After receiving four nominations in five years, ‘60s rock pioneers The Zombies (at Fox Theater Fri/13) began to wonder if they’d ever get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“So when I got a call saying The Zombies were inducted, it was an incredibly exciting feeling,” the band’s singer, Colin Blunstone told 48 Hills. “To get that kind of acknowledgment from the public and our peers and know that our work had been noticed and appreciated is a life-changing event.”
For the vocalist, the “icing on the cake” was getting to perform the band’s classic tracks “Time Of The Season,” “Tell Her No,” and “She’s Not There” in front of 17,000 people—including fellow inductees Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, Janet Jackson, The Cure, Def Leppard, and Radiohead —at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on March 29. Fittingly, The Zombies’ long-awaited induction took place 50 years to-the-day after the band’s unforgettable track, “Time of the Season” first hit no. 1 on the US charts.
“There was a real sense of occasion and it was very emotional for us, of course,” Blunstone said. “All your memories over the last 57 years rush back. All the people you’ve known, people no longer with us, it all comes back to you on an evening like that.”
To celebrate this incredible milestone, The Zombies are uniting past and present line-ups, including seminal members Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy and embarking on a 15-city North American tour with Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson and former Beach Boys members Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.
On what’s been coined the “Something Great from 68” tour, which hits the Bay Area this week (Fri/13 at the Fox Theater), the band is set to perform its seminal Odessey & Oracle album in its entirety along with other fan favorites through their latest Billboard-charting album Still Got That Hunger.
Blunstone spoke to me about the new tour, the making of Odessey and Oracle, and how the band still maintains its edge after nearly six decades.
48 HILLS Your current tour with Brian Wilson is called, “Something Great from 68,” which obviously references the release of The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. But the crazy thing is that your sophomore album wasn’t initially a hit with your record company and almost never came out?
COLIN BLUNSTONE For a long time, it seemed as if that album wasn’t going to be released. Then Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears had joined CBS Records as a producer and the first day he went in there, he went to [then president] Clive Davis, risking his job, and said, “Listen, we have to get this album—it’s brilliant.” Clive said they already owned that album and weren’t even going to issue it.
So we have a huge debt to Al Kooper because it’s only due to his persistence that it was released in the first place and our lives were changed forever.
48 HILLS What can you tell me about the making of Odessey and Oracle?
COLIN BLUNSTONE We only had 1,000 pounds to record the album—and even then that wasn’t a lot. But what we did was that we rehearsed extensively before we got into the studio, so we could then record Odessey and Oracle quickly.
48 HILLS I read that The Beatles had been recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the same studio at Abbey Road just days earlier?
COLIN BLUNSTONE Yes, which was breathtakingly exciting. Also, we had the benefit of all the technical advances that they’d made because we used the same engineers that worked on Sgt. Pepper’s. Particularly we were now able to record on more than a four-track machine because they didn’t have an eight-track, but had found a way of linking two four-track machines, which from memory actually gave us seven tracks for a technical reason. That was a huge game-changer for us because it meant we could overdub extra harmonies and extra keyboard parts.
When we first went into the studio, there were percussion instruments on the floor, tambourines and Maracas and things like that left by The Beatles. John Lennon’s mellotron was also left in the studio. If Lennon hadn’t left it, there wouldn’t be mellotron all over Odessey and Oracle. I’m afraid we didn’t ask; we just went ahead and used it.
48 HILLS “Time of the Season,” from Odessey and Oracle, would go on to become the band’s biggest hit in the US, yet the sad irony is that it blew up after the band had already broken up.
COLIN BLUNSTONE It’s kind of a strange story that the band finished in the summer of ‘67 and Odessey and Oracle wasn’t released till ‘68 and I think “Time of the Season” was the third single from that album. Of course, it went on to be the biggest hit The Zombies had ever had. But by then we were committed to other projects and there wasn’t even the slightest conversation about the band getting back together again.
In some ways, it’s a shame because it would have been nice to go out there and celebrate the success of Odessey and Oracle and “Time of the Season.”
48 HILLS One of the most groundbreaking songs on Odessey and Oracle, in my opinion, is “Care of Cell 44,” a song about a man writing his incarcerated girlfriend. I doubt anyone else was writing about women in prison at the time.
COLIN BLUNSTONE When the album was finished, I felt that that was my favorite track and the most commercial one. But it was released as a single and wasn’t a commercial success. But even now when I listen to it, I think, “What a clever song.” The music is really sophisticated and the lyrics are really groundbreaking. I’m not sure that many people have written on that subject up to today. It’s so unusual and I really enjoy playing it even after all this time.
48 HILLS Your band name, which I know you didn’t like off the bat, is equally innovative—since zombies weren’t as talked about back in 1961 as they are today, with “The Walking Dead” and a slew of zombie movies and video games. With all the attention paid to zombies today, does the name seem like a fortuitous choice in hindsight?
COLIN BLUNSTONE I think it is. In music, you’ve got to be ahead of the curve and there was no zombie culture in 1961. So the original bass player just came up with it out of the blue and there was no deep meaning to it. It was just a catchy memorable name, and I’m not sure in 1961 that I knew what a zombie was.
With time passing, it’s become quite hip because there are now so many zombie TV programs, films, and magazines. So I think it’s become cooler as the years have gone by where it’s usually the other way around.
48 HILLS It also gives your band a continued edginess, unlike other ‘60s rock bands with kookier names like, say, The Turtles, The Lovin’ Spoonful, or Strawberry Alarm Clock.
COLIN BLUNSTONE We’re fortunate to have some edginess, especially when you think our first record was released in 1964. We could be taking it very easy right now, just touring occasionally, rolling out the same old hits, instead of writing new songs and trying to make sure our performances are really energized.
But we really give it everything we’ve got and perhaps, in a small way, the name helps take us out of the 1960s bracket because it is a bit edgy. We’re still writing and recording new material that is quite sophisticated music, the result of people honing their craft over many years.
48 HILLS Is that why you named your most recent album Still Got That Hunger?
COLIN BLUNSTONE Yes, because we do still have that hunger. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t still be touring. You need a lot of tenacity, energy, and commitment to go on tour for two months and play nearly every night as well as write new songs and record new albums, and the band really has that commitment. In fact, we just started recording a new album last week.
48 HILLS In one of my favorite tracks on your latest album, “Moving On,” you sing, “And I’m moving on to my dreams of tomorrow.” What are your aspirations for the future?
COLIN BLUNSTONE Rod Argent and I both understand that we’re in our mid-‘70s. In a way, this almost makes the whole exercise of writing, recording, and going on the road more intense since we realize that there are going to be physical limitations to how long we can do this. No one knows, but logic tells me that we might not be able to do this for many years to come. So my dream is to do this for as long as I’m physically able to.
BRIAN WILSON & THE ZOMBIES
Fri/13, 8pm, $79.50-$229.50
Fox Theater, Oakland
More info here.