thezombies.net It's been 50 years since the Zombies formed in St. Albans,…
- Posted on Mar 11th 2013 4:00PM by Steve McLean
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The act has experienced a renewed wave of popularity as it arrives for several appearances at the South by Southwest Music festival this week. It's perhaps not a coincidence Austin, Texas is also the hometown of Roky ("I Walked With A Zombie") Erickson.
"We're playing on quite a good level without any hit records and very little airplay," lead singer Colin Blunstone told Spinner a few hours before taking the stage at Toronto's Sound Academy on March 3. "It's just a word of mouth thing, but we're playing all around the world and in some major arenas."
The Zombies are best known for "Time of the Season," which topped the national chart in Canada and reached number three in the United States in 1969, and two hit singles that were part of the "British Invasion" five years earlier: "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No." The odd thing is that the group wasn't as popular in its homeland as it was in North America and parts of Asia and Europe, which Blunstone blames on his record company.
"We were all 18 and 19 years old and had just left school," he says. "I remember going to the Decca Records press and promotion office and they said, 'We need an angle and an image.' They started investigating our school and exam results and this became the main thrust of our promotion. We were presented as academic geeks, which was far from true, but they had nothing else to talk about because we hadn't done anything.
"In our country, it really wasn't appreciated. I think that put people off because people like their bands to be a bit dangerous and a bit mysterious and not academic geeks. One or two of the guys were fairly bright, but the majority of us were very average, myself included. We also had a series of very unprofessional photographs taken right at the beginning of our career. That type of academic image that they were talking about and those terrible photos from the early days tend to follow you around."
- Dead Man's Bones "My Body's a Zombie For You"
- The Cranberries "Zombie"
- Fela Kuti "Zombie"
- Tom Petty "Zombie Zoo"
- Sufjan Stevens "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!"
- Jonathan Coulton "Re: Your Brains"
- Harry Belafonte "Zombie Jamboree"
- Rob Zombie "Living Dead Girl"
- Insane Clown Posse "Zombie Slide"
- Buck 65 "Zombie Delight"
- Michael Jackson "Thriller"
Little was made of the Zombies' dissolution shortly after the recording of 1968's Odessey and Oracle was completed and the album almost wasn't released in the United States.
"The other guys in the band have always said that they don't have any regrets and that it was the right time to move on," said Blunstone. "From my point of view, I'm just curious about what might have happened next.
"It seemed to me that something quite remarkable had happened when we recorded Odessey and Oracle. The main songwriters, (keyboardist/singer) Rod Argent and (bassist) Chris White, were writing such fine songs that I'm curious about what would have happened."
Blunstone and Argent went on to their own music careers and reunited for what was originally supposed to be just a handful of dates at the dawn of this century under the name Blunstone & Argent. They played few Zombies tunes at the time, but that soon changed.
"More and more, promoters billed us as 'The Zombies' whether we asked them to or not, and people in the audience would yell out for Zombies tunes," explained Blunstone, who estimates that Zombies performances are now largely comprised of the band's '60s material, with some songs from 2004's As Far As I Can See ... and 2011's Breathe Out, Breathe In, and a few songs from his and Argent's respective non-Zombies catalogues.
While Odessey and Oracle received scant attention when it was first issued, it has since gained much critical acclaim. Both Rolling Stone and Mojo have ranked it in their top 100 albums of all time, while praise from other magazines and websites has also been effusive.
That's not bad for an album with a misspelled title on the cover.
"That's a painting by a friend of ours, Terry Quirk," said Blunstone. "He's a fine painter but he's obviously not a very good speller. By the time we'd spotted it, the presses were rolling and it was too late to stop it.
"Rod told a story for years that it was misspelled because it's a play on the word 'Ode.' He even told me that story, and about five years ago we were doing an interview and he explained the whole thing about the misspelling. Rod and Chris knew that it had been misspelled and I couldn't believe that for 40 years they let me believe the story as well."
Dave Grohl's "Sound City" documentary is being screened as part of SXSW and he's giving the music conference's keynote address and performing with an all-star musical cast from the film at Stubb's on March 14. But he also told New Musical Express in 2011 that Oracle and Odessey was the one classic rock album that he would have liked to have been involved with, saying: "It's such a simple record, and such an amazing album, but the sounds are really primal and raw because of the technical limitations of the time."
Blunstone, 67, expects to meet with the Foo Fighters main man during SXSW.
"I'm not sure if we're just going to get together and have a talk or he's going to play with us," he said. "I'm not suggesting he should or that he should want to. I just have no idea.
"From what I've heard of South by Southwest, it's pretty full-on. So I imagine that anything could happen. From what I can see, we're playing two or three times a day, but not always with the full band [which also includes guitarist/vocalist Tom Toomey, bassist/vocalist Jim Rodford and drummer Steve Rodford]. Sometimes it's just Rod and me. I imagine there's going to be a slight air of chaos around the whole thing, which sounds like it could be fun."
The Zombies certainly won't the most animated group you'll see at SXSW this week, but they should provide some nostalgia in a far less threatening fashion than an old George A. Romero film.