conducted by Robert Silverstein for mwe3.com
Is (Still) The
RS: Yeah Mike!
MP: How are you?
RS: I haven’t spoken to you in a few years. You remember I spoke with you when I started Time & A Word back in the mid ‘90s.
MP: Yes I remember, of course.
RS: I’m working with 20th Century Guitar out here on Long Island and I’ve also started a music review web site called MWE3.COM So how have you been?
MP: I’ve been pretty good actually.
RS: Well I hope you’re taking care of yourself.
MP: Yes, I just got off a walk actually. I just walked with my son Matt. Walked down to the pond and lay on the bench for 15 minutes.
RS: The last I heard from you was that you were going to release an album of Mellotron-based instrumental music. Have you been doing any recordings of new music for the last few years?
MP: Actually I haven’t done as much recording as I wanted to because for about a year there I ended up, through doing all the digital editing that I did on those four albums, including remastering The Promise, many, many hours of computer work, I ended up getting cumulative disorder syndrome.
RS: What was that?
MP: It’s called CTD is what it’s known as. It’s from bad ergonomics when you’re working with the computer. You put stress and strain on various muscles of the body and eventually you end up with problems. I ended up with some problems. I’m going to be doing some stuff on my web site about that. I’ve got some articles about it. So that sort of took the fun out of some of the work that I was going to do. But I’m feeling pretty good now. It took quite a while to overcome that. Alot of physical therapy and things.
RS: Where did it effect you?
MP: It affected all parts of my structure. It affected the muscles. The muscles go into trauma is what happens. So, you start losing your skeletal balance through your muscles and so that you get back problems and shoulder problems, wrist problems and ankle problems. All those kind of things because everything gets totally out of balance. Because of sitting in ridiculous positions in front of computers for hours. If someone is doing something intensely at the computer they’re probably sticking their neck forward like an ostrich.
RS: And that’s usually the first thing to go!
MP: And that’s the first thing to do it. It’s called CTD. Cumulative Trauma Disorder. Lot’s of little traumas culminating into a major disorder.
RS: So basically there haven’t been any new releases on One Step Records because of that?
RS: So what was the last album on One Step? Was it the album you worked on with Patty McAdams?
MP: That was just a local project, it wasn’t a release. She’s a local gal but we did an album for her on our Roland Sound Canvas. It turned out pretty good. She’s somewhat of a church group type singer. She travels church to church kind of singing, not so much sort of Christian, but more open-minded, sort of Church style. But she’s a great gal. It was at a time when I had some time and I wanted to give some time back to the community.
RS: Did you produce and write some of that album?
MP: I ended up writing a couple of songs for it. We did it all in the little studio. Just a midi style album. It turned out fine for her needs. There were 500 copies distributed and we put some on our web site for those who were interested.
RS: Are you still involved with the spoken word albums for children?
MP: Yeah, that’s the current work that I’m trying to finish up right now. The third one of those. The third of the trilogy, called An Earth With One Spirit. I’m working on that currently trying to get that ready as soon as possible. Then after that I’ll get back to the Mellotron rock album and maybe an instrumental album too.
RS: I want to ask you some questions about The Moody Blues. Is that ok?
RS: Have you heard their newest album Strange Times?
MP: No, I haven’t.
RS: I recently interviewed them and they had some pretty good things to say about you. John Lodge had alot of nice things to say about your involvement.
MP: I mean they should have good things to say about me. I never did anything wrong to them. I started the ball rolling by coming to America. They had a hard time living with that, now they’re all doing it. Now they’re all living in different countries. So it’s acceptable to them now, but it wasn’t when I came to America. It was unacceptable to them. That was one of the problems we had.
RS: I know Graeme Edge lives in Florida.
RS: Do you speak with any of them on a regular basis?
MP: No, not really no. Every few years or so we just sort of touch base. I often leave a call or a message, but chasing them down is pretty tough these days. They’re all now living in, sort of The Bahamas, Florida to Spain and South of France.
RS: Is it fair to say you may never record with the band again?
MP: It seems highly doubtful. I offered to do stuff. Going back on stage with them for one of the tours for old time sake but they never picked up on that. That’s just the way things are.
RS: But I think the early fans of the The Moody Blues still consider your keyboard sound to be such an important part of the group’s sound. Didn’t Justin say in an interview never say never.
MP: I haven’t heard that one before. I’m not as intensely involved in what they’re doing in their career as you might imagine.
RS: On the newest Moody Blues album, Graeme Edge actually does a song with spoken word poetry just like they used to do in the ‘60s. Going back in time, could you reflect on how you and Graeme collaborated of those great spoken word tracks which were highlights on several of the Moodies’ ‘Classic 7’ albums from the ‘60s?
MP: There was some collaboration, but mainly Graeme would write the song or make the writings. The one, for instance, that ends with “Just open your eyes and realize the way it’s always been”, from “The Balance” (on A Question Of Balance), that was my contribution to that. I mean I came up with that at the end of the song. There was definitely more collaboration on the one where I got everyone finally to say something on the microphone. Where we got everyone talking...
RS: From On The Threshold Of A Dream?
MP: The one where I end up saying “There you go man, stay as cool as you can”.
RS: From Threshold!
MP: Right, that one there. That was a great opportunity where I pulled everybody in to do a part on that.
RS: I think it was your voice that made those spoken word tracks so intriguing. I told you that my favorite one of all time is the intro to the Children’s Children album, Graeme’s “Higher And Higher”. You remember anything about it?
MP: You mean, “Blasting, bursting, billowing forth with the power of 10 billion butterfly sneezes”? Yeah, I was holding my nose until that one moment, and then when ‘butterfly sneezes’, that’s when I opened up.
RS: I guess you know that people still worship those albums.
RS: I’ll get back to that later. I was looking at the mellotron web site. I was amazed that you basically turned the Beatles onto the mellotron. Could you tell me who actually created the idea of using the mellotron in a rock group?
MP: After I discovered the mellotron by working in the factory which was just two miles from my home, I went out grabbed Ray Thomas and started The Moodies. Somewhere along the line there when we started doing the blues clubs we came across a guy called Graham Bond. It was The Graham Bond Experience I think it was called. He was a B3 organ player primarily, but he had a mellotron and I instantly recognized it. He was trying to sort of create a system where when he played a note on the B3 it would set off a set of sensors, which those days were simple electronic sensors, that would then play the appropriate notes on the mellotron. It didn’t work very well, but I got to know Graham pretty well in those days and he was definitely the first guy that I saw using it on the road anyway. The reason I wasn’t using one on the road at that time was because I couldn’t afford one. Ray and I had just come back from Germany, we were broke at the time. That’s when I grabbed Ray and we started the Moodies up after we’d come back from there. So I knew the mellotron was there but it was like, ‘I don’t have any money at this point to get one so I’m going to be playing piano and guitar and doing what I do and still get a band together’. That’s why the Moodies first started off with a big piano sound.
RS: So you formed the Moody Blues before you were involved with the mellotron?
MP: No, I was involved with the mellotron before I formed The Moody Blues.
RS: When The Beatles, the Fab Four came to you, did they have a specific...
MP: Well, they didn’t come to me. We were just hanging out one time and I was talking to a couple of their roadies, Mal (Evans) and Neil Aspinal. And I was telling them that I worked in the factory and I told them that if there was anybody I’d like to hear using this machine (the mellotron), it’s these guys, y’know, The Beatles. And that’s how it started. And then I told the guys about it and then they just went ahead and ordered four of them. And a week later they had one at each of their houses.
RS: So Mal or Neil went to The Beatles and told them about it?
MP: No we were all there I just happened to be in the back room talking with them and then later on we talked. I talked to John about it. I talked to George. Everybody knew about it by that time because I told everybody about it.
RS: And this would be sort of around the time of Revolver or before that?
MP: Yeah it would be around there somewhere. It would have been around early ‘66.
RS: So that was the first time you met The Beatles?
MP: No, we’d met before. We ended up hanging out together occasionally. They came over to the house we were living in and I visited them at their houses in St. John’s Hill. I think one of the last things that I got to do was to do the tambourine track on Imagine. “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama”.
RS: I’ll get to that in a second. I don’t mean to talk alot about The Beatles but why do you think they didn’t use the mellotron more extensively after “Strawberry Fields Forever”?
MP: No, they didn’t, but to them it was another interesting facet of the door-opening capabilities that they had as musicians I feel. They literally walked down the magic hallway, so to speak, of music and opened up doors and found what was in there and experimented with it and then moved on. And then those doors were left open and then lots of other groups and musicians went into them and developed what The Beatles had touched on but passed by. Because that seemed to be what they were doing. It was almost like, if you like, they were sort of walking along in their lives but they were sort of bringing about some growth, some musical growth and some interesting ideas, things like that. So they were a catalyst in a sense that made things happen. Genres come to light.
RS: Did you teach The Beatles how to use or program the mellotron?
MP: No, there was no programming at all really. It was a matter of selecting the sound that you wanted to use and going ahead and playing it. They knew about the ‘swooping effect’, the VFO, with the thing that slowed or sped up the tapes. I talked and showed them that. Talked about all of the patterns and things you could do with it so, it was really a matter of, you sit with it and you play with it and you find out what it can do. When you hit something that you like you use it. That’s how simple it is really.
RS: What’s VFO stand for?
MP: That’s a variable frequency oscillator.
RS: I also heard that you were with the Beatles when they were recording the song “Magical Mystery Tour”.