The Moody Blues’ masterful, mystical Michael Pinder

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on March 1, 2014

Mike Pinder photo 5HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —  Michael Thomas Pinder is the co-founder, keyboard player, and one of the three principal singers of the Moody Blues. His voice is iconic as chief reciter of Graeme Edge‘s poetry on the seminal Moody Blues albums. Pinder is a pioneering user of the early electronic keyboard instrument, the Mellotron, as a substitute for a full orchestra. Mike said, “It gave musicians and bands the opportunity to incorporate different instruments into their arrangements.  I was fortunate to introduce the Beatles to the Mellotron during one of their sessions.  At my suggestion they ordered four Mark II Mellotrons.  What a reward when I heard Strawberry Fields.”

The Moody Blues is a legendary English rock band. Among their innovations was a fusion of rock with classical music, most notably in their 1967 album Days of Future Passed. The Moody Blues have sold in excess of 50 million albums worldwide and have been awarded 14 platinum and gold discs. 

Days of Future Passed (released in November 1967) became one of the most successful pop/rock releases of the period, earning a gold record award and reaching #27 on the British album chart. Five years later it was to reach #3 in the U.S./Billboard charts. The album was a song cycle (or concept album) that took place over the course of a single day.
The album’s single Nights in White Satin reached #19 on the UK singles chart. The song was re-released in 1972 and it charted at #2 on Billboard magazine and #1 on Cash Box in the United States, earning a gold single for sales of a million copies.  It charted #1 in Canada as well. In the wake of its US success, the song re-charted in the UK in late 1972 and climbed to #9. The song was re-released yet again in 1979 and charted for a third time in the UK at #14.

The 1968 follow-up LP, In Search of the Lost Chord included Legend of a Mind – a song written by Ray Thomas in tribute to LSD guru Timothy Leary. In Search of the Lost Chord peaked at #23 on the U.S. album charts upon release in July 1968. In the UK, the album reached #5.

In 1969 they released On the Threshold of a Dream which gave The Moody Blues their first UK #1 album. It also increased their American fortunes by becoming their first Top 20 album there. The album enjoyed lengthy stays in both album charts.

Also in 1969 To Our Children’s Children’s Children was released reaching #2 in the UK and #14 in the U.S. The following year A Question of Balance was released and reached #1 in the UK and #3 in the U.S.

1971’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour reached #1 on the UK album charts, in addition to a three week stay at #2 in the U.S., and produced one top-40 single The Story In Your Eyes.

Seventh Sojourn, released in 1972, managed to reach #5 in the UK and became the band’s first U.S. chart topper spending five weeks at the summit to close out the year. The band went on hiatus until Octave was released in 1978. It reached #6 in the UK and went platinum in the U.S. where the album reached #13. The album produced the hit single Steppin’ in a Slide Zone which hit #39 in the U.S.

During his years with the Moody Blues, Pinder was known for the lush, dense sounds he generated from his Mellotrons – which yielded such high volumes in concert that the sound off his speakers created wind currents on the stage. He modified the Mellotrons so extensively that by the beginning of the 70’s they became known unofficially in the rock press as Pinder-trons.  Pinder is also known for his compositions which were frequently steeped in a brand of mysticism that recalled the English Romantic poets.

The 1969 concert on Caught Live Plus Five album and the 1970 Isle of Wight concert DVD show Pinder and Thomas acting as the group’s onstage spokesmen.

In his 1970 album track Melancholy Man (from A Question of Balance) became a No. 1 chart topping hit as an overseas single in France that year. Pinder’s How is it (We Are Here) was his other song contribution (a ‘working’ number Mike’s Number One from the album sessions has since surfaced on the later CD release).

By 1972 The Moody Blues, then at the height of their popularity, retreated to Pinder’s home studio to record Seventh Sojourn, which included two Pinder contributions: Lost In A Lost World, and When You’re A Free Man, dedicated to Timothy Leary. 

The Moody Blues took a break from recording in 1974 and Pinder relocated to California, releasing a solo album The Promise in 1976 through the Moody’s Threshold label. He took a position as a consultant to the Atari computer corporation (primarily working on music synthesis), remarried, and started a family in Grass Valley, California. He remained out of the public eye until the mid-90’s when he began to grant interviews and to work on new recording projects.

The year 1994 saw the release of his second solo album Among The Stars on his own One Step label, to limited success. Another One Step release A Planet With One Mind (1995), capitalized on Pinder’s experience as chief reciter of Graeme Edge‘s poetry on the seminal Moody Blues albums In this recording he reads seven children’s stories from different world cultures, accompanied by appropriate world music. He has continued to work in the studio on his own and others’ projects, in developing new artists, and nurturing the creative process.

Pinder’s three sons are musicians. His eldest son Daniel is a film music editor and consultant with many credits includingPirates of the Caribbean and The Da Vinci Code. Sons Matt and Michael Lee perform as The Pinder Brothers. They have two CDs, Jupiter Falls and Ordinary Man. Several songs from both albums can be heard on their website, and their Facebook page. Dad Mike plays his trademark Mellotron on a few of the songs.

A new three-disc collection gathering founding Moody Blues keyboardist Mike Pinder‘s two solo albums and a bonus DVD is available now from the U.K.’s Cherry Red label.  The Promise/Among the Stars box set includes remastered versions of Pinder’s 1976 debut solo effort, The Promise, and his 1994 release, Among the Stars, which originally was sold privately via mail order.

The compilation also contains three bonus tracks — a solo tune titled “If She Came Back,” and a pair of songs by The Pinder Brothers, a group featuring Mike’s two sons, Matt and Michael Lee.  Original Moody Blues member Ray Thomas plays flute on the latter two tracks, “Waves Crash” and “Empty Streets,” which were produced by longtime Moodies producer Tony Clarke, who died in 2010

Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez was honored to speak with the seminal rock giant Michael Pinder.

AC: Did you come from a musical family? What type of music did you listen to as you grew up? How did you happen to play keyboards?

Mike Pinder photo 4MP: My dad played piano and accordion.  My older brother Reg played trumpet.  The first instrument I played was ukulele.  Then banjo. We also had a Steinway upright piano in our home.  I can remember as a young boy lying under the piano and reaching up to touch the keys and holding my hand on the strings to feel the vibration that each note produced.  The thicker and longer strings were the lower tones. The high strings were short and thin. So even in my early life I was interested in how sound was produced and the mechanics of the piano.  

I often listened to early BBC radio.  Things like the Goon Show with Peter Sellers.  Theatre of the mind was how I viewed radio in those days.  I also listened to albums that my older siblings had collected.  I was particularly influenced by the cascading string arrangements of Mantovani.

  AC: When was the moment in life that you realized you wanted to be a musician? What was your very first performance? Who is you biggest musical influence?

MP: My mom was head barmaid of the Crossways Pub in Birmingham.  My dad would play piano for pub patrons.  When he took a break I would take over and play.  My reward was a lemonade, my dad’s reward was a beer.  That started me on a lifelong path.  My very first performances were in an English Pub!

Besides the music of Mantovani and his orchestra I grew up listening to Buddy Holly, Nat King Cole, Dave Brubeck, Chuck Berry (we later did a tour with him), Gene Vincent, Everly Brothers, Bill Haley and the like.  

AC: Tell us about you first rock band, El Riot and The Rebels. Did you sample American blues at the time? Which bands were your competition around Birmingham? What kind of gigs did you get and what made your band different from all the others at the time?

MP: Actually Ray Thomas’ band was El Riot and The Rebels.  Mine was the Rocking Tuxedos.  We wore white jackets and black pants. We were playing rhythm and blues, American folk, and pop songs of that time.  It was fun but nothing permanent came out of it.   Ray and I met and became like long friends during these years.  

Soon Ray and I formed a short lived band called the Krew Kats and got a gig at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Germany. The management at the club did not like us and did not pay us.  Ray and I were broke and had to walk back to the British Embassy in Belgium to get assistance back over the channel to England.  Those were very memorable and slightly scary times for a young 20-something.  Ray and I can still laugh heartily over that experience.  Thankfully we went on to better times.

AC: I am aware that while you were starting out you were also employed at a Streetly Electronics firm that manufactured the Mellotron. You are considered an accomplished electrical engineer; can you speak a little about your technical background and how that awareness contributed to your musical successes?

MP: When I was young I would build radios and amplifiers with my dad in his workshop.  I had a natural interest in electronics that stuck with me throughout my life.  We had to make do  without money and equipment in the early days.  When the local cinema went out of business, I bought their amplifier and speakers to use onstage.  It was our first PA system.  I got it for 20 pounds.

Streetly Electronics had advertised in the local paper for someone with both musical and electrical ability.  They hired me to assemble the recorded tapes into the Mellotron.  The timing of the tapes was crucial.  When a key was pressed the tape would play instantaneously for nine seconds.  Then you would release and play again.  The Mellotron gave me instant access to multiple instruments; strings, brass, flutes, organ etc.

AC: Tell us about the coming together of The Moody Blues. Where did the name come from and what was the musical vision at the time? Do you remember the first gig as The Moody Blues and what was that like? 

MP: Actually the name Moody Blues came from playing in the pub my mom was managing.  Mitchells and Butlers was the brewery who owned many pubs throughout the area.  We wanted to appeal to them for gigs and use the initials MB.  Since we were playing Blues the ‘B’ was obvious.  Moody came from my love of the Duke Ellington song Mood Indigo.  (I later used Indigo for my ranch in Malibu, CA.)

The first Moody Blues with Denny Laine was mainly about playing the blues and we were initially more of a gig band.  Denny and I started writing and our first album was the Magnificent Moodies.  I thought the songs on that album were pretty good but we were young and just honing and developing our musical ideas.  

When Denny and Clint Warick left, we added Justin Hayward and John Lodge. We were given a unique opportunity by Decca Records to work with the London Festival Orchestra and Peter Knight.  During that time our vision and our music evolved.  Our writing and arranging matured and we moved into the direction we would take the band for the next eight albums.

AC: How did you land your first record deal? How did your first record do? How did you react the first time you ever heard one of your songs on the radio?

MP: Our first record deal was with Decca Records.  We were signed to a management company that went into bankruptcy and disappeared with our money.  We were never paid on our first hit song.

Fortunately Sir Edward Lewis at Decca Records had faith in us and kept us on.

I loved hearing our music on the radio.  It was great to know people were listening.  It was a wonderful feeling of satisfaction for all the hard work being done.  

AC: When did you know that you made it? How did it feel to be a rock star and did the fame effect the work? 

MP: I have always said, “Keep your head above the clouds and your feet on the ground.” That way your mind is open but you can stay rooted in what is real.  Love and relationships are what last, not fame or fortune.  

Creating music and recording in the studio was hard work.  We worked hard but always had fun and lots of laughs in the studio as well.  We loved what we did and I think our music has stood the test of time.  I can still listen to my music with the Moodies and solo stuff and enjoy what we created.

AC: You were one of the first to ever use the Mellotron in live performance. Can you explain a little about what it was/is and how you used it to enhance the musical performance?

MP: The Mellotron allowed me to create landscapes.  There were effectively two keyboards on the Mellotron:  left and right.  Without hiring extra musicians, I could play strings, brass and flutes on the right and organ on the left.   I had my own orchestra!

AC: How did the Mellotron effect the way music was recorded and performed and who are some of the other acts at the time who made good use of the device?

MP:  It gave musicians and bands the opportunity to incorporate different instruments into their arrangements.  I was fortunate to introduce the Beatles to the Mellotron during one of their sessions.  At my suggestion they ordered four Mark II Mellotrons.  What a reward when I heard Strawberry Fields.  

AC: Tell us about your first gig in the US and the story about how the Mellatron broke. 

MP: There were problems with the Mellotron.  The first time I shipped it over to the US, it was not taken care of very well and the tapes were jumbled.  Fortunately I knew how to put a Mellotron together top to bottom and I was able to get it working.  I was always able to fix the Mellotron.  But it was a delicate and bulky instrument (weighing about 300 pounds).

I was at John Lennon’s studio to record the song “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mamma” and his Mellotron tapes were hanging out.  I was going to play Mellotron but didn’t have time to fix it so I grabbed a tambourine and played into Jim Keltner’s high hat microphone.

Although the Mellotron gave me great freedom to create, it was heavy and delicate.

AC: Tell us where the lyrics and the sentiment of the band’s songs came from. Which are some of your personal favorites and which is your biggest commercial success?

MP: “Go Now” was a big number one hit record.  “Nights in White Satin” was also a big hit for us.  We have many other songs that charted, including my solo album The Promise.  I am particularly proud to have won an Ivor Novella Award for my song “Simple Game” for social comment.  The Four Tops also recorded and had a hit in the US with “Simple Game”.

AC: I understand you play many instruments and are credited for doing most of the arranging of the Moody’s material. Which instruments do you play and what are some of your more complicated arrangements?

MP: I play piano, guitar, tambourine, percussion, ukulele, banjo, and of course the Mellotron (which gave me access to playing strings, brass, flutes, organ, cello, bass etc.). I love arranging and it came natural for me to want to put my energy and love into our songs.

I was always inspired by our projects and I think I am known for creating many of the counter melodies and orchestral backdrops that the Moodies are known for.

 AC: Tell us about the 1970 Isle of White concert. You served as the on stage spokesman so what do you remember about that event that has been captured on DVD?

MP: During my days with the Moodies I was often the spokesperson.  Ray Thomas as well.  We would announce songs and engage the audience.  Of course, engaging the audience at Isle of Wight was a treat.  Addressing thousands of people who had come to hear us play was magical.

 AC: Tell us about “A Question of Balance.” Why do you think it is one of the most acclaimed rock albums in history?

MP: Maybe because it was in the middle of our eight albums and we were peaking (musically) at that time.  It is like the candle on the cake.  I have always loved the title of that album.  Most things in life are indeed a Question of Balance.  

 AC: How do you think the Moodys compare to bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones? What will be The Moody’s niche in Rock History?

MP: I think we were original.  Each member of the band brought something special to the mix.  

The Beatles, the Stones and the Moodies were all unique and took the listener on very different musical journeys.  I have always said that people, “Hang their memories on the shape of sound.”

When you hear a Beatles song it takes you to a memory or event, the same for the Stones and it is the same for our music.  Although the songs can stand alone, I always thought of our music as somewhat of a conceptual or thematic message. 

AC: Tell us about your interest in spoken word? As you were the chief reciter of Graeme Edge’s poetry on the seminal Moody Blues albums, is this something you would like to do more of?

MP: I loved speaking Graeme’s poetry.  For me it was like being on the early days of radio and tapping into what I called the Theatre of the Mind.

I did record two spoken word (with music) children’s CDs in the 90’s called “A Planet with One Mind” and “A People with One Heart.” The stories we selected were full of deeper wisdom and meanings for the journey of life and, as such, were enjoyed by both children and adults.  

 AC: You relocated to California in 1974, eventually leaving the band and undertaking a new lifestyle. Why the change and what were your new goals in life?

MP:  I love California and I still love England.  But California has always had an openness and sense of freedom that is hard to find in other places. England can be staid in its ways and I do not like the remnants of the class system that still can be found.  

AC: You settled in California and have remained out of the public eye since the 90’s. We understand that your eldest son is a film music editor with tremendous success and sons Matt and Michael Lee perform as the Pinder brothers. How do you feel about their work?

MP: My eldest son Daniel has been a music film editor for over ten years on some major motion pictures.  He is very talented.  He grew up with Apple computers and he is a bass player as well.

My two sons Matt and Michael Lee are amazing musicians.  They write and record their original music.  They are just finishing up their 4th CD. This box set was a lovely opportunity for me to include two songs, “Waves Crash” and “Empty Streets,” written and performed by my sons Michael Lee and Matt, a.k.a. The Pinder Brothers.  Our longtime Moody Blues producer, the late Tony Clarke, produced those tracks, and it was great to have Ray Thomas playing flute too.

AC: What are you working on now and what are some of the things you plan to accomplish in the near future?

MP:  Nowadays I really enjoy being in the studio with my sons and friends.  I guess I just like helping out and adding my bit of creativity when I can.  The muse comes and goes.  

AC: What advice would you give to young musicians just starting out wanting to make a career in music?

MP: Write from the heart.  Be creative and say something. Try new approaches. Think about all the songs that have been written.  Maybe it has all been said before but not in your unique voice.  Don’t try to please anyone and just keep following your creative muse.

I know today it is much harder for good music to surface to the ears of the listener.

In my day there were clubs, radio, and good record companies.  Money corrupted that system.

The internet would have made a nice open playing field for musicians, but with the advent of home studios and affordable equipment, everyone thinks he is a songwriter.  Far too many semi-talented people are putting out their music. It is crazy to have to listen to hundreds of songs to get to the really talented singer songwriter who is saying something and has memorable melodies and arrangements.

Think of the varied artists we had in the 60’s.  From James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, the Stones to the Moodies, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.  There is room for many voices and musical styles.  Record companies used to serve a purpose as they sort through the bulk of musicians and find talent.  They would nurture talented writers and performers to deliver some great songs and songwriters.  

The record companies spoiled it for us. They took music and shoved it into a big sausage machine and cranked out mediocre soulless drivel that fit a hit making, money making formula that is devoid of creativity.  

 AC: When it is all said and done, what would your like your legacy to be and how would you like history to remember you?

MP: Fans always ask the question, “Why aren’t the Moody Blues in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”  I always say it is political and that several bands have been left out.  But I also say that if they listen to my music they know that that is the least thing I worry about on this planet.  

We were always idealist about changing the world and changing ourselves.  I know that our music has reached into the lives of people and touched them, spoken to them and changed them in some wonderful way.  I know because they tell me.  And music has always done that for me as well. Music takes you inward.  Sometimes it drops you to your knees and sometimes it lifts you up.  It is always a journey. My beautiful family and my body of work makes me proud. When fans say how much the music has meant to them in life, well that is my Hall of Fame. 




The Moody Blues sing about Love and Life, but cant seem to reflect
that in getting together with each other so that they can HONOR
their own Fans. The Only PROMISE Moody Blues Fans want is
that of a DAY in the FUTURE of what was their Greatest Past.


Elaine May 24, 2014

One of the Worst days of my Life was arriving at a Moody Blues concert in the LA Forum, and finding out that Mike Pinder was not playing with the Moody Blues
that night/ That was a SHOCK I will never, ever forget/ nor understand, and
still trying to forgive.?

Susan August 18, 2014

Hi Mike

Fascinating to read your interviews, I wonder if you ever wondered what happened with me? i am still in the world and not a single day goes by without me thinking about you. all the lost and past years flown by. I liked your new albums very much and hear the kindness in your heart and songs. So glad you have a beautiful strong and loving family. It was after all for the best.

I have lived a roller coaster of loss and heartache but now with the passing years I try to comes to terms with my decisions, taking responsibility and dealing with it all as best I can.

Hope we can resolve it one day so that resolution comes to my heart too.

Love from Sue

Michael Walker September 5, 2014

Though I remember and liked “Go Now”, I was in the US Marine Corp in 1969 when I was first turned on the the Moody’s. Their words & music changed my life and path forever. Today, I am a Usui Reiki Master, and an ordained minister in the International Assembly of Spiritual healers and Earth Stewarts & have seen them in concert 39 times in 8 different cities, the first being Dallas Tx, in March of 1971 ( Question of Balance Tour) & including their most recent performance at, of all places, The Ryman Auditorium, “The Church of Country Music”, in Nashville Tn. I also agree that the loss of Mike’s songs and voice from the band left a void that can’t be filled without him and have always held on to the hope for a reunion. After all , the Eagles said that ” Hell would freeze over before they reunited and I was at “The Hell Freezes Over” show in Nashville so I continue to hope.
From one Mike to another, MAKE IT HAPPEN, WE WILL COME, WE ALL MISS YOU !

Donna October 13, 2014

Thanks for such an informative article. As a Moodies fan from ‘Go Now’ (as a teen) to my ‘present’ age I’ve always followed and absorbed their message. Thanks, Mike, for all you do and I apprciate your (and your sons’) ongoing musical voyage. It has always resonated with me as a daughter of Cornish heritage with Grass Valley roots. Thanks…

Craig Weatherhill November 16, 2015

Another Cornish connection here, being a true Cornishman living just a few miles from Land’s End. Mike’s music, and his mastery of the mellotron – a difficult instrument to play – influenced me from my teens and right up to my 60s, where I am now. For 40 years I wanted a ‘tron and to produce (or at least try) what Mike could make it do. Now, I have one (an M4000D), and it’s magnificent! Have played it on 3 records for other folk (one of them in the States), including one of my own songs about the Penlee lifeboat disaster where the ‘tron’s strings and choir play a big part with solo opening and close – and all the time I was thinking: “How would Mike have played this?” Then someone heard it and said: “That was pure Mike Pinder!” My life was complete! (If you want to hear it – go to Jim Wearne Soundcloud “The Boys of Penlee”)

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