For more than 40 years, the Moody Blues have soldiered on as progressive-rock giants, unfazed that the world has moved beyond the type of high-minded art-rock they pioneered in the late '60s and early '70s. But nostalgia for classic rock doesn't die easily. The band is now touring behind the DVD release of Live at the Isle of Wight, which features footage from the group's appearance at the 1970 festival. Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge spoke about the band's legacy.
Is it true you were the band's manager before joining the group?
No. That is heavily misquoted. The first band I was ever in, I was the band's manager. But that was a garage band. The only reason I was the manager was because my parent's house was big enough to store the equipment, and that's also how I became the drummer. I used to set the drummer's drums up. One day he said, "I don't feel like going." The guys in the band knew I played drums and that's how I got started.
And at what point did you become its resident poet?
When we were making Days of Future Passed. We needed something to do in the morning and afternoon. I wrote what I thought were the lyrics to a song. The guys looked at it and said it was great but way too wordy. They said, "This is a poem." The producer just said, "Get up to the mic and speak it." I got up and spoke it. They said, "This is going to work." But because I hadn't had enough whiskey or cigarettes at the time, they didn't let me do it but had [keyboardist] Mike Pinder do it because he had a deeper, gravelly voice.
Had you written poetry prior to that?
Yes. I'd always enjoyed the rhyming. I'm not sure whether some of my early stuff would go to the heights of poetry. I used to write my school essays in rhyme. The master used to like it as well. I used to have a little bit of comedy in there. I could never take academia seriously. Even though I was only playing in a marching band, somehow I knew I wasn't going to be working for a living.
Days of Future Passed was a real departure from what the band had originally sounded like. What happened to make you shift gears and take a new approach for that album?
Two things: [Singer-guitarist] Denny Laine left and [singer-guitarist] Justin Hayward came in. He'd come up more from English folk music rather than Bill Haley and everything that came after him. He broadened our chord structure past the 12-bar. Mike Pinder was working at a place where they were designing a machine they could use to retrieve sound effects. You have people slamming a car door or walking up steps. He figured out, "If I put violins and trumpets on it, I got me an orchestra." That became the Mellotron. That led us down that classical route as well.
Your song "Legend of a Mind" paid tribute to Timothy Leary. Did you do a lot of acid back in the day?
Most certainly not! How could you think such a thing? Did you notice how we always had a gatefold so you could clean your grass? Somebody told us we should do that. We knew nothing about it.
What happened in 1974 to make the band take a break?
We'd done seven albums in like eight years. We went in to make the eighth, and we had nothing. We had three songs down which were produced mechanically without any emotion. They were rubbish. We threw them away and said, "We can't record now." We didn't say, "Let's not work for four years." We were always in contact. We owned a record label and had five acts signed to it. We also owned 11 record stores and met for business at least once a month. For me, I realized what fun it was working with the guys.
And did you call it quits in the '90s, too?
There was a time when we didn't work for awhile. There was no reason for that except that we didn't feel like workin'.
The Moody Blues' music has gone through several permutations but none more bizarre than the Moody Bluegrass album and concert. Tell me about that.
As you know, once a song is released, anyone can record it. They just have to pay the publisher. The [Moody Bluegrass musicians] presented us with this and invited us down to play the original theater of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium. We had a lot of fun with them. The album was a pretty good hit which makes me feel happy. They just finished a new one for "Higher and Higher," and apparently they'll record that on Moody Bluegrass 2, or whatever they're going to call it. I thought it worked quite well.
Your first seven albums were re-released last year. Is there anything left in the vaults?
No. We have plenty of stuff in our heads we want to get out. But there's no record label at the moment. The old record labels are really just distribution networks. Now they want a piece of the action on the road. They get one answer from us, which is "Rearrange these words into a well-known phrase or saying: "Off Fuck."
Live at the Isle of Wight is out on DVD for the first time ever. What's it been like for you to see that footage and revisit that show?
That knocked me right out. I loved it. I'd forgotten how thin we all were. Back in those days, we were just about music. We had no girlfriends or houses or anything. In fact, we took three of the songs and put them into the show again.
You played in front of half a million people, right?
Yeah, but after about 200,000, you can't tell the difference.
Did you have any hesitation about lending "Tuesday Afternoon" to Visa?
We had no choice. That's the publisher. If it was going to happen, I thought it was not too bad at all. I thought that visually it complemented the music excellently. If I get the nerve, I'll hold up a big sign that says, "Have you got your Visa" when we start "Tuesday Afternoon."
You've sold 50 million albums worldwide and had 14 platinum albums. What's it gonna take for you guys to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum?
I don't know. You're in Cleveland. You find out for us.