National News

Ray Thomas, Founding Member of the Moody Blues, Dies at 76

Posted January 9, 2018 5:03 p.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2018 5:06 p.m. EST

Ray Thomas, a founding member of the protean British rock group the Moody Blues, died Thursday at his home in Surrey, south of London. He was 76.

His death was announced by his label, Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records. The label did not specify the cause, but Thomas said in 2014 that he had prostate cancer.

The Moody Blues’ popularity has endured for decades, during which they recorded traditional rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelic rock and progressive rock with orchestral arrangements.

Thomas, who played flute, sang and wrote a number of the Moody Blues’ songs, performed in rock and blues bands in Birmingham, England, before founding the group in 1964 with Denny Laine as lead singer and guitarist, Mike Pinder on keyboards, Graeme Edge on drums and Clint Warwick on bass.

The Moody Blues’ first hit was “Go Now,” a cover of a soul song originally recorded by Bessie Banks. It peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard singles chart in the United States in 1965.

But the band struggled to follow up its success, and by 1966 Laine and Warwick had left. (Laine was later an original member of Paul McCartney’s band Wings.) They were replaced by Justin Hayward on guitar and vocals and John Lodge on bass, and by 1967 the group had developed a new sound built around Pinder’s use of the Mellotron, a keyboard that plays samples of different instruments, allowing him to stand in for an orchestra.

“I had been playing flute, so it was an ideal marriage for the flute with the strings,” Thomas said last year in an interview with the website “We decided to really do it like a classical-rock fusion.”

Most of the Moody Blues wrote songs, but the band’s new style gave more prominence to Thomas’ writing as well as his flute playing.

In 1967 they released what is considered a progressive rock landmark, the album “Days of Future Passed,” which featured contributions from the London Festival Orchestra. It was one of the earliest albums to embrace the long, interconnected songs and musical experimentation that became key parts of the style in the early 1970s.

Thomas’ solo on the single “Nights in White Satin,” which became the group’s signature song, was one of the album’s defining moments. He also wrote “Twilight Time,” its contemplative final track, and he and Peter Knight wrote the jaunty, flute-heavy “The Morning: Another Morning.”

Thomas said that when executives at Decca, the band’s label at the time, heard the album “they panicked: ‘Who’s going to buy this? It’s neither one thing or the other: it’s not rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s not classical as such.'”

The label was right to be wary. “Days of Future Passed” did reasonably well in England but disappeared without a trace in the United States. It found an audience there only belatedly, when it was reissued in 1972 and broke into the Top 10. “Nights in White Satin” reached No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart.

The Moody Blues went on to release “In Search of the Lost Chord” (1968), “Long Distance Voyager” (1981) and other albums. Thomas wrote several more songs for the band, including “Legend of a Mind,” a trippy ode to Timothy Leary, and “Veteran Cosmic Rocker,” a synth-heavy rock song.

Raymond Thomas was born on Dec. 29, 1941, in Stourport-on-Severn, England. He studied in nearby Birmingham and sang with the Birmingham Youth Choir.

His first marriage ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, the former Lee Lightle, and three children, Adam, Nancy and Zoe.

He released two solo albums, “From Mighty Oaks” (1975) and “Hopes, Wishes and Dreams” (1976), after the Moody Blues broke up in 1974. The group later re-formed, and Thomas remained a member until leaving in 2002 because of poor health.

The Moody Blues are to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April.