The British musician Ray Thomas was born December 29, 1941 in Stourport-on-Severn. He's well-known as flautist, singer, composer and one of the founder members of the famous symphonic pop-rock band The Moody Blues. In the sixties Thomas joined the Birmingham Youth Choir. He began singing with various blues and soul groups and later on he also learned to play the harmonica and the flute. In 1964 he formed together with keyboardist Mike Pinder and bassist John Lodge a band called Krew Cats. Thomas and Pinder then recruited singer and guitarist Denny Laine, drummer Graeme Edge while bassist Clint Warwick replaced John Lodge who went to a technical college. They formed a new blues-based band called The Moody Blues. The name was a subtle reference to Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo.
Their first album The Magnificent Moodies came out in 1965, containing the British number one hit single Go Now. The album also featured Ray Thomas singing the lead vocals on It Ain't Necessarily So, a song by George and Ira Gershwin, originally performed in the musical Porgy And Bess. Following this album Warwick left the band, followed by Laine a few months later. Thomas suggested an old band mate bassist John Lodge as a replacement for Warwick and he also recruited singer-guitarist Justin Hayward to replace Denny Laine. The new line-up was the start of a very successful period. From 1967 until 1972, the band released seven albums for Deram Records and became famous for pioneering a classical orchestral sound. Although most songs were written by Hayward and Lodge, Ray Thomas also wrote songs for those albums. Below you'll find a list of Ray Thomas-compositions: Another Morning and Twilight Time from Days Of Future Passed (1967), Dr. Livingstone, I Presume and Legend Of A Mind from In Search Of The Lost Chord (1968), Dear Diary and Lazy Day from On The Threshold Of A Dream (1969), Floating from To Our Children's Children's Children (1969), And The Tide Rushes In from A Question of Balance (1970), Our Guessing Game and Nice To Be Here from Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971) and For My Lady from Seventh Sojourn (1972). The Moody Blues will always be remembered being one of the first symphonic rock bands.
In 1973, the band took a break during which the members occupied themselves with solo projects. Thomas released the albums From Mighty Oaks (1975) and Hopes Wishes And Dreams (1976). It was during this period that he earned his nickname 'The Flute'. Within the band he was also known as 'Tomo'. Although he generally played the flute, Thomas actually is a multi-instrumentalist playing various other woodwind instruments, such as the oboe on the album In Search Of The Lost Chord and saxophone on Octave (1978). Thomas retired at the end of 2002 from The Moody Blues. Lately his two solo albums have been re-released in a remastered version. Both albums contain well-written liner notes and lots of pictures. The original lyrics and art designs are all included as well. Back in the seventies I was familiar with the music of The Moody Blues, but I never had a chance to listen to the albums recorded by Mr. Thomas, although I knew the magnificent sleeve designs. So for me this is my first acquaintance with his solo albums.
Ray Thomas recorded From Mighty Oaks together with orchestral arranger and conductor Richard Hewson, B.J. Cole (pedal steel guitar), Mike Silver (acoustic guitar), Nicky James (backing vocals, percussion), Trevor Jones (bass), Dave Potts (drums), John Jones (guitars) and Mike Moran (keyboards). Thomas played the flute, bass flute, harmonica and he also did the lead and backing vocals. The album opens very tastefully with the instrumental title track. It's a strong orchestral piece of music, a kind of overture featuring several prominent themes of the album. The influences of The Moody Blues on this track are evident, but this can't be said about the remainder of the material. I was kind of shocked while listening to the other eight tracks which can hardly be described as progressive rock. The songs are mainly mainstream easy-listening tunes with all kind of influences from different musical styles. These tracks sometimes sound like pop music: at other times they have a touch of folk and country. Undoubtedly Ray Thomas has a strong voice, but he used it for songs that don't meet my musical taste. However, his playing on the flute sounds very pleasantly and compensate for the rather poor compositions. As far as the lyrics are concerned, Thomas has much more to tell. For example Hey Mama Life is a contemplative piece about wisdom. Most of the time Thomas' trademark was a restrained optimistic outlook on life that he could masterfully put to words and music.
Thomas recorded his second album Hopes, Wishes And Dreams in conjunction with Nicky James. The orchestral arrangements for this album were done by Terry James. Compared to his previous album this one has a wider spectrum of musical influences and more diversity in the ten songs. However, you still can't call it prog rock music. He was again accompanied by John Jones, Trevor Jones and Mike Moran. Only drummer Dave Potts had been replaced by Graham Deakin. The use of professional background singers like Barry St.John, Liza Strike and Helen Chappele provided for a greater variety and sometimes an electric guitar solo can be heard. However, the orchestral sound is present throughout the album again. The songs having a touch of country rock dominate this album a bit more. Apparently this style of music Ray Thomas enjoyed most, especially when accompanied by an orchestra.
I always thought that the music on these releases would be strongly related to the music of The Moody Blues. But I was wrong. The music of Ray Thomas has little to do with the music of this great band that belonged to one of the pioneers of the genre. The way Mike Pinder used the Mellotron was rather revolutionary at least in those days. I wonder if Moody Blues-fans will enjoy From Mighty Oaks and Hopes Wishes And Dreams. If these albums had been recorded by just anyone instead of a member of The Moody Blues, they probably hadn't got a review on this website. I think the music of Ray Thomas is more suitable for the parents of the people who bought The Moody Blues-albums. They probably liked it softer and more mainstream!
** / ** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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