The 'Odessey' of The Zombies
British Invasion Band Lives on with New Member, music & Timeless Catalog of Hits
The original short history of The Zombies has, over time, engraved an indelible design of influence and acclaim for the St. Albans-based band. Arriving at the height of the British Invasion in 1964 with the well-received album Begin Here and a string of hit singles including "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No." The future looked bright for the band but by 1967, they became disillusioned after recording their second full-length album, the famously misspelled Odessey and Oracle. It remained unreleased until a few months after the group had dissolved.
But in the ensuing 50 years, the album turned into one of the most acclaimed records of the rock era, influencing several generations of musicians, artists and writers including Tom Petty and Dave Grohl. Buoyed by renewed interest and respect, they officially returned in 1999 with a slightly revamped line-up and a batch of new material that equaled the quality of their initial work.
After a January performance at 30A in Florida, bassist Jim Rodford died suddenly and the Zombies faced a big decision. INsite caught up with vocalist Colin Blunstone at his home in the UK to discuss the past and future of The Zombies.
The news about Jim Rodford must have been devastating.
It's been a huge shock to us. He was at our very first rehearsal in 1961. Obviously I knew him socially and he's played on a lot of my solo albums. Then, when we got this incarnation of the Zombies together in 1999, he was the first guy we spoke to. Nineteen years we've been playing together and that's a long time.
But you had a long American tour already on the books.
We had to make a decision, very quickly if we were going to do this American tour. But Jim was a real 'show must go on' type person. Once we decided we were gonna do this tour, we knew we'd have to really throw ourselves into it. We can never place him but we found a wonderful bass player who's going to come with us, Soren Koch. It'll be different, but it's gonna be great.
Last year's tour celebrated the 50th anniversary of Odessey and Oracle, which stated with the 40th anniversary tour a decade earlier.
It grew. The idea was to do one concert to celebrate the 40th anniversary of it in London. Then one sold out immediately, then that grew to three, then there was interest in doing it in other cities. Then the 50th came up. We've just been asked to play it again in Berlin this summer.
But you always include new songs with the familiar material.
We have to do new songs because that's the lifeblood of what we do. I've started a solo album and already we're writing so I'm sure in the next few months we'll be starting a new Zombies album. I know Rod's got a couple of songs on the way. It's a constant thing with us. We just like to write and record new material.
It's consistently good new material, too. Still Got that Hunger from 2015 is just as good as any of the classic tracks.
I wasn't sure if a band with our heritage would even chart in today's record industry but it was a wonderful surprise when we did. Hopefully we'll chart with the next one as well. I think we've still got as much energy onstage as there was in the '60s. But if that were to change, we'd have to take a view on whether it was worth continuing.
So this is in no way a "Final Tour?"
At this point, retirement's a long way off. We love playing. Rod and I both really enjoy the excitement of a live performance. We don't take prisoners when we go on stage; we give it everything we've got. It'll be the same on this next tour as well. Once in a while, Rod and I, we have to sort of pinch ourselves and say, 'Can this really be happening?' We think we are incredibly fortunate to have to have to opportunity to travel around the world with our friends, playing the music we love, at this time in our lives. It's so unexpected. I think both of us thought that our touring days were over, a long, long time ago.
It must be a nice bit of vindication to recall that you initially broke up because there was a perceived lack of interest in the band.
Well you know, that is true. Things like Rolling Stone naming Odessey and Oracle as one of the Top 100 albums of all time and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating us three times - it is a vindication, you're quite right. Because it was an incredibly sad time in 1967 when the band finished. I thought that was the end of the music business for me, I really did. And now, after all these years, to get the recognition we've had, it does make you realize, yeah maybe we did have something.
You had a little flash of success in '69 when "Time of the Season" was an unexpected hit.
That's right but the album was never a hit at the time, even with a big single on it. But now just by word of mouth, it sells more year by year. It's quite extraordinary, I don't think there are many albums like that out there. It's almost as though the album is doing it itself, there's no promotion, no marketing. It just sells.
So many people continue to cite it as one of the greatest records of all time.
I know! Many people cite that album or The Zombies as an inspiration when they were forming their bands. Tom Petty, Dave Grohl, Susanna Hoffs, so many very different musicians have mentioned it as one of their favorites. There's a very successful musician over here, he's not as big over there, but his name is Paul Weller.
From The Jam?
Yes, that's him. He's named it as his favorite album and for years he's said that if he's with someone and they don't know Odessey and Oracle, he buys them a copy of it. Dave Grohl said on a Scandinavian TV show that a song that changed his life was [opening track] "Care of Cell 44."
It's becoming a cottage industry.
It is, with reissues and there's a musical that [original Zombies bassist] Chris White has written about it using songs from it, and there's a great sort of coffee-table book, the first book published by BMG. They're got some previously unseen photographs of the band from the '60s and great quotes from people like Santana and Brian Wilson and Clive Davis, saying wonderful things about it.
But you were appreciated, even in the '60s. Probably more than you realized at the¬†time.
You know, when we look back, we realize that we always had a hit somewhere in the world. But communications were so bad, often we didn't find out. I know this sounds bizarre now, but we didn't know we'd had a hit until months later. Maybe sometimes you never found out, unless you went and toured in a country, what songs were hits. Like in the Far East or the Philippines, we had many hits there. But they weren't the songs that had been hits anywhere else!
You could've continued well into the '70s had you known the bigger picture.
With the benefit of hindsight, I often don't understand why we didn't keep going. But we'd been on the road nonstop for three years and we had an agent who managed to employ us. He had us working nearly every night, yet he'd never earn us any money! We were constantly broke. Except for the writers. Rod Argent and Chris White had a constant income stream from the publishers. They wrote wonderful songs so it was different for them, but for the rest of us, for Hugh [Grundy] Paul [Atkinson] and myself, we just never had any money. I'm not talking about to buy a second car or to buy a big house, I'm talking about to eat! I think we all just got tired and disillusioned. But if we'd really thought it through, we were still in a strong position.
In a way, though, that was the end of a really creative cycle. Culture was changing and music was changing right along with¬†it.
Exactly. We'd been together for four years as an amateur band and three as a professional band and you know, maybe it was just time to move on. Everyone else feels it was the right thing to do and had no regrets, but I personally have always been curious to know what we might have done next. But now we're doing it.
The Zombies play March 16 at City Winery. Don DiLego opens. For more information, please visit citywinery.com/atlanta.