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Graeme Edge, drummer and co-founder of the Moody Blues, dies at 80
Many of their songs incorporated his spoken-word poetry, making them pioneers in the prog-rock movement of the late-1960s and ’70s.

by Clay Risen

NEW YORK, NY.- Graeme Edge, drummer and co-founder of the British band the Moody Blues, for whom he wrote many of the spoken-word poems that, appended to songs such as “Nights in White Satin,” made the group a pioneer in the progressive-rock movement of the 1960s and ’70s, died Thursday at his home in Bradenton, Florida. He was 80.

Rilla Fleming, his partner, said the cause was metastatic cancer.

The Moody Blues first gained attention as part of the British Invasion that dominated the American rock scene in the mid-1960s. Their repertoire originally consisted largely of R&B covers, but by their second album, “Days of Future Passed” (1967), they had developed the blend of orchestral and rock music that would make them famous.

“In the late 1960s we became the group that Graeme always wanted it to be, and he was called upon to be a poet as well as a drummer,” Justin Hayward, the band’s lead singer, wrote in a statement on the Moody Blues website after Edge’s death. “He delivered that beautifully and brilliantly, while creating an atmosphere and setting that the music would never have achieved without his words.”

Edge’s mesmerizing drumming and introspective poetry were a big part of the group’s success. The Moody Blues are probably best remembered for “Nights in White Satin” (1967), a darkly ruminative song that ends, in the original album version, with “Late Lament,” written by Edge and read by keyboardist Mike Pinder. (It was missing from the shorter version released for radio.)

Although Pinder’s sonorous baritone and the poem’s opening lines — including “Breathe deep the gathering gloom” — make the poem sound melancholy, even foreboding, it was meant to be uplifting, Edge said.

“I think it’s the joy, the spirit that makes it,” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2018. “It’s a young boy discovering that he loves somebody for the first time, and he just wants to shout it out from the hills — and shout it out again!”

“Nights in White Satin” was not originally a hit, but it reached the Top 10 when it was rereleased in 1972. (Their only other Top 10 singles were their first hit, 1964's “Go Now!,” and 1986's up-tempo “Your Wildest Dreams.”) It came to be regarded as a musical landmark — one of the first to emerge from the burgeoning prog-rock movement, which also included bands such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

The Moody Blues had other hits in the late 1960s and early ’70s, including “Tuesday Afternoon,” “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)” and “Ride My See-Saw,” before going on hiatus from 1974 to 1977. During that time, Edge sailed around the world in his 70-foot yacht and released several solo albums.

The band found a second wind in the 1980s, when it set aside its prog-rock past and embraced a synthesizer-driven pop sound. They released their last album, “December,” in 2003, but continued to tour regularly afterward.

“I never get tired of playing the hits,” Edge told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2008. “You have a duty. You play ‘Nights in White Satin’ for them. You’ve got to play ‘I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band),’ and you’ve got to play ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ and you’ve got to play ‘Question.’ It’s your duty, and their right.”

Graeme Charles Edge was born March 30, 1941, in Rochester, a city in southeastern England. When he was 3, his family moved to Birmingham, where he grew up.

He came from a musical family: His mother, a classically trained pianist, worked in a movie theater playing the accompaniment to silent films, and his father was a music-hall singer, as were his paternal grandfather and great-grandfather.

Edge’s two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to Fleming, he is survived by his daughter, Samantha; his son, Matthew; and five grandchildren.

When he was about 10, he heard Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Ten Little Indians” on the radio and immediately fell in love with rock ’n’ roll. Although he trained to be a draftsman, his first job was managing an R&B band in Birmingham.

When that band's drummer quit unexpectedly, Edge was hired as a temporary replacement. He had never played drums before, but he learned quickly, and when the band hired another drummer, he bought his own kit and decided to become a musician.

He founded and played in several bands before he and four other musicians — Denny Laine, Ray Thomas, Clint Warwick and Pinder — formed the MB Five in 1964. They soon renamed themselves the Moody Blues.

Their hit “Go Now!” is a cover of an R&B song originally recorded by Bessie Banks. But Edge worried that playing other people’s songs would take them only so far. After Laine and Warwick left and Hayward and John Lodge joined, the band decided to take a new approach.

They were big admirers of the Beatles’ use of an orchestra on some of their songs, and they decided to develop a sound that blended rock with classical instrumentation. Although they later recorded and toured with an orchestra, their first efforts employed a mellotron, an analog antecedent to the electronic synthesizer.

The resulting sweep of strings and horns that played through their songs, along with Edge’s poetry, gave the Moody Blues a reputation as a thinking person’s rock band, among the earliest exponents of what came to be called art-rock.

“We used to think that we were aiming at the head and the heart, rather than the groin,” Edge told the South Bend Tribune in Indiana in 2006.

The Moody Blues have sold more than 70 million albums and in 2018 were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Fittingly for a song from a band once known for its covers, “Nights in White Satin” has been covered more than 140 times.

Clint Warwick died in 2004. Ray Thomas died in 2018.

Edge suffered a stroke in 2016 and retired from touring in 2019, but he remained an official member of the band until his death — the only remaining member of the original quintet, formed almost 60 years ago.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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