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American Soul in a British band: The Zombies: 50 Years On

By Bill Dudley

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really blew it this year, as it often has, both with it’s inductions, and also the groups it misses that deserve to be in there. It’s most glaring omission this year is the Zombies. This band started in the early 60’s, and became one of the best known groups of the early British Invasion in 1964 hitting # 1 all over the world with the timeless classic “She’s Not There.” The excellent followup was “Tell Her No,” also hitting the top 10 in the US.

Finally in 1967, after years of bad advice from their own management, bad photos of them that circulated for years, and a lack of understanding of what they were actually all about by their record label, somehow they booked time at Abbey Road Studios in England. The cigarettes hadn’t even been emptied out of the ashtrays from the previous group who had just completed their masterpiece. That album was Sgt Pepper’s Lonely hearts Club Band, and the group was The Beatles. Yes, Sgt. Pepper’s will be 50 years old in June.

The Zombies then proceeded to record what is now considered to be one of the best albums of the Rock era, Odyssey and Oracle. Rolling Stone magazine has listed it as #100 on the greatest 500 albums of all time. Unfortunately the album did not sell well at first, the Zombies broke up, and it was to be the last Zombies record of that era.

Almost 2 years later, a disc jockey in a small town in Montana started playing the key cut on the album, “Time of the Season.” With the support of musician Al Kooper, who co-founded the Jazz-Rock band, Blood, Sweat & Tears, it became a worldwide hit. By that time, the Zombies had been split up for nearly 2 years, and keyboardist Rod Argent had already formed a new band, Argent, and also produced a solo album for lead vocalist Colin Blunstone. The Zombies appeared to be history.

To this day, I am still conflicted by which Zombie hit is my favorite. When I hear “She’s Not There,” I think that is it. However when “Tell Her No” plays I move toward it, as I also do with “Time Of The Season.” I have never tired of any of these songs. All are timeless and unique Rock classics. Apparently that many other music fans share my opinion.

the zombies 6 American Soul in a British band: The Zombies: 50 Years On

(Photo by Rebecca Sapp/WireImage for The Recording Academy)

In 1999, Argent and Blunstone re-united for a brief time. The response was so good that further reunions happened quite often in the past few years. I saw the Zombies and Yardbirds together in 2009 at the Wiltern Theater here in LA. Both reconstituted groups were great. In August of 2014, the Zombies drew 22,000 to the Santa Monica Pier for a Thursday night show. Another great concert, but I was astounded to see that most of the attendees were people under 30, and many teenagers who knew all the lyrics to their songs. 50 years later the Zombies still had it. The Zombies also have a wide ethnic and demographic appeal.

Now, for the 50th anniversary of their long neglected Odyssey and Oracle album, all 4 of the surviving Zombies have reunited once again, to play the entire album. On Thursday night at the Grammy Museum, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone were  joined on stage with original bass player Chris White, and original drummer Hugh Grundy . All offered interesting perspectives on the band’s 55 year history. Blunstone and Argent performed 8 classic Zombie songs with Rod’s piano and Colin’s unique voice harmonizing together perfectly. Interestingly, both still have their chops after hitting their 71st birthdays.

Along with the Rolling Stones,The Who,Yardbirds, and the Hollies (who don’t appear in America anymore),the Zombies are the only British Invasion group still intact and hitting all the notes. They fact released two albums in the past couple of years, and the last one Still Got The Hunger finally hit high on the Billboard charts, for the first time ever, proving the Zombies still DO have that hunger. An incredible story, that proves the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” needs to wake up, and induct the Zombies next year. If folk singer Joan Baez, and rapper Tupac Shakur can get in, it is clearly long past time for the Zombies.

Two nights after the Grammy Museum, the Zombies took the stage at the Ace Hotel Theater in downtown LA. They opened with a Zombies classic that many attribute to another  band,”I Love You,” which was a hit for a one hit wonder group from San Jose, People back in 1968, but it was originally a Zombies song, and they own it ! “I Want You Back Again” is another Zombie song they said they had forgotten about until they heard Tom Petty’s version and now it is back in the act.

Like many other British groups of their era, (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Animals etc.), the Zombies were also quite adept at re-introducing America to it’s own R & B roots. Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, and Junior Walker’s “Roadrunner” are still a part of their act.

All of the Zombies best stuff sounded great, including Argent’s solo hit “Hold Your Head Up” from his post Zombies era. The Grammy Museum gets it, why not the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame? Argent, Blunstone, Chris White, Hugh Grundy, the late Paul Atkinson, and the bass player who was asked to be an original Zombie back in the 60’s and turned it down, (joining both Argent and the Zombies in later years), Jim Rodford all deserve to be in the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame…NOW!

the zombies 7 American Soul in a British band: The Zombies: 50 Years On

(Photo by Rebecca Sapp/WireImage for The Recording Academy)

Photos courtesy of Rebecca Sapp/Wireimage.com  AND…a BIG thank you to Madelaine O’Donnell and Crystal Larson of the Grammy Museum  www.grammymuseum.org   (213) 765-6800…………… Up next at the Grammy Museum, the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles “Sgt Pepper”

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/the-zombies/2017/the-theatre-at-ace-hotel-los-angeles-ca-6be602ea.html

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