Q&A: Prog voyager Patrick Moraz talks about his time with Yes and the Moody Blues

By  Todd Whitesel

Switzerland’s Patrick Moraz has spent more than 40 years making magic on keyboard instruments, whether on grand piano, Moog synthesizer, or Hammond organ, the classically trained Moraz is adept at comping jazz chords or blasting thunderous rock riffs.
Moraz has enjoyed a prolific solo career and is the only musician to be a member of both Yes and The Moody Blues (pictured at left) — two of progressive rock’s most illustrious and longest-running bands. 2006 found much of Moraz’s solo catalog being resuscitated by England’s Voiceprint Records, complete with bonus tracks, liner notes, and photos. Goldmine spoke with Moraz in early February about his career with early prog-rock outfits Mainhorse and Refugee, and later with Yes and The Moody Blues.

Goldmine: What were your expectations when you were playing with Mainhorse? The band was out at the same when Emerson, Lake & Palmer were making a name, and Yes were on their way up.

Moraz: Yes, that’s right. The inception of that band was in 1968, really. Although I had played with Jean Ristori [bassist, cellist, vocalist] since 1965, in 1969 we had the English members of the band coming to join us. I made several trips to London to audition like 250 drummers… I wanted a drummer who could play like John Bonham and also like Buddy Rich and play odd-time signatures, and be able to play the blues.

And on top of that he would have to have an image. [laughs] I had to go and ask his [Bryson Graham] parents to come and travel with us to Switzerland, because he was very young at the time – he was like 17 when he started. He was the best. He could play like John Bonham. And he had a friend – I went further to audition some guitarists in England – and he had a friend [Peter Lockett] that he knew in the same area in London. He recommended me to him. I had already listened to about 130 guitarists, as well, and I had somebody very, very specific in mind.

I wanted somebody who could play the blues like an Eric Clapton or a B.B. King, because I’ve always been into black roots as well. I wanted somebody who had the vocabulary of Jimmy Page, and had the flow and the power ¬and the sound – at least an understanding of the sound – of Jimi Hendrix. [laughs] So, a lot of requests once again, to get the right guitarist. The drummer eventually presented his friend – he was 18 at the time and looked completely out of the moon, man. The way he was playing! He was absolutely unbelievable.

As soon as we started jamming a little bit, I asked him to do a showcase for himself. He started to play all of Jimmy Page’s licks in “Whole Lotta Love,” and some of Jimi Hendrix’s tunes, with that kind of power. He was a demon… He was very, very inspired. We could play endlessly then, with that band for hours.

Goldmine: The next progressive-rock outfit you were in was the trio
Refugee, with Lee Jackson and Brian Davison from The Nice.

Moraz: Not only do I speak to Brian on a regular basis – we’re very, very good friends – I’m also speaking to Lee. The last time I physically saw Lee Jackson was in 1987 or ’88 when I was on tour with The Moody Blues, and I was in Los Angeles. After a gig – I think we had a concert at The Forum – and there was a party at the Roxy, next to the Roxy there was a club on Sunset. And funny enough, Chris Squire was there! And Lee Jackson was there! [laughs] I remember very well having a drink with those guys, and I was in the middle of these two bass players.

The empathy we had with this trio is that when I met them, that it was in 1969, they were in Vasen; they had just finished a concert with The Nice. I had been in London doing some auditions for Mainhorse, and I came back to Switzerland and my plane was rerouted and I ended up in the same hotel as these guys, having a party in Vasen after their concert. And there was a jam. And I jumped on the piano with Keith [Emerson]. We jammed for like an hour, on the piano… And then, Lee Jackson came to me and said, “Let me give you my number.” And “Do you have a number in Switzerland? Where can I reach you? I’d love you to do some sessions for my band,” or whatever. And the years passed.

Mainhorse was created. The Nice went on and split up, maybe six months to a year later, maybe even less than that. So three or four years later, I got a call – Lee Jackson on the phone. He was calling me from London. And he said, “Patrick. Do you remember me?”

I said, “Of course I remember you man.” Mainhorse was not in existence anymore, so I was totally free and had finished my commitments with the film and so on. And he didn’t even go on very long, because we had had a long talk in 1969 about playing and so on. And he said, “Get your ass over here, man!” [laughs] So the next day I was on my way to England, literally. And we started. I was sleeping on the floor at his house. We rented a couple of instruments – a Hammond organ, an electric piano. And boom! We started to rehearse in a little rehearsal hall in the middle of nowhere in Basewater.

We rehearsed for weeks on end. I wrote all the music; he was writing the lyrics. We did the arrangements together. We were working like at least eight hours to 10 hours a day, rehearsing, very, very solidly. And I think that’s why, three months later when we did our first kind of auditions for the record company at the time, they really recognized that they had potentially a great band on their hands. There wasn’t that much of a difficult decision with the record company; they immediately wanted to sign us. And we went on to bigger and better things: more instruments, some mini-Moogs, some more rehearsal space, a couple of roadies, a van, and so on.

After Refugee, the period of time you’re probably best known for is with Yes and Relayer. I always thought that album was probably the most rhythmically challenging album that they did, and perhaps some of their most experimental music.

Moraz: Yeah. I mean, that was a really, really exciting time with Yes. I’ve got to tell you that I was flipping out. At first, I didn’t want to really go there. I didn’t want the gig. Eventually, of course, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse to make a long story short. I had experienced Yes quite a few times, and they had seen us even with Mainhorse at the time.

I think some of the guys – maybe Jon [Anderson] or somebody – had wind of me playing with Refugee and so on. And Chris [Squire] certainly had. So when I came to them, we kind of knew each other a little bit. I was auditioning on Vangelis’ keyboards, which were there; but they had actually been there for a couple of weeks and they were a bit out of tune. So I tuned them first… then I improvised a little bit on all the keyboards, so they got really interested; they came all around the keyboards and could see that I could play.

Then it was their turn to play – they played me just a part of the song, what they had of “Sound Chaser,” not the introduction, just a part of the song. [Hums main melody] They blew my mind. I was in the middle, and they started to do this riff, and Alan [White] crashing with his drums and so on. They had just probably worked on this three-part harmony there – vocals. It was absolutely unbelievable. To experience that – I could say that was the truest surround experience I had ever encountered as an observer and listener.

I was not in the middle of any keyboards at the time; I was just in the middle of the band. And they were playing for me, alone, the portion of “Sound Chaser” they had already come up with. And that was absolutely unbelievable. So Jon and Chris said, “We need an introduction to this. Can you come up with something?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah. No problem.” And I went [imitates keyboard opening], and they couldn’t believe it, either.

We didn’t take very long to record – I think Relayer was recorded, all in all, in about four to six weeks, which was not really that long after the first couple weeks of rehearsal. I had to learn all the material of the previous seven albums: I had to learn the whole of [Tales From] Topographic Oceans; I had to learn all the material from Fragile; the whole material, which was fantastic, from Close To The Edge, even if we didn’t play it in the first part of the tour, which we started in November of ’74. It took me some sleepless nights [laughs] to listen to everything and to map everything out and so on.

Also, during the recording of “Gates Of Delirium,” I went to see Jon several times. He explained to me the gist of certain parts of the melodies and so on. But the bulk of the music of that suite was really a group effort, and everybody was contributing very equally to the thing. Alan had some great rhythmical ideas; of course Chris with his very unique and contrapuntal bass lines – absolutely fantastic; and the answers between the keyboards and the unison with the guitars and the bass. It was really a group effort to the highest of our ability.

After that, even during the first tour, we were already talking about the fact that everybody was going to do a solo album in ’75. I contributed to Steve’s solo album by arranging and conducting the orchestra for “Beginnings,” and playing the harpsichord.

On Chris’ [solo album], I actually met Bill Bruford, although we didn’t actually play live at that time together in the studio, I play on the same cuts as Bill Bruford on Chris Squire’s Fish Out Of Water album, which was really good. That’s how we got acquainted and so on, and of course our solo thing.

But after the solo — even during the ’75 tour, we were already talking about the material that was going to be recorded for Going For The One. And although I’m not appearing on the Going For The One album, I think there’s some of my stamp all over the record, especially on “Awaken.”

They put me on the top of the list of the special thanks. That was a very, very creative time; very, very productive. We were always, always recording, making demos. I remember having made demos with Chris and Alan in different situations and jams that went on virtually every day. Except when I did my first solo album, The Story Of I, I took four months off to not only go to Brazil for a couple of weeks and South America, but to actually come back to Switzerland to produce The Story Of I album, which was a big, big endeavour.

Goldmine: Out of those first group of solo albums, I think Alan White’s and yours veered off the farthest from Yes. Certainly, you were coming in with the South American rhythms and heavy percussion. At the time you were also starting to experiment with a lot of the new technology that was out there. It turned out to be one of your most popular albums.

Moraz: Yes. Absolutely. And of course, I had the means to do it. I even invited Jon; Jon Anderson came during the recording of that…

We had talked at the time: Was he going to do a cameo on my album? I was very flattered by this proposition. But in all friendliness, we decided he wasn’t going to sing on my album because I wanted a completely neutral out-of-Yes solo album. Although there are some Yes influences: After the first introduction, which is about 3 minutes or something, when the first-ever vocals that you hear [sings melody] with all of these voices, that was for me kind of a tribute passage to Yes’ signature, vocally.

And this is really as an homage to Yes that I did that. I repeated it a few bars later, with the same voicings, with several mini-Moogs. Those are tributes to Yes. I was very much influenced by all these groups, as well Yes as what we had done with Refugee. I used to love listening to all these prog groups as well, at the time. That was a very nice endeavour.

And I had Bob Moog! Bob Moog was there, man! I had invited him, and he came for three weeks! We spent a lot of time – he was developing his PolyMoog at the time, which was the first polyphonic synthesizer in the world of this kind. And it was still a prototype, and he helped me — some of the sounds that we got on Story Of I were done with the help of Bob Moog. He, in fact, contributed to a lot of the sounds of the making of that album. He was always there, and he was so nice, and super, kind of intelligent. We had the greatest of times.

Goldmine: When you were recording Long Distance Voyager in the studio with The Moody Blues, did you sense that it was going to be such a success?

Moraz: That was my aim [laughs]. If ever I kind of sensed it early or not? I think there was a turning point during the recording – probably toward the end of the first 16 weeks… I think after we recorded the voices, I did my keyboards – the whole thing was kind of in the final stages – the thing was so phenomenal, especially in the studio with those big speakers… and with Pip Williams! – Excellent, excellent producer – producing the album.

We sensed that we could go for broke, even if we didn’t express it vocally all at once. We sensed it, yes. My aim was to bring to the Moodies the best keyboard sounds, the best combination of the melodies and lyrics and the songs.

Of course, most of the songs are always written by Justin [Hayward], or John [Lodge], or by Justin and John together. They both are excellent songwriters. Of course, Justin has the knack to bring the big hits. He wrote the anthem of the Moodies, the big anthem of course is “Nights In White Satin.” Justin wrote that, and whether he wrote it in three minutes in his bathroom or if he wrote it anywhere else, it doesn’t matter. It’s a kind of divine inspiration, and what it brought to this band by having this song is absolutely phenomenal. And I’ve always respected that.

The empathy at the time of recording Long Distance Voyager was absolutely phenomenal; we were very tight, and this carried on for several years. We had had two excellent tours already in ’78 and ’79, when I joined with them – because they had been inactive since 1973 or ’74. When they did Octave, which I didn’t participate on – it was still made with Mike Pinder.

I don’t know what happened, but I got a call when I was in Miami, on my way to Brazil, in May of ’78, and somebody asked me from London if I would be interested to meet somebody from an important group back in London, when I would go back to London from Brazil in June or something. And I didn’t even know who they were; eventually when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro they told me who it was. I went to London and I met them in ’78, on the 17th of July. I still had my road crew, they were still on the payroll; my instruments were impeccable. I arrived at the studio, The Moody Blues’ studio at Decca, in June and ready to go. And I did kind of an audition with them. And I even had to tell them how the tunes went because they hadn’t played them in the last four or five years!

We played “Tuesday Afternoon,” we played, of course, “Nights In White Satin,” we played a little bit off Question Of Balance – “Legend Of A Mind” – and some other tunes like “Ride My See-Saw.” Some of the chords and arrangements they didn’t remember, so I had to tell them, and they really appreciated that.

To come back to your question, before Long Distance Voyager, we already had two successful tours under our belt. In March 1980, we started in the studio, and I think the whole album took many, many weeks – we’re talking maybe 40 or 50 weeks. It’s been said that it took about 65 weeks to completely finish the album, but I think they’re counting the holidays as well. [laughs] In 1981, the album was ready to go, and it came to #1 on the charts in America and in England in the #1 position, in June or so.

My empathy with the Moodies, with the group, with everybody, was absolutely staggering. We were having fun; we were jamming all the time and getting some fresh ideas. Justin was bringing the songs and John as well. We had “Gemini Dream,” which was a very, very nice song cowritten by the two of them. I really had a ball with the Moodies. It’s part of history, really.

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3 thoughts on “Q&A: Prog voyager Patrick Moraz talks about his time with Yes and the Moody Blues

  1. Patrick Moraz is feeding you Mainhorse shit in his interview. At the London auditions, I was chosen as Lead Singer and Lyricist and Bryson Graham as Drummer. We flew over to Switzerland in 1969 and worked together for nearly a year working up what came out as the Mainhorse album in 1971. We started out as “Integral Aim” because we had 2 drummers…1 jazz(Arnold Ott) and 1 blues (bryson) In 1970 I changed the name to Mainhorse Airline after Arnold left. Jean Ristori tells me Polydor shortened it to Mainhorse. I worked like hell on that album and Moraz got jealous of the kudos I was getting and the overwork gave me a heart attack so I had to leave. At the same time, so did the guitarist August De Antoni who had been the guitarist in the Patrick Moraz Quartet. Arnold Ott was also the drummer in his Jazz quartet pre Mainhorse Airline. That’s the point in time (1970) when Bryson roped in his friend Pete Lockett to both play guitar and sing. It’s all posted up on MySpace/David Kubinec. Check it out. Moraz is trying to re-write history and airbrush me out. Ask him why? I’d be interested to know. Mainhorse Airline was releaed in 2007 titled “The Geneva Tapes on the Cherry Red/RPM Label

  2. This is fantastic and I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I merely wish more people thought like this.

  3. Pingback: Patrick Moraz: Story of I (1976) - Progrography

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