By Blake Maddux
“It’s a very exciting prospect that your peers think your worthy to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
The Zombies were not as long-lasting or commercially successful as fellow British invasion bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, or The Kinks. However, their three top 10 hits — “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season” — are as enduring as any similarly successful singles by those groups.
Ample evidence of this is the wide range of artists who have recorded their own versions of Zombies songs over the past 50 years, including Dusty Springfield (“If It Don’t Work Out”), Santana (“She’s Not There”), Juice Newton (“Tell Her No”), Foo Fighters (“This Will Be Our Year”), and Eminem, who helped himself to “Time of the Season” for his 2013 song “Rhyme or Reason.”
Lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent (click for my 2013 interview with him) and have been touring and recording with new Zombies line-ups for the past decade. In 2015, they reunited with the original rhythm section of Chris White and Hugh Grundy to perform the entirety of their now classic album Odessey and Oracle, which had not even been released when the band broke up in 1967. (Here is my review of their performance at The Wilbur on that tour.)
After three previous nominations, the fourth time proved to be a charm when The Zombies were voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.
Colin Blunstone recorded several solo albums in the 1970s before becoming a de facto member of the Alan Parsons Project (click for Jason Rubin’s Arts Fuse interview) in the early 1980s.
Blunstone acknowledged in a recent interview with The Arts Fuse that the moderate success of his solo career was no thanks to the reception that it received in the United States. Therefore, he is curious to find out how his post-Zombies material will go over on his current U.S. tour, which includes a February 5 visit to City Winery.
“When we arrive, I’ll make sure I keep the engine running just in case they’re not too keen on what we’re playing,” he said in the Q&A that continues below. “Might as well be safe rather than sorry!”
The Arts Fuse: Where are you speaking to me from?
Colin Blunstone: I’m southwest of London in a county called Surrey near a town called Woking.
AF: Isn’t Woking where Paul Weller and The Jam are from?
CB: Exactly. He’s still got a studio just up the road as well.
Paul has always been a huge supporter of The Zombies. In the U.K., probably the first major supporter of The Zombies and also the biggest supporter. And he’s often said that Odessey and Oracle is his favorite album, and if someone hasn’t heard Odessey and Oracle, he will go into a shop and buy a copy for them. So we are indebted to Paul for his huge and generous support of the band.
The two great supporters of the album were Paul Weller and, in the States, I’m talking the early days, Tom Petty.
AF: How does it feel to have Odessey and Oracle recognized as unique among 1960s masterpieces?
CB: Well it’s incredible really. It’s very exciting. And I think in sort of a way, it helps to validate what we were doing back in the ‘60s, because I think when the band finished, we perceived ourselves as being unsuccessful. We tended to concentrate on the U.S. and U.K. charts, but given a little bit of time, we realized that the original incarnation of the band always had a hit record somewhere in the world. It sounds bizarre now, but it could take a couple of years for you to find out that you have had a hit record. So one the main reasons the band finished in the summer of ’67 was that we felt there really wasn’t any interest in the band and it was time to move on and get involved in other projects.
AF: Longtime Boston music journalist Brett Milano wrote in an Arts Fuse review of a 2015 Zombies show, “I have a short list of the greatest singers I’ve seen live — Sandy Denny, Aaron Neville, Maddy Prior, the Everly Brothers — and Blunstone is right up there.” What is it like to be put in that company?
CB: Well it’s absolutely fantastic. I mean, when you get that kind of response, it’s extremely energizing and rewarding. That’s what all artists are searching for, really. Firstly, on a personal level, you want to feel fulfilled at the end of a show and feel that you’ve done your very best, and it’s just great to get something back from the audience, especially if it’s in the written word like that. It’s really rewarding. And of course, it encourages me to go on and want to do more. (laughs)
AF: Whom do you consider to be among the greatest singers whom you have ever heard?
CB: I think Stevie Wonder is one of the all-time great singers. In that sort of area, I think Whitney Houston is one of my favorite female singers. But in a completely different genre, I’m a huge Joni Mitchell fan.
I think McCartney’s got a phenomenal voice. I think Elton’s phrasing is superb. I love a lot of what Sting does. These are the kind of people that I listen to and that I’m inspired by.
AF: What do you consider to be most important to keeping your voice in shape?
CB: I think it’s very important not to eat too close to showtime. There are people in The Zombies who will eat 10 minutes before they go on stage. I absolutely cannot do that. I would eat a light meal maybe two or three hours before showtime, but that’s about it, really.
I’ve given up all alcohol. I used to like to have a pint of beer, maybe a couple of pints or cans, just before we went on. Maybe just a little bit of Dutch courage, but I don’t drink at all now. The most important thing is to warm your voice up, I think. Be careful what you eat. It’s just common sense. I wouldn’t eat red meat anywhere near showtime.
AF: Have your thoughts about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame changed now that you are a member?
CB: No. I think it’s a very illustrious institution and I’m absolutely honored that as a part of The Zombies I’m a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. First of all, I’m eternally grateful that we have this huge loyal and tenacious fan base. And then the thought that the members of the Rock Hall voted for us to be inducted is extremely exciting. And I think to some extent, it helps to validate what we’ve been doing over all these years. You feel that your musical enterprises have been noticed and have, to some extent, been respected. It’s a very exciting prospect that your peers think your worthy to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I feel that it’s a career-defining occasion, maybe even a lifetime-defining occasion. I take it incredibly seriously and I’m deeply honored that we’re being included among the inductees this year.
AF: Finally, longtime Somerville resident Al Kooper played an indispensable role in The Zombies’ legacy. Do you plan to see him when you are in Boston?
CB: I don’t think he’s going to come to the show, but I think that I’ll be going to see him the next day. I hope so, because without Al Kooper there wouldn’t have been and Odessey and Oracle.
He was newly appointed as a staff producer at CBS, and he took it upon himself to go and see [CBS president] Clive Davis and champion that album. He said, “We really must get this album. Whatever it costs, we need to get this album.” And Clive Davis said to him, “We already own that album and we weren’t going to even release it.”
So without Al Kooper, the album wouldn’t have even been released. We owe Al Kooper a huge debt of gratitude for his courage and tenacity in standing up for us.
He had only just started working at CBS, so that was a big thing for him to walk in and tell Clive Davis what he should be doing. It was very brave!
Blake Maddux is a freelance journalist who regularly contributes to the Arts Fuse, the Somerville Times, and the Beverly Citizen. He has also written for DigBoston, the ARTery, Lynn Happens, the Providence Journal, The Onion’s A.V. Club, and the Columbus Dispatch. A native Ohioan, he moved to Boston in 2002 and currently lives with his wife and one-year-old twins–Elliot Samuel and Xander Jackson–in Salem, Massachusetts.