Fellow band member Lodge said, “Ray was my best pal.. I met Ray when I was 14. We were two young kids from Birmingham who were reaching for the stars — and I think we got there. I’m really pleased that Ray was around to know we’d be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I spoke to Ray just before Christmas — because his birthday was after Christmas, on the 29th — and we had a long conversation. We’re very close friends — or were very close friends. Very sad. Very, very sad.”
Thomas was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a member of The Moody Blues, in April 2018. Best known as member of the symphonic rock band The Moody Blues, Thomas attended the Paget Road Secondary Modern School and seemed destined for a life as an engineer and industrial toolmaker. Music always figured in his life, however, starting before his teens when he joined the Birmingham Youth Choir. He aspired to play the flute in part from the influence of one of his grandfathers, who was a virtuoso player on the instrument. He continued singing with various Birmingham blues and soul groups including The Saints and Sinners and The Ramblers and later, in tandem with the growing influence of American music in England, took up the harmonica and started the band El Riot and the Rebels with bassist John Lodge. After a couple of years their friend Mike Pinder joined as keyboardist, and the band opened for The Beatles on April 15, 1963 at the Riverside Dancing Club in Tenbury Wells. Pinder left the band, first for a gig with Jackie Lynton and then a stint in the Army. In May of 1963, he and Thomas reunited under the auspices of the Krew Cats, and played in Hamburg and other places in northern Germany.
Upon their return to Birmingham in November of 1963, the entire English musical landscape was occupied by 250 groups, all of them vying for gigs in perhaps a dozen clubs. Thomas and Pinder decided to try and go professional, recruiting members from some of the best groups working in Birmingham.
They recruited guitarist/vocalist Denny Laine, drummer Graeme Edge and bassist/vocalist Clint Warwick to form a new, blues-based band. The Moody Blues made their debut in Birmingham in May of 1964, and quickly earned the notice and later the services of manager Tony Secunda. A major tour was quickly booked, and the band landed an engagement at the Marquee Club, which resulted in a contract with England’s Decca Records less than six months after their formation. The group’s first single, “Steal Your Heart Away,” released in September of 1964, didn’t touch the British charts, but their first album “The Magnificent Moodies” included their second single “Go Now” (sung by Laine) was released in November of 1964, and fulfilled every expectation and more, reaching #1 in England; in America, it peaked at #10. Thomas’ flute was featured on three songs on the debut album; “Something You Got”, “I’ve Got a Dream” and “Let Me Go”, as well as the single “From the Bottom of My Heart.” He also sang lead vocals on George and Ira Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the musical “Porgy and Bess.”
Despite their fledgling songwriting efforts and the access they had to American demos, this version of the Moody Blues never came up with another single success. By the end of the spring of 1965, the frustration was palpable within the band. The group decided to make their fourth single, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” an experiment with a different sound. Unfortunately, the single only reached #22 on the British charts following its release in May of 1965. Ultimately, the grind of touring coupled with the strains facing the group, became too much for Warwick, who exited in the spring of 1966 (briefly replaced by Rod Clark), and by August of 1966 Laine had left as well. Thomas then suggested his and Pinder’s old bandmate John Lodge as a permanent replacement and also recruited Justin Hayward to replace Laine in late 1966. Although they initially tried to continue singing R&B covers and novelty tunes, they were confronted over this by an audience member, and with their finances deteriorating they made a conscious decision to focus only on their own original material.
The reconstituted Moody Blues set about keeping afloat financially, mostly playing in Europe, recording the occasional single. Their big break came from Deram Records, an imprint of their Decca label, which in 1967 decided that it needed a long-playing record to promote its new “Deramic Stereo.” The Moody Blues were picked for the proposed project, a rock version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and immediately convinced the staff producer and the engineer to abandon the source material and permit the group to use a series of its own compositions that depicted an archetypal “day,” from morning to night. Using the tracks laid down by the band, and orchestrated by conductor Peter Knight, the resulting album “Days of Future Passed” became a landmark in the band’s history. Following the lead of Pinder, Hayward and Lodge, Thomas also started writing songs, contributing “Another Morning” and “Twilight Time” on “Days of Future Passed,” and his flute would become an integral part of the band’s music. Hayward has spoken of Thomas’s learning Transcendental Meditation in 1967, along with other members of the group.
The mix of rock and classical sounds was new, and at first puzzled the record company, but eventually the record was issued. This album, and its singles “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” hooked directly into the songs of the Summer of Love and its aftermath. In “Search of the Lost Chord” (1968) abandoned the orchestra in favor of the Mellotron, which quickly became a part of their signature sound. With the new line-up the band released seven successful albums between 1967 and 1972 and became known for their pioneering orchestral sound.
Thomas and Pinder both acted as the band’s onstage emcees (as heard on the 1977 live album “Caught Live + 5” and seen in the “Live at the Isle of Wight Festival” DVD) and Thomas started to become a more prolific writer for the group, penning songs such as “Legend of a Mind” (an ode to LSD guru Timothy Leary, and a popular live favorite) and “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume” for “In Search of the Lost Chord,” “Dear Diary” and “Lazy Day” for “On the Threshold of a Dream” as well as co-writing “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” with Hayward.
The Moody Blues formed their own record label Threshold Records, distributed by Decca in the UK and London in the US, and their first album on the Threshold imprint was 1969’s “To Our Children’s Children’s Children,” a concept album about eternal life. On it, Thomas wrote and sang “Floating” and “Eternity Road”. Working in the studio with the process of overdubbing, they created albums that were essentially the work of 20 or 30 Moody Blues. When the band began to realize that their overdubbing made most of the songs very difficult to reproduce in concert, they decided to use a more stripped-down sound on their next album “A Question of Balance” to be able to play as many songs live as possible. It was their second UK #1 album. Thomas wrote and sang “And the Tide Rushes In”, reportedly written after having a fight with his wife, and was credited with co-writing the album’s final track “The Balance” with Edge, while Pinder recited the story.
The Moodies went back to their symphonic sound and heavy overdubbing with 1970’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” their third UK # 1 album, and Thomas wrote and sang “Our Guessing Game” and “Nice to Be Here”, also singing a co-lead vocal with Pinder, Hayward and Lodge on Edge’s “After You Came”. All five members wrote “Procession”.
By the release of 1972’s“Seventh Sojourn” (for which Thomas wrote and sang “For My Lady”), their first album to reach # 1 in the US, the strain of touring and recording steadily for five years was beginning to take its toll, and following an extended international tour, the band decided to take a break from working together, which ultimately lasted five years. During this era, Hayward and Lodge recorded the very successful duet album “Blue Jays (1975), and all five members did solo albums. Thomas released the albums “From Mighty Oaks” (1975) and “Hopes Wishes and Dreams” (1976) after the band temporarily broke up in 1974. During this period he earned his nickname The Flute. Within the band he was also known as Tomo (pronounced “Toe-moe”).
By 1977, however, the group members had made the decision to reunite, a process complicated by the fact that Pinder had moved to California during that period. Although all five participated in the resulting 1978 album “Octave” (Thomas provided the songs “Under Moonshine” and “I’m Your Man”), there were stresses during its recording, and Pinder was ultimately unhappy enough with the LP to decline to tour with the band, but the reunion tour was a success, with Patrick Moraz (ex-Yes) brought in to replace Pinder on the keyboards, and the album topped the charts.
The group’s 1981 follow-up record “Long Distance Voyager” (with Thomas’ contributions “Veteran Cosmic Rocker” and “Painted Smile”; and his lead vocal on “22,000 Days”) was even more popular, though by this time a schism was beginning to develop between the band and the critical community. After contributing “Sorry” and “I Am” (both on the 1983 album “The Present” along with a lead vocal on “Going Nowhere”) Thomas temporarily stopped writing new songs for the band, for reasons unknown.
During the group’s synthpop era with Moraz, Thomas’s role in the recording studio began increasingly to diminish, partially due to the band’s music being unsuitable for his flute and partially because he was also unwell during this period, meaning that his involvement in recording sessions was further limited. And although the band continued to reach the middle levels of the charts, and even ascended reasonably close to the top with the Hayward single “Your Wildest Dreams” from 1986’s “The Other Side of Life”, the Moody Blues were no longer anywhere near the cutting edge of music. By the end of the 1980s, they were perceived as a nostalgia act, albeit one with a huge audience.
Despite contributing backing vocals on “The Other Side of Life” and 1988’s “Sur la Mer,” he took no lead vocal role and it is unclear how much, if any, instrumentation he recorded for these two albums; but in any case, none of his instrumentation or vocals ended up on “Sur la Mer.” Although he is included in the childhood photos depicted on the album’s inner sleeve and is given an overall group credit, significantly (unlike the others) he is then not given an actual performing band credit at all. Moraz objected to Thomas’s exclusion from the album and pushed for the band to return to the deeper sound that they had achieved with Pinder. It is possible that during the sessions for “The Other Side of Life” Thomas contributed tambourine, harmonica or saxophone, but it is unknown how many, if any, instrumental contributions of his ended up on the released version of the album, and at this point he was largely relegated to the role of a backup singer.
In 1989, Threshold released a “Greatest Hits” album on both vinyl and CD. On the 1991 release “Keys of the Kingdom” Thomas played a substantial role in the studio for the first time since 1983, writing “Celtic Sonnant” and co-writing “Never Blame the Rainbows for the Rain” with Justin Hayward. He contributed his first ambient flute piece in eight years; however, his health continued to decline. In 1994, a four-CD set called “Time Traveller” was released. A new studio effort, “Strange Times” followed in 1999 and was Thomas’ last album with the group. He provided a co-lead vocal with Hayward and Lodge on their song “Sooner or Later (Walking On Air)”. His last three songwriting contributions for the Moodies were “Celtic Sonant” and “Never Blame the Rainbows for the Rain” on “Keys of the Kingdom” and “My Little Lovely” on “Strange Times.” “Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2000” was released before Thomas permanently retired at the end of 2002. In a 2014 interview with Pollstar.com, drummer Graeme Edge stated that Thomas had retired due to illness. The Moody Blues–now consisting only of Hayward, Lodge and Edge (Edge being the only remaining original member) plus four long-serving touring band members, including Norda Mullen who has taken over Thomas’ flute parts– have released one studio album “December” since his departure from the band.
Although he most commonly plays flute, Thomas is actually a multi-instrumentalist. He has also played piccolo, oboe, harmonica and, on the album “In Search of the Lost Chord,” the French horn. He frequently played tambourine and also shook maracas during the group’s R&B phase. The 1972 video for “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)” features Thomas playing the baritone saxophone, although Mike Pinder says on his website that this was just for effect in the video and that Thomas did not play saxophone on the recording.
In July 2009 it became known that Thomas had written at least two of his songs– “Adam and I” and “My Little Lovely”– for his son and his grandson Robert, respectively. Also it was revealed that he had married again, to his longtime girlfriend Lee Lightle, in a ceremony at the Church of the Holy Cross Mwnt, Wales on July 9, 2009.
Thomas released his two solo albums, remastered, in a boxset on September 24, 2010. The set includes, with the two albums, a remastered quad version of “From Mighty Oaks”, a new song “The Trouble With Memories”, a previously unseen promo video of “High Above My Head” and an interview conducted by fellow Moody Blues founder Mike Pinder. The boxset was released through Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records.
In October 2014 Ray Thomas posted this statement on his website: “After the tragic death of Alvin Stardust and the brave response to Prostate Awareness by his widow, Julie, in following up on what Alvin had intended to say about the disease, I have decided to help in some small way. I was diagnosed in September 2013 with prostate cancer. My cancer was in-operable but I have a fantastic doctor who immediately started me on a new treatment that has had 90% success rate. The cancer is being held in remission but I’ll be receiving this treatment for the rest of my life. I have four close friends who have all endured some kind of surgery or treatment for this cancer and all are doing well. While I don’t like to talk publicly about my health problems, after Alvin’s death, I decided it was time I spoke out. 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 be caught early. It’s only a blood test – a few minutes out of your day to save yourself from this disease. Love and God Bless, Ray.”
According to a December 2014 interview, Ray was planning a solo album, set to be released some time in 2015.