WHAT: The Zombies
WHERE: Waterfest, Leach Amphitheater, 303 Ceape Ave., Oshkosh
WHEN: Thursday, August 15th, 2019
Gates open at 5:45 PM
COST: Early Bird General Admission before 7 PM $15
General Admission after 7 PM $20
Reserved VIP $30
Iconic British rock band The Zombies were responsible for putting out classic hits such as “She’s Not There,” “Time of the Season, “I Love You,” and “Tell Her No” over their 50+ year career. Led by founding members vocalist Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent, their 1968 album Odessey & Oracle was ranked #100 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Last March The Zombies were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame after being nominated 4 times in 5 years for that prestigious award. In 2011 the band received a Blue Plaque, a commemorative sign which was placed in their honor at a pub in St. Albans, England where they first played together.
In August The Zombies will begin their “Something Great from ‘68” North American Tour with Brian Wilson and his former Beach Boy bandmates Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. The Zombies will be joined by surviving original members Chris White and Hugh Grundy.
The Zombies are working on a new album anticipated to be released next year.
Current members of The Zombies include Blunstone, Argent, Steve Rodford on drums, guitarist Tom Toomey, and bassist Søren Koch.
The Zombies are returning to Waterfest in Oshkosh for the summer concert series’ finale on August 15th.
I phoned Colin Blunstone at his home southwest of London recently.
Jane Spietz: What led to the formation of the Zombies?
Colin Blunstone: In many ways, we were kind of a school band. The guys in The Zombies went to two different schools. Rod Argent had a neighbor who came to my school and sat next to me in class. He said,” You’ve got a guitar, haven’t you?” I said, “Yes.” (Laughs) He said, “Do you want to meet the band?” So really, a lot of it was chance on how it came together.
JS: What was the origin of the band’s name?
CB: Every band has to have a name. We were desperate for a name. It sounds like it should be really simple. Any old thing will do. But we were really struggling. To be absolutely honest, Paul Arnold, who got me into the band and was the only guy who ever left the band, our original bass player, came up with the name The Zombies. I really don’t think I knew what a zombie was at the time. It was a really catchy, memorable name and it just stuck. And of course this was before there was any zombie culture. Before zombie TV shows or films or magazines or anything. It was really a little left field, to be honest. It was very memorable and it stuck. And that’s the whole story.
JS: How did The Zombies achieve stardom?
CB: We didn’t play anywhere for about a year. We could only rehearse on weekends. Then we started to attract a small local fan base and gradually that grew into a big local fan base. After that, we won a really big rock ‘n roll competition. I think that was the first time that we started to think about if we could be a professional band. I don’t think anybody spoke about it. We decided to think about it. As a result of winning that competition, we also managed to get a contract with Decca Records. During the time between winning the competition and that first session, we said okay, let’s become a professional band. We started contacting managers and agents. We were very young. Most of us were only 18. We had no idea how to go about this. But we had the confidence of youth. You just jump in, don’t you?
Eventually we were introduced to a producer who helped make our first record, “She’s Not There.” I can remember very clearly a conversation just before the session. He said, “You know, you could always write something for the session.” We were just going to record standards. Rod then wrote “She’s Not There” which became our first record. I was just amazed. I had no idea he could write songs. We all knew that it was special when I first heard it. We recorded it in that first session at Decca Studios and it went on to become #1 all around the world. It happened so quickly. But when you’re 18 and 19 years old, in some ways it all seems very natural. You write a song, you make a record, it’s a hit. Here we are, we’re off touring around the world. What could be better? Touring around the world, with your pals, playing the music you love. We were really, really fortunate.
JS: What was it like to ride in on the wave of the British Invasion and experience the frenzy of screaming, hysterical fans?
CB: Well, it’s very funny because I was never aware that we were part of a social movement, the British Invasion, at the time. It’s only looking back that you can see it really for what it was. At that time, audiences always screamed at bands, especially if they had hit records. It was the norm. Of course it was incredibly exciting to be traveling and playing to full houses and getting these incredible reactions. It did seem as though it came with the territory. This is what happened if you had a hit record. It was absolutely fabulous. It’s so funny when it happens to you. It doesn’t feel quite the same way as when you see it happening to other people. I’ve always thought of The Zombies’ music as just five friends getting together and sorting out the arrangements for a song. It just sounds like us. When we travel and when we play, it’s with people I’ve known all my life. To try and think of it very professionally, it’s just another gig. Because otherwise, it can start getting intimidating. We want to give the very best gig we can.
JS: You have contributed to works by one of my very favorite artists, Alan Parsons.
CB: Alan was an engineer at Abbey Road when I first met him. And he worked on our album, Odessey and Oracle. I also realized that he lived quite near me. We would meet socially. He had this idea of recording an album with the producer as the central figure and he would bring in guest vocalists and guest performers. But the album would be focused principally on the producer. Never been done before. When he recorded the first Alan Parsons Project, it was called Tales of Mystery and Imagination. He actually asked me to sing on that, but ironically he was recording in England and I was living in California at the time. So I couldn’t make a contribution to that first album. But I did sing on Alan’s album, Pyramid. I sang a song called “The Eagle Will Rise Again.” It’s a beautiful song. Alan’s silent partner was Eric Woolfson. Eric was a wonderful songwriter. Eric wrote most of the songs and he sang a lot of the songs. Alan and Eric were very dependent on one another. Alan’s obviously one of the best producers in the world and Eric was one of the best songwriters in the world, until sadly he passed away in 2009.
When we first started doing the Project, they would send me a CD – it was such a long time ago they might’ve sent me a cassette, I can’t remember. (Laughs) They would give me a week to learn the song. But towards the end they would just ring me and say, “Look, we’re in Abbey Road. We’ve got a song we think would be good for you. Can you come down? And I would have to learn it, in the studio, and record it there and then. (Laughs) There was a bit of pressure, actually, when you think all eyes are on you, you’re in one of the most famous studios in the world, you gotta learn the song and record it as quickly as possible. It was an interesting experience.
JS: The Zombies have some North American tour dates scheduled with Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.
CB: I know some of the band. In particular, Darian Sahanaja. He’s in Brian’s band and also plays with us when we play Odessey and Oracle live, which were going to be playing with Brian Wilson. Darian plays with us, so when we play with Brian, Darian will be in both bands which will be quite interesting for him. It’s a long night for him. I’m really looking forward to it. The Zombies were always huge fans of the Beach Boys. This is a dream come true, to play with Brian. We have played one concert with him before. It was a charity concert. We absolutely loved it. I think the Beach Boys are a phenomenal band. And of course, Brian was the backbone of that band. I’m really looking forward to hearing of all those wonderful songs and incredibly rich arrangements that he was responsible for. I think it’s a huge honor to be on tour with him.
JS: Colin, I would like to congratulate you and the other members of The Zombies on your long overdue induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last March.
CB: Thank you very much. It was a huge, huge thrill. When we were first nominated, which was about five years ago, it was also a huge but very pleasant surprise. We were nominated four times in five years. From the excitement of being nominated the first time, you start to think we’re never going to be to be inducted after being eliminated four times. And then it came true. We were inducted. We went to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The ceremony took place in front of 17,000 people and was recorded for TV as well. It was a wonderful occasion. I’ll never, ever forget it. Absolutely incredible.
JS: The Zombies’ classic album, Odessey and Oracle, still delights fans of all ages. The band’s later albums are fantastic works as well. I am so pleased that The Zombies are putting out great music after celebrating over 50 years together. What do you foresee for the future of the band?
CB: In the immediate future obviously we’ve got this incredible tour coming out with Brian Wilson. Also, we’re just starting to work on arrangements for, and actually writing new material, for a new album. We’re not sure when it will be finished and will be in the shop. We literally just started now. I would hope that there will be a new album next year, because that’s the life force of The Zombies. We’re not a band that looks backwards all the time, wanting to rehash our old hits. It’s fun to play the hits, of course it is. But we also like to be writing and recording new material. In many ways that’s really what keeps us going. It’s very exciting to see that song develop from that first spark of an idea. And then the band works on it, we go in the studio, eventually the record comes out and we get that wonderful moment when we play that song for the first time to an audience. That’s the real thrill of being a professional musician, I think. To be working on new material and then going out and playing it hopefully to an enthusiastic audience.
JS: Excitement is building for The Zombies’ appearance at the finale of the Waterfest Concert Series here in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on August 15th. What can the audience expect to experience that evening?
CB: We will play all the hits. We will play some Odessey and Oracle and will play some new songs as well. It is a thrill for us that the reaction to the new songs is often as strong as the reaction to the classic hit songs that we play. We’ll probably play one or two really obscure songs as well. I like to think that there will be something for everyone. It is quite a varied repertoire that we play in concert. We have a wonderful, very energized and quite sophisticated band playing with Rod and I. It will be a magical evening for everyone.
Photo credits: Payley Photography