In addition to their numerous No. 1, gold and platinum records, the British rock band Moody Blues has received some unique honors over its 48-year history.
They've been featured on "The Simpsons," and, particularly thrilling for guitarist and singer Justin Hayward, the band was caricatured in Playboy when the magazine once bestowed upon them its award for vocal group of the year.
Then there is the homage paid the Moody Blues by space shuttle astronaut Cmdr. "Hoot" Gibson, who once presented the band with the recording of their pioneering 1967 album Days of Future Passed that he carried with him on four shuttle trips.
"That was nice, and receiving it from NASA in the original cassette version, which I noticed they illegally recorded, made it even better somehow," Hayward says.
Though no longer sailing among the stars, Days of Future Passed is still traveling. Moody Blues, which these days also includes longstanding members John Lodge and Graeme Edge, are marking the 45th anniversary of the landmark record's release this year with a tour that includes a stop Friday at Horseshoe Casino's Bluesville.
"Who'd have thought it? I certainly wouldn't have," Hayward says of the enduring popularity of the album, which includes signature hits like "Tuesday Afternoon" and "Nights In White Satin." "I can't say there was any master plan or career move behind Days of Future Passed. It was just a wonderful thing that happened to us, and everything fell into place so beautifully."
A former skiffle artist, Hayward had been with the band only a few months when they began work on what would become Days of Future Passed. Following the departure of founding guitarist Denny Laine, Moody Blues was looking to break away from its early R&B sound. It was the mid-'60s, and a psychedelic influence was rapidly expanding the possibilities of pop music, as exemplified in June 1967 by the release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
"The Beatles had opened the door along with the Beach Boys, too," Hayward says. "We were all pretty stoned and experimenting with different psychedelic things. Buffalo Springfield was a part of it, too, on the London scene. It was a wonderful time for everybody."
The Moody Blues planned a concept album, a day in the life, to borrow a phrase from Sgt. Pepper's, of the everyman. But the project took an unexpected turn when their label, Decca, to whom the band was heavily in debt, came to them to record a demo album for the new stereo audio format. Originally, the band was to make a rock version of Antonín Dvorák's "New World Symphony," when conductor Peter Knight hit upon the idea of adding symphonic arrangements to the Moody Blues' own songs.
"It was a lucky accident, really," says Hayward, who says the band was still rehearsing Dvorák until a few days before the recording session.
Though Days of Future Passed is very much a part of the band's present, Hayward says the band is still looking ahead. He has been working on long-incubating solo material that he hopes to complete soon, and he expects that once the Moody Blues get back on the road, more band ideas will develop.
"I suppose we're the three that want to go on the road and enjoy that whole thing about the road that some of the other guys didn't like," says Hayward, lamenting the departures over the decades of classic lineup members Ray Thomas and Michael Pinder. "When we're together on the tour, that's when plans start to get built up. By the time we finish this tour, we'll be knackered but have a plan of some kind."
1021 Casino Center Drive, Tunica Resorts, Miss. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $55 and $100, available at the box office and through Ticketmaster. For more information, call (800) 303-7463, or visit horseshoetunica.com.
Also this week ...
Memphis' own Lester Bibbs continues an engagement at Harrah's Tunica Casino's Funny Bone comedy club (13615 Old Highway 61 N., Tunica Resorts, Miss.) that runs through Sunday. Showtimes are 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; 7., 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12 and $17 on Friday and Saturday and $8 on Sunday.
On Tuesday, Christine Stedman, a finalist in 2006 for Nick At Nite's Search for the Funniest Mom in America, brings her domestic stand-up to the Funny Bone for a three-night stand. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. Tickets are $8.
Advance tickets to all Funny Bone shows are available by phone at (662) 357-4242 and online at funnybonetunica.com.