Posted August 12, 2019 by Jeff in Tunes

Memories are Flooding Back for The Zombies

The Zombies, by Payley Photography
The Zombies, by Payley Photography

The Zombies had a hit right out of the gate with “She’s Not There,” the British rock band’s first single released in 1964. The group disbanded in 1967 but reformed in 2004 and has toured and recorded ever since. The Zombies finally made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year. Singer-guitarist Colin Blunstone recently phoned us from the UK to talk about the band’s history. 

Getting inducted into the Rock Hall probably put a damper on your retirement plans. Did it change the band’s outlook on touring?

Business-wise, it’s incredibly prestigious. For me, the really exciting thing is that the induction takes place with your peers. We were very well backed by our fans and voted in by our fellow professionals. It’s an incredible feeling that your musical adventures have been noticed and appreciated. It’s such a wonderful thing. 

Where were you when you found out you were going to be inducted?

We had been nominated four times in the last five years. I was in the room in my house that I’m in right now. One of our managers phoned from New York. Of course, there was much screaming and shouting for joy in the Blunstone household when it was announced that we had made it. I was happy to just be nominated but when you’re nominated four times, you start to think you might never get inducted.

What was the induction ceremony like?

It’s something I will never forget. It was 17,000 people at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. 

When you first met Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson and Hugh Grundy, what did you think of the guys?

It was quite interesting. I didn’t really know any of them. I had seen Hugh. He came from the same town as me. The common denominator is that we all went to school in St. Albans, which is about 25 miles north of London. They went to a different school. We had to sit in alphabetical order at my school. They were quite strict. The guy I sat next to was named Paul Arnold. He lived near Rod Argent, and they were putting a band together. He turned to me one said and said, “You’ve got a guitar, haven’t you?” I said, “Yes, I do.” That was like my audition for the band. We met on a Saturday morning, and the one guy I knew was late, so I was there with these three strangers. It was really fun. Rod was going to be the lead singer, and I was going to be the rhythm guitarist. The first thing we played was an instrumental. We had a break. Rod went over to an upright piano in the corner of this rehearsal space and played a song that was a big hit at the time. It’s a rock ’n’ roll version of a classic. It’s quite an accomplished piece to play. I didn’t know him but I said, “You should play keyboards in the band.” He didn’t want to play keyboards because he wanted it to be a rock band. He said, “We want three guitars.” He left it at that. At the end of that first rehearsal, I sang a bit of a Ricky Nelson song. I never can remember what it was. Rod said, “If you will be the lead singer, I’ll be the keyboardist.” That was the Zombies from then on. We met by chance and that was the Zombies. Paul Arnold wanted to be a doctor and was very involved with his studies, so he couldn’t commit to rehearsals. He left and Chris White joined the band very early on. He was the bassist when we started recording and became one of the primary songwriters. 

What were your early gigs like?

We had to build up to that. I think we started out playing teenage social clubs. We played to 14 and 16 year-olds. I used to play rugby. I was playing for this rugby club. They had a band on and I thought we were better. I got us a gig playing for the rugby club. That was the first time we played in front of an adult audience. And this was an audience that was known for drinking lots of beer. It was a rowdy crowd, but we came through it. It was really good. That’s when we built up a local following. We went back and they had to add space on the back of the club because they couldn’t get everyone in. Then we won a huge competition in 1964 that led to a recording contract with Decca and we were off and running.

What was it like to see “She’s Not There” become a hit in America too?

It was bigger in America. The story is that we’ve always been bigger everywhere else. “Time of the Season” wasn’t a hit in the UK. We were going to do this session with Decca and were introduced to Ken Jones, who was going to be in charge of the session. He was having a pep talk with us. He told us we could write something for the session. We were just going to write R&B standards. He went on to talk about other things but he didn’t really emphasize it. He just mentioned it in passing. I didn’t really notice but Rod did. He wrote “She’s Not There,” and I heard it two days later. I don’t know how long it took him to write it. It couldn’t have taken very long. I knew it was a special song the minute he played it. I was surprised. That was one of the tracks we recorded at our first session. 

The band failed to have a hit in the wake of “She’s Not There.” Why do you think the follow up songs didn’t stick?

Rod and Chris had only just started writing. These were their first songs. Decca used to demand a single every six weeks, and at the same time, we were touring. We had to go out and play. People weren’t interested in albums in those days. It was all singles. We only had one other song. We didn’t think it was an A-side but it was all we had. It wasn’t a hit in the UK but in the States, they skipped that follow up and just went to “Tell Her No,” which was quite a big hit. All the time, there was this pressure to write new material while we were touring. It was new to us. We were 18 and 19 years old. It was very hard to keep on top of everything while were traveling all over the world.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to have said to those record executives, “What do you expect?” it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that bands are going to fail if you demand a new single from them every six weeks. They won’t have hits. It’s really obvious. That’s what happened to us.

Was it stressful to cut Odeyssey and Oracle?

Only in one way. We had a very limited budget. We were given 1000 pounds. We were in Abbey Road, which was probably the most expensive studio in the country. We had to record very fast to afford Abbey Road. We rehearsed extensively. We knew the material really well. We knew the arrangements and keys and were just looking for a performance. The only other thing about Odeyssey is that half the band felt it would be our farewell statement. Half felt they’ve been moving on. I’ve only realized that in the past few years doing interviews. I didn’t think that. I just thought it was an album and we’d go on. At the end of it, there were quite a few dramas. We had a manager who left a lot to be desired. He was merciless in his financial arrangements with the band. The non-writers made absolutely no money because of this manager. We really should have. Somebody who worked in his office was talking to Chris White the other year and he reckoned that we were about two million pounds short. That’s in those days. I don’t know what that would be now. It wasn’t just us. All ‘60s have had the same problem. 

What’s it been like to revisit the album?

It’s very interesting. In the first place, I hadn’t listened to it in many years. It was quite emotional initially. All the successes and failures come back to you with memories of that time. Being a young guy in London at the time was exciting. We never played any of those songs live. It’s a different matter playing them live. I had to put a lot of work in. We all had to relearn what we played in the first place.

Photo: Payley Photography


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].