The Zombies were the second English group to have a #1 single in the US, trailing only the Beatles for that distinction, when their 1964 debut single “She’s Not There” reached the top of the Cashbox chart in this country. Now, more than 50 years later, the Zombies are still going strong. Their latest album, Still Got That Hunger, will be released on October 9. On September 30 the band will embark on their latest US tour.
In recent years lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboard player Rod Argent, both founding members of the Zombies, have been touring with a band that includes bass player Jim Rodford (formerly of Argent, and the Kinks), Rodford’s son Steve on drums, and guitar player Tom Toomey. The upcoming tour will be special in that the band will be playing their fabled 1968 album Odessey & Oracle in its entirety for the first time in the US, and they will be doing it with original Zombies drummer Hugh Grundy, and songwriter/bass player Chris White who joined the band in 1962 after original bassist Paul Arnold left.
Aside from three shows in the UK in 2008, it will be the first time that the four have played together in more than 40 years. Last week I had a chance to speak to Colin Blunstone about the Zombies, past, present, and future.
You are about to begin a tour on which you will be playing Odessey & Oracle in its entirety for the first time in the US. There will be four original members of the Zombies on stage. How are you feeling about the tour?
It’s going to be very interesting for us. We have done it in the UK, but it was seven years ago. It will be quite an emotional experience for us, playing it in America because America was the country that discovered Odessey & Oracle first, and discovered “Time of the Season” first.
I know that when we’re playing it with the original band members, Chris White and Hugh Grundy, our whole lives will be conjured up in a way that we’ll be thinking back to 1967. We recorded it in 1967, and we’ll be thinking back to those days of our youth and all the things we’ve done since then. Music is a great medium for memories of how things were and what’s happened since. Hopefully they will come back to the audience as well.
You were part of what we in America call the British Invasion, and you were in the first wave of that invasion. Was there a sense of competition between the British Invasion bands.
There might have been a little bit, but it was a very low key form of competition. In our band we were very happy to have a British band be successful. We were aware of what was happening with them, and hoping we could do that ourselves.
I certainly wasn’t aware that we were part of a British Invasion or any British cultural movements. It may be because we were touring so constantly that we really didn’t have a chance to stop and try to evaluate what was going on. It was pretty much one concert after another, and it’s only in retrospect that I can look back and understand what people are saying about the British Invasion, and that we were part of a musical movement.
None of this would have been possible without the Beatles. Th Beatles were just so phenomenal and they opened the door for all the British bands to play around the world and in America. There was no great demand for British bands before the Beatles. They started everything.
What was it like for a band from England to come to the United States in those days?
It was a big goal for a British musician to come to America because America is the home of rock and roll. Every British musician, and I think it’s still true now, wants to play in America. For us it was incredibly exciting.
We were 19 when we first came to America and we played the Murray the K show (at the Brooklyn Fox Theater) at Christmas, 1964 along with the Shangri-Las, the Shirelles, Ben E. King, Dionne Warwick, and Chuck Jackson. Also Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles who were big favorites. There were 13 acts in all. It was an incredible show to put on, and we were very humble to be part of it. We were only 19 and it was one of our first trips abroad to the land of our dreams. It was a phenomenal experience.
Do you remember how many shows a day you had to play?
Roughly speaking, I think the first show was at about 10 in the morning. All 13 acts would do one or two songs and then they would play a short film, and then they would do the show again. We would play about eight shows a day. It was a great education, it really was. We had a wonderful time because there was a great camaraderie backstage. Of course we were all sharing Christmas together, and it was a wonderful introduction to America for us.
We only stayed in New York on that first trip. After Murray the K we did the first TV show of Hullabaloo. Jack Jones compered the show. We did the Murray the K show, then Hullabaloo, then we came home.