EXCLUSIVE: Box Set Commemorates Mellotronic Man Mike Pinder
Mike Pinder. FRF Photo.

Mike Pinder. FRF Photo.

Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Growing up in Birmingham, England during and just after World War II, Mike Pinder would steal away to a wooden box in the backyard where he would lay down and stare up at the moon and the stars, imagining what it would be like to travel to different worlds. His love for all things celestial earned him the nickname Mickey the Moonboy.

As he grew older, Pinder developed a passion for music, playing guitar and piano, as well as writing and singing. He formed his first band El Riot and the Rebels as a teenager, but then joined the British army, where he wound up stationed in Germany. That’s where he first heard The Beatles on the radio. It was a life-changing moment for Pinder. He decided it was time to get out of the military and back into music. Luckily, he had a very understanding commanding officer, who released him due to a minor foot deformity.

Once free to return to England, Pinder got together with a friend, Ray Thomas, a flautist, and formed the Krew Cats. They soon added a drummer (Graeme Edge), a singer/guitarist (Denny Laine) and bassist (Clint Warwick), renaming themselves The Moody Blues in 1964. Their first album, The Magnificent Moodies, yielded the hit single “Go Now.” Other hits followed, including “Nights in White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Dawn (is a Feeling) on other albums.

Pinder’s most significant contribution to the band was introducing the Mellotron, an electro-mechanical polyphonic tape replay keyboard, which became its signature sound in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He stayed with the band for eight albums but ultimately left in the mid-70s, exhausted from touring and wanting to start a new life and settle down in America. Even before he left the Moodies, he recorded his first solo album, The Promise, a mix of R&B, pop and symphonic music at his Malibu ranch. Focused on raising two sons, Matt and Michael, with his second wife Tara, he didn’t get around to recording another solo album in his studio until 1994’s Among the Stars. He also has a son, Daniel, from a previous marriage.

Now, the two remastered solo albums, plus an hour-plus-long DVD featuring an on-camera interview with Pinder talking about his life, career and philosophy, along with a performance of “Go Now” on piano and an earlier (2008) interview are collected in a box set. There are also four bonus tracks on Among the Stars, including two songs performed by Matt and Michael with Thomas playing the flute. The box set also comes with a couple of post cards and a color booklet with pictures of Pinder and his family. The three-disc set is available for purchase at http://www.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=4389.

From his home outside of Sacramento, Calif., Pinder, 72, he spoke by phone about the new box set, his Moody Blues days and gaining inspiration from a wide range of entertainers, ranging from Annunzio Paulo Mantovani to Motown artists.

Q: This year marks the 50th year since the founding of the Moody Blues. You played your first concert in 1964, right?

Pinder: Yeah, and in 1964 we released our first hit “Go Now,” with the original band.

Q: Are there any commemorative events celebrating the band’s 50th year?

Pinder: I know there has been a couple of cover bands over the years. But I don’t think there’s anything going on right now.

Q: With the reunion of the Beatles, I think a lot of fans of early rock bands are hoping for other reunions such as the original Moody Blues. (Note: Justin Hayward, Graeme Edge and John Lodge are still performing and recording as the Moody Blues.)

Pinder: We watched Paul and Ringo perform together at the Grammys. It was great.

Q: What was the impetus of putting together this box set together?

Pinder: We received a request to do it.

Q: You originally recorded The Promise while you were still with The Moody Blues, right?

Pinder: Yeah. It was at the time where we all decided to do our own albums.

Q: Did you have any uncertainty or fear of going off on your own?

Pinder: That’s when I came to live in California. It was 1974. The band carried on for a couple of years. I’d done very well—eight albums.

Q: On “The Promise,” it seems you have sort of a gospel influence on some of the songs. Were you trying to experiment with other types of music genres at that time?

Pinder: Generally speaking, I really liked Motown music. It’s an R&B type of feel. That was the only one that leaned that way.

Q: “Free as a Dove” and “You’re Going to Make It Through” were inspired by the Motown songs of the 1960s?

Pinder: It wasn’t inspired by that. When I say, “influenced by,” I mean the rhythmic style of R&B, which we didn’t have in The Moody Blues. We were more of an English band. My two loves were R&B and (Annunzio Paulo) Mantovani. Ray Thomas and I formed the band and we were playing some R&B, and we both loved that. I was the R&B guy in the band.

Q: The title song on The Promise mentions Stonehenge. Did you ever visit there?

Pinder: Oh, absolutely yes. There’s definitely something there. I was very interested in ancient goings on and part of me was very into the future. I loved what NASA did. My childhood nickname was Mickey the Moonboy.

Q: Does anyone still call you that?

Pinder: No.

Q: Were you into astronomy or more in mystical-spiritualism?

Pinder: Probably both of those things. When I was a kid, I used to lie in a big wooden box in the back garden that my dad had brought home. I’d put a pillow in it in the summer and lie in there so that all I could see was the sky. I would watch the stars. I didn’t have a telescope but it was my way of looking out into the universe.

Q: It had an influence on your writing later on, right?

Pinder: Yes, very much.

Q: Was (longtime Moody Blues producer) Tony Clarke involved with either of your solo albums?

Pinder: No. But he did work on my sons’ album.

Q: There are some bonus tracks in the box set version of Among the Stars, including your sons’ “Waves Crash” and “Empty Streets.” Did he work on those?

Pinder: Yes. He came over and stayed with us for a month. It’s a question of balance. (Note: Clarke died in 2010.)

Q: Speaking of A Question of Balance, you reveal in the interview that you were the one who came up with the titles of the Moody Blues albums that you worked on.

Pinder: Yes, the majority anyway.

Q: How did they come to you?

Pinder: Being in the studio, after the first three or four songs were recorded, we would share the songs we had in our bag, if you like. So it would automatically come to me—that would be a great title for the album. “In Search of the Lost Chord” was the first one that I cam up with. That came from my love for Jimmy Durante who sang, “I’m The Guy Who Found the Lost Chord.”

Q: Was the song “When You’re Sleeping” on Among the Stars written for your sons when they were young?

Pinder: Yes. It’s very warm. I sang it to them. They’re in their 30s now. (He chuckles.)

Q: You did another album called Planet with One Mind, which is a collection of children’s stories that you read, which is not in the box set but available on Amazon.com.

Pinder: There were two of them. The other one was called Earth With One Spirit. I had sorted through children’s storybooks and I thought, “Oh, that would be a good one.”

Q: Are you thinking of making more spoken-word albums?

Pinder: I haven’t yet come up with anything for another spoken word album. I think about it, but I’m not so inspired as I was. I’m enjoying being at home. I’m in my seventies. I’ve got a couple of doggies. I’ve got a little white fluffball who’s a Maltese and a Lakeland terrier, who’s a really stubborn guy! He’s on the video. He’s sitting in the chair next to me right now with his head on the armrest.

Q: Does he have anything to say?

Pinder: No, but he likes to be in my company. My wife and I love him so much.

Q: You and Ray Thomas celebrated your 70th birthday together a couple of years ago in England. Did you get a chance to see any of your other band mates while you were there?

Pinder: No. Ray and I are like brothers. I talk to Ray a lot.

Q: How’s he doing? He retired from the band in 2002.

Pinder: He’s doing quite well. He has a little bit of gout.

Q: If he called you tomorrow and asked you to come play a gig with him in London, would you do it?

Pinder: I would. With Ray, yes.

Q: Was there video shot of any of The Moody Blues performances in the U.S. pre-1978?

Pinder: Not that I remember. There’s so little of it. But we were the first band to really make a music video. We have the Supremes dancing on my piano. (The two groups appeared together on Britain’s ITV series “Ready, Steady Go” in 1965.) There is also a video at a Paris club. We didn’t have good management until we got Brian Epstein (who also managed The Beatles).

Q: Did things change once you were on Decca?

Pinder: Fortunately, that first record we made, “Go Now,” was put out though Decca, but our management disappeared overnight with the money. But Decca liked us and re-signed us, and we came out with Days of Future Passed.

Q: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the Mellotron because you were the man who introduced that instrument to the band… and to John Lennon.

Pinder: I’m The Mellotronic Man. (He chuckles.)

Q: Do you still play it?

Pinder: Once digital came along, instead of hauling a 350-pound Mellotron around, I recorded all of my favorite sounds from it into a Roland sampler, and I still have it in my studio. So I have all of my favorite sounds in my studio, and I also looped them. The original Mellotron, you could only play (a sound) for nine seconds. You had to release it and the tape would snap back to the beginning. So what I did is I looped it so I could have the notes go as long as I want them to so I did my own version of it on digital. There it is in a Roland EGX-360.

Q: Are you working on music now?

Pinder: I’ve got a nice little studio in the house but I’m not drawn to it very much anymore. I’ve enjoyed the past few years with Mike and Matt—two of my sons—who play here and there. They’ve got a band and made a couple of records. I’ve put some Mellotron on their (albums) for them. We’ve got grandkids too so we’re waiting for them to get older too to see where they go. Maybe I’ll start dabbling again.

Q: One of The Moody Blues’ albums was titled To Our Children’s Children’s Children,” so there has to be another generation to make that title work, right?

Pinder: Right.

Q: Your son, Dan Pinder, is also involved in music. He’s a sound editor in Hollywood.

Pinder: Yeah, he’s being doing it for 10 years. I’m very proud of all my kids.

Q: The Moody Blues was kind of ahead of its time in terms of recording songs with an ecological message.

Pinder: Yeah, we were keeping an eye on the future.

Q: What do you listen to today?

Pinder: I haven’t listened to much music recently. The 1980s was interesting but that sort of took a turn. There seems to be a resurgence of sounds from the 1960s and 1970s now. I still like the singer/songwriters like Sweet Baby James (Taylor) and Joni Mitchell.