Moody Blues’ Ray Thomas (1941-2018): An Appreciation

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Ray Thomas eyed me warily. I was trying to tell him how much I had enjoyed that night’s Moody Blues concert. My problem was one of stamina. I had just run five blocks — from the concert hall to the St. Paul hotel where I assumed the band would be staying. I was right, and I had spotted Thomas in the lobby. But as I approached him, I was so winded that I could only gasp out a fragmented appreciation. I doubled over, grabbing my knees.

“Thanks, mate. We had a gas,” Thomas assured me. He hurriedly retreated into the hotel bar, as management invited me to leave the property. I didn’t blame him for being nervous. In retrospect, I’m surprised he replied at all. This was the early 1980s, and the memory of John Lennon’s murder still haunted many performers.

I’m not sure why I ran to the hotel that night. I had nothing profound to say to Ray Thomas; I had no burning questions. Any compliments I could give, he had heard a thousand times before. Maybe I hoped for an invitation to an after party in the band’s suite.

The Moody Blues have an unusual hold over their fans, many believing that this group has mystical, otherworldly powers. And maybe they do. They have managed to remain a viable concert draw for decades beyond most of their 1960s musical contemporaries.

Lush orchestrations, strong melodies, pleasing voices: It’s no mystery why this band made it big. Timing has also helped. They were fortunate to have a handful of hits spread across a great enough span of time to attract new audiences.

Case in point: the Moody Blues opened that 1983 St. Paul show with their recent single, “Sitting at the Wheel.” The crowd was immediately singing along. A few songs later, they played “Tuesday Afternoon.” I leapt to my feet and enthusiastically applauded. The people in my area stared at me in surprise. They did not know this older hit.

Ray Thomas was a founding member of the Moody Blues, retiring from the still-active group in 2002. He was known as the band’s flute player, a most unusual gig. His writing contributions were frequently overshadowed by the strong songs of bandmate Justin Hayward, but Thomas penned at least one defining number for the group, “Legend of a Mind.” He also wrote (or co-wrote) “Watching and Waiting,” “Are You Sitting Comfortably,” “And the Tide Rushes In,” “Twilight Time,” and “Eternity Road.”

All of these numbers come from the initial run of Moody Blues albums (1967-72). I assume Thomas has quality songs on the band’s later recordings, but I pretty much lost interest after Seventh Sojourn. I wonder if Ray Thomas did, as well. In a 2006 interview, Hayward indicates that Thomas’ final years with the group were not as productive as they might have been. And he wasn’t blaming his bandmate’s health.

Many fans are lamenting the timing of Ray Thomas’ death. The Moody Blues will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame later this year. It might have been a joyous reunion, but one never knows. Former band members sometimes wield old axes at this induction ceremony. I, for one, will find it interesting to see if founding member Mike Pinder shows up that night.

That Thomas will miss the accolades of this ceremony is unfortunate. But the real misfortune is that Ray Thomas could not have enjoyed his retirement for a few more years before embarking on his own “Eternity Road.”

Tom Wilmeth is the author of ‘Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,’ which has earned raves from the likes of Gary Burton and Hal Holbrook. It’s available now from Muleshoe Press via Amazon.

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth, an English faculty member at Concordia University-Wisconsin since 1991, has given presentations and published widely on the topics of literature and music. Author of 'Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,' he earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M in College Station. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Tom Wilmeth
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