British rock group The Zombies commemorated a half-century milestone in 2011 and are continuing the celebration with a tour of North America in 2012. The U.S. tour officially launches from the Largo Cultural Center on July 27th and will be The Zombies only Florida appearance on the tour.
On April 27th of 2012, a historical blue plaque was unveiled at The Blacksmith’s Arms Pub in St. Albans to commemorate the initial congregation and foundation of The Zombies in 1961. The plaque symbolizes the significance of the band to rock ‘n’ roll’s past, present and future.
The current lineup of The Zombies features original lead vocalist and songwriter Colin Blunstone (also Alan Parsons Project), original keyboardist, vocalist, songwriter Rod Argent (founder of Argent), bassist and vocalist Jim Rodford(Argent ,The Kinks), drummer Steve Rodford and Tom Toomey on guitars.
As part of the British Invasion wave of the 60s, The Zombies recorded their first big hit, “She’s Not There” on Decca Records and released it in 1964. The song was a #1 Hit on the Cashbox charts and a #2 Hit on Billboard’s Top 100 in the U.S.
In 1965, the band made their first Television appearance in the U.S. on NBC’s Hullabaloo. The Zombies featured their latest single, “Tell Her No” another Rod Argent composition. “Tell Her No” peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The Zombies, “I Love You” a tune penned by original bassist Chris White became a Top 20 Hit for the California band, People, in 1968.
Also in 1968, the band recorded one of their most significant releases, Odessey and Oracle. Recorded at Abbey Road and Olympic Studios for CBS Records, the album spawned their huge hit, “Time of The Season” in early 1969. The album became critically-acclaimed and one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest album’s of all-time. “Time of The Season” became The Zombies biggest hit #3 on Billboard’s Top 100 in 1969 and almost two years after the bands split.
After The Zombies disbanded, Rod Argent formed classic rock’s Argent with Jim Rodford. Zombies’ original bassist Chris White was also instrumental to the band as songwriter. Rod Argent and Chris White collaborated on their biggest hit, “Hold Your Head Up” #5 Hit from the album All Together Now in 1972. Argent split in 1976; meanwhile band members Jim Rodford and Bob Henrit joined The Kinks.
In 2010, the original Argent lineup reunited and played five concert dates around England.
After the break-up of The Zombies, Colin Blunstone established a successful solo career and released his first effort entitled, One Year in 1971. He eventually signed onto Elton John’s Rocket Records and released (3) albums, Planes (1976), Never Even Thought (1978) and Late Nights In Soho (1979).
Blunstone appeared on Dave Stewart’s hit cover tune, “What Become’s of The Brokenhearted” (1980). He also appeared on several Alan Parsons Project albums including, Ammonia Avenue and Eye in the Sky. Colin sang the hit single, “Old and Wise.” Most recent releases by Colin Blunstone include Echo Bridge (1995), Out of the Shadows (2003) with Rod Argent and As Far As I Can See (2004) with Rod Argent.
Since 1991, there have been brief Zombies reunions featuring several different lineups, but longtime mates Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent solidify the working elements of the band.
Original guitarist Paul Atkinson passed away in 2004.
In 2008, to mark the 40th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle all surviving members participated in a series of concerts at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre.
In 2011, A brand new Zombies album was recorded entitled Breathe Out, Breathe In and received rave reviews. Colin’s vocals are exquisite … these guys sound like they’re still in their 20’s. It’s an incredible album. The title cut has striking similarities to the heyday of Steely Dan.
Colin Blunstone is currently finishing up a solo project called, On The Air Tonight with a possible release date in October of 2012. He’s excited and extremely grateful to be able to continue to do what he loves to do best.
I talked with Colin last week from his home in England about the upcoming U.S. tour, his new solo project, the latest Zombies release, and of course the British Invasion.
Here’s my interview with songwriter, guitarist, and legendary voice of The Zombies … Colin Blunstone.
Ray Shasho: Hello Colin how are you doing, you’re calling from England today?
Colin Blunstone: “I’m doing excellent … yes; I’m calling from just outside London, quite close to Wimbledon actually. It’s been raining off and on this afternoon, I think the games have been literally stop and start except for the center court because it now has a roof on it. But the weather is not very good at the moment.”
Ray Shasho: Colin, I’ve always been fascinated how Americans were captivated by the British Invasion and later British rock and its derivative genres … glam, progressive etc. But it was the Brits who were seduced early on by American 50’s rock ‘n’ roll and the very early blues artists. And in all actuality, it was extremely difficult for Brits to even know what music was coming out of the U.S. …is that right?
Colin Blunstone: “Radio was very different here in the 60s, the BBC was national and there were only two radio stations and very limited on what you could here. One station was very serious and the other played sort of light classical music like 1930s orchestras and things like that. Also there was a limit and they could only play so many records … they were limited, it may have had something to do with the musician’s union or something like that.”
“But they played lots of live music, orchestras, bands, but not rock bands … and this is when I was growing up. Then of course we all had Elvis Presley and all the wonderful artists that followed him. And then I think a bit later on we really began to understand about Little Richard and Chuck Berry … and then later still there was Motown, Smokey Robinson, and all of the other wonderful and talented bands, and we were very-very influenced by American music.”
Ray Shasho: Colin, I would like to wish you congratulations on your Fiftieth Anniversary, can you believe it’s been that long since the inception of The Zombies?
Colin Blunstone: “It kind of crept up on us; it’s really funny no one was counting. Someone remarked about it and we thought you know what they’re right. We’ve been together since 1961, so it’s been fifty years since last year … fifty and half years now. Outside the pub where we met, in St. Albans where we come from, they unveiled a blue plaque on the wall of this pub called The Blacksmith’s Arms and it said, “On this spot the five original members of The Zombies first met in April 1961.” They had a wonderful ceremony and the traffic stopped while they unveiled this blue plaque on the side of the building and it was really exciting for all of us.”
Ray Shasho: So the pub is also still in business after all these years?
Colin Blunstone: “It is …absolutely! When we met outside there in 1961, we were only sixteen years old and weren’t allowed to go inside the pub because we were too young. But yes, it’s a big pub on the main street in St. Albans and you could probably get two or three hundred people in there … it’s a big building.”
Ray Shasho: Did The Zombies perform a Fiftieth Anniversary concert at the pub?
Colin Blunstone: “We never performed there. It was mentioned … would we perhaps perform on this day of the unveiling of the blue plaque but nothing really came of it. We did two or three short speeches and just meeting a lot of friends and drinking a few beers really. But it seemed like a really lovely day.”
Ray Shasho: Colin, talk about the current band lineup for the Fiftieth Anniversary Tour in the U.S.
Colin Blunstone: “Myself and Rod Argent the original keyboard player, and of course Rod wrote all the hits for The Zombies and later had a band called Argent who also had quite a lot of success. On bass there’s Rod’s cousin Jim Rodford, it’s sort of a family band really. Jim was with us on our first rehearsal and helped arrange it. He was in the biggest local band and we borrowed all the amplifiers and drum kits from his band. And that’s how we were able to have our first rehearsal. We asked him to be in the band at that time but he was already committed. So it took us nearly fifty years to get him in the band. (All laughing)”
“Jim’s son Steve Rodford is on drums, so that side of the stage is all related. On the other side is me and our guitarist Tom Toomey, he joined the band a few years ago and has been touring with us ever since. He’s a great acoustic and electric player and one of the really good harmony singer’s in the band so there are very full harmonies when we play.”
Ray Shasho: I was excited when I first learned Jim Rodford was going to be in the band. Jim played with The Kinks for quite awhile.
Colin Blunstone: “Jim was in The Kinks for twenty years and has played on some of their biggest albums as well. He’s also played with just about every artist you could imagine.”
Ray Shasho: It’s a terrific lineup and we’re looking forward to a fantastic show.
Colin Blunstone: “I think people are going to get quite a pleasant shock because they might think they’re going to go and see a 60s band just going through the motions. All of these players are sensational players and we take no prisoners when we go on stage. We give it everything we’ve got.”
Ray Shasho: Of course, The Zombies will be playing all of their biggest hits on the tour but the audience will also be pleasantly surprised by the band’s latest material Breathe Out, Breathe In. The album’s enticing tempo is performed by as you say …“sensational players.” The title cut has a Steely Dan-ish feel to it.
Colin Blunstone: “A lot of people have said that and I take it as a huge complement because I’m a fan. It’s had sensational reviews in Europe and America and being very well received all around the world. We’ve always played from the heart and played the music that appealed to us, and played it to the best of our ability. That’s how the original band recorded in the 60s and that’s how we record now.”
“We’ll be playing, “She’s Not There,” “Time Of The Season,” probably be playing four or five tracks from Odessey and Oracle our last album, and then some other more obscure tracks from the original Zombies. We’ll play some Argent tunes and maybe one or two of my solo records which were hits over here but not over there. And probably a little bit from The Alan Parsons Project, I sang a lot with them as well. So there are a lot of great songs for everyone.”
Ray Shasho: What were those British Invasion days like for you Colin?
Colin Blunstone: “Considering that we were all probably eighteen years old, and in the summer we were playing local dates in and around St. Albans and by Christmas we were number one on Cashbox in America, and then playing to huge audiences in New York and doing national TV as well … it was an extraordinary adventure.”
“We’ve often discussed this … when you are young you tend to take things like that in stride and it seems very natural, it’s only when you look back and think my goodness that was a huge change in a very short period of time. But it was extremely exciting, especially going to America because that’s where it all stated. For us to go to America and play for packed houses was just out of this world.”
Ray Shasho: While on tour in America did you meet any of your childhood heroes like perhaps Elvis Presley?
Colin Blunstone: “We went to Elvis’ house and literally there was no security. We went through the gate and knocked on the front door and debated this later whether it was his father or uncle that came to the door. We said … is Elvis in? (all laughing) We told him that we were The Zombies and here from England and would just like to say hello to Elvis.”
“He said, “it’s a real shame Elvis is making a movie in Hawaii at the moment, he would have loved to meet you. I’m so sorry he’s not here but you are very welcome to have a look around.””
“It was such a shame we didn’t meet him but got to stroll around his house, and we found out that he had Zombies records on his jukebox.”
“Some of the groups we played with that I remember are The Beach Boys who are one of my absolute favorites. We also played with Del Shannon, The Shirelles, Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles who were sensational and we had to follow them on stage in New York.”
Ray Shasho: The Zombies recorded at Abbey Road studios?
Colin Blunstone: “We recorded there a lot, and in fact were probably the next band in there after The Beatles finished Sgt. Pepper’s. They finished somewhere in the spring of 1967 and we went in right after them. Geoff Emerick worked on that album, Odessey and Oracle and Peter Vince was another engineer who worked on both albums. It was a wonderful studio and such a great atmosphere and of course very skilled engineers. At the time it was undoubtedly the best studio in the world.”
Ray Shasho: Who produced some of the earlier Zombies albums?
Colin Blunstone: “When we started out we were first introduced to a guy named Ken Jones, he produced “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” but the main producers were Rod Argent and Chris White in the band, I think in most countries it was being credited as being produced by The Zombies. But there was no outside producer just the band working within itself.”
“That first session we did, “She’s Not There” this was the first time we went into a commercial studio at Decca Studios in Northwest London in West Hampstead, we went into the studio in the evening and recorded four tracks. While we were in there we realized that the recording engineer had been at a wedding all day and was completely drunk. As the evening went on he got more and more aggressive. Very early on in the session and my first time in a commercial studio, and this guy was just screaming down at us while in the studio. And I thought, maybe this business is not for me. We were really lucky because he finally passed out and then we had to carry him up two flights of stairs, a Zombie on each arm and leg and we just pushed him into a black car and that was the end of him. His assistant was Gus Dudgeon who went on to produce all the early Elton John albums and that was his first session in 1964. It was quite a remarkable day actually. (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Colin, I always thought that The Zombies could have had the staying power to last through the album rock era of the late 60s to mid 70s. The band was very different than the 45 singles Hitmakers of Top 40 radio. I actually thought the band may even be classified as progressive rock.
Colin Blunstone: “The other guys in the band felt that we completed our artistic circle. We’d run our race and it was time for us to move on to other projects. Of course we’d just finished Odessey and Oracle but we had split before the album was even released. I’m the only one who would ever say; imagine what we could have done next, especially with Rod Argent and Chris White who were really coming into their own as songwriters. I would have been very interested to see what we would have done next … of course hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t in, you can always look back but of course it doesn’t make any difference because it’s never going to happen. I’m not saying it was the wrong decision to end the band but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened next. It’s difficult for me to say this because the other guys don’t feel that way at all. They just feel that we’d gone as far as we could, so I’m kind of the odd one out.”
“Sadly, Paul Atkinson our lead guitarist passed away about five years ago, he had been living in America. He established a very successful career as a record executive. Paul signed ABBA to CBS in the UK, and tried to get CBS in America to sign ABBA but they didn’t want anything to do with them. I asked him years ago what he thought it cost CBS for not signing ABBA and he said about Twenty Million dollars … and that was a long time ago.”
Ray Shasho: Were you asked to be a member of the band ARGENT?
Colin Blunstone: “No, I wasn’t. Rod Argent and Chris White produced my first two albums. Chris also produced the third one. On my first album, ARGENT played on all the tracks that were a rock ‘n’ roll band and then some of the later tracks as well. We were always still working together and that’s true for our entire career. Rod has produced four or five of my albums; I regularly do charity gigs with him, and we’ve kept this relationship going all the way through the year 2000. Then we decided to do five or six concerts and that’s how this came about. I started playing as a solo artist and had six dates coming up and I asked him if he wanted to join me on those six dates. We knew immediately that we had something very special, and we hadn’t really played a full concert together since 1967. We decided to hold this band together that we had, but we just called it Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent and didn’t play very many Zombies tunes because we both had successful solo career. We didn’t realize that there was still an interest in The Zombies and it came as a complete surprise to us ... a very pleasant surprise. But everywhere we went everyone wanted Zombies material. On top of that promoters were billing us as The Zombies, so it wasn’t really our idea it was something that sort of evolved naturally.”
Ray Shasho: I heard you’re finishing up your next solo project entitled, On The Air Tonight.
Colin Blunstone: “I’m going into the studio tomorrow and try and get a running order together, it’s very exciting and a little bit scary because it’s a big commitment to make an album. So tomorrow I’ll listen to it and hear what we’ve achieved. I think it will be coming out in October now.”
“I was just at Rod Argent’s house today actually; he lives about 50 miles away from me. He’s written a new song and so I think we’ve started the first day of a new Zombies album. One new song and that’s how it starts really. He had one completed song and an idea for a second song, and we spent an hour or so going through them and hopefully the beginnings of the next Zombies album.”
Ray Shasho: Is there someone out there that you would love to collaborate with if given the opportunity?
Colin Blunstone: “There’s a female English singer called Judy Tzuke and I really like her voice. I thought that we could sing a good duet together.”
“To collaborate with someone as a writer it would probably be Sting, I think he’s one of the most exciting writers. Sting has written songs that are just breathtaking. My favorite song of all-time is called “Fragile.”
Ray Shasho: Colin, you sound like such a positive person and perhaps a bit spiritual … how do you maintain that positive outlook on life?
Colin Blunstone: “I think it’s easy in a way to stay positive because we just think that we’re really-really lucky at this time in our career to be able to go out and play live, all on the road, and playing the music that we love. I just think that we’re incredibly fortunate and we sort of remind one another every now and again that we are very-very lucky. So it’s easy to stay positive because we’re doing what we love to do.”
Ray Shasho: Colin, thank you so much for being on the call with me today but more importantly for all the great music that yourself and The Zombies have given to the world. We’ll see you at the Largo Cultural Center in Florida on July 27th for The Zombies 50th Anniversary tour.
Colin Blunstone: “It’s been my pleasure Ray, tell everyone that we’ll be playing lots of hits and there will be something for everyone. It’s a great band and I just hope everyone will come see us because they’ll have a great time.”
Very special thanks to Melani Rogers of Publicity By Design.
The Zombies official website http://thezombies.net/
Colin Blunstone’s official website http://www.colinblunstone.co.uk/
Rod Argent’s official website http://www.rodargent.com/
Order the latest Zombies album Breathe Out, Breathe In at amazon.com
Contact classic rock music reporter Ray Shasho at email@example.com
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