mitchells & Butlers …M&B. I thought we could get on the circuit because they had probably about a hundred different pubs. So I thought “Mood Indigo” because the song stuck with me as a kid and we were playing blues tunes. So that’s how I came up with The Moody Blues.”
Ray Shasho: During the British Invasion …the early Moody Blues had a very different sound and musically ahead of their time, much like The Animals, Yardbirds, and Rolling Stones. I guess not being from Liverpool and hailing from Birmingham may have had something to do with it too?
Michael Pinder: “Yea exactly, we were all on the road but all took a different direction.”
Ray Shasho: What was it like touring with The Beatles?
Michael Pinder: “It was absolutely fabulous! It was just them and us. There was a guy who was like a comedian that would open the show and his name was Pinder … I can’t remember his first name.”
Ray Shasho: At what point did you begin playing the Mellotron?
Michael Pinder: “When the Colonel let me off because I heard The Beatles song … I was looking for a job. There was a company located about three miles from where I lived and was born. I read their ad in the newspaper saying they wanted somebody that had mechanical ideas and knew music. So I applied for the job, got it, and it turned out to be a Mellotron company.”
Ray Shasho: I’m really fascinated with the Mellotron as a musical instrument … an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replaying keyboard. It basically plays a tape when you press a key. But you altered it in some way when you began playing it?
Michael Pinder: “What I did … on the left hand keyboard there would be rhythm sections and things like that, the right side was used for soloing. I didn’t need the cheesy rhythms so what I did was took those out and put another right handed version in the left and created two mellotron’s … one on my left hand and one on my right.”
Ray Shasho: Michael, you became a trailblazer for the Mellotron.
Michael Pinder: “I was lucky enough to turn The Beatles on to the Mellotron. I called them and they sent four Mellotron’s to The Beatles.”
Ray Shasho: It would have been awesome if you had actually played the Mellotron on the track … but we should all still thank you for your very critical contribution to “Strawberry Fields Forever?”
Michael Pinder: “Yes (All laughing). I did play harmonica on “I Am the Walrus” and “The Fool on the Hill” … me and Ray both. They had every kind of harmonica you could imagine. Ray Thomas and I were also lucky enough to get on the final Beatles UK tour.”
Ray Shasho: You also played on John Lennon’s Imagine album?
Michael Pinder: “I played tambourine on “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama.” I turned them on to the Mellotron but when I got there all the tapes were hanging out and nobody knew how to handle it. I couldn’t play Mellotron on that so I grabbed a tambourine, got on the drummer’s high-hat, and went for “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama.”
Ray Shasho: Was Days of Future Passed …The Moody Blues Sgt. Pepper’s?
Michael Pinder: “I would say so. It was apparently the first stereo record that Decca ever did.”
Ray Shasho: Michael, you were so inspirational and important to the success of The Moody Blues, and composed so many intricate and beautiful arrangements, for instance… "Have You Heard/The Voyage/Have You Heard (part two)" from the album On the Threshold of a Dream. Where do some of your songwriting ideas come from?
Michael Pinder: “It comes from the heart, mind, and things that I’ve listened to over the years.”
“I was born in 1941, at the end of 1945 my mom called me in from the garden while I was collecting spiders. She called … “Michael, I want you to meet somebody,” and there was my dad. He was a sergeant in the military and had just gotten back from France. So she introduced my dad to me … I had never really seen him.”
“My dad used to do deliveries and would bring big crates home so we could break it up and light the fire with it. So we had one in the garden, it was kind of like a coffin without a lid on. I would get a blanket and a cushion and just lie in there and couldn’t see anything except the sky. That was one of my favorite things to do and just watch the skies.”
“When everybody was at work and the older kids were all at school … I used to get a privet stick, strip all the leaves off and turn it into a bow. Then I’d put it behind the little spider webs, onto the web, then go to another one and put it on there … and then watch the spiders fight. There weren’t any spiders left in my garden so I’d go across the street. “So I was in the neighbor’s garden picking spiders off the web and watching them fight. The neighbors weren’t at home. I turned around and there was this guy standing at their front door. He looked like Michael Rennie from the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. So I turned around and this guy was standing by the door of the house. He points and says, look up there. I looked up and saw formations of different types of spaceships. Then they both sort of disappeared, it was one of those miraculous things. So I’ve always been into the outer space thing. It’s one of those things that stay with you your whole life.”
Ray Shasho: Was that the only time you witnessed a UFO?
Michael Pinder: “In 1966 … with the first band, we were coming back from Manchester around midnight and we always wanted to get back to London before dawn, otherwise we’d have trouble getting to sleep. We were coming down from Manchester on the day they opened the M6 motorway. So we’re driving home about one o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting in the back, and I’d put my head back and look out the back window and look at the stars. So we’re driving and probably doing sixty miles an hour. There was this red light and I said, I don’t remember that radio station around here. So I told the guys to pull over and we got out. We all looked over the top of the car and there was this red ball kind of thing moving across the freeway that turns into a square … like a red dice. As it approached us, it got bigger and bigger, and we were all sort of bathed in this blue light. We ended up getting home three hours late and wondering what the heck was that? …So that really solidified my nickname of “Micky the Moonboy” as a kid. I was always interested in the moon. …Read Zecharia Sitchin … he’s the guy!”
Ray Shasho: Michael, any regrets on leaving The Moody Blues?
Michael Pinder: “No, I don’t because I was really quite happy with what Ray and I achieved. We had what we wanted… we conquered it.”
Ray Shasho: Do you still talk with your old bandmates?
Michael Pinder: “I talk with Ray a lot; we’re still the best buddies. We’re the guys who started the band.”
Ray Shasho: I was part of a family retail electronics business in Washington D.C. and we were among the very first in D.C. to carry Pong, the Atari 2600 console and all the game cartridges. After you left The Moody Blues you actually went to work for Atari?
Michael Pinder: “Yes I did for awhile. I was demonstrating for them. I think I still have my original Pong and Atari in the garage (All laughing).”
Ray Shasho: Graeme Edge lives about 15-20 minutes from me. He’s made headlines in the National Enquirer most recently …did you read it?
Michael Pinder: “Yes… misperforming in back of a car. He kind of deserves what he gets.”
Ray Shasho: Michael, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Michael Pinder: “I think I’ve already gotten to play with who I’d want to play with and that’s The Beatles. When we did the last Beatles tour in the UK that all made sense. Do you remember the song…“Those Were the Days” by Mary Hopkin? …Paul gave the song to us first. I told Paul thanks a lot but it’s not quite us. So it turned out to be a one hit wonder for her and I could kind of sense that. But we were so lucky to have played with so many great bands… especially The Beatles.”
Ray Shasho: Michael, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and hopefully will continue to bring.
Michael Pinder: “Ray I appreciate you calling and giving us the chance to chat about it. Cheers!”
Esoteric Recordings releases a Deluxe 3 Disc CD &DVD Set by Moody Blues founder and keyboard player Michael Pinder. -Purchase ‘The Promise/Among The Stars’/DVD set at http://www.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=4389
Michael Pinder official website
Michael Pinder on Twitter
The Pinder Brothers official website
The Pinder Brothers on Facebook
Ray Thomas official website
As always ...very special thanks to “the great” Billy James
Coming UP … My interview with guitarist Wayne Swinny of SALIVA, Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys, the legendary Judy Collins, Jesse Colin Young, and Travis Barker of Blink-182.
This article is dedicated to my Brother Harry who has always been a devoted fan of The Moody Blues.
Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at email@example.com
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