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BACKSTAGE WITH THE ZOMBIES

Zombies-HeydayBy Tess DeFlori

Beware!  Zombies seem to be everywhere. You see them in the movies, commercials, video games, Halloween costumes and even reportedly at the Alamo!  Do I have your attention now?  Well then, let me explain. I recently returned from another one of my great Rock-n-Roll adventures with the British invasion of the 1960’s, THE ZOMBIES, one of the most underrated rock bands of that era.

Just to whet your curiosity, here is a bit of information for those of you who are not familiar with this legendary Rock-n-Roll band. The Zombies are an English group formed in 1962, while the group members were still in school. As did many other rock bands in the day, they entered contests and won a competition, which led to a recording contract with Decca. The Zombies recorded their first hit, “She’s Not There”, penned by Rod Argent. Released in 1964 in the U. S., the song hit the charts at number two, but curiously failed in the U.K.

The band made a first in-person appearance on U.S. television in 1965, on the first episode of NBC’s Hullabaloo. A screaming audience of teenage girls was what the viewers saw and heard when they performed the songs, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”. “Time of the Season”, also written by Argent, was released as a single and in 1969 hit, number 3, on the Billboard Charts. There is no doubt the songs, “Time of The Season” and “She’s Not There”, are legendary songs of legendary caliber. Many artists have performed their take on the Zombie songs, and more recently, the cast of Glee covered this song. The top 200 greatest songs of the 60’s include “She’s Not There”. “You Tube” them right now and you will recognize the songs (depending on your age), and/or become an instant fan!

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios and released in 1967, the “Odessey and Oracle” album was the only album the band themselves approved. Two weeks later in April 1968, the group disbanded. Luckily, the album had a U.S. release thanks to musician Al Kooper. He was signed to Columbia at that time and persuaded them of the album’s merits.  Amazing that no one else recognized the quality and intrinsic worth of this masterpiece. The first time I saw the Zombies was in Austin, Texas at Antones during the height of their day and fortunately, I cannot remember the year. You know fuzzy times, purple haze, and age! Some people may argue with that statement (the aforementioned one), but unlike others, they were more popular than people think. Blame it on their record label/management! In those days, the industry relied on the listeners picking up a rotary telephone and calling in to the radio station to say they liked the record and I will not even mention the payola!  Technology has made it easy for the sixties bands who are touring again today; and it has also made it awkward because should the band bomb it would take one second to post and five to go global!

In 2004, I returned to catch The Zombies again at Antones, where I saw them reclaim their status as Rock-n-Roll stars. One of the band members mentioned that another band toured as the Zombies and attempted to copyright their name! Herein lays the confusion of people who think that The Zombies dropped in and out throughout the years. The sold out 2004 concert confirmed the demand for The Zombies and so they were asked back. In 2013, the SXSW festival invited them to headline the music part of this festival. The festival was a huge success frankly, because the Zombies brought in several sold out venues. Lines were over a block long and the free venues had people lining up an hour in advance. The Zombies again were well received by the baby boomers, their children and their children’s children. Wow, is rock-n-roll that old?

So back to my rock-n-roll adventure…Forty years ago, Colin Blunstone performed at the Troubador as a solo act and now returned with THE ZOMBIES! After 45 years, this musical treasure continues to thrill music lovers. Forty-five years, that is an incredibly long time to stay relevant, which brings me to this past week. I was at one of the most famous clubs in Los Angeles, California, the Troubador.  The Troubadour has its own heritage, as it played an important role in the careers of many artists. Some of the most famous rock-n-roll artists such as, The Byrds, Hoyt Axton, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, Van Morrison, Buffalo Springfield and others have played at the Troubador.  As an added trivia bit reportedly, in 1974, John Lennon (who was intoxicated at the time), was thrown out of the club for heckling the Smothers Brothers!

On September 9, 2013, history repeated itself at the Troubador when THE ZOMBIES, played to a sold out, standing room only crowd. On this night, people were waiting in line for over two hours in order to get to the front of the stage. Others were walking by asking to buy a ticket from anyone who would sell it to them. One person offered three times what the ticket was worth and I still did not sell it to him! Another cool factor was the crowd, which was comprised of baby boomers, old hippies, teenagers, industry people, and a new generation of hippies. Apparently, this is one of the new trends in California and young hippies were everywhere.  Mini skirts, flowery prints, long boots, Beatle boots floppy hats, all very Bohemian! I loved it as it brought back many of my childhood memories. To see this generational divide was an acknowledgement that The Zombie’s music is in fact timeless!

The Zombie line-up includes Rod Argent, his Cousin Jim Rodford (formerly of the Kinks & Argent), his son Steve Rodford on drums and Tom Tooney on guitar. These are talented musicians, writers and singers. Rod Argent is an amazing keyboard player. His solo blistering acts bring the concertgoers to standing ovations. He has a resume that merits its own article. To describe his playing would do him injustice. You just had to be there.

Colin’s voice is amazing, good range, clean and is unique. His vocals are better than ever, strong, and polished. Jim, who I find humble, kind, patient and quiet in demeanor, is one of the best bassist I have ever heard. He could play sleeping and would not miss a note. He makes it look so easy which defines a great musician. Steve, the band’s drummer is a strong player. He is multi talented, fully versed in several instruments, writes, and juggles many personal outside projects. Everything is timing and Steve has that and more, so move over Ginger Baker. Then, there is Tom Tooney. I love the way his hands easily move freely over those guitar strings as if caressing his lover. I like his style, intensity and his interaction with the fans.

These great musicians have no diva, rock star behaviors. They love to perform their music and not necessarily for the money. As we know, session musicians and writers make more money and have more down time than touring musicians. When possible, the Zombies make themselves available for autographs and picture taking. Colin was telling me that the band greatly appreciates their fans. They want the fans to have fun, relax and enjoy the concerts. Colin said that initially the band members came out after every show to greet the fans. He said that he and Rod found themselves talking to fans for over two hours after the show. A routine like that is arduous and can take a toll on the band. Colin said they are considering random meet and greets to accommodate their fans. Of course, if a fan stops them on the way out of a gig they will gladly autograph a memento.

Colin mentioned that The Zombies continue to tour the U. S., Canada, Japan, Europe and the U. K. Their latest project was filming a video, their first, which was debuted recently in New York City. Do not fail to get their records because you will miss some great music of the times, past, present, and now! My take on The Zombies…they are as inventive as were the Beatles.
Zombies-NowI leave you with a quote from one of my friends, Rock Star, Todd Potter from the rock band, “The Bubble Puppy”, whose music can be heard on the new major motion picture film featuring Billy Bob Thorton. Todd was right in the middle of this 60’s timeless music.  He said, “The Zombie reunion has set the bar very high for sixties bands. The new recordings take their legend to an even higher level and they are true to the original music like no others. Here, here!”

For information on the official page of THE ZOMBIES on Facebook, type in The Zombies. Look for the site that has (musicians/band), as there are several, which are not officially sanctioned. Colin Blunstone has a personal website www.colinblunstone.co.uk.  Rod Argent has his own website rodargent.com. The official Zombie site is www.thezombies.net.

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