Ray Thomas: The quiet achiever

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The Moody Blues, 1970. From left to right: Mike Pinder, Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward, Ray Thomas, John Lodge (image via

Moody Blues founder Ray Thomas has died of prostate cancer, aged 76.

He was born Raymond Thomas on 29 December 1941 in Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire, England, to a Welsh family.

The man who later became known for his sweeping orchestral works began his musical career singing in a choir in Birmingham. He later joined local blues and soul groups including the Saints and Sinners and The Ramblers.

A talented harmonica player, Thomas soon joined up with bass guitarist John Lodge and keyboard player Mike Pinder to form El Riot and the Rebels, which famously supported The Beatles in Tenbury Wells. Thomas and Pinder went on to play in Hamburg, Germany, with the forgettable Krew Cats.

Guitarist Denny Laine, bassist Clint Warwick and drummer Graeme Edge were recruited in the early 1960s to form a blues-based band called the Moody Blues and they rocketed to the top of the UK charts in 1964 with 'Go Now'. The single reached number ten in the U.S. While the band was blues-based, they were at the vanguard of progressive rock due to their complex, multi-layered sound.

The band went on to have four top ten albums in Australia and nine in the UK, three of which reached number one.

Their 1967 album, Days of Future Passed, was considered a landmark and Thomas stood out with his haunting flute solo in 'Knights In White Satin'.

Thomas wrote several other songs for the band, including 'Veteran Cosmic Rocker'.

He later revealed that he wrote many of his songs in a studio broom closet on a glockenspiel. As well, Thomas embraced transcendental meditation and soon introduced the practice to other members of the group. In addition, Thomas admired LSD guru Timothy Leary and wrote 'Legend of the Mind' as a homage.

When the Moody Blues realised their method of heavy overdubbing made it difficult for them to reproduce their sound live, they adopted a more stripped-down sound. This is apparent in the Thomas composition 'And the Tide Rushes In', reportedly written after Thomas had a fight with his wife.

Thomas remained an active member of the group throughout the '80s, but started to slow down in later years because he could not adapt his primary instrument – the flute – to the synth-pop music the Moody Blues were churning out. Also, Thomas had started to experience ill health, and was not up to the rigours of recording and touring.

In 2014, Thomas revealed on his website that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and, while it was inoperable, he did go through a period of remission.

Said Thomas:

'A cancer diagnosis can shake your world and your family's but if caught in time, it can be cured or held in remission. I urge all males to get tested NOW. Don't put it off by thinking it won't happen to me. It needs to get caught early. It's only a blood test — a few minutes out of your day to save yourself from this disease.'

The death of Thomas passed quietly, as the quiet achiever would have wanted it.

One of the few public comments about his death came from his record company:

'It is with profound sorrow and sadness that Cherry Red Records and Esoteric Recordings regret to announce that Ray Thomas, founding member, flautist and vocalist of the Moody Blues has passed away suddenly at his home in Surrey on Thursday, 4 January 2018. We are deeply shocked by his passing and will miss his warmth, humour and kindness.'

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